Featured Artist: Barney Ibbotson
Dinosaurs, doodles and bio-mechanical skull-shaped cities… these are just some of the things we’ve come to expect from illustrator Barney Ibbotson.
Loved for his fantastical constructions and colourful graphic style, this Manchester-based illustrator never ceases to delight. We caught up with Barney after spotting his recent collaborations with Manchester Moleskine and one69a’s Manchester Worker Bee project.
So, tell us your story – where did it all begin for Barney Ibbotson?
It all began when I started drawing as a child, mainly to entertain myself. I used to love very detailed illustrated reference books and I think these, along with comics, cartoons and films, ignited something within me! I grew up in the ‘style-conscious’ 80s too, so I think I was quite aware of graphic design all around me. I progressed from drawing soldiers and pirate ships as a child, through to fantasy characters and spaceships, then things like football kits and sportswear logos as I reached my teenage years. I knew by then that I wanted to pursue a career in the graphic arts, but wasn’t quite sure exactly what. I somehow found my way into a career as a freelance illustrator and graphic artist via college, university and a few jobs (some more interesting and relevant than others).
How would you describe your work?
Playful, fantastical, detailed, decorative, light-hearted, unpretentious… Definitely not earnest in any way.
You’ve been involved in a number of collaborative projects and exhibitions over the years, why is this important to you?
I’ve found that participating in such events often has beneficial outcomes, such as making new friends and contacts, and gaining new exposure for my work. It’s also enjoyable to approach a brief that somebody else has set in order to test yourself and create some new work from it.
Collaboration is always fun, especially when your co-collaborator has skills different to yours.
How do you find balancing commissions with personal work?
I’ve found over time that if the balance isn’t equal, I’m not as content. I’ve had periods with not much client work, which leaves me more time to work on personal work and collaborative projects. That’s great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Equally, if I’m booked up with client work, and especially if it’s client work that isn’t as illustrative or fun, then I will eventually crave personal work. At the moment I’m working on plenty of client work, which pays my bills, but also keeping busy with my own personal projects, so it’s pretty much ideal. I’ve found also that more clients hire me based on my personal work, so the commercial work I’m doing is enjoyable and similar to my personal work.
Speaking of commercial work, have you had any favourite clients or projects over the years?/
I really enjoyed the Versus playing cards project. It wasn’t a paid job, but it was enjoyable to work on and I still love the work that came from it. I had a limited colour palette and set shapes to work within. Such constraints can often help you focus and create stronger work. Similarly the travel tags I created for Collect Creative were great fun to work on. I was recreating architectural characteristics of specific cities, again within a certain shape and with limited colours.
As a Manchester based illustrator, what is it that you love about the city?
I like many aspects of Manchester. There is a vibrant community of artists, plenty of creative companies are based here, and there is always something happening. Since going freelance I have immersed myself in the city’s creative scene, involving myself in as much as I can. In terms of the physical city, I love the warehouses, mills, canals, bridges and railways, which are a legacy from the boom years of the Industrial Revolution. These sit alongside newer buildings and developments, which, although sometimes bland and uninspired, make for a visually interesting blend of old and new styles. I’m constantly taking pictures of the city because there are always new vistas to capture. I’m interested in history, particularly social history, science and architecture, as well as music and football, so Manchester ticks a lot of boxes for me.
Back to your work… For many doodling is procrastination, but you transform it into an art form. What does doodling mean to you?
Doodling is a big part of my work, whether that means doodling with a pen or shoving shapes and lines around in Adobe Illustrator. I think my love of doodling is all about fantasy, discovery and escapism.
Each drawing is like a little journey through a new land, or like building a new machine.
I find that much more satisfying than drawing more conventionally. It also helps me originate ideas and develop them. The way I doodle is also very recognisably ‘me’, and this has helped me stand out at times in a very crowded creative market.
Can you tell us anything about your tools or process? How you get things from paper to finished piece?
I doodle, usually with a fineliner or felt tip pen, and if I’m happy with the drawing I’ll scan it in, vectorize the linework and the areas within it, and then use Adobe Illustrator to colour it. If it’s a vector piece I usually draw out a few ideas first, then use Illustrator to reconstruct them with vectors, sometimes combining with textures in Photoshop.
There are lots of (broadly speaking) “sciencey” things in your work, from the natural to the mechanical. Do you find that you revisit certain themes?
Yes definitely. I enjoy those themes, but have also found they suit the way I work. I tend not to draw many people or faces, which might be considered to be commercial suicide if you are a commercial illustrator, but somehow I’ve managed so far! I draw machines, systems, buildings, vehicles and city-scapes, because that’s what I like to do and that’s what I’m interested in. If people are willing to hire me to do it, that’s even better!
What else inspires you?
I’m inspired by the city, by travelling to new places, by architecture and graphic art. Any artists who are driven, prolific and have a unique style of their own are inspiring to me. In terms of my tastes, I love science fiction illustration for the way it combines imagination and technical detail. I love maps, infographics and diagrams, as well as more traditional art such as Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, mainly for their vivid colours. Art Nouveau and Art Deco have also inspired me.
And finally… 2015 is quickly whizzing by, so what’s next for you? Any New Year’s resolutions?
I’m in the early stages of working on a book with a scientific theme, and I’ll be working on an animation about Manchester. I will also be selling prints and creating more products featuring my personal designs. I don’t have a long-term strategy; I’m just taking things as they come, but always trying to push myself a little bit further with each project.