June 20, 2011

D is for Design - But It's No Trap!

An Interview With Designer Brandon Peat

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

Brandon Peat always seems to be smiling. For example, looking for various images including a potential profile picture to use, I found him doing something fun or goofy like kneeling before Imperial Stormtroopers (‘these ARE the clever guys we’re looking for! Rebel scum...’) or smiling with friends or family. Heck, he even illustrates himself sporting a whimsical smile – as well as a killer beard and fluffy full head of hair (yes, I notice these things... more and more, sadly) – for his homepage or other self-promotional pictures.

And why shouldn’t he be smiling? Along with being a relatively new father (‘Three-Peat’!), Brandon is also having fun as a relatively new freelance graphic designer who is making in-roads in several areas. He’s got an exciting portfolio up to enjoy, he offers a wide range of skills and services, plus he has some ‘just for fun’ (+/-) projects going on with some pals that will keep him a mainstay of some of the more popular ‘cons’ for years to come!

You’ve probably heard of Brandon already without maybe quite knowing it. He – and his talented wife Emma – recently made a big splash on the Interweb scene with their ‘A is For Ackbar’ alphabet book designed for their son. Although not an official income-generating project by any stretch of the imagination, it certainly struck a cord with many folks who seem to drive a non-ending industry of Star Wars based memes and cross-over tee-shirt ideas. But having said that, it was / is obvious to us that Brandon’s talents go way beyond this ‘educational exercise’.

As such, we’re happy to present this young man’s work and stop and have a chat with him on his way ‘to the stars’... oops, we did it again, huh? Blast it, it must be a trap!! Aaarrgh... let’s force our way onward, OK? Groooaaannn...


Welcome Brandon! Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on these days and your background please? What inspired you to become an artist-slash-designer?
Thanks Ziggy, good to be here!

As always, I’m working on a little bit of everything – a website design, a tattoo illustration, the GUI for an iPhone app, and of course updates to my own website and portfolio.

In terms of my background, I had always been interested in art, but it wasn’t until late high school that I decided to pursue a career in graphic design.

Design was the most interesting form of art, to me – you’re trying to make it aesthetically pleasing, yes, but you’re also trying to convey a certain message or work within a set medium. It’s art-based problem solving, which means it’s a far less subjective discipline than “fine” art. There are bad solutions, good solutions, and maybe even one best solution, which is a very appealing and motivating idea to me.

Jumping right into the Grade A, Parental Unit type questions: What prompted you to incorporate yourself as an independent ‘LLC’ agency and return to freelance work? You decided to do this relatively quickly after your experience as an Art Director and Interactive Developer at a local ad agency, didn’t you?
Yeah. I was hired a few months after graduating college at an ad agency in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I worked for them for two and a half years while doing a little freelance on the side from time to time.

I decided to go full-time freelance for several reasons. Greater creative freedom was definitely the driving motivator, as was greater upward mobility for both my career and salary. You see, I had been hired as a print designer, but during my tenure there I did a lot of on-the-job learning and moved into a multimedia designer/developer role – a far more valuable and marketable position. However, the agency didn’t seem to have long-term plans for a multimedia department and I didn’t foresee any opportunity for a raise or promotion. That was December 2009, when the American economy was at a pretty low ebb.

Conventional wisdom would seem to argue against quitting your job at such a time. But I perceived (correctly) that with the economic downturn, individuals and corporations would re-evaluate their established advertising and design strategies, and look to trim their budgets however possible. A poor economy is actually a great economy for freelancers, because we can operate at a much lower cost than larger agencies – a very attractive selling point for cash-strapped businesses.

So I went into business for myself on January 1st, 2010. I officially incorporated fairly quickly after that – though I hadn’t initially thought about doing so. The primary impetus was tax season. Self-employed individuals are required to file quarterly returns, so when I took my first freelance quarter income sheets to my accountant, we looked at my projected income/expenses for the year and he advised me to incorporate.

If you’re doing even halfway decent on income, incorporating as an LLC could save you several thousand dollars on your returns, plus you only have to file annually. I would definitely recommend that any self-employed individual meet with an accountant and see how best to hang onto your income!

I’m curious as well how you best promote yourself as a ‘jack of all trades’? Is there some trade-off in terms of being able to offer so many services vs. being seen as a ‘specialist’ in a given area?
That’s the stigma, yeah – the old adage is that “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” But I don’t think that holds true at all in the design world.

Graphic designers, by the nature of our job, have to be multitalented, able to work with different mediums, styles, and content. Our goal is to develop a unique look for each client, after all, so we don’t want to be good at just one thing. Every designer who went to college for print-based design is already skilled in a wide variety of disciplines such as layout, illustration, logo development, and photography. And though web and multimedia are different mediums, they operate on the same principles as any other area of design, and are in ever-increasing demand. In this day and age, a designer who doesn’t at least have some basic multimedia know-how risks being left behind.

