April 28, 2011

Spontaneous Simplicity Made Super!

An Interview with Gemma Correll

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any picture to biggify

Gemma Correll has most likely enjoyed – as well as not enjoyed some – of the attention her ever-growing popularity as an illustrator has brought her! She has been called an ‘obsessive chronicler of everyday life’ yet her work is continually lauded by fans of some of the widest varieties of neat stuff you’ll ever find! Some fans respect her talents so much that they have even had some of her more iconic images tattooed on their persons! Yet, her talents are so obvious - and indeed unmistakeably promotable - it should also come as no surprise that some less scrupulous purveyors of goods – even from the so-called ‘High Street’ denizens – have blatantly copied her work for their own ill-gotten gains! Boooo!

With a ‘direct’ style that is both refreshing and yet challenging (trust me, try it yourselves!), Gemma’s work is one thing for sure and that is FUN! And despite what some would like to believe, she also has a BA in Graphic Design specialising in Illustration from Norwich (England) where she graduated with honors, or honours as we should say. She’s been featured in more magazines than you can shake a royal sceptre at and darned if her work doesn’t pop up on any number of ‘funny image’ sites on the Internet on an almost daily basis! We’ve learned more about tea towels and
tote bags and the amazingly large community of designers out there for these items than we ever thought possible!!

And as Gemma will attest, her job as an illustrator is indeed a ‘real’ one, despite rumours to the contrary that she is only in it to throw us off from her ‘very successful drug smuggling ring’. Even if by some twist of fate – and no doubt a bad Nic Cage movie to follow – it winds up that she is only pretending to draw things and is just distracting people with her trusty sidekick, Mr. Norman Pickles the Pug, it will never be able to be said that she wasn’t entertaining!

Ziggy Nixon was very lucky to catch up with the ultra-busy Gemma to share a few thoughts and even a daily fashion tip or two:


Hi Gemma, welcome to the show! Let’s jump right in and ask you how it feels to be quote, ‘possibly the UK's most prolific* illustrator’ (as indicated by
NUDE magazine, where your work graced their recent issue)?
*which according to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary means ‘producing young or fruit especially freely’... plus some other definitions I obviously didn’t read very closely.
Yeah... not sure about that. I’m sure there are other illustrators who are much more prolific than me. How about
Rob Ryan? He seems to produce an amazing amount of work given how intricate his designs are.

I do draw a lot, but it’s all pretty spontaneous... Which prompted one blogger to remark, “Gemma Correll’s work is little more than doodles.” I’d like to think that it is a LITTLE more than doodles...

While we’re talking about doodle-licious goodness, I love your comment on
‘I've been told that I draw "like a five year old". I don't think that those people get that I choose to draw that way. I *could* draw in (a different) style all the time, if I wanted to, but I don't’.
Why is it you think that there are those out there that just don’t – or won’t – get what your work is about?
I suppose it’s just the fact that my images don’t look polished – they look spontaneous and simple. Some people’s idea of a “good” illustration is something that’s realistic, with shading and correct perspective!

And while I understand that everybody has their own opinion, the world would be a boring place if all art was realistic. Plus, it’s a lot harder to draw the way that I do than it looks!

What have been your influences in helping shape your style? If you’re curious, I would draw very favourable comparisons to the works of:
- a past ZN interviewee who is really hitting it big,
Mike Perry;
- a number of iconic images from the 60’s and 70’s including Klaus Voormann’s ‘Revolver’ album cover!
- as well as having some of the line-work and imagination of the great
Heinz Edelmann!
Well, thank you, although I don’t think I’m quite in the same league of any of those folk. I think that my biggest influences have been narrative illustrators like
Tom Gauld and Simone Lia, both of whom seem to flawlessly combine text and image.

I think that a big part of my ‘strength’ if you will with my illustration is in my writing. Standing alone (without text) I don’t think my illustrations are up to much. I mean, just drawings of cats...

In addition, as a child I would read my dad’s “Far Side” annuals all the time. Although a lot of it went over my head, I think that it was one of my earliest influences, along with
Posy Simmonds and the cartoonist, Giles. I also read a lot of illustration and design books at college, so it’s hard to pinpoint every influence I’ve had, but some others, off the top of my head, would be - David Hughes, Quentin Blake and Jim Houser. Then there are fine artists such as Alice Neel (who by coincidence ZN met as a child while his mom was in art school) and Paula Rego, who I admire and who may have influenced my work in a more subtle way.

I am pretty amazed at the sheer volume of work you seem to churn out! Your
Flickr album is packed to the rafters with images; you run your own website, a blog as well as a ‘collective’ blog; you’ve been busy with exhibitions and more; plus you even keep at least one daily illustration journal/blog thingie that keeps everyone posted about your (mostly) boring existence! How do you manage all of that without just passing out from exhaustion? Because if it’s owing to your brand of coffee, I want to know so I can order some, too!
Actually, I think I was slightly burned out at the start of this year.

You see, I was kind of running on adrenaline all of last year. It was my first full year of full-time freelancing and I suppose I just wanted to get as much done as possible! Having said that, I do draw pretty quickly, which enables me to get a lot of stuff – well, personal work at least, not necessarily client work – done in a short space of time.

However, I was starting to find at the end of last year that I was spending less time drawing and more time just doing administrative stuff like packaging shop orders! In fact, around Christmas, I was having a hard time finding time to draw because I was always at the Post Office. I even got quite ill from overworking myself! So to help ease the pressure, I’ve decided to close my etsy shop for a while. It’s pretty difficult to run an on-line shop AND be a freelancer.

I’m hoping that this year I have more time to work on my illustrations and to just doodle in my sketchbook. I’ve always been a kind of workaholic, so I’m going to take more time out for myself this year. I think that time out will provide more inspiration and experiences for my work, anyway.

I do have really good coffee though! It’s a Peruvian roast from my favourite local café.

Concerning your ‘daily’ life and even ‘what I wore today’ illustrations, what is the impetus behind the ‘diary’ work (did we get both of those right? No, dialy dairy?)? Are you just making sure to stretch your illustrative muscles once a day or is this more of a kind of ‘endurance art’ project for you?
It’s really just a way to process my day. I tend to focus so hard on work during the day that I need to doodle to relax a bit. It doesn’t have to be a diary, but I enjoy drawing them.

I also have a pretty bad memory, so it’s a way of keeping track of the things I’ve done, too. I’ve been doing something similar since I was a teenager (although unfortunately those diaries have not survived).

It’s also in large part because I am an introvert. I think this helps me in fact process my thoughts by writing and drawing.

Continued in
Part 2

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