Illustration January 11, 2016
Wendy Fox: The Late Bloomer
by Lauren Festa
Illustration Month is our chance to highlight ADC Members who consider themselves illustrators, whether professionals, students or just really keen amateurs. The common thread is that they have a passion for drawing that just couldn’t be contained. Want to get featured? Resolve to become an ADC Member 2016 while you sip green juices. Next up is ADC Member and Melbourne-based illustrator Wendy Fox. Synonymous with her last name, her work leaves a striking first impression and is something you won’t soon forget. Wendy had actually never had formal intentions to be an illustrator. The philosophy graduate drew out her career path later in life and we’re quite glad she did. Who knows? You might leave Plato’s cave and happen upon a drafting table, which for Wendy at least, was a life changing experience.
When did you ‘discover’ your own talent and then later, turn it into a viable working gig?
I have had quite the circuitous path. I had finished a degree in philosophy in Melbourne and was trying to figure out what to do next. I had never really done any drawing but I was obsessed with film and considering going to film school. I had planned an overseas trip New York for 2 weeks with plans to spend a month in Europe. Well, 2 weeks became 12 1/2 years. I then took a drafting class and it changed my life. It was the first time I had experienced that feeling of true focus and time standing still. I went on to do a BFA in Interior Design at FIT and ended up working in Architecture for 4 years. It was towards the end of my BFA that I discovered Graphic Design and fell in love with the ability that images have to impact and move people. I started taking continuing ed classes at SVA in Graphic Design and then landed a job as Senior Designer at a fashion magazine. It wasn’t until I moved back to Melbourne and started getting my own clients that I really started incorporating illustration into my work.
How long have you been an illustrator?
It’s been a really gradual transition of incorporating illustration into my design work over the last few years. I think of myself primarily as a designer, but I have always used drawing as part of my process. My first illustration for a client would have been about 5 years ago.
Self taught? School?
School. I think the Interior Design program at FIT was pretty great. There was a lot of old school training in drawing and conceptual thinking. I never thought at the time that I was going to become an illustrator, but I do tend to gravitate towards drawing furniture. I was at FIT in the late nineties and we did everything by hand. We were ‘encouraged’ to use the computer. I used to go to the magazine shops that had all the beautiful design magazines and sit with them for ages, practically licking the pages.
Was a career in the arts encouraged from a young age?
My mother is a ballet teacher so, yer. Much of my childhood and early adolescence were spent dancing and playing the cello. I spent eighth grade at a high school for performing arts in Sydney and that is by far the most pivotal and memorable year of my childhood. We then moved to Melbourne and I was back at a very academic all girls school.
Take us through your creative process.
There is a lot of scribbling and sketching. I keep A5 spiral sketch books that really aren’t that pretty or manicured. I have come to realize that the best ideas seem to slip in when I’m not actually anywhere near my desk and especially in moments of insomnia. Looking usually gets my mind to make connections in more interesting and creative ways. This looking doesn’t even have to be relevant to what I am working on, it just gets my brain working.
In illustrating, what are the tools you can’t live without?
I work digitally so Adobe Creative Suite, especially Illustrator and I have just started using a Wacom tablet. I sketch as well, so a pencil and a fine-tip sharpie. These sketches rarely bare any resemblance to the finished product, but they help me think and trust that I am headed somewhere.
What is one of the most exciting projects or a favorite one you’ve worked on or are working on?
Women’s Gold Medalists means the most for me. It was a self initiated project that I thought I could execute quickly but I got busy with client work and it ended up taking me two years. This idea of doing it quickly was really what informed the style of how I illustrated the athletes. So much of my education in design was about how we can use design to make the world a better place. The recognition of women in sport still pales in comparison to men and the culture of sport is still so sexist. I hope that this project is seen as an inspiration for future campaigns promoting women and girls in sports. It was such a simple idea and it’s one I would really like to develop further. I am beyond thrilled that it has had some recognition.
How do you describe you aesthetic?
It is always evolving but I would describe it as somewhere between flat vectors with some realism mixed in. I do think of them as a little bit like stage sets or as if they are a still life set up for a photo shoot. They are quite clean but playful. I like to create little worlds that almost seem real but not quite because the scale is unexpected.
What is the biggest challenge about being an illustrator?
Trusting your own idea and how it is to be executed. I think the value of an illustration is the original take that the creator had on the subject. You shouldn’t want it to look like someone else’s work no matter how clever or beautiful everyone else’s work might be. When I really get going on working, I don’t look at anyone’s work. It just makes me panic.
What do you love most about it?
It’s completely satisfying (as long as I don’t panic). When I really get into the work, it almost has an addictive quality and it fulfills me – intellectually, aesthetically, creatively and if I’m luck, it feels like playtime.
Any dream collaborations or brands you’d like to work with?
So many! The New Yorker, New York Times, Penguin, Phaidon, Taschen, any of the Ode to Clothes fashion houses.
Where is your favorite place to go/thing to do to get inspired?
In a dream world, walking around New York City and travel have always been the most inspiring for me as they give me complete activation of all my senses. I get inspired by all kinds of things, but a trip to a great art gallery, museum or show will usually do it. Cinema, theatre, music, spending time in nature, reading and a great ceremonial dinner party with friends.
Any contemporary artists on your radar? (illustrators or other)
Lot of those too. Geoff McFetridge, Sarah Illenberger, Christoph Niemann, Maira Kalman, Emiliano Ponzi, Tatsuro Kiuchi, Gerard DuBois, Ron Mueck and Tim Hawkinson. I also have a thing for the work of great cinematographers, architects and fashion and graphic designers.
For anyone considering illustration as a career or just something to try for curiosity, do you have any advice?
Take a drawing class and see if you like it… You also have to be very comfortable spending alot of time with yourself.
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