As you mentioned, I do promote myself as a ‘one-stop shopping’ design destination. That’s because I have a very diverse skillset rivalling what you might find across a typical ad agency. I’m well-versed in traditional design disciplines such as illustration, logo and brand development, and print layout.

I also specialise in multimedia ventures such as website design and development, and even video/animation with such programs as Flash, After Effects, and Final Cut Pro. I am a skilled writer/proofreader and am completely comfortable meeting with clients or giving presentations, having been an award-winning member of my high school and college speech teams.

The reason I can successfully operate as a one-man operation is precisely because I do have such a wide skillset “in-house.” I don’t advertise a service that I don’t in turn specialise in.

When you have a client that may need more than your current skill-set allows you to offer, do you ‘shop out’ to other professionals in the area or within your networking base?
Absolutely, though this doesn’t happen often. Whenever possible, I will learn whatever is needed to win the work and make it shine.

This past Thanksgiving, your ‘career’ took a very special turn as you and your wife added ‘parenthood’ to your list of achievements! Congratulations! How has becoming a first-time father at least started to affect your creative process or work, if at all? Granted, I know the lad isn’t perhaps old enough to start using your pens to create wall murals (just wait!!), but still...
Since I work mostly from home, being a dad is both awesome and difficult. I love love love being around for so much of Tycho’s early development, helping to take care of him, etc., which is something that a lot of day-job dads can’t do.

On the flip side, that means I have to focus on my work with the distraction of a crying – or even worse, an adorably cooing baby – which can be very tough at times. You definitely get a lot more adept at multitasking and doing work with just one hand.

It was also during the ‘run up’ to Tycho Maximus’ birth (what a fantastic name!), that you and Emma developed together the project that has undoubtedly gained you the most exposure, namely, the ‘A is for Ackbar’ alphabet collection (fans, you MUST click on the image that starts Part 2 to see all the characters in their full fantastic glory)! Now I don’t wish to beat this well-documented project to death, but just humour me with a couple of questions, please:

I understand that you did the sketching for the project, with your talented artist wife doing the ‘conversion’ into Illustrator. How often have or do the two of you still collaborate on at least design projects together (noting that, yes, I understand the mechanics behind at least the parental collaboration bit...)?
Haha, yes. My wife, Emma, is also a graphic designer, and it’s great being married to someone in your discipline – they don’t just empathise with your stresses, but actually understand them. It’s also nice to have a knowledgeable expert under the same roof as a sounding board.

Of course, two opinionated artists won’t always see eye to eye, and we have very different design sensibilities. So there’s bound to be occasional head-butting. It’s also the reason Emma and I don’t directly collaborate together as much as we simply consult each other, like we did here as well on this ‘Cowboy Bebop’ picture.

We’ve discovered that art is the one thing we will argue about. In fact, we argued so much about how to execute the Ackbar project that it almost didn’t happen! But you learn how to overcome disagreements like that in marriage, or at least you should.

Continued in
Part 2 ‘The Empire Strikes Brandon’...

No wait, that was Part V, wasn’t it? I never could follow that...

D is for Design - But It's No Trap!

An Interview With Designer Brandon Peat

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

Brandon, looking some more at your widely covered
‘A is For Ackbar’ project, some folks have included all of these pics, from Ackbar to Zuckuss, on their own sites or even in their Flickr catalogues, etc.. Is that cool with you or do you feel like that’s going a bit too far? Oh and despite temptations, I’m not going to do quite that much ‘borrowing’...
It’s all good. Once you put something online, it’s out of your hands. I expected the images would wind up on other sites, and as long as they left the disclaimers stating where the illustrations came from, people can find their way back to my site.

The good thing is that with all the publicity, our authorship of the images is pretty well documented, and people won’t be able to pass these off as their own work. Still, there’s a reason we didn’t release the hi-resolution source files!

Getting back then to other, perhaps non-Star Wars related issues:

I really enjoy your portfolio of illustrations, very nicely done! Again though, you offer a variety of pieces created in very different styles. Is this something you try to do to show your range of skills? Or does your selection have to do more with personal preferences? For example, I’ve been comparing your more digital works like those above to your various ‘Rad People’ portraits.
I guess it’s a little of both.

Working in a variety of styles and mediums keeps it interesting for me, and I do feel that certain styles work best with certain subject matter.

Brandon, now that you are running your own agency as an official LLC 'entity', do you ever find yourself getting bogged down with ‘management’ issues? I mean, do you ever find the project planning or even financial aspects to be frustrating?
Oh, most definitely. I’m the sole breadwinner for our household, supporting my wife and son with my career. So I definitely take the business aspects seriously, but they can be very time-consuming.

I’ve found that I have to allow an average of 10 hours per week for administrative stuff. That includes invoices, estimates, client meetings or correspondence, portfolio or website updates, researching potential clients, printing and mailing art orders from my online store, and more – all stuff that I don’t get paid for but still needs to happen in a timely and regular manner.

Additionally, I can’t control when projects arrive on my desk – or, often, when they’re due. So I might have almost nothing to do one week, followed by a crazy week where all my clients have new jobs with fast turnarounds. You learn to make good use of the downtime to deal with the managerial stuff, so that when the work hits you have time to take care of it.

Flexibility is key – freelancing has actually prepared me pretty well for being a father!

Considering this, you’ve also mentioned that you are ‘gearing up’ for a big business push in 2011. What do you have on tap to see this through?
So far I’ve been largely targeting my local market in Fort Wayne, which has treated me well and given me a solid first year of business. This year I’m looking to expand into nearby markets such as Indianapolis, which has a lot of great design agencies I’d love to work with.

What about the ‘Rad Project Discount’? What are your targets with this promotion?
Yeah, that’s the other half of my new business push. Most of my work is with agency clients and in the multimedia realm, so I’m looking for smaller clients with creative print design needs. You know, folks like bands that need album design, authors needing book cover illustrations, etc. The fun and creative stuff!

Historically, I’ve usually given these sorts of project a cheaper rate anyway – I’m simply making it official. You can learn more about the discount on my website at

http://www.brandonpeat.com/me/raddiscount.html .

You once stated in your blog that ‘the difficult thing about being a graphic designer is that a lot of your work never sees the light of day’. How has dealing with either the rejection or even lack of even an opportunity to show your work changed – if at all – working freelance compared to the company environment?
In an agency environment, several designers are usually generating ideas for the same job. These ideas are reviewed and refined within the art department, then with the account executives, and finally presented as options to the client. In an ideal situation, that means the client is only seeing the best ideas. In practical application, it doesn’t always work that way. It can also be difficult not getting to communicate with clients directly, but having to present concepts through the AE’s.

Personally, I much prefer working one-on-one with a client. It simplifies the working method immensely. Now, rejections do seem much more personal in this sort of client relationship, but so is the praise for a job well done.

The reality is that graphic design is a principle based on rejection – rejecting bad ideas at every step of the process, hopefully resulting in the best final idea and product. It’s easy to get an ego when you feel you’re on a hot streak, but it just takes one client to bring that all crashing down. Learning to deal with disappointment is a crucial skill for any designer, agency-employed or no.

Now, I’m going to put you on the spot: you’ve worked on some obviously fantastic illustrations, as well as logo and brand development, print layout, and multimedia projects, just to name a few. But if you had to choose, RIGHT NOW, one area you’d like to focus on, say, after you’ve just won the Megabucks lottery: which one would it be and why?
Ooh, good question.

I love the multimedia stuff and it definitely pays the bills, but I’d have to say that my first love is definitely illustration and print design. If money wasn’t a concern, I would totally be an eclectic illustrator.

Finally, looking at your current ‘to do’ list :

What’s the current status on your ‘
War of Eternity’ project that you are – or at least were – working on with Christopher Arndt?
The War of Eternity is a sci-fi/fantasy universe that Chris and I have been working on for a very long time. We self-published the first novel in our series, which we were very proud of, but gradually realised that it wasn’t going to take the story in the most compelling direction for future instalments.

So the project is currently on hold as we further brainstorm the overall concept and storyline. It’s definitely happening, but it’s a back-burner project to our respective careers and lives.

Is that the same as ‘Black Rose’? Or is this another ‘not really fantasy but kind of, yeah’ project you’ve got going on?
Yeah, Black Rose is another reason that Eternity is on hold!

Black Rose is an independently-published comic book series. It depicts a fantasy world entering an industrial revolution, a world facing war between the magic-using nation of Ishtakar and the steampunk country of Athelica. The series follows a brother and sister through the tumultuous evolution of their world.

Though technically a fantasy story, Black Rose is not a high fantasy – there are no elves or dwarves here. Our goal is gritty realism and believability. To use some famous examples, it mixes the rich world-building of high fantasy such as Lord of the Rings (ooh, great segue to show Brandon’s illustration of JRR.Tolkien below!) with modern, character-driven storytelling like that of Battlestar Galactica.

The amazing art for Black Rose is done by our good friend
Aaron Minier, who brought Chris and me onto the project to co-create and write. Chris is the primary writer, while I do the editing, lettering, and all the print and web design. The comic will really be shifting into high gear over the next couple of years and we’re very excited about where it’s heading.

You can learn more about the project and purchase issues and art direct from us at

or even via our Facebook fan page!

And finally finally (or ‘Finally: The Final Chapter’), where would you like to see your business or especially your art heading in the near and/or distant future?
You know, I’m very happy with where I am right now, both career-wise and artistically. I’ve always been very critical of my work, and feel like I’m only just now getting good at the subtle nuances of design.

I was recently offered a full-time in-house design position at a software company and went through several phone interviews with their staff. They asked me what my dream position would be, and I found myself having to think fast, because in truth I already had it. I politely declined the position.

The one thing I want to avoid is complacency. I always want to learn new skills, I always want to improve my work, I always want to meet new clients. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do this for a living, let alone work from home, and I hope I can keep doing it for a very long time in the future.


After two and a half years as an Art Director and Interactive Developer for a prominent Fort Wayne ad agency, Brandon Peat did the craziest thing you can think of in an economic downturn and decided to quit his job! However, this allowed him to return to his roots as a freelance designer eventually incorporating himself as an LLC. He already has an impressive client list and range of awards to his credit, not to mention that he’s a regular at comic ‘cons’ to plug at very least his on-going collaborative work with the title ‘Black Rose’!

Brandon brings a wide range of skills plus several years of on-the-job industry experience to the table, as well as knowledge of new and emerging technologies. Among his myriad of talents, he specialises in illustrative design and interactive Flash development, though he has experience in just about every imaginable area of design, enjoying being able to bounce between them as the job requires.

Please check out Brandon and his work at the following links, or drop him a line at
brandonpeat@gmail.com. He’d love to hear from you and - if he’s not currently busy changing a diaper - have a chat!



Black Rose


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Brandon Peat, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!

June 3, 2011

A Long Way From That Shy and Anxious Kid

An Interview With Artist Lianne Booton

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

I find myself empathising a great deal with
Lianne Booton. True, we both live a rather long ways away from where we ‘grew up’ (ha!). And yes, we both can share rousing tales of the joys of being ‘legal aliens’ in countries that claim to have First World policies about same (do it by the book, huh? Please...). Plus, I also have to admit that I take an equally nuclear bomb throwing attitude about insect infestations in my home! But alas, I must stay calm and remember my spiritual upbringing! Yes, that latter odd saying will have meaning if you keep reading...

A lot of why I feel a bond with Lianne has to do with the fact that she – in her own words – sees her ‘artwork as a romp down a country lane; on one side are fields filled with horses, badgers, and small animals getting along fabulously. On the other side are disembodied heads and a palette comprised of colours that look suspiciously like bodily fluids.’ In her case, this is an apt metaphorical description of her artwork and imaginative expression (in mine, it is a good literal description... well, the bits with the bits that is). Lianne also confesses that her ‘favourite things in life are music, soft animals, and the look of terror on someone's face when (she) shows them a piece of artwork’ she’s just finished. Granted not your every day target in the world of freelance; but again, I recognise the screaming if not the resulting eventual satisfaction of a job very well done!

And finally, it is with a sincere giggle and a respectful guffaw to read about how one art ‘community’ bulletin described her work as being ‘the kind of things that if they were on a school folder they would land (her) in counselling.’ And they did, too. So, dear readers, if you are ANYTHING like me, you’re thinking now: wow, this is somehow I’d like to get to know better, maybe even let her baby-sit the kids!! With that in mind then, join me in another enjoyable journey down New Zealand way to meet this unique and talented artist:


Hello Lianne, welcome! What are you working on these days?
Greetings, and thank you for the invitation! I have my coffee and sandwich, I'm most definitely prepared...

Let's see, currently I'm working my little freelance gig of producing magazine covers for Craccum, which is Auckland University's student magazine. I'm also working on a comic for a collaboration with a buddy in Canada. The comic revolves around the adventures of a pickled onion that escapes a jar at a supermarket and has an existential crisis, it's a pretty deep plot for something I came up with at 4 a.m. over a gaming session and not sleeping for 36 hours.

Other than that, I have a lot of friend's birthdays coming up, which may or may not be related to some really awesome paintings I'm working on!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background please and what inspired you to become an artist?
I'm originally from Birmingham, UK, but I consider myself a New Zealander. I moved when I was 19 in a rather undignified rebellion that left me disowned from my family for a while, but then I overcame my disease of being a teenager and it's all better now.

In terms of my art ‘career’, I've considered myself as a freelance artist for around 8 or so years now but I had always kept myself to working for a small circle of people. It's only now that I've decided to put myself out to the world, so you've caught me on the start of my real journey as an artist, and it's been pretty exciting so far.

As far as I know I was always an aspiring artist, I had books I had drawn in at age 2, just little doodles of helicopters and robots and things, but the desire has always been there. Being a creative sort doesn't run in my family, but both me and my brother ended up with that spark; he's a musician though. Other than that, I'm a computer geek who loves gaming, 8-bit music, and t-shirts with witty slogans.

Some people would say I have qualities similar to a dog, but they're not really on about my loyalty and devotion, they're on about the amount of hair I shed everywhere.

You mention that you are a ‘self-taught artist’. I love to ask the artists that say this what that means for them personally as everyone seems to have their own unique ‘flavour’ for this description!
Ah, well this will probably be a depressing answer, but here goes: I grew up in a very poor area of the UK, so wanting to be an artist is not something people generally did. For a lot of kids they were lucky if they actually got as far as college; most just left school at 16 and went to work in the first terrible job they could get.

I never wanted that for myself but I thought it went against everything my parents wanted for me. So I just kept my head down at school and did my work, and kept art as a very personal thing. Back then I never really thought about being a professional artist because I had absolutely zero confidence in my ability. I felt somehow that I would be a disappointment, so I never showed anyone my drawings and I never fully participated in art classes because I was too anxious.

When I was 14 my family got their first dial-up modem and I was introduced to the Internet, which was still a very nerdy thing to use back then. I spent a lot of time in IRC (ZN: = ‘Internet relay chat’... I had to look it up [yes, because I’m too old]!) and over time began showing people my crude but detailed MS Paint drawings. Then my dad picked up a copy of Photoshop 4 and an entirely new world opened up to me. I used the Internet to find tutorials (which were difficult to come by back then) and taught myself how to digitally paint.

From there I realised I had a huge amount of knowledge at my fingertips and just started teaching myself new skills. By age 16 I had taught myself HTML, CSS, 3D modelling, Flash animation, digital painting, how to compose music, and some basic programming skills. I still envy the motivation and drive I had back then where I would happily shut myself away and be constantly working on little projects like games or animations. But I recognise I was a kid and all those projects were probably terrible. Still, luckily my desire to learn has remained: I like the sense of achievement it brings! For example, I'm currently teaching myself
Python, and have been learning about 3D sculpting.

And while we’re on the subject of teachin’ and learnin’ and ‘stuff’, how in the name of the Great Gatsby did you manage to fail art?
Well, I'm sure this will resonate with a lot of younger artists out there, but I went through an anime phase. Unfortunately, it was whilst I was in college and I did the whole silly rant about how it should be perfectly acceptable to draw half cyborg catgirls for art presentations! It's deeply embarrassing now and I am glad I eventually dug myself out of that hole.

Another part of my lack of success in art is owing to the fact that when I wasn't drawing half-cyborg catgirls, I was making really disturbing things for my projects. I remember studying Francis Bacon and making a pop-up book of grotesque animal torture for an end-of-year presentation. I think I actually got sent to a counselling session for that. Despite all that nonsense I don't really regret failing art or not going to art school or getting a degree.

I did actually apply for art school and was offered a position, but when I went to the interview I was asked whether I enjoyed
lino printing... HOWEVER, I hated lino printing with a passion! I told the interviewer that, to which he responded I would have to "pretend to like it or get out". To me that spoke volumes about what I was in for if I ended up going there... so I walked out.

Once I finished college, I didn't know what I wanted to do and hastily applied for a position in a 'film technology & script writing' degree. I was there for about six months but wasn't eligible for a student loan or help with fees, so I had to drop out. That's when I decided to travel and came to New Zealand for a few months where I absolutely fell in love with the country. I eventually returned back to the UK but knew I wasn't going to stay there much longer.

Looking back, I do think that the kind of artist someone is at a school age and the kind of artist they become in adulthood is vastly different: you kind of need all these assorted little life experiences to shape you. I would consider going back to school in the future, but not because I feel a degree is going to help me in any way. It'd be more to fill in little gaps in my art knowledge.

Lianne, you seem to be a well-journeyed person (gosh, I hope that isn’t an insult in any of the English ‘dialects’ you’ve learned over the years). How do you think your sojourns through a good deal of the English (+/-) speaking nations of the Earth have affected you most, including as a person and as an artist?
My travels have pretty much shaped who I am entirely, even more than going to art school or getting a degree could ever have.

I grew up in a Buddhist household – which is always something that makes people laugh if their perception of me is my on-line persona only! I view my travels as a decade-long journey of growth. I've uprooted so many times that I don't really have any material possessions to my name; in fact, right now all I have is the contents of a small suitcase, a hard drive with all my art on it, and some art supplies that I've had for years. It's a pretty liberating feeling to just go wherever you feel you need to go and kind of stay off the grid and observe the world.

My reasons for moving were always depression, since unlike a lot of artists I simply can't produce anything when I'm depressed. My art has never been a reflection of who I am as a person, so depression just muddies the whole process. So I'd run away and try and find my inspiration again, and there would always be a hard lesson to learn along the way. When I moved to New Zealand it taught me about making dreams a reality. Moving to Australia taught me about independence and trust, and moving to Canada taught me about confidence and acceptance.

I came back to New Zealand feeling like I was whole, and ready to settle down and focus on my artwork and make a career out of it. As an artist the experience has allowed me to break down a lot of mental filters that can shape your pieces. I try not to worry too much about what's socially acceptable and I don't neuter my ideas as much anymore. It no longer really bothers me too much if people look at my artwork and think I'm a bit mental. I'm not going to waste my time censoring myself online to the point that I sound like background noise.

You’ve lived in Auckland, New Zealand since 2002. What is the art scene like there?
I'm starting to learn the art scene is not as small as I initially thought. It does feel like a very hidden world though, but there are a lot of things in New Zealand that feel like well-kept secrets. The reason I actually left NZ before was because I just felt there was no opportunity here for me, but I've adjusted my position on that now. I do think Auckland needs more galleries catering to emerging artists and people who don't really fit the traditional mould of landscape/nature artists, which this area is big on.

In comparison, I never really experienced the art scene over in the UK; however, when I was over in Vancouver, I was blown away at the art community there. One of the most amazing moments for me was sitting in a high rise with a collective of artists, graphic designers, architects, and advertisers, and having a 'drawing club'. We'd have a theme for the evening and pull a random subject out of a hat and we all had to draw whatever we got. And in that particular moment, it wasn't about how well people could draw, it was just that air of creativity permeating the room. It was inspirational.

I'd actually love to see some similar get-togethers in Auckland, where people can just leave their egos and anxieties at the door and have some childlike fun creating silly things.

After you returned to New Zealand late last year that you apparently realised that you wanted to pursue being an artist seriously, rather than, quote, ‘just drawing silly pictures for my friends’. What happened then? Did some sort of epiphany occur or perhaps even a mystical light appear?
Ha ha, that's pretty accurate actually! I was in Canada for two years and there were times where my mental strength was really tested. I had to think about what sort of person I was compared to how others saw me.

I went there very stupidly at the start of the recession and watched people's careers falling apart. Vancouver has a huge artist community but it was very difficult meeting students who were just realising their design degrees were not going to be helping them anytime soon. As I said before, when I was in Vancouver, I met some amazing folks, from advertisers, to professional artists, and so many more. I then realised I couldn't live my life stuck in my own head with my insecurities any more.

Soon, I couldn't afford living in Vancouver anymore and moved out to a tiny little town called Osoyoos, which is out in what is known as 'Canada's only desert' (ZN: why not visit the nearby ‘Anarchist Protected Area’ today?
I kid you not...). When I was out there I didn't have access to the Internet for a few months, and when you're living out in the middle of a desert you have a lot of time to reassess what's going on in your life. You stand out in the middle of fields and mountains and you realise that creativity is the essence of life. It's something that we should be sharing with the world, not hiding away in closely guarded sketchbooks.

Continued in
Part 2

A Long Way From That Shy and Anxious Kid

An Interview With Artist Lianne Booton

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
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Lianne, in Part 1 during my rousing and chair-gripping introduction (acknowledging that most people are thinking ‘must escape, must log off’ when I go on like that), we talked about some of the interesting descriptions that have accompanied your work and portfolio so far. Based on these inputs, my first question then to these is simply: ‘why?’ Are you intentionally going for a kind of shock effect or is that just an expression of how your imagination rolls?
The country lane metaphor that you quoted is exactly how I see my creation process. I don't ever try and hide the fact that I do draw some pretty weird things alongside relatively benign pictures, but it's important to note that those images aren't a reflection of my mental state. Hence describing it as a neutral road winding through what is just harmless scenery at the end of the day is perfect! You look at it and you say 'oh that's nice' or 'why does this exist' and that's it.

I do have a very dark sense of humour though, so I wouldn't be surprised if it sounds like a shock tactic. To me though it sounds a lot more calming than describing my creative process as drowning in an endless ocean of haunting visages! On the other points though, well, the counselling thing actually happened... and I think a good friend of mine put it best when she said "Lianne, we all know your concept of cute".

I really do enjoy watching the facial expressions of my friends when I show them the stuff I make. For example, I was recently sitting in a local park drawing with someone and the topic of Dungeons & Dragons came up, particularly the really ridiculous monsters. I decided I wanted to make up a really ludicrous D&D monster and hid behind my sketchbook scribbling away. I drew a half-scorpion, half-elderly lady holding a bowl and spoon and labelled it the "Puddingiver" and gave it a back-story. I'd rank those kind of confused stares I get as being just as awesome as baby laughter is to parents.

How did your fascination with ‘slightly demented’ and ‘quirky and unsettling pieces’ arise?
I fully place the blame on this onto British Comedy. I absolutely love some of the old abstract humour. A lot of my friends know I have always had an unbearably sad crush on
Vic Reeves who is a very bizarre artist and talented comedian. I grew up watching shows like ‘Big Night Out’ and ‘Shooting Stars’ which has some really weird artwork and puppets (my favourite being a commander with a giant boiled egg for a head and a very long tongue for *ahem* impressing the ladies).

Aside from that I really enjoy outsider art/art brut. I also like the works of
Henry Darger, Louis Wain, and H.R.Giger. Other than art influences, I enjoy bizarre movies, where of course David Lynch gets a mention! There's something wonderful about seeing artwork that's untamed and ignores all our perceptions and expectations. I think in broader terms, I just enjoy people who simply don't care what everyone else thinks, no matter what area of life it shows up in! It's a very attractive quality in my eyes.

Having said all that, do you think that you have developed your own definitive style (singular) yet? You know, something that alerts everyone that, yes, here is indeed another bona fide Lianne Booton piece to enjoy?
This is something I'm still figuring out for myself. Unfortunately, I realised that those half-cyborg cat-girls do a real number on forming a style. I do think I'm getting there though. My picture "Don't Worry" – shown here – is what I would consider close to ‘my style’. Having said that, I'm still young and I don't foresee giving up art anytime soon unless I get into a tragic combine harvester accident and lose both hands! So I have a long time to develop and refine my style.

I can tell my artwork is still maturing though because there are huge leaps every year, even for me looking at it month-to-month, in terms of my skill and techniques. I have no idea really where my art will be at next year in terms of whether I’ll have a new found love for painting or get into speed painting landscapes, or go back to those marvellous doe-eyed cyborgs (just kidding).

Speaking of recognisable styles, do you even want to accomplish that?
Definitely! I don't think it's as important nowadays to establish your own style though. You're competing with so many other talented people that's it's impossible to not run across something similar.

For example, I use Facebook to network with artists mainly, and it's definitely shown me that nobody is as unique as they think. The most common style I see are people who are very obviously inspired by
Mark Ryden! And I was, too, until I saw how many people were doing it.

How are you promoting your work? You’ve just opened a very nice-looking new website and are listed among others in the
Pink Noise directory; however, it also seems you’ve tried perhaps with less success in the past with sites like Flickr or even your own blog?
I'm still in the process of learning about self-promotion but I can imagine things like interviews help quite a bit!

In addition, Pink Noise is a very important platform for me. I was directed to Pink Noise by a friend, and in turn Pink Noise directed me to a very good blog that laid out exactly how to go about marketing yourself online. From here I realised I needed a website to start with so I quickly got that sorted out. I also have a Facebook fan page which I regularly update with art and my adventures. Aside from that I have profiles on a fairly large number of art-sites like
Redbubble, Artst, Society6, Behance, Everycreative, and the NZ-based creative community forum, Big Idea.

I'm also experimenting with things like advertising through
Project Wonderful and also being a bit more vocal on art communities to spread word about my work. In comparison, back when I first started my blog on Tumblr, I found it to be really draining; I just felt completely detached from any sense of community. I am in the process of setting my Tumblr back up again though because I think it would be neat to keep a small record of my progress and look back on it in a year.

In general, I've shied away from blog sites because I was raised on the version of the Internet where privacy was number one and you didn't just go throwing personal information everywhere. It’s just I find that I still get very self conscious about what I write and I keep most of my ramblings to Facebook nowadays. Oh and Flickr only ever really served one purpose to me, namely, it was a place to post images before I had a website and didn't want Facebook cropping images and doing strange things to the colours. I've never explored the groups or community aspect of it, but maybe that can be my mini-project for the day.

I was interested as well to see that among your ‘digital’ methods that you employ Flash as one of your creative tools. Why Flash?
Flash has been like an old friend to me. I used it quite extensively when it was fairly new software and it was only used for monkey-punching banner ads. People said it would never be used for drawing, but I used to draw painstakingly detailed pictures in it.

However, I also used to draw with a laptop touchpad, so you can see I don't always have the brightest ideas. I only really use Flash now for pictures where I need ultra-smooth lines quickly and don't feel like yelling at Illustrator for ruining my day. I think Flash does cop a lot of flak though and it has come a long way as a drawing and animation tool.

How about your more traditional methods, including inks, watercolours, acrylics and more? Do you have a given technique that you prefer or is it merely a matter of choosing the instrument depending on the inspiration?
It's usually just whatever inspires me. I do have the tendency to have several sketch versions of pictures in different mediums so that I can choose what I think would look best. I think I definitely enjoy ink the most though, mostly because I have shaky hands and it gives me the thrill of living dangerously and not knowing if I'm half a second from tipping ink all over the picture.

I did very much enjoy the pieces you composed where you inked in images over the top of a randomly watercolour painted pattern. You mention that these were done as 'warming up' illustrations. What does that entail exactly?
I love those pictures, even though they have very undignified beginnings. ‘Don't Worry’ started out as a silly joke between me and a friend when we were up late one night mucking about on an online whiteboard. I can't exactly remember the original image but I think it involved the fairy being on a skateboard doing a flip off the nose of a huge crying head. Somehow I thought it would make a neat sketch and promised I would do a proper version. That and the crow painting were done on the same day even!

But these were the first paintings I had done in ten years! I really didn't know what I was doing and made it all up as I went along. I guess I was just warming up the brain to see what I remembered about painting. Usually for other pieces I'll do composition sketches and a lot of versions of the same drawing with different poses or faces etc. I'm fairly thorough even for relatively simple pictures.

You mention that you also enjoy writing, costume-making and creating custom-stuffed toys, having also learned how to crochet on your own. Have any of these other creative outlets yet found their way into public consumption or are these more hobbies to help balance out your creative and professional work?
Writing was my 'thing' when I was too shy about my artwork. In fact, I've been working on a book since I was 18! I have binders full of concept art, back-stories, world history, moral codes, and some pretty in-depth research to make sure all the contraptions in the story could theoretically work. It's a huge project and there was a few years where my entire time was consumed by it, but I don't feel I'm ready to write it yet.

The story is as fresh in my mind as it was when I conceived the idea, but I will need to focus on writing short stories for a couple of years before I'm confident that I can do it justice. I did write game and movie reviews a long time ago and have a published poem, so it's a hobby I've been happy to show the world. I've actually always felt I am a much stronger writer than artist, but I'm very much out of practice.

As for my other creative pursuits, unfortunately I don't own a sewing machine so my stuffed toys and clothes making remain a personal thing only. If someone wanted a custom toy though I would happily oblige of course! I did make a stuffed roadkill hedgehog for someone's Christmas present though, which was very... er... cute :) ! I really would love to sell custom-made stuffed toys though and would probably focus on that entirely if I could.

The one hobby I am extremely guarded about is music. I never allow anyone to listen to songs I make, I won't even mess around with music software if there's other people in the house. I can also play a few instruments and sing, but barely anybody knows that side of me.

For your toy creations, I understand you’re trying to incorporate recycled materials?
Yep, aside from any wool I use the toys I make are constructed 100% from old unwearable clothes, or other scraps of fabric that no longer serve a purpose. It's actually pretty fun making the toys when you don't know what textures you're going to end up having to use. I also don't use patterns so each one is unique. I produce some concept sketches and figure out the rough size of the components and in which order to attach things. Luckily I've lived my whole life 'making things up as I go along' so I'm pretty good at it now!

Looking at the piece you donated for the Christchurch Earthquake relief auction by Pink Noise: for those of us not completely in-the-know about NZonian current events, can you describe what you were trying to capture with your piece ‘Gerry Brownlee Riding a Pie’?
I don't think I was really trying to make much of a statement. I wanted to help out but I didn't have anything to donate, so I had a think about the Kiwi mindset and how they're always up for a good giggle.

Novelty items always seem to go down well on TradeMe and there was the potential of getting media attention for the appeal if it was ridiculous enough. Me and Katie of Pink Noise concocted a lot of ways to get it noticed through Twitter and emailing politicians etc. Unfortunately, we were upstaged by a
giant rock that sold for NZ$60,000, which is fair enough!

Finally, where would you like to see your art heading in the near and/or distant future? Do you have any special plans on the horizon?
Well, right now I'm in the phase where everything is a new step for me. It's quite exciting really.

There's a few very interesting exhibition ideas in the pipeline with Pink Noise, where there's been talk of a sort of bleak and crazy puppet show which we're aiming to do around Christmas time. As mentioned, I'm going to be doing some work on a collaboration comic, which is a fun new thing for me since it's unfamiliar territory. When I decided to make a comic I was under the assumption that having writing and drawing skills would make most of the work easy... but I was wrong! It's actually very, very challenging and gruelling.

As for what I see for the next year: well, metaphorically speaking I'm a small sapling in a huge forest of trees with well-established roots. I'm going to be spending a lot of time figuring out how to follow their lead. A year ago I didn't expect to be successfully pursuing an artistic career. So, hopefully a year from now I will be pleasantly surprised at how far I've come from that shy and anxious kid I used to be.


Lianne Booton is a freelance illustrator originally hailing from Birmingham, UK where she managed to eventually overcome the debilitating disease known often as being a teenager. She currently lives in New Zealand, where she lived both before and after spending a couple of years living in Canada.

Lianne tells us that when she’s not drawing, she’s quite often thinking about things she SHOULD be drawing. She unabashedly admits that she sees her artwork as a romp down a peacefully meandering country lane. Only this country lane is one of those that has on one side fields filled with horses, badgers, and small animals getting along fabulously; however, on the other side are disembodied heads and a palette comprised of colours that look suspiciously like bodily fluids. Sounds like New Jersey to me, but let’s not quibble.

Lianne has also stated that she is quite proud of the fact that she has never (?) been compelled to draw ferns or a tui coquettishly perched on a branch. According to Wikipedia, apparently
The Tui (with a capital ‘T’ and NOT pictured here) is an endemic passerine bird of New Zealand and is apparently one of the largest members of the diverse honeyeater family. However, since we learned long ago not to create definitions with words we do not understipify or fully comprehindsight, we’ll leave it at that. We also do not know why (a) Wikipedia wants us to notice the pollen on the heads of said birds nor (b) why they should be associated with a coquette, or ‘woman who makes teasing sexual or romantic overtures; a flirt’... but hey, by now, even we’ve stopped reading.

Just check out the following, okay?


Directory listings (examples, see other links in article)
‘Pink Noise’
‘Humble Voice’

Facebook Fan Page


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Lianne Booton, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly. The characters and images associated with ‘Brutemus & friends’ is copyrighted and trademarked by Chelsea Navarro.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!