Ethical illustrator George 'OMG' Goodwin on why every art grad needs to watch Buffy

An interview with the 'maximilist' artist also known as OMGiDRAWEDit on Notre Dame about-turns, our burning planet and the sadness of going viral.

Ethical illustrator. Picture book maker. Print star. UK illustrator George Goodwin is all of these things, and recently has added a new bow to his string in the form of 'elephant sculpture painter.'

Also known as OMGiDRAWEDit, we first met the rising star at the New Designers Grad show last year, and since then he's not only gone viral with a poignant depiction of a burning Earth ignored by the rich in favour of fixing burning old buildings for publicity, but also contributed his tell-tale colour palette to an Elmer the Patchwork Elephant recently that's been brightening up the streets of Plymouth.

All of his work has a humorous element, and the artist himself is a good laugh in person. For this interview we caught up with George by email to venture once again into his maximalist, minimalist world of picture books, customised curios and wry cartoons with a serious message.

Giacomo Lee: We last spoke at New Designers in London. How would you describe your style these days?

George Goodwin: "This is probably one of the questions I get asked the most and still struggle to answer. I suppose I’m a 'maximilist' illustrator. My main goal is to always create imagery that you want to look at repeatedly.

"Details matter to me to a lot; I love to overwhelm my work with objects and hidden messages. Some act like personal memoirs, some are my own ethical and environmental views, and others are occasional low blowing jabs aimed at humanity and its failures, or joyful thumbs up to our successes.

"I use a lot of simple line work, bold colour and oddly cute characters to display these messages in a fun and endearing way. I am also currently looking for representation so if you like what you see and hear, then give me an email."

GL: What big projects have you been working on since graduation?

GG: "It seems like so long ago, but only a year has passed. I was fortunate enough to find myself back in the Big Smoke to do some live window art/murals at The Old Truman Brewery, for the ethical market place Honest House. I was also commissioned by them to do posters for subsequent events. Obviously it was a perfect client for me in terms of my ethical views as well as the fact that they were a perfect client generally; you know, the ones that don’t bat an eyelid at paying for your hotel and expenses on top of the fee.

"I'm also working on an exciting personal project which came about after I moved into my new house. After being left with a lot of cardboard boxes I found myself looking at ways of repurposing them into something new. So over the last few weeks I have been breaking it all down to a kind of mulch and rebuilding it into blocks that can house wildflower seeds, to help with bee and general wildlife populations.

"These Seed Bombs are about to be released and come in a nifty reusable tin with a mini print inside and packaging that has all been made DIY in my studio. I've kept it all bright and fun to try and get as many people as possible lobbing seed bombs into their local patches of mud."

GL: What does it mean to be an ethical illustrator in 2019?

GG: "Nobody is perfect; we can try to reduce and recycle and change our diets and look at what does and doesn’t help with the longevity of our planet and its species etc, but trying to be everything all the time is unfeasible.

"For me, being ethical at the moment means using my reach and illustration ability to connect people with messages and things that I think work, to highlight problems and do it all in a way that pokes fun and really sort of takes the piss.

"A perfect example is a comic I recently made in which the main character sees a beautiful house plant, buys it then shows it so much love on the way home only to get into the house and see hundreds of dead plants to which the new plant reacts to in deep despair.

"Now the amount of people that said ‘Oh this is so me’ on the comments was interesting and that was I suppose the message on the surface. However, the deeper meaning was a dig at our consumerist nature, the fact that nothing has any value and isn’t worth caring for when it's so easy to just move onto the next thing.

"I used plants as the object of consumption as they are just so trendy at the moment, and of course represent nature and the environment. The character in the comic has a purposely ‘dopey’ look which I always add when trying to highlight our failures. It shouldn’t be hard for people to look after something as simple and easy as a plant but for a lot of us it is and again it is easier to just keep getting more.

