The DM Collection is now stocked in over 400 outlets across the UK and internationally. But the creative road to this point was far from easy. I continue to be committed to a process of renewal and reinvention to keep the DM Collection relevant to a changing market and authentic to me as an artist.
The thrill was gone 15 years into a career as a commercial illustrator. I needed to feel the passion in what I was doing. But I just felt like the artist joining the dots for whichever art director I was working for at the time. The fire had gone out. Well not quite.
I needed to change the way I worked. Then it became clear I had no choice but to change whom I worked for as well.
I started this process of reinvention by doing the scariest thing for an artist used to Photoshop and 3D software – actually draw on paper and then paint it! Doing what illustrators of yesteryear had done just felt right. I explored watercolour. I was reinvigorated by working in this medium that was new to me. It was amazing to be creating something by hand.
By following my heart, my work today has more authenticity than ever before. But my new way of working did not fit the fast-paced illustration industry. Oh dear! So I changed who I worked for and started The DM Collection. I was liberated.
The new way I had of working was a labour of love, but it was a dirty struggle. It felt like I was at the edge of my ability. It was difficult, frustrating - and very exciting.
What was shocking was how unbelievably different my new work was form my old style. My illustration had been cynical, hard and masculine; the new work was decorative, very stylised, much softer, and textural.
I was influenced by the simplicity of movements such as Art Deco and Egyptian tomb paintings, and had an interest in sailors' tattoos depicting seafaring mythology. I began drawing animals with their environment depicted within them. The bare bones for the DM Collection were born. I was out of the blocks.
Initially I applied this the new style to the illustration industry, which was receptive culminating in an industry award. But my work took a long time to complete and the illustration industry is very pacey.
My wife was instrumental, not only as a support and muse to me. She suggested that these new designs of animals should be greetings cards. This provided the first commercial outlet for people to enjoy my work, launched to trade in January 2013. I believe it is necessary to be constantly innovating and evolving, and have since expanded the DM Collection's range of products as well as continuing to push my artistic boundaries.
Creating a new piece was (and still is) like a fight with an invisible man. The painting has to be teased out with equal measures of patience and brute force in the form of sketches upon sketches upon sketches. I learnt the hard way, if you rush it you always make a dogs breakfast of it! I found if it isn’t coming, don’t force it. I have unfinished drawings in my office that I leave to percolate until a solution presents itself. It usually does, but these things take time.
Initially I felt my style needed to be simplified, taking inspiration from art forms such as Art Deco, Egyptian tomb paintings, Impressionism and Japanese Prints. I discovered that almost all art movements had some kind of constraint on them, whether this was cultural, stylistic, the nature of the material, the subject, or the commissioner. Sometimes the constraint is chosen, the most obvious one being perhaps figurative or landscape. There is always some kind of constraint.
Unexpectedly, a commission for an article about climate change in Nature Magazine blew some air on an ember of an idea I had about animals in their natural habitat. I had an interest in seafaring mythology and was also drawing sailors with tattoos. These were very much informed by Rodin, Matisse and navy tattoos.
I went back to a vague idea I had for a bear and filled him in with a drawing of a forest. I took a cue from Art Deco, keeping the shape of the animal as simple as possible. The Japanese printmakers of the Ukiyo-e period and The Arts and Crafts Movement influenced the interiors of the animals.
My love of mythology continues to influence my work. Stories such as Aesop's fables inspire my illustrations of animals from environments as diverse as the English woodlands to African plains. My style continues to evolve, but you can still see my original tattooed seafarers as part of the DM Collection.