We love street art and anything that really makes the environment a brighter place to be. Illustrator Aaron Givens recently won a competition to design and create a new shutter for the MyClubmoor Community Hub scheduled to open in Clubmoor, Liverpool, in May, with his ‘Come Together’ piece.
Ahead of beginning work on this project, we had a conversation with Aaron Givens about his passion for illustration, his influences and future aspirations.
10mh: When did you first discover you had a passion for illustration?
To be honest I don’t think I even heard the term ‘illustrator’ until I got to college. Growing up I was always that quiet kid in class who could draw. It’s just something I’ve always loved. Every lesson I’d be scribbling on the inside of my workbooks. And that’s it, I think, it’s never been a conscious decision to pursue some form of art, it’s just something I’ve always done naturally and I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
The problem was that there was no clear definition of what a career in art could be. I remember being a kid and my Dad would say, ‘You could grow up to be an engineer or architect.’ Coming from the building trade I think that’s where he saw people using pencils in high earning jobs and, to be fair, I don’t think many people knew what else a job in art could be. So that was the logical conclusion, technical drawing. I mean what was the alternative? A beret, some white overalls?
Fortunately I did some work experience in an architect’s office during secondary school and quickly realised this was not my cup of tea. At that time I had started to be influenced by things like street art, posters, album art, and my art teachers could see I was sort of drifting away from the curriculum. Luckily they were great, and actually set up a graffiti project to scratch that itch which was awesome. That was the point I sort of knew that the art I was inspired by wasn’t landscapes and watercolour paintings of fruit.
Finally I got to college and I remember hearing the term ‘illustration.’ A person who creates imagery for magazines, books, posters and it just hit me like a bolt of lightning: Oh, this is what I am. I’d always loved to draw on different things, for different things, and this was that! So that’s what it’s called. Okay, I guess I’m an illustrator.
10mh: Who are your influences or the artists you admire?
There’s so many, probably too many to mention! Growing up my Dad has always been into woodwork and carpentry. He’d come home from work with some old wooden pallets and in a few hours we’d have a new set of garden furniture. That really inspired me. Take something unassuming and create something beautiful with a new purpose.
Then there are a lot of illustrators and designers creating amazing work today. I can lose myself on Instagram for hours. Studios like I Love Dust, Shotopop, Vault 49, all producing incredible work. And just day-to-day things. I might see a ripped poster on the street and like the texture. I might see a pair of Nikes I like the colour of. But most of all I’m influenced by anyone who is pursuing something they love for a living. I don’t think it gets more inspiring than that. I can’t think of anything worse than just existing. Doing the mundane day-to-day when you have the ability to make your mark.
10mh: How do you approach a new piece of work?
It depends really! If it is client work they usually approach me with a rough idea of what they’re after. Sometimes it’s specific, I need this, for this purpose, we think it should look like this. In those cases I’ll tend to draw up some sketches based on their idea, add a little bit of my own aesthetic and provide a couple of out of the box ideas they didn’t ask for just to be like, hey, you might not have thought of this.
Other times, clients will message me who like my style and just give me a concept and let me run with it. We need an illustration of ‘insert subject,’ go nuts. Those are my favourite jobs, obviously. From there I usually just scribble down a load of ideas in my sketchbook, then open Photoshop and start playing about until I fall into a rhythm and the image starts to take shape. Then for personal work I can literally wake up with an idea, see something on TV that inspires me or see something out and about.
In all cases though first thing I usually do is a load of rough sketching in my sketchbook, thumbnails to figure out composition, then start sketching directly into Photoshop using my Wacom. Or if it’s something physical, crack open the paint and markers and get drawing!
10mh: Is there one tool that you could not do without?
At this stage probably my Wacom Cintiq. It’s completely changed the way I work and made the whole process a lot smoother. I love it because it’s still me, physically drawing, but there’s just less faffing about with pencilling out a whole sketch before scanning etc. I can have a rough base drawing with colour, I can change scales and sizes without having to erase it all and start over. It’s great. Oh and spray paint. I love spray paint.
10mh: If you could use any building or any other place as a canvas where would you and why?
This is a tough question! I think there are so many buildings, especially in Liverpool that just sit and fade into the background. This city is full of amazing architecture but often when I’m out and about I’ll see a big wall or standard little building and think wouldn’t it be cool if that was painted in a crazy gradient, with some big hand-drawn type, or some cool illustration? Those are the type of buildings I would love to paint. The ones that nobody sees. I guess it’s that idea of taking something unassuming and making it beautiful again.
10mh: Describe a typical day in your studio for us.
Wake up, get ready, make myself a brew and sit at my desk. First thing I do is check my work emails, answer any clients, check updates, stuff like that. Then I’ll usually open Photoshop and have a little warm up sketch, nothing major just to get the blood flowing! Then I’ll crack on with any client work I’m currently working on.
About lunchtime I’ll take my dogs for a walk. I have a Husky and a Yorkshire terrier, which, if not appeased will ensure the remainder of my day is very difficult. I like doing this though because it gives me a breather. It allows me to take a step back and think about the work, maybe something I’ve missed or could approach differently. Or if I’m struggling with a drawing after the walk I’ll realise it isn’t as bad as I thought.
Eat lunch. Sit back at desk and continue working until unknown hour. If I’m enjoying a project I’ll tend to just keep drawing until I realise it’s REALLY late or my girlfriend pops her head in and gives me the ‘Are you coming to watch Netflix or what?’ look.
10mH: And what are your ambitions for the future?
I just want to be able to continue to do what I love for a living. Make cool stuff. Get better at my craft. Whether that’s illustrations, murals, prints, products, anything and everything. I’ve had a ‘normal’ job and it’s just not for me. Hopefully I can continue to create work for great clients and continue to grow, and hopefully, in time, create an illustration-focused studio in Liverpool like the great ones down south. I feel there’s a place in the market up here for something like that. I’d love to create a space filled with like-minded, creative people who love to make cool stuff. That’s the long-term goal.