"Unfortunately this attitude is in my opinion exactly why we are in a tough spot right now and our environment is suffering. My goal is to open everyone's eyes to this without stuffing it down their throats. You probably won’t ever see some curly typography from me saying ‘Stop buying shit you don’t need.' Probably.

GL: Which nicely leads into my question about your 'burning Earth' cartoon which went viral following the Notre Dame fire (below). How did it feel to get that reaction, and are you at all surprised all those billionaires have dropped their pledges to rebuild the iconic cathedral?

GG: "It was great to hit viral heights with an illustration for sure, although I did succumb to the sadness of knowing that a quick illo, that was a rapid response to the news at the time and took me a couple of hours to draw smashed the volume of engagement of all of my well thought out and message-riddled pieces that I'd spent weeks conceiving, designing and honing.

"It actually made me take a step back from Instagram for a while and I’ve really stopped pressuring myself to make work for it. It also brought with it a lot of commenting and debate which I had to just step away from; it baffles me that so many people are ready to stick up for the super rich that clearly have no interest in giving anything to anyone. Which of course has now been shown to be true with the fact that they have not paid anything, and have no desire to aid with the repair workers' wages etc. They effectively received all of the additional press for no cost at all."

GL: You painted an Elmer sculpture for the Plymouth Big Parade event recently. How did this unique commission come about?

GG: "Painting an Elmer was brilliant, and a real challenge for me as I am not by any means a traditional artist.

"My style and its development have rarely involved paint or paint brushes, so I have to say I was nervous about painting a pretty big sculpture, especially knowing it was going to be seen up close and personal by a lot of people. I was super pleased with the finished artwork, and it made me realise I could definitely add mural painting to my repertoire, it's something I’d like to do more of.

"I was approached by one of the team directly after they saw my work at my Plymouth College of Art grad show, and asked if I would like to submit a design. I found out I had been shortlisted around December time and then that I had been selected in May. The project took such a long time coming together I had assumed I wouldn’t be involved in it. However I got the call saying I was in and boom, now I’m a painter!

"The whole event is part of a huge campaign by St Lukes Hospice to raise awareness and help teach young kids about bereavement. There are 40 full size Elmer sculptures and each one has been designed by a different artist. The full trail spans across the whole of Plymouth, and is a great adventure day out for all the family.

"Oh and the best part was meeting David McKee (Elmer’s Dad) who's a total illustration legend; he was really friendly and supportive, even though I was fangirling big time.


George and his Elmer

GL: You specialise in making rather intricate works. What are the secrets to doing this successfully?

GG: "For me it's all about the objects I place in the scene. A lot of intricate world building that I personally love from artists like Rod Hunt or of course Martin Handford tend to have the 'top down view' or isometric style from enough distance that thousands of characters can be squeezed in. It’s all about the overload of characters across a larger world. Then there are the artists that focus more on epic landscapes and scenery, again more distance and less need for detail added to the objects in the scene.

"I love looking at objects: weird ones, odd shapes, bootleg toys, things in weird packaging, and I like to keep lists of these things I see when out and about, or take a photo, I then try to draw them and keep visual diaries of the best stuff. 

"When I create a world I try to focus on this middle ground in which I can show multiple characters and heavily detail on their clothing with patterns and secret messages, whilst also including objects in more detail. I want the viewer to be able to see the words and patterns on packaging and posters, the designs on pots and details on leaves and foliage. This is when I refer to my object diaries and lists.

"I always want the people that view my work to look again and again; I want them to invest time in picking things out, and then maybe being interested enough to look up what they’ve seen and find out what it is or what it’s based on. I often hide references to comics and books I value or movies, TV shows, documentaries, foods – all kinds of stuff I think people should find out about. Go and look at my pieces again and get Googling, you might find your new fave comic, peeps.

"A tutor at uni told me that one of the things they struggle with when getting students to build worlds is having the ideas that fill the scene. Something I never really struggled with fortunately as my brain just spews out all this stuff with no problem, but if you want to keep your worlds and characters interesting, then I recommend documenting objects, looking at ways that these objects can or can’t fit in a location.

