Interview: Sonny Ross

Sonny Ross is an illustrator and Risograph print specialist based in Manchester.

Since graduating with a first class degree in illustration from the Birmingham institution of Art and Design, Sonny has worked with clients including OKIDO Magazine, Oh Comely and Ammo Magazine. His style, created using a mix of rough textures and a limited colour scheme, lends itself perfectly to a range of mediums and has allowed him to create books, zines, editorial illustrations, art installations and even the odd mur

Sonny implements his vast knowledge of Risograph printing in a number of his projects, having previously worked as a print technician. This allows him to have a hand in each step of the creation process and adds another element to his rustic, hand drawn style.

We caught up with Sonny to find out more about his process and inspirations.

Hi Sonny! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

I grew up in the countryside and after graduating I moved to Manchester, where I decided to go full time as an illustrator. I cook and eat an incredible amount. My work often leans toward highlighting how ridiculous we all are and how we worry and fret over everything. I offer no solutions, at the end of it all I draw and I just about make a living from it. I always feel petty when I feel worry because of this.

Have you always been creative? Even as a child?

My brother and I made a makeshift comic when we were very little, at school I mainly doodled in the classes I didn’t believe would benefit me. But for the longest time I intended to finish school and go on to be a teacher, it didn’t occur to me that I could probably put some time into drawing and get better at it.

I was creative in other ways in my teens, I was in a couple of awful bands and considered every maths exercise book a new sketchbook. I hate maths.

Can you describe your process for us? Is there any section you find particularly difficult? 

My process begins with sketching. Fast, postage stamp sized sketches. These help me to see the piece as a whole, to really shape the composition, which can make or break a piece. When Im happy with the basic imagery I do a larger sketch, take a picture of it, import that into an ipad drawing app called ProCreate, which is great for colouring and adding textures, I then choose between 2 and 6 colours usually to keep the whole piece solid and get to work. I export the finished piece to photoshop for any final tweaks then it’s done. I never used to work digitally, basically doing everything in posca pen, because I dont like the super clean cut look of digital work, but when I started making my own brushes that looked natural I never looked back. The difficult part for me is making something look natural, personally I feel it can lessen a piece.

Do you keep a sketchbook? And do you do a lot of research before projects or just start sketching?

I have many sketchbooks, and in regard to research or just starting blind on a piece, it really depends. For instance I recently illustrated an article that mentioned public figures by name, people who may well appear in the piece so obviously I have to research these people so I don’t end up drawing ‘generic sports player number 1’. But for personal work I take a lot from renaissance portraiture so of course there is always that information to inject. But the work that gets the most ‘attention’ online and among peers is usually the stuff that I fire out while on a train or toilet, so who needs planning?

What is it about Risograph printing that appeals to you?

Risography limits the colours you can use, and in doing so makes you think laterally about how best to balance an image. And it is actually fun, like so much fun. Playing around with textures and transparencies and print misregistrations  that end up improving a piece in ways you hadn’t thought of. It’s a challenge. You have X amount of colours, how will you combine them to create something wonderful?

Why do you think Risography is so popular?

Without sounding cynical, I think us young folk just love romanticising the antiquated, the lo-fi and the rough. Even though risography is none of the above, it looks lo-fi and a bit rough. Maybe people are sick of art being digitally printed on glossy expensive paper. With the risograph I guess you feel you’re paying for art and not the paper it’s printed on.

Are there any artists, studios or publishers who’s work you have been inspired by recently?

When I started university I was exposed to the Nobrow books, and I’d never seen anything that focused and gorgeous. That greatly inspired me to work harder, getting better only seems possible if you have a benchmark. But mainly I’m inspired by my friends and their work.

We can all be working on similar projects and come out with mirror opposites and that fascinates me, keeps me hooked on exploring.

 Have you read any books or watched any films which have inspired you recently?

Most of the books I own are picture books so not much on the reading front recently. Film wise I don’t get much in the way of inspiration, everything right now has that feel of “too many chefs spoil the broth” and I find it difficult to get excited about cinema, which is a massive shame. Weirdly though, the best artistic vision I’m seeing recently is coming from small video games studios. With an emphasis on art direction and overall feel, I don’t play games much but am excited about some of these smaller titles.

What has been your favourite commission from your career?

Rye Wax in London, a music venue and record/comic shop. I’ve done a couple of posters for them, and I like how they serve as a kind of visual holiday. I spend all year drawing bright colours and flowery themes (which I love doing) then I’m given an opportunity to get dirty with my work and it makes a nice change.

And what is your dream commission? 

Packaging. A lot of products are getting arted up these days and I wouldn’t mind a piece of that. Making jaffa cakes look like rare delicacies, what could be more challenging and rewarding?

Finally, what is next for you?

Personal project wise, I am for the first time in years; not making a book. I only recently moved to Manchester so staying afloat money wise is taking priority over other things, but I have been toying with the Idea of totally redoing Duck gets a Job. I liked that book but I’m very aware I did it in 2 weeks for a final year project, so it isn’t as good as it could be.

Other than that, maybe some collaborations, possibly a new Rojo & Baxter book by the end of the year.


Posted on May 3rd, 15 by

Greg McIndoe - also known as Headless Greg - is an illustrator and design writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. He regularly writes for design magazines and online platforms, interviewing fellow illustrators and leading creatives.

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