How do your surroundings influence your style and practice?
I’ve been very lucky to live in some super inspiring cities over the years. Bristol, Berlin, Belfast (I only seem to live in cities beginning with B) Each city has had an amazing illustration community to connect with. Feeling part of something like that really helps keep me going. Each city also has its own history and odd collection of characters to pull ideas and stories from. Berlin was great for that, because as well as this rich visual history like the Bauhaus and Brücke museum right at your doorstep to inspire you, being in this new city surrounded by amazing architecture and people from so many different cultures and countries you get a renewed energy to work and respond to your surroundings.
You work with many clients. How did you begin to reach out into freelance work? Can you give our readers some tips on how to pursue this?
The best advice I can give is to be engaged. You need to be looking at who is commissioning illustration and where you fit into all of that so you approach the right people. You’re going to have to do a lot of research and it can feel tedious but it’s worth it. Walk around book shops looking at magazines and book covers. Noting art directors or designers names if you can find them. Start a spreadsheet of names to contact, and then just keep contacting them with new work. It can be disheartening at times but you just have to keep putting the work in and putting yourself out there.
Figures and animals are recurring themes in your work. Can you discuss this?
I’m always told by my Mum about how good my Granddad was at drawing animals. He was an artist and sign painter. I’ve never felt that skilled at drawing animals, and have never been quite sure how my style translates into drawing them. So it’s almost a little challenge to myself to get better at it.
A lot of the work I get deals with human stories and issues so it feels natural to have them be the focal point of my work. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and bodies are so beautifully expressive, so figuring out how to break those shapes down into simple forms is something I find really fun. With not drawing facial expressions on my characters, I need to try and show a story or emotion through shape or posture instead. Like my characters are little slient film actors.
What’s your daily routine? Do you go to the studio every day?
I moved into a studio in Bristol about 3 months ago now. It’s actually the same one I was in after graduating until I left the city, so it’s really nice to be be back among familiar surroundings and faces. I’m still trying to get a routine together though. It wasn’t the most motivating time to move into a space, which is half way across the city, and during the wettest and coldest months. Currently I aim to get into the studio after 10am. I have my morning coffee, check the internet and start making lists of what I need to get through that day or week before cracking on with any work. Some days have more procrastination than others, but I’m in that New Year mode where I believe it’s going to be different and I’m going to keep busy all the time. Let’s see how long that lasts.
What materials do you work with for each piece? What draws you to using print as a medium?
I tend to use a collection of different pencils to make my work. I’ve found ones over the years that give me really nice and varying marks, so switch between them depending on how messy or detailed I want something. I make all my work like a screenprint. Layering up drawings on the light box and tracing them to create the linework and block shapes which I then scan and colour on Photoshop. It’s nice as it still retains the pencil texture but allows me to play around with colour and positioning if I don’t think somethings working. I’ve been thinking more and more about trying to do my work digitally as it can be quite a tedious and long process and so many people are making amazing work that looks hand drawn on iPads and their laptops. I’m jealous of those people some times.
With printing my work, especially being drawn to Risograph. I think it comes from that place of wanting to make a physical piece of work. To touch the paper and feel the ink. It’s cool having work printing in magazines, but you still know it’s a digital image you just have on your computer. While risographs are still prepared on the computer they only really come to life when printed. You never know what the colour will really turn out, how they will overlap and mix. It’s a little surprise.
Who are some of your muses in illustration?
Well, it might be soppy, but number one has to be my girlfriend, Jayde Perkin. She’s an incredible illustrator and painter. She works so hard, and has been there for me since University with sage advice and motivation. It’s really nice going through it all together, helping each other out, seeing the others work develop over the years and understanding those times when deadlines and work pressures take over.
The illustration community is also full of the loveliest bunch of people, and I’ve been lucky to meet and get to know lots of great people over the years. Friends like Beth Walrond, Ed Cheverton, Ellice Weaver, Till Luket, Rob Hodgson, Clare Owen and Amy Marsh are lovely and inspiring buddies.
Lastly, what other projects are you involved in? Collectives? Exhibitions?
I’d love to give a little shout out to RoomFifty, which is an online print store I became involved with at the end of last year. 50 illustrators have submitted 3 print designs each, so even if you don’t like my work I’m sure you’ll find something on there you’ll like. I was incredibly humbled to be asked to be part of it alongside so many of my favourite illustrators, so definitely check it out.
Apart from that, I have an idea for an exhibition or two including a big one back in Ireland that I need to get started on, and myself and my girlfriend will hopefully be tabling at some comic and zine fairs this year.
See more of his work at http://davidmcmillanartist.co.uk
David J. McMillan is a freelance illustrator based in Bristol, England. Originally from Northern Ireland, he creates work for a wide range of editorial clients using a combination of mark-making, bold shapes, and a love of traditional printmaking