The new tricks of the trade: the secrets of cutting-edge illustrators

Imagination and creativity are intertwined; sometimes we wake up bursting with inspiration, and other days we struggle to come up with a single idea. Illustrators working today have a wealth of resources to draw on; be it magazines, films, books or TV – we are bombarded with images every minute of every day.

Knowing when to pay attention and when to switch off is a constant juggle, and staying true to your own creative voice is a challenge in itself. Crafting the tools to navigate your own freelance career can be tough – we spoke to some well-known names and up-and-coming bright sparks to find out their best tips and tricks to help you on your way.

Bart Aalbers


“Just like your own handwriting, your drawing style carries a lot of character. The imperfection of hand-drawn line work is what gives your designs character and personality, and will make them stand out more – don’t waste that by going straight to digital using basic shapes or relentlessly perfecting your work in Photoshop or Illustrator.

“Try using your own handwriting or custom lettering instead of a font. It may take some practice, but it’s worth the effort.”

Rotterdam-based illustrator,

Scott Balmer


“Looking at unassuming objects such as retro toys, the catalyst for the sculpture illustration, often triggers off ideas. If it feels like a piece isn’t going anywhere, [distractions] like Tetris help extract those
subconscious ideas out.”

Inventor and illustrator,

 Mr Bingo


“A lot of people don’t realise, but I actually appear in my own illustrations all the time. I use pretty direct references for all my drawings, and when it’s something quite obscure or something where the details need to be spot on, I use friends or – more often – myself.

“I needed [comedian] Jimmy Carr to be sitting on a toilet with his trousers and pants down from a side view, so I acted as a body double for him.

“My arse has featured in a few illustrations [including right] and I feel sorry for the people I make take the pictures [of me], but it’s important to get the details right.”

Illustrator and body double,

Chris Brett


“My work tends to unfold in layers. I’m never quite sure how a painting will end up looking once I start, but there is always a system of layering that goes into the process. I tend to work exclusively on wood panels, this allows me to abuse the surface when needed, and collage different materials easier.

“One secret I will reveal is my use of various stencils in my work. The repetitive dot pattern visible in most of my paintings is not the result of meticulously painting perfectly aligned dots, but rather a stencil from an old pizza pan.

Bubble wrap is also a useful tool for creating dot patterns. In fact most packaging lends itself well to stencils. It’s a real time saver and has a mechanical element that compliments the more organic processes I use to create my work.”

Mixed media artist,

Gaston Caba


“I love to collect old children’s books. I’ve got more than 600 folders of digitalised sweeties, ordered by illustrator [for inspiration]. Among my favourites are Millions Of Cats by Wanda Gag and The Beautiful Island by Meg Rutherford.”

Buenos Aires character designer and illustrator,

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