December 26, 2010

Illustrator Laura Barnard’s Urban Tapestry

In Illustrator Laura Barnard’s work, the city is reinforced as a fascinating grid of point, line and plane. Barnard is a self-proclaimed “Purveyor of cityscapes” and her intricate drawings clearly show her passion for the patterns that only cities can produce. The city is her canvas. Here she shares her thoughts about being an illustrator and her specialty of visualizing the metropolis.

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself?
I’m from the UK, just outside London. I’m fortunate to live on a very well-connected train route to various cities, so have almost any type of building at my drawing disposal, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you do for a living?
I’d describe myself as an illustrator—after many years of struggling in all sorts of jobs, from warehouse picking to cleaning to collecting the money out of parking meters, so I’m very proud to say that illustrating is what I do exclusively now.

What is your statement about being an illustrator?
My main approach is to be friendly, reliable and professional, at the same time as producing high-quality work. I think that’s so important. Half of the job is about the commercial side of it and fitting in with whom I’m working with, so that’s as important as producing great work.

What tools and materials do you use to work on your ideas
and make them grow?

For commercial work, I draw straight into Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. This is quite a recent development, as I used to scan in the ink (well, gel pen) drawing. It just makes more sense to work this way when so many jobs have a fast turnaround or need last minute changes, and I ’m also starting to like the really black line generated more and more.

I use the pencil tool in Photoshop, it’s quite like a bitmap scan of ink in the end:

I do try and keep up with analogue tools as well though, it’s a great way to experiment with marks and it’s still the quickest way to get ideas out of your head.

I also do pen and ink commissions from time to time and that’s always a great way to keep you on your toes. There’s no undo with ink.

What makes the city and its landscape a special focus
for you and your art?
I think for me it’s a mixture of landscape, sculpture and space all together. I’ve always been a city kid, and I think they’re just my version of windswept country landscapes, really. I love the details, and the funny angles, and the mixture of buildings all butted up together, and I love that feeling that anywhere you look there are several stories all under the surface that none of us know about.

You’re also exploring lomography and photography on
the iPhone. How are these methods influencing your work?

If I’m perfectly honest, probably not that much! I’ve always separated the photography I do from the drawing I do—I’m not sure why. I think I’m trying to do different things with both, and quite often the photos I take are much simpler in composition. I’ve always love cheap cameras, ever since I was given a 110 camera when I was very small, so the fact that a little smartphone can replicate some of that Lomo spirit is quite exciting.

When I do take photos to draw from, they tend to be deadly boring to anyone but me (possibly even boring to me too) and document things.

How does time factor into your making of illustrations?
Well, I have totally shot myself in the foot by specialising in the most detailed drawings imaginable so that was REALLY stupid.

Seriously, though, they do take a fair while to do, so I’ve branched out into some other ways of looking at the city—characters, for one, and also some slightly more minimalist ways of filling the page with pockets of detail and some space as well. Not everyone’s got the time or the budget to commission something super detailed so it makes sense to diversify a bit.

Another thing I’ve been doing a far bit of is patterns and repeating work—again, it’s another way to alter how long a drawing takes.

What is the most rewarding part of being an illustrator?
Well, I get to draw every day and people pay me money for it! That’s pretty damn cool. I love being my own boss and being reliant on myself, and some of the harder parts, such as uncertain earnings, more than makes up for that. I also expect that some of the harder parts like money or having to take certain jobs will get easier to manage as time goes on (it has so far), which means it gets even better, so that’s super.

Was there a part of your work that was particularly trying
and how did you deal with it?

Not really—there have been some jobs that are harder than others or ones that have been harder to complete, but you just have to find a way round these things. And there always is a way round!

I do tend to get UTTERLY sick of the detailed stuff as I’m coming to the end of each one, but it’s always worth it in the end.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
I’ve found, since I’ve been working from home and not commuting, I’ve been much less likely to keep a sketchbook, as outside trips tend to be with a specific project in mind, or to go out and buy teabags. That is something I’ve been intending to address though, just as soon as I get some free time to work on it.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?
All sorts of things. I’m pretty tired of the usual places to look, like design books and some of the usual design blogs. The blogs and books that I still enjoy (and there are some great ones out there) are the ones that I won’t see the same work on or in as anywhere else and seem to have a different mindset from “the next trendy thing”.

Apart from that, old books about space travel and train travel, or 1960s architecture, or brick patterns, or weird packaging from old kitchen equipment in charity shops or books of old stamps, that’s the stuff I find really inspiring. I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of a whole load of charity shops and a library, and they’re brilliant places to get a bit lost in.

What is your advice to people who aspire
to be an illustrator?
Don’t choose the most complicated subject IN THE WORLD to specialise in. Embrace minimalism.

No, I think the most important thing to remember is that absolutely everyone feels at the end of their tether sometimes and just to keep plugging away. It can all feel totally hopeless one minute and then something really exciting comes along, particularly if you make something exciting come along.

How can people see your art and buy your work?
I have a website at and a shop within that. Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

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Images courtesy of Laura Barnard.

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Laura Barnard was discovered via Boneshaker Magazine, “a celebration of cycling and the people who do it.”

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
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