Robbie Porter‘s unique brand of humorous, thoughtful illustration always brings a smile to our faces here in the shoppe. Here he talks to Aimee about his life as an illustrator, his inspirations, and his quest for the ultimate hangover cure!
You describe your work as “ideas led” – what does that mean for you? And where do your ideas come from?
I hope it means that there is a somewhat thoughtful concept behind the illustrations. I’m usually trying to communicate something, whether it’s silly or serious my aim is to make work that’s both playful and meaningful.
In terms of where the ideas come from I don’t think there is a big secret really, I wish great ideas just popped into my head but usually it’s just about painful perseverance. Waiting for a great idea is the best way to get nothing done – or at least that’s my excuse for all the terrible work I’ve made over the years.
What does an average working day look like for you?
Sadly I’m not a morning person, I’ve developed quite a bad habit of watching a half hour comedy show every morning when I wake up, it’s the only way I can stop myself from falling back to sleep.
I’m usually at my desk by around 10ish, I’ll start by answering all the emails that I forgot about the day before and try to clear any boring stuff out of the way as quickly as possible. By midday I’d hope to be getting down to some drawing, that’s when I’ll start ignoring emails and just try to get my head down.
I used to work late into the night but recently I’ve tried to adhere to a more traditional routine, I’ll stop working around 6:30 to cook dinner, I love cooking and find it a great way to separate the day from the evening. Afterwards it’s time for movies & reading or friends & drinking.
Do you listen to music while you work? What kind?
Definitely, sometimes I think that’s the main reason why I became an illustrator – I get to spend all my time in the company of my favourite musicians. When I have to concentrate I’ll listen to stuff like; Nils Frahm, Bon Iver, Fever Ray, Beach Boys… and when I’m done concentrating I’ll listen to something a bit more upbeat, I’m always partial to a bit of Kanye.
Also, like all illustrators, I listen to a lot of podcasts, recently I’ve been enjoying the Adam Buxton Podcast, I think he’s the person who most easily puts a smile on my face. I also listen to Radio 4 which deeply offends my teenage self, but because I work from home it’s nice to listen to talking as well as music sometimes.
Are there any other designers or illustrators you’d say you’ve been
particularly inspired by?
When I was really little I was completely obsessed with the comic Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, I think I related to Calvin and how much he lived inside his own head, I got wrapped up in his world and found it so imaginative, smart & funny. When I got a bit older and my mum would drag me around art galleries I was always attracted to Surrealism and in particular Magritte, something about the simplicity and absurdity fascinated me. Later, when I was at art school and the idea of being an illustrator started percolating, I discovered the work of Craig Frazier, the way he conceptualises complex subjects into strong, simple images blew me away. I often remind myself of a quote by him that says “good illustration should go from the eye to the mind then the heart.”
You moved from Scotland to London – how’s life in the city? Is there anything you miss about living up north?
I really love London, it’s the first place that’s felt like home other than Edinburgh. I think there’s a bit of a myth that London is an unfriendly & foreboding place but I find it incredibly sociable, open and fun. The only obvious problem is the cost of living.
The thing I miss most about Edinburgh is being able to walk anywhere in 30 minutes, it’s so rare for me to travel anywhere now without hopping on a bus or tube.
One of our favourite designs by you features a man walking a dinosaur – have you ever had any exotic pets?
Nothing exotic sadly, but a countless number of poor wee hamsters.
As well as designing cards and accessories, you’ve worked for some pretty prestigious clients as an illustrator. Which side of your business do you enjoy more, if either?
I really like both, and they sort of compliment one another. With client work the challenge is visually interpreting someone else’s words and sometimes the subject matter can be quite dry, it’s up to you to find a way of making it interesting or fun. The goal for me is to make something that not only fits the brief but also has some personality in it too. When designing products you have a lot more freedom in what you create and it’s easier to be experimental and silly. In the end though, both processes are about trying to make something personal that hopefully relates to an audience.
Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?
Make a lot of work. I really think that’s the most important thing.
I’m doing some client work for Esquire, it’s about what to do before & after a boozy night to reduce the likelihood of a hangover – I have terrible hangovers so it’s nice to work on something that I could actually benefit from.
I’m also thinking about trying out some new products like wrapping paper, mugs and possibly plant pots – if I can figure out how to make them.
Thanks to Robbie for giving us this glimpse into his working life! His range of illustrated cards, pins and patches is available now on the Hannah Zakari Webshoppe.