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Chris Wormell’s illustrations are full of engrossing scenes, accentuated by dramatic use light and shadow that are both immersive and atmospheric. Throughout his career, whether using linocut, wood engravings or digital tools, Chris has illustrated countless memorable campaigns, book covers and editorial pieces that share his exquisite eye for detail, bold use of shadow and intricately carved marks.
Keen to push his masterful draughtsmanship, Chris has illustrated everything from characters to castles and constellations. His knack for finding the perfect method of rendering these subjects comes back to his intuition as a self-taught artist. His dedication to his way of mark-making has created a singular body of work that has evolved and adapted over the years while still maintaining a consistent voice, and has helped him secure work with clients like Marks & Spencer, Volkswagen and Scholastic.
We spoke to Chris about early starts, impossible questions and the job that is illustration…
Where do you live?
I live in North London with my wife, Mary.
Where is your studio located?
A room at the top of the house.
Can you describe your creative process?
Read the brief carefully, make a sketch or sketches (more often than not, digitally as this allows more scope for adjustment and refinement – using erasure, transparency and multiple layers). Once the sketch is approved, make a start on the finished image – wood engraving or linocut or a digital version of either, or, if it’s one of my children’s books, a watercolour or ink drawing. Whatever the process of creation everything these days ends up as a digital file where final adjustments can be made.
What does a typical working day look like?
I’m usually up early – 5, 5.30 – work until breakfast – 8, 8.30 – then back to the studio if I have a lot on – 9,9.30 (otherwise, potter about the garden for an hour with Mary) – work until 12ish, go for a swim, lunch at 1, back in the studio at 2 and after a post lunch nap, work until 5.30. Cook dinner then put in an hour or two’s work in the evening. Stop at 9, watch television for an hour or two then bed.
Do you listen to music or the radio whilst you work? If so, what’s on your playlist?
I listen to the news for an hour or two in the morning but not much else on the radio, unless there’s cricket on. I only listen to music in the evening, not sure why only then, habit I suppose. Some of the things I’m listening to are, Chopin, Mal Waldren, Penguin Café Orchestra, Alice Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Ravel, Peter Maxwell Davies, Shostakovich.
How long have you been with the Artworks for?
What drew you to Artworks?
Great group of artists, excellent agents. The agency was set up at the end of 1983 with the idea that it would keep a small group of first-rate artists fully employed. It’s pretty much kept to those aims ever since. I was incredibly flattered when asked to join.
What books or programmes did you love as a child? Have they influenced your work in any way?
Some of the books I loved as a child were: the stories of Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows, The William stories of Richmal Crompton, the Hobbit. There wasn’t an awful lot of television for children when I was young but some that stand out for me are the cartoons of Oliver Postgate; Noggin the Nog was a particular favourite. All these have influenced my work – especially my children’s books.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be instead?
Impossible question – like saying, who would you be if you weren’t you? I do a bit of writing so if I was barred from earning a living as an artist, I’d do more of that. I’d still draw every day, however.
What was the most important lesson you learned at Art School, if you went!
I didn’t go to art school, but learned much of what I know about painting, drawing and printmaking from my father, who taught painting at Hornsey College of Art in the 60s and 70s. He’s still the wisest person I know when it comes to art.
What inspires you the most to create?
Hmm…money works for me. One must pay the bills. Though I’d still be drawing if the bills were paid.
Name three artists that you admire.
Another impossible question. There are hundreds I admire. Three printmakers who have influenced me are: Thomas Bewick, William Nicholson and Reynolds Stone.
What kind of commissions do you enjoy the most?
I’m tempted to say (being completely honest) those that pay the most. Illustration is just a job, after all. I take on almost every job that comes along and enjoy them all in different ways. I do particularly enjoy book illustration, however; one usually has a much freer brief.
What would your dream commission be?
I’ve recently been illustrating some of Philip Pullman’s books – a very exciting commission. I’d say illustrating my own stories is the ideal commission.
Do you have any pets? If so, what and what are they called?
What 5 things could you not live without?
I assume people don’t count? There’s no thing I couldn’t live without, though I feel incredibly lucky to have a roof over my head when so many haven’t, and (especially in lockdown) a garden.
What is your very favourite meal?
I don’t really have a very favourite meal, or even just a favourite. Almost anything’s palatable with a good bottle of wine.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time? What’s that? Actually, I’m planning to take some time off this weekend; Mary and I are going to render some brickwork at the front of the house and do a bit of gardening. We used to enjoy going to the theatre, exhibitions, trips to European cities… Those were the days.
What is your current dream travel destination?
Getting across the channel seems an almost impossible dream at present. Every year we try to escape to the wilder extremities of the British Isles – Outer Hebrides, Orkney, The West of Ireland – The Isle of Skye was the plan this year, postponed until next.
To see more of Chris’s work, click here.