YGT INTERVIEWS Illustrator Michael Parkin


Michael Parkin is an inspiring illustrator based in Kingston by way of a small town called Farnham. A first class grad from Kingston University, Michael now works as an exceptional freelance illustrator and a creative for DK books. If you don’t know anything about this artist yet it’s worth noting that one of his greatest pleasures in life is eating chicken goujons. Why? We have no idea. One thing we’re very sure of however, is Michael’s ability as an image-maker. Having worked with the likes of The New York Times, Little White Lies Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Independent and The Wellcome Trust, we’re more than impressed with his striking images and in-depth and inviting narratives. We caught up with Michael to better understand his work, processes and of course, his love of breaded chicken.

What does your work explore?

At the moment most of my work is editorial so it follows the themes of the articles that I work with. I do like to try to put a bit of my own narrative in to a subject so in my spare time I like to work on short graphic stories. I need to start putting more time aside for this as I have been at a bit of a stand still with personal work recently.

What was the most valuable thing you learnt on your Illustration course?

I had a great three years at Kingston University; they are really good at pushing you to try new things and to explore your ideas. One of the things that I quickly learnt was that the idea is always the most important part of the image, no matter how great it looks. After getting a brief we would spend as much time as possible drawing through ideas, getting them reviewed and then pushing them further before putting any final imagery in place. My tutors were really supportive and I occasionally pop back to say hello to them.

Tell us about your tools and processes.

As mentioned above, I spend a lot of time thinking through ideas. This starts by reading the article I’m illustrating again and again until I get a good grasp of the subject. I can then start to sketch ideas and move away from the immediate clichés that come to mind. I work predominantly in Conte pencil, which I find gives a really solid textured line. I have a collection of handmade textures that I use and I try to top these up as often as possible. Once the drawing I’m working on has been scanned I start to colour and compile all of the elements in Photoshop like a huge digital puzzle. I spend way longer than I should tweaking bits and pieces until I’m happy.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I play in a band called Olympians and enjoy hanging around with them in practice rooms or at gigs. We are off on a European tour again this year which I am excited about. I also like driving down to the coast to go crabbing with my friends as it’s only 45 minutes away. I went down on New Year’s Day and it was refreshingly cold but there were still people swimming in the sea! There are loads of great parks near Surbiton, where I’m based, and I spend a lot of my time in Richmond Park spying on the deer.

What inspires you?

Music has always been a big part of my illustration so I find it really hard to work without anything to listen to. I also love a good film and recently started making posters for some of my favourites. I’m hoping to find time once a month to add to these so hopefully I will have a nice collection by the end of the year. I actually just got the Truman Show poster printed with Hato and will have just picked up the prints. I spend a lot of time looking through great blogs like YOUNG GOLD TEETH, which really helps with inspiration and gets me up and working. Some days can be a bit slower than others and being able to sift through amazing work by other illustrators is a real motivator.

Tell us about your favourite projects to date. 

In May last year I did a poster for my band Olympians’ EP Dance Like Everyone’s Watching And They Hate You, which was made up of over 200 angry people in a crowd. It took a long time and by the end of it I was going mad drawing angry people, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. I have just about recovered and am keen to start work on a similar project. I also recently did the covers for a series of Guides to Berlin for a company called Oooh Berlin! They were super fun to work on and I am heading out to Berlin in a few weeks to scout out locations for the next series. I have never been before, so don’t really know what to expect but a lot of my friends have been and absolutely loved it.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I have just finished work on a cover for the Observer’s New Review magazine and a series of illustrations for a Mosaic Science article on training rats to sniff out TB. I recently attended a meeting about a new project with the Social Housing Arts Network all about Poplar (a place in London for anyone who isn’t familiar). I have a few personal projects that I am chipping away at and will also be doing a spread for the next issue of Pickles magazine so there’s plenty to be getting on with at the moment.

Do you have any advice for illustration students hoping to begin freelancing? 

I guess the best bit of advice that I was give was to just keep working. If you have no commissions at the time then use it as an opportunity to work on personal projects on subjects that interest you. I think it also helps to get in touch with other people in the industry as much as possible as this will really give you an insight in to how it all works. It’s a tough industry but there is definitely space if you work hard and keep at it.

What do you have planned for 2016? 

I am hoping to finish the short graphic story that I have been very slowly working on over the last few months. The idea is in place and I have done a couple of pages but there is still a lot to do. I haven’t done much work in publishing and would also like to try my hand at designing some book jackets so I’m hoping to push a bit more in that direction this year.

Follow Michael’s work in progress and explore some of his fantastic narrative illustration over on his Instagram feed or keep up with him on Twitter to discover more about his daily drumming, drawing and goujon-gobbling antics.


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Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth