Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Comparison between Otto Dettmer and Damian Gascoigne

The main difference for me between these two illustrators is Damian Gascoigne’s lecture made me want to go and draw and take photos and explore things whilst Otto Dettmer’s made me want to go and read a book, or something.

Not that it wasn’t interesting, it just seemed very academic, very dry. I thought his work was good, he was very polite. It’s only that he was quite an insular figure, solitary seeming, whereas Gascoigne seems in his element around people, soaking up inspiration from his encounters with interesting students or things.

It seemed like Gascoigne more or less processed the world in terms of images. He clearly loves drawing and learning and this came across in the work he showed us.

Otto Dettmer didn’t seem like some huge misanthrope, it’s just his apparent approach to illustration was a lot more direct, whilst Gascoigne’s is maybe more winding or scenic.

But this sums up their different illustrative styles as well, fairly succinctly. Dettmer’s a little colder, more graphic based, Gascoigne’s slightly more ramshackle, personal.

(piece by Otto Dettmer)

(piece by Damian Gascoigne)

My understanding of the illustration industry, and achieving success within it, is that you have to be really, really good in terms of ability, productivity, efficiency, professionalism. You also have to really love illustration and just creating images, the way Damian Gascoigne seems to process the world in that way. You also maybe have to be incredibly lucky with meeting people and being chosen to do certain jobs and all of that good stuff.

A middle ground between these two illustrators, in my mind, is Paul Davis.

(piece by Paul Davis)

He has been in the business for years on end, probably more than I’ve been alive (which really goes for all three of these figures). But he just seems so prolific. I saw his desk when I was at Big Orange and it was covered with drawings he’d done and was working on. He has shelves and draws and things full of stuff, lots of pens and drawings and pieces of paper and whatever. Otto Dettmer seems maybe to have done even more pictures in his career, but I can’t be sure.

He has spent a lot of time making all these books, his commercial work for newspapers and this huge archive of stock illustration (which is maybe a really good idea but seems deeply impersonal and inherently skeptical with regards to the illustration industry and clients attitudes. But he didn’t seem so skeptical so I don’t know).

Then again Gascoigne didn’t go on about how exciting he found every job and fresh challenges or anything. But he did talk about how much love he had for his students, how he loved to draw, how he stood for half an hour watching a Korean couple on a date and wondering about their lives and the circumstances that brought them together.

Gascoigne is a teacher as well as an illustrator and an animator. He talked about how he’d had a year of terrible pitches which had all been shot down and talked about illustrators needing the nerves of a gambler and that sounds about right to me. But as much as he makes a living from illustration and his hard work pitches he also gets paid for teaching and this must be a two way bonus for him.

On the one hand it means he can relax a little, because he’s getting paid regularly. On the other hand, which is actually the wrong phrase to use here because these are both good things, he gets to spend time with fresh minds and new people every year: his students.

This seems like it would be extremely important to Gascoigne, both in terms of inspiration (in life as well as illustration). Maybe that’s the big difference between these two cats. Illustration follows Gascoigne wherever he goes; he walks it like a dog. Dettmer approaches it, brings it out to perform tricks, like a bear maybe, or a monkey.

The other way in which Davis shares, in my mind, a connection with one of these two is his emphasis on drawing (something he shares with Gascoigne). I remember visiting Le Gun and one of their boys (Chris Bianchi) saying we like the pen. Gascoigne and Davis do too. It seems like use of the pen inherently gives you a class that is rare in other illustrators[1].

(piece by Chris Bianchi)

It’s like there’s a sort of respect, amongst illustrators, for people who can actually draw. Not a sort of sighing, laughing relief sort of respect that we have for Paul Davis doing funny drawings like oh yeah he can draw but ha ha so can I, I guess.

David Hughes, Charley Harper, James Jean: these are the stone bastards we’re all in awe of.

(piece by James Jean. Link to bigger version:

When I was in London speaking to a guy from the Telegraph about my work he said he’d never seen anything like it and it sort of broke my heart a little. I’ve seen so much work like mine. That makes sense and everything but it sort of goes to show: there’s so much because it’s sort of easy maybe. And it’s like there’s different standards within illustration and outside of it. I’m not often amazed by my own images. Likewise if some other student had produced the same maybe I’d think it was quite a good attempt, as I imagine they’d feel about mine. But when it comes to raw drawing talent I have a tendency to step aside and let it pass, as I think a lot of illustrators/illustration students do. Whereas to an outsider, so to speak, it all looks good.[2]

What’s harder, although I don’t exactly know what I’m talking about, is bringing an entire life into illustration. I mean we all do this, all of us, at least subconsciously. That’s why my blog had, pretentiously maybe, all those song lyrics as headers. Why I write about buying a hat in my visit to Le Gun. Gascoigne does it very consciously, so does Davis, in a less stupid way than I do.

They pick up on the earnestness of things they over hear, people they see in the street. This comes into their drawings; knowingly quite rough and sort of innocent, though that’s not really the word I want. And, like I say, I’m assuming that’s why they draw like that, along with that subtle difference thing I was talking about before.

Dettmer’s work is not devoid of humanity, or anything. There’s still quite a lot of humour in it, for example, it’s just under a couple more layers, a little more removed.

(piece by Otto Dettmer)

I think his love is with screenprinting. You get a feel for that when you’re holding the books he makes. But he just has to produce work so fast, it seems, he has to leave the screenprinting to side projects.

I understand that illustration happens fast, generally, so it makes sense for Dettmer to use a computer in place of screenprinting and I would be the same. Technology is obviously there to make things easier.

It seems like you need to work really, really hard as an illustrator and be almost constantly making images, or else just really love it and try to explore and learn as much about it as you can, and explore the world through illustration, almost process all your experiences through imagery. And that might get you somewhere.

[is this post any good? is it even remotely like what it's supposed to be?]

[1] But not impossible to find. I would say Dettmer has this classiness; Matthew Richardson, Martin O’Neill. Illustrators who don’t draw, who make use of digital stuff but aren’t huge slags about it, like, say, me. Where people like Gascoigne, Davis or David Hughes deviate, in terms of style, from the guys at Le Gun, is that their styles seem very personal and distinct and whilst the work of the people I spoke to at Le Gun seemed very personal it was also very similar. Which is not exactly a bad thing. Davis’ work shares a lot, stylistically and even in terms of content, with David Shrigley to the point that they’re compared in almost every essay either is mentioned in. Do you see what I did there?

(piece by Neal Fox, from Le Gun)

People are largely the same, and similar people are drawn together (that’s not an illustration pun, please believe me). The differences are subtle, like the work of the guys at Le Gun, like Shrigley and Davis. At least I think that’s just how it is.

[2] Case in point: these computers games covers someone did. Basically computer games covers are the worst of the worst, the most trashy, awful, dull shit. And they sort of sum up, in a way, all that is bad about games today. But we won’t get into that. Someone, a while ago, redid these film posters in a sort of Saul Bass, Penguin Book Covers style and now someone has just peddled the same thing with games covers. Your average gamer is age 15 (actually I think someone told me it's 23, but we're talking hypothetical mental age) and they are used to covers featuring explosions, tits and exploding tits. Possibly aliens also, who gives a fuck? So you show someone a very basic redoing of these games and they will think God has literally shat on the page in front of them.

I’m not saying these covers are bad exactly. I think the one for Grand Theft Auto is complete genius. It’s just anyone with a design degree and half a brain (and has played the games) could have done this and wowed the entire gaming world – a world which knows largely nothing about design.

1 comment:

anna said...

I love your written images - Gascoigne walking illustration like a dog, Dettmer bringing it out to perform got me wondering whether these images would make great illustrations themselves, or if they are best left to the imagination?