Words: Clare Lane
Alight here and celebrate the daily commute with Drawn Underground – a puntastic doodle book of half drawings to be completed between stations – from illustrator Tim Ellis, currently on show at Tracey Neuls Gallery. We caught up with Tim to discuss the book, cutting up magazines and collecting mushrooms.
What was the inspiration behind the book? Was it an idea that grew from travelling on the tube?
Yes, and it has been an idea that has grown over time. I used to spend a lot of the time on the tube drawing and doodling in sketchbooks when I lived in London, especially during my MA at Central Saint Martins. I was – and continue to be – interested in the in-between space that travelling on the tube provides between places. Some people just want to get to the destination, but I enjoy these in-between moments – they are a chance to let the mind wander and come up with ideas, like being in the shower.
Your work relies heavily on clever observations, any influences behind the use of wordplay?
I’m a fan of wordplay and bring it into my work where I can. I had a wordplay book growing up by Gyles Brandreth that explored the fun that can be had with words. The English language has lots of words that are ripe for playing with, especially with illustration.
What do you think about the rise of the digital book, such as Kindle and iPads?
I think they are great. For many years there has been the worry that the rise of the digital age will sound the death knell for analogue books, but I don’t necessarily think that is the case. I do think digital books might challenge what was printed, in the same way emails have challenged what needs to be send via post. There will always be a platform for the analogue book; it might be reduced in the future, but I don’t think it will ever go away.
Do you see Drawn Underground as a way to give the commuter more control over what they are doing, instead of being given free material to read?
The spirit of Drawn Underground is to provide a fun, creative alternative to free newspapers or their book. It’s also an opportunity for people to tap into their creativity on the tube.
Do you have any pet hates about the tube?
Not really, though it can be a squeeze at times. I always remember a time a mother and her little girl squeezed onto a train and the little girl said, “Mummy there’s too many people in here; can’t we sit downstairs?” Brilliant.
What is your favourite station name?
Bethnal Green. I always thought it sounds like a character in a book.
You’ve previously exhibited at the Tracey Neuls gallery before; what was it like to be able to showcase your work again?
Tracey is a brilliant creative force and passionate about great design and illustration and it’s been fantastic to work with her again – this time in her new store gallery on Redchurch Street and part of the Whitechapel Gallery First Thursdays event. Redchurch Street is in an exciting part of town; it reminds me a lot of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which I fell in love with on a trip to New York last year.
How did you find stripping back the use of colour? Do you have a preference of working or is it generally dictated by the subject matter?
I enjoy working both in colour and black and white, so there is no preference. I used stripped back colour to fit with the genre of doodle books, which are usually black and white. I also wanted original drawings as a focus for the show. There is a tendency to have lots of digital prints and I thought the hand drawn would keep it more in the spirit of the doodle book.
Your illustrations can be instantly recognized by your blocky, simplistic characters which works really well in reinforcing the faceless commuter. How did this Keith Haring-esque character style initially come about?
There has been a melting pot of influences for the little people that I use alongside Haring including Giorgio Di Chirico, tribal art, Anthony Gormley and illustrator Brad Holland. I was inspired a lot by the conceptual illustrations I used to cut out of my mum’s Radio Times magazine when I was 14. It used to have little business people inhabiting abstract worlds that I was intrigued by.
What’s next for the journey ahead? Any personal projects planned?
I’ve got several personal projects lined up which include some more illustrated books. I’m a keen forager for porcini mushrooms – the large edible ones Carluccio uses – and have plans to make a little pocket guidebook. It won’t be a definitive guide by any means – mushroom pickers usually use a handful of different books to help identify the right ones to pick. But I think there’s an opportunity to include an illustrated guide into the mix.
Ends 3 June 2012
Tracey Neuls Gallery
72 Redchurch Street