Melbourne-based Guy Shield has been illustrating for Kill Your Darlings since 2011.
His early illustrations depicted the neo-noir narrative that developed from the inaugural print issue of the magazine, but it wasn’t long before that story – and the scope of the illustrations – expanded in new and exciting directions. His more recent artwork tells distinct and fascinating tales of modern life, usually involving a relationship between people and always exploring how we talk to one another.
These illustrations are rich, beautifully textured and intensely detailed, and Guy’s reputation as an extraordinary artist has seen him work for Granta, Wired, Rolling Stone and the Hollywood Reporter.
As KYD celebrates the launch of a new print store in our online shop where Guy’s illustrations are now for sale, we caught up with Guy to talk a little more about his creative process and what inspires him when he sits down to begin a new illustration.
KYD: Can you describe your career to date?
Guy Shield: I’ve always had a love of drawing, but back when I was a teenager, becoming a full-time illustrator (or comic book artist as I’d originally aspired) seemed implausible. I’d always felt a bit ashamed to say I wanted to become a comic book artist – the idea of ‘drawing’ for a living seemed too unreal – like, who gets to do that?
Drawing for me as a teenager was the outlet. I’d come home from school, put on music and channel whatever was on my mind into my work, through fictional characters and settings, and I’d challenge myself to try and draw like the pros. It was (and still remains) incredibly cathartic for me.
When my family got a computer, I started teaching myself various programs. I’d build my own websites, make 3D animations for school assignments and learnt how to colour artwork in Photoshop. So I felt like a career in graphic design seemed like a more stable career choice. I’d always enjoyed the nature of print and typography, so after graduating I started a career in publishing, originally working in sports, but then moving onto music, cooking and various other subjects.
In those early years I’d all but given up on drawing. It was all design. But the fulfilment was kind of missing, and after a while of feeling like ‘just another designer’ I started yearning for that outlet and more of a sense of identity.
Drawing for me as a teenager was the outlet… it was (and still remains) incredibly cathartic for me.
So I picked up the pencil, and it was like being that teenager all over again! I’d forgotten how much joy it brought me, and that in itself bred a great sense of momentum and confidence to keep practicing.
Over the next few years I started persuading my editors to publish my work, all the while building up a stronger folio. Eventually I gained representation through the Jacky Winter Group, and slowly started picking up more and more freelance jobs.
Things started getting very busy, very quickly. It got to the point where between work and home I was working 60 to 80 hours and burning out rapidly. I was always more excited to get home and keep working. So after a decade as designer I quit my office life and went out on my own to focus solely on working as an illustrator. Three years later, I feel like it’s gone places I’d never dream of. It’s been surprising, rewarding, recharging and consistently challenging.
How did you come to illustrate for KYD?
The editors approached me back in 2011 to take over the reigns after illustrator Jeremy Ley’s stint. I took over the covers from Issue 6 onwards. Five years and 21-plus covers later, it remains one of my favourite projects. I love it.
The turning point for me was moving into more colourful covers (Issue 10 onwards), and looking back at the evolution of the covers is a great reminder of how far I’ve come in that time, both in terms of style and ambitiousness of scale detail. I love creating the interplay between the front cover and the back, always trying to stitch in some sort of narrative ‘reveal’ to the story that’s taking place. Each issue is another challenge to make something unique.
What is your process from design brief to finished artwork?
Generally I start by pitching several ideas to the editors. I have the luxury of an open brief, which can be as daunting as it is exciting. The stories don’t always come from the same place and it’s rare for me to draw something direct from life experience, though from time to time I’ve alluded to events, feelings or notions that have been bouncing around in my head. Quite often a strong starting point for me has been the four seasons, and seeing what concepts can be explored from there, working backwards to try and weave a narrative into it.
The ethos for me and these covers has always been pretty lucid. I’ve always liked the idea of being a fly on the wall, capturing moments in life that feel familiar and not too far from reality. I still really like the keeping the covers ambiguous enough for readers to make up their own narratives. I love hearing how people interpret the artwork.
I’ve always liked the idea of being a fly on the wall, capturing moments in life that feel familiar and not too far from reality.
Process-wise, I’ll start with a rough digital sketch, which once approved I’ll sketch out in pencil onto a large sheet of paper. From there I’ll ink it by hand using a brush and india ink, and then scan it into Photoshop and work up the scene in colour, trying to add life, structure and depth to the black and white inkwork. Most of the time I’ll have a really strong vision of where I want to take it, but sometimes it goes off-road and that’s when it can get really fun for me.
It varies from piece to piece, but generally each cover takes me around 40 to 60 hours. It’s sometimes an unrealistic amount of time to spend on a freelance project, but it’s a labour of love and I’ve always seen these covers as great folio material. They’re something I want to keep and remember as time goes on as it’s really charted my progress as an artist and, more importantly to me, people really love them, which is both humbling and encouraging.
Which illustrators and designers to do you most admire and why?
Argh, so many, but in a nutshell: graphic novelists Adrian Tomine and Dan Clowes for both their art and stories, then a whole bunch of local and international artists like Matthew Woodson, Senor Salm, Tegan White, Tomer Hanuka, Emma Leonard and Andrew Archer.
I also adore so many of the old-school US artists from the advertising heyday, such as Robert Fawcette, Frank McInnes and Norman Rockwell. I recently discovered Japanese woodblock artist Yoshida Hiroshi, who was doing stuff with colour and light back in the 1930s that I’m still struggling to do now!
What advice do you have for emerging illustrators?
I keep my advice pretty concise these days and say: Practice, practice, practice. Mistakes are great because we can learn so much from them for next time (and there’ll always be a next time).
It’s easy to be daunted or dissuaded by the level of finish in a lot of work that’s out there on social media and other places. While comparing your work to pro artists and illustrators can be inspiring, it can also be discouraging, so be careful to keep your expectations to that of simply enjoying what you’re doing.
With time, consistent practice and an awareness of what you need to improve on, your work will flourish; it just takes patience, discipline and a pinch of passion. Do what you can to get your work out there and into the public eye. It can be surprising who might approach you for the next project.
‘Pit Stop’ (above) and other illustrations by Guy Shield are now available to purchase as limited-edition prints in the KYD Shop.