Working with Pictures: Guy Shield

In the lead-up to the launch of a new award for illustrators – the Ullin Prize for Children’s Illustration – the Wheeler Centre is profiling some of the best in the business. Guy Shield is the cover artist for Kill Your Darlings and has produced cover and editorial illustrations for Text Publishing and Granta. Guy talks to us about mindful illustrating, his favourite graphic novelists, and his dream of living on a remote island renting bicycles.

What was the first piece of illustration you had published?

I was first published about 12 years ago for a competition in InPress to win tickets to the big day out. Cheekily, I entered loads of pieces under different names and scored a lot of tickets, which I feel a little bit bad about it now. In terms of proper illustration work, I started getting published in the AFL Record about 10 years ago, and have grown my client base ever since.

What’s the best part of your job?

I get to draw for a living. That’s pretty special to me. I find the whole process really cathartic, and quite a mindful experience, so I actually end up with a really great feeling after drawing all day… Also, being able to chart my progress through my illustration work over time gives me an enormous sense of pride. I feel like I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I first started.

'What does your source of Inspiration Look Like?', Guy Shield (2014)

'Paddleball' for Granta magazine, Guy Shield (2012)

What’s the worst part of your job?

I think when you pitch several ideas to an editor and they don’t pick your favourite… that can be really frustrating! Also, it can be a lonely job sometimes, so having no human contact all day can be a little weird/disconcerting at the best of times.

What’s been the most significant moment in your illustration career so far?

Working on the campaign for Drinkwise was pretty massive, simply out of the sheer size of the job, and also the fact that my drawings ended up animated, it also paid really well, so brought about a lot of freedom to work on other things and no stress too much about pay cheques for a while. I also think the cover work I do for Kill Your Darlings continues to be pretty significant for me. I’m really proud of where we’ve taken the covers and the praise I get online for them definitely keeps me aiming high.

Concepts for the April 2014 edition of Kill Your Darlings

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about illustration?

Hmm… tricky question. I think the best advice I’ve been given is simply practice, practice, practice. It’s seldom that I’ve spoken to or read about someone I’ve looked up to and they haven’t dispensed that advice, and I think it’s crucial to getting good at anything you strive for. In terms of worst advice? I remember reading somewhere that copying is a great way to learn, but I’m not so sure. It took me years to shake a lot of the habits that copying instilled in me, so I would rather think it’s better to come up with your own style from the start.

J.K. Rowling for WIRED, Guy Shield (2012)

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I’m always astounded when I receive emails or read blogs and people seem to really find a sense of overwhelming peace in my work. I know I certainly do, but I’ve never expected anyone else to really look at my work and be struck by it, or at least not to a point where they’d write to me expressing their appreciation of that. That’s really pleasing to know. I’m often surprised when someone describes me as ‘their favourite’ illustrator, simply because I know I could do so much better than what I’m doing right now, and there are so many other artists I look up to!

If you weren’t illustrating, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’d probably still be a designer, or living on a remote island renting bicycles or something. I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator, so it’s hard for me to really think ‘what else’. I’d like to think If I committed as much time to something else as I’ve done to illustration, I could technically do anything. Brain surgery maybe.

'Closing Time', Guy Shield (2014/2015)

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be an illustrator?

Shut up and practice.

'Closing Time' process photograph, Guy Shield (2014/2015)

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Bit of both to be honest. I do love going into book shops and physically handling potential purchases, but quite often they don’t always have what I want to check out, in which case I’ll inevitably buy it online.

If you could meet any character from a picture book or graphic novel, who would it be and why?

Toughie, but I’d like to hang out with Enid and Rebecca from Dan Clowes’ Ghost World. I’m sure they’d inevitably annoy the shit out of me, but I’m a sucker for counter-culture slacker types…

'What Do You Do in Your Spare Time?', Guy Shield (2014)

What’s the picture book or other example of writing that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

I think when I first discovered Adrian Tomine’s graphic novels, something changed in me. The moment I finished Shortcomings I was overcome with both joy, sadness, and absolute envy. Joy because I’d found someone that can capture both in words in pictures the pitfalls of relationships/daily life, sadness over the bleakness of it all, and complete envy because I instantly wanted my work to be as good as his and I just wanted to channel all my energies to find a narrative in the everyday. Life changing and work-redefining.

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