"If they don’t fit naturally then can you build in other things to complete their narrative, and explain why they are there. Can you build a story for your character using objects in the scene, or better still can you build a narrative from the objects in the scene? Once you start listing down these things and researching into them you will soon have an abundance of things to make your world and its characters super interesting. Then you can build on this more and more as you get more confident, for example giving each character in a scene its own narrative, which leads to a very fun and engaging piece.

'I now even like to have things purposely happening at the edge of an image which can be a no go from a compositional point, but art is about breaking rules and I want you to spend the day wondering where that character is going and why. The more engaging and thought provoking, the better the world you have created."

GL: For all the new grads coming out into the real world this year, what are your tips and advice?

GG: "My singular best tip for either those with a little bit of time before starting a job or cracking onto freelance is to watch the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before they reboot it.

"Why? Well, with its female leads kicking ass, same sex relationships, monsters overcoming their ways to ultimately save the world all tied together in a masterclass of storytelling, humour, love and loss, it was way ahead of its time and its underlying story rings so true for modern society. This is no joke, it's a real piece of art. Go, switch it on NOW.

"Whilst you watch and get some seriously cool illo ideas, I'd take the time to also start an online shop, Etsy, Bigcartel, Society 6, whichever, and get some income possibilities going.

"Next I’d recommend taking advantage of the AOI and joining at the reduced student rate. You need their contract template if you want to look pro and more importantly not get shafted when you get that first commission. Be it big or small, you need to immediately instil the habit of making contracts and licenses for all of your jobs. It doesn’t just help you, it helps the whole professional community.  

"There’s been a real push with the AOI’s amazing #notahobby campaign and it's got a lot of illustrators talking, including me. if you want to be involved in the conversation, then my next tip would be:

"Get on social media, Twitter for inter-peer conversation and Instagram for sharing your work. Twitter has the friendliest and most fact-filled community for illustrators. Whether you want some banter with illustration superstars like Dan Woodger or advice from agency Handsome Frank, they are all there and they’ve spoken to me and countless others. They want to help new illustrators and more established ones get fair prices for work, offer feedback and share work.

"Now the chances are you have an Instagram; a lot of people do say you don’t need to focus on Instagram and its true, you don’t, it doesn’t have to take over your life, but you do need it to share your work if you want to get seen and it's still currently one of the best places to do that. Don't be shy either, it's always that weird experimental piece you made as a joke that people see on there and then email you asking for prints of etc. 

"Finally, start compiling lists of names of art directors in the sectors you want to work. Email them, post them love letters, turn up at their door (not recommended) anything to start getting noticed because the reality is they probably won’t approach you. It's you who's got to make the first move."

GL: How do you make your works?

GG: "I use an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Procreate for 99% of my finished work.. I use Affinity Designer occasionally for vector work. I don’t really use Adobe at all since Procreate added a text function, however I have just been sent a trial version of Adobe Fresco which I'm excited to try out. I also keep an old fashioned sketchbook which I usually make myself; I draw in it with a technical pencil or some pencil crayons."

GL: Finally, who are your influences?

GG: "Im going to keep it short and sweet with my three faves right now.

"First, abstract landscape artist David Esquivel. Amazing, simple and colourful shadowy landscapes. Amazing work and mad unknown. Don't know who he is? Get him on Instagram.

"Secondly, Paper Girls by the absolute boss that is Brian K Vaughan and amazing art by Cliff Chiang, oh man it’s such a good comic. Amazing story telling, amazing worlds, amazing colours. 

"Finally, Deathburger aka Josan Gonzalez. This guy is a wizard, creating insane cyberpunk, dystopian future worlds with the most amazing colour palette. Plus his style is kind of what I'd always dreamed of going for."

Read next: How to Price Illustrations with advice from the AOI

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...