14 August 2020

Meet the Artists – Andrew Davidson

Posted in: Artists, Branding, Children's books, Design, Editorial, Food, Illustration, Meet the artist, Packaging, Painting, Publishing

Over the last forty years Andrew Davidson has successfully created an enviable body of work that displays his mastery of different mediums; wood engraving, woodcut printing, gouache painting, each one underscored by an attention given to draughtsmanship, and confident graphic compositions. Andrew’s images take into account what might be added to them later and seamlessly blends this into the design, whether it’s  the dates for a sporting event or a brand name.

Commissioned by clients such as Faber and Faber, Tennis Association, Highland Distillers and many more to create book covers, logos, posters, stamps, packaging… Andrew’s choice of medium often emphasises some element within the illustration. Deploying flat blocks of colour with gouache paints in multiple plains keeping the focus either upfront, or drawing your eye further inward to where the action takes place. Woodcut printing brings atmosphere to the fore, using the grain’s texture to create variations in the limited colours, overlaying the images with a dreamy haze. Finally, Andrews wood engravings offer the viewer the chance to linger and pour over every aspect of the image, taking in all the satisfying details that he carefully carves into his subjects, bringing them to life.

We spoke to Andrew about his creative process, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and his Cocker Spaniel, Toby….

Where do you live?

A small hamlet of fifteen houses near Stroud and Minchinhampton, exactly 100 miles west of London.

Where is your studio located?

At the bottom of the garden, fifteen seconds from the house. With the noise and excitement of two children, I decided 25 years ago to save up and build a wooden studio rather than rent, as it was in the long term much cheaper, and I was available to cook the supper and look after the boys if need be.

Can you describe your creative process?

I try to take time to read the brief properly, and give myself time to think. As a Designer, it’s the idea which excites me. Once I have something which I think will work, I start drawing on a typographic layout pad (I can create layers which saves time and re drawing ) when I’m happy with the result it’s pinged over to the client for comments, and hopefully approval.

When I get the go ahead, I draw the design up either on the block or on paper. I realise I’m very much a dinosaur in the way I work, but I love being able to feel the process of making. I like to be connected with the materials I’m working with, using all my senses. When printing a block for example, you can hear there’s just the right amount of ink on the roller, and just the right amount of pressure on the press.

On receiving a really difficult brief, I tend to put my pencil down, shut the studio door and go for a walk with the dog. It usually does the trick, if not, it gives the dog a decent walk. I work in a number of styles, be it with Gouache, using large dinner plates as palettes (you can rehydrate a colour later if you need to touch up anything) and painting the design on Hot Press Arche paper. Wood cuts are another medium I like to work with or the finer wood engravings, both printed on an old Albion press. I also use watercolour, but never commercially as there are so many fellow illustrators at the Artworks who do it so much better. When we are on holiday I like to paint outside in oils. They are truly dreadful but it keeps my brain alive.

What does a typical working day look like?

My wife Julia is a senior staff nurse, and so we tend to get up at 6am. It suits me fine, as I used to get up early when working on a farm in the West of Scotland. I am usually at my desk at 7.30 looking at emails, facing paperwork which I hate, and then getting down to work. Coffee is a great help, so is the fear of letting someone down. I may have worked for over forty years, but it takes just one mistake to change a relationship with a client. 

A long time ago I met Walter Kershaw, a mural painter working in the North of England. He always maintained a healthy diet and looking after yourself was an important part of the working day, so after the studio doors are closed at around 18:30 I leave work and return to the house to cook supper.

Do you listen to music or the radio whilst you work? If so, what’s on your playlist?

Both really. I like to keep up with what’s happening in the world, so Radio 4 unless it’s Farage talking crap about Brexit, then it’s quickly over to Radio three, or something from my playlist. I tend to have a very catholic taste so I’m very happy to listen to what my mood dictates. Smokey Jazz with a drink in the evening. Sibelius or Avro Pärt if I need to be motivated or something less serious my sons may have recommended.

How long have you been with the Artworks for? 

Nearly thirty years, good heaven’s where did that go?

What drew you to Artworks?

A great stable of inspiring artists and a reputation for professionalism for both the artist and client. I represented myself for over ten years, and felt it was about time someone else could do some of the paper and leg work!

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be instead?

Either a Doctor or an Architect.

What books or programmes did you love as a child? Have they influenced your work in any way?

I came from a family which believed in a strong academic education. I was sent away to school in Edinburgh when I was quite young. Art was a subject to be done if there wasn’t anything else. There was little chance to watch television, and very little in the way of non-educational reading, but I do recall a moment of complete joy of coming across a copy of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the wonderful illustrations by John Burningham which I can remember to this day.

What was the most important lesson you learned at Art School, if you went!

From my time on the BA Graphics course at Norwich School of Art I would say; Don’t be bullied, stand up for yourself, listen to what you yourself feel, pick yourself up and show them what you can do.

From my MA course at the RCA, I learned to listen, to see, to admire, to be thankful and to have a fantastic time. Which I did.

What inspires you the most to create?

Trying to interpret the world I see and experience around me and the people I meet.

Name three artists that you admire.

I wrote my dissertation on Ravilious, who’s work I greatly admire. Alan Fletcher who epitomises what I feel Graphic Design is all about. Agnus Miller-Parker a perfect wood engraver.

What kind of commissions do you enjoy the most?

The short answer would be solving graphic problems through illustration. I have been more than lucky to have met and enjoyed working with some exceptional Designers, and on varied and interesting commissions. But the most important commission I ever worked on was a few years ago. It was January, I had no work, the phone rang and I was asked if I could illustrate a length of string for £70. I could, and I did. It was important because it was the worst job I’ve ever worked on, but it was work.

What would your dream commission be?

During a forty year career I have been undeservedly fortunate to have worked on some wonderful jobs, it would be greedy to dream of any more.

Do you have any pets? If so, what and what are they called?

An adorable Cocker Spaniel and faithful friend, Toby.

What 5 things could you not live without?

Apart from my wife and our boys and our friends. Nothing . We come with nothing and leave with nothing.

What is your very favourite meal?

Now that is a difficult question for someone who loves cooking. I like to eat with the seasons. Be it rich wine soaked casseroles during the cold winter months. Fresh fish and newly awakened vegetables in the Spring. Italian or French cooking during the summer and the delights and autumnal colours of Asian spices for the later months.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Cook for my friends. Sail my very old £350 solo Dinghy. Design our garden. Walk and cycle around the country. Paint awful holiday pictures.

What is your current dream travel destination?

After interrailing through Scandinavia and the Arctic circle last summer, we had planned to interrail through France, Spain and Portugal, but alas…

To see more of Andrew’s work, click here.