Tuesday, 20 December 2016

George Butler - Finding the Normal in the Abnormal

George Butler is a Reportage Illustrator with a unique style who will often travel to 'hostile' places in an attempt to reveal the every day people and things that surround him. As an illustration student myself, I am regularly encouraged to go out and draw the world around me, something which George has used to tell rich stories that you won't necessarily see in a newspaper or a magazine. It was a real treat to be able to interview him and ask about his work.

Please introduce yourself and your work.
My name's George Butler and I am a Reportage Illustrator, which means using illustration or, in my case, location drawing to tell stories of different places and scenes in the world, so quite often newsworthy stories done with illustration instead of photography or writing.

When did you start making art, and at what point did you realise that you wanted to do it for a living?
Well, I've just always done it. But I don't think I realised that illustration existed until I did a foundation course, and I suppose there isn't necessarily a career path in terms of reportage illustration, there isn't a job for that, so you have to find your own work. And so the decision to do that was after I finished university. I started making my own way, trying to do some editorial drawings and other bits and pieces which, I suppose, still goes on, to do work for magazines and newspapers (or whoever the clients might be) and it takes quite a lot of time, but it's worth it in the end.

So did you study Illustration at university then?
I studied Illustration at Kingston, yeah.

How would you describe your working process from idea to final piece?
Um...I'm not sure, that sounds a bit formal for a process that's largely based on inspiration, something that you enjoy doing, but I like the idea of something that you wouldn't necessarily get with a photograph, so something personal, trying to highlight moments of empathy, trying to use drawings to connect with people I suppose.

So would you say that your ideas are sort of spur of the moment?
Not necessarily, I think that probably the best sort of moments, like music or poetry, can come without thinking, but the same thing with anything creative, theatre or photography, it has to be thought through and to be thought through consistently. I think the great artists and photographers and writers probably just spend a huge amount of time doing it, but I think in my case, a lot thinking about and planning a lot of trips. Sort of getting that balance between knowing what you want to do and leaving it up to chance.

What would you say is the most challenging part about being an independant illustrator?
Um...there's not very much work? But I think that, yeah, work is quite difficult to come by, especially when you're just starting off.

What is the weirdest thing you've done through Illustration?
I don't know. I'm not sure. So often the things that I draw are very common experiences of people in different situations, so when you say 'weird', that suggests odd. I think the drawings that I've done are a great excuse to sit in front of some things; the conflict in Syria was 'abnormal' in anything that we would know in our side of the world, I've sat in courtrooms in Germany and drawn there, a pretty fascinating trip to a North Sea oil rig, Gaza and therefore Palestine this year. The idea is that they're all situations that are different from what we know, so that's where they are interesting or 'weird' to use your words.

What would be your advice to someone thinking about making art for a living?
Not call it art? I think you want to be specific, I don't know if that's me being too cynical. Some good advice to me was to get a part time job to start with so that allows you time to do your own thing. I think you need to be prepared to work for 4 or 5 years to become established and build that trust up and get a list of clients and some regularity. I think that's a good place to start.

What artists or illustrators do you find particularly inspiring?
I find all the ones that can draw pretty inspiring. A lot of the illustrators that I find inspiring are dead; Paul Hogarth and Feliks Topolski. A couple of war artists, not too many; Mervyn Peake. Then there's photographers like Don McCullin (an obvious one, perhaps). But also some journalists such as John McCarthy, Frank Gardener, they've gone out of their way to try and understand a different part of the world. People like Grayson Perry, questioning some of the conceptions we have about our society.

If you were to start all over again from scratch, what would you do differently?
None of it. I don't think it changes anything, I think there's always more than one solution and I don't think starting again would give you a different result.

And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island with someone, dead or alive, who would it be and why? 
Who would I pick? I'm looking at my bookshelf for inspiration. I'd probably pick one of the great explorers, someone like Richard Burton, [John] Speke, someone who's adventured to a lot of places that we now see and wonder what they were like 100, 200, 300 years ago. 

You can find out more about George Butler and his work on his website.

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