Meet our Creatives: Tom Gaul, Illustrator & Designer
Don’t you just wish today’s art was a bit more…vicious? Illustrator and Creative Works member, Tom Gaul, certainly does. We caught up with him over a cold beverage to find out more about his work – including his brilliant book, Doodles.
P.S. You’ll find a copy in our library!
Welcome to the series, Tom! Firstly, how would you describe what you do?
It’s quite hard to summarise or classify what I do because I don’t really specialise in any particular discipline. Around 50% of my work is illustration-based but I also work on projects involving branding and design.
I studied illustration at Bristol UWE and always wanted to be an illustrator; the other stuff just came along with it. Bristol was a great city to study in – Banksy wasn’t as well known back then but it had an exciting underground art scene.
We’re a big fan of your Doodles publication – a chapbook containing funny and fantastical illustrations of East London characters. What inspired it?
Doodles is a collection of commissioned illustrations that were printed in The E List. I did a couple of drawing for the first issue and the editor really liked them so it became a series. That was the catalyst, and once I had a dozen or so I put them together in Doodles.
The illustrations were also exhibited in the village as part of the E17 Art Trail 2017.
Why did you print it as opposed to putting it online?
I love the print medium and always prefer leafing through something over consuming it online. I’d like to print more things that have no underlying brief and aren’t designed for commercial gain.
Newsprint is perfect for that kind of thing – it’s relatively cheap to source, easy to recycle and doesn’t require any elaborate finishing touches. I’d like to leave them around in random places for people to read at their leisure, keep or throw away.
Have you had any interesting commissions off the back of Doodles?
Yes. I’m working on a big visual project at the moment for Barclay Primary school in Leyton who are in the process of expanding their site. To cut a long story short, I sent the book to Mark who runs Wood Street Walls – he loved the characters and hooked me up with the school.
I’m producing a series of illustrated characters to go on the hoarding boards that’ll wrap around the construction site and playground.
The kids were asked to draw ideas for characters in the last week of term on a worksheet I designed for them. I’ve been reinterpreting them into my style over the summer and giving them a life of their own.
All being well they’ll be there when they get back in September – I’m just in the process of artworking them so they’re high res and ready for printing.
What kinds of characters did the kids produce?
A lot of them were inspired by Harry Potter and had names like Hermione and Hagrid.
Flamingos was another very common theme. I also received lots of unicorns and a few snakes. Sloths also seem to be in fashion at the moment – maybe that has to do with meme culture and the fact that they’re quite unusual.
In my brief I told them to give their character a name, decide which animal or creature they wanted them to be (mythical or actual animal) and give them a job.
A couple of bizarre duplicates came through, including “Jason the Security Guard Flamingo”!
Have you always been a freelancer?
No, I worked in-house for a number marketing companies and design studios before cutting loose and going freelance about four years ago.
I found myself becoming institutionalised and getting involved in all the nonsense politics that go on in the workplace. Also, I was leading creative teams and the more people you manage the less creative work you do, which can be frustrating.
Why did you choose Creative Works as your HQ?
When I first went freelance and didn’t have a base I was hot desking in a coworking spaces in central London – mainly Google Campus and The Tea Building. Creative Works is great in that it has a similar ethos and atmosphere but I have access to a fixed desk space.
It also feels very connected to the local area. There are always interesting things going on in and around the building, and even if you don’t have the time to properly engage in what’s happening around you you’re at least aware of it and can join in when you have time.
What would be your one piece of advice for people thinking about going freelance?
It sounds cheesy but just don’t be afraid to take the risk and do it. In the creative industries people’s boredom and frustration is visible in their work – especially if they’re being made to do the same thing over and over again.
How do your illustrations differ from what’s out there today?
Interestingly enough, I don’t think the illustrations from Doodles conform with the current aesthetic trend of flat colour, exaggerated forms and limited line work, texture and detail.
I used to love making messes by flicking paint and really digging into the texture – and that’s never gone away. I could radically rework my characters into a style that’s more “current” but I don’t really want to to be honest.
Speaking of trends, I do think there’s an opportunity for artists to produce quite vicious and thought-provoking political and satirical caricatures again. They’ve fallen a bit out of vogue in recent years and when they are used, it tends to be in newsprint and online newspapers.
Let’s face it – there’s a really ripe landscape for that kind of thing at the moment. I really love artists like Ralph Steadman who did all the drawings for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – his work has always been politically charged and vicious.
I look at illustration today and often think it’s not quite vicious enough!
Find out what Tom’s up to by following him on Instagram @tomgaul_doodles.