Neil Duerden doesn’t just draw. He art directs, scans, overlays, composites and layers and layers and layers and...

“This job I’m working on right now, has 1,200 layers in development,” begins Manchester-based illustrator Neil Duerden. It’s no wonder that somebody once described his style as ‘maximalism’: a sort of anti-minimalism in which images are worked into astonishing complexity without losing the sense of the underlying picture. 

He cut his teeth in advertising, but became disenchanted with the industry. So he let his illustration sideline gradually outstrip his old main income. 

Most of the figures Duerden uses in his art are based on photography, with images coming largely from client-paid shoots or stock imagery. They’re created in Illustrator and Photoshop, with some elements built from scratch, others being found objects.

Pushing the envelope
His image Advertising, Not Wallpaper (top right) is typical of his style. It wasn’t strictly speaking a commercial job; it was more a concept piece, designed to show just how far Photoshop can be pushed in the name of visual creativity. 

“It was quite a tricky process,” he recalls. “Removing the bodies completely and making it like an illustration that shows the human figure,” he says. 

Deciding which elements to take out and which to leave intact is a tricky, hard-to-pinpoint skill. It’s a matter of combining a thorough understanding of the brief with your experience as an artist. Essentially, if you’re answering the brief, you’ll ‘know’ when it’s right. 

“It’s evaluating what you’re doing as you’re doing it,” Neil explains. “At the end of the day it’s all down to your personal judgement.  I could train somebody up and show them every single technical trick in the book, but if they don’t have the eye for it or the passion, it will look like student work.”