Thursday 26 April 2012

W is for the Wonderful Work of Simon 'Pye' Parr

Simon (or as he's known to his friends 'Pye') Parr has collaborated with me on my Pax Britannia novels right from the start. To begin with he was the designer, arranging the text over Mark Harrison's artwork, and creating the various logos and crest motifs for the series. More recently he has started adding internal illustrations until now, with my eighth steampunk novel Time's Arrow he's become fully-fledged cover artist.

Pye has very kindly taken the time to answer my questions whilst in the middle of a house move (kudos there, sir!) which I have pleasure in presenting for you now.

1. Which came first – artist or designer?
Chronologically, artist. It's something I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember, but professionally I've been a graphic designer for much longer, and it's still what makes up over half of my work. 

2. What was your big break that led to you doing what you’re doing now?
In 2002 I was recruited by Rebellion as a graphic designer for 2000AD and the Megazine, which was brilliant. Since I've worked there the publishing department has expanded to include all the 2000AD graphic novels and both Solaris and Abaddon Books, plus various projects for the computer games side of things, so the amount work and experience I get has expanded with it, leading me to where I'm at now doing both art and design work. To me it's kind of felt like more of a slow build up than a big break, and I've only started getting projects beyond the stuff I do in-house for Rebellion over the last few years.

3. What is your preferred method of working? Which medium suits your style best?
Erm... I have no idea! I try something for a bit then leave it and try something different. I reckon the best stuff I do is in as many mediums as possible really, all mixed together. Generally I start with something 'real' no matter what I'm doing though, so even for a picture that I'll paint digitally I start with a half-decent pencil drawing or painting or something before scanning it in and going to town on it in Photoshop or Illustrator. I find it much quicker and easier to get ideas down for artwork with a pencil and paper, even though I spend 90% of my time sat at a computer.

4. Having worked on numerous book covers, advertisements and comic strips, which do you prefer and why? Is there anything you’d particularly like to do more of?
Creating any kind of artwork is a satisfying process (eventually), so I try to do as much of that as possible, but one the things I like most about my work is that I have to switch between loads of different jobs, so I never have a chance to get bored of anything. I think for example if I spent all month sat at my drawing board on my own I'd go mental, so it’s nice to break it up each week with graphic design work in the office, which I find a bit more calming to work on. 

5. How much do you work with an author when it comes to designing a cover for their book?
It varies. Obviously I'll always try as hard as I can to do something the author can be proud of, but they've all had differing levels of input. For design-led covers I generally have more free reign than with the illustrative ones. This is mainly because the final images are more suggestive and they don’t really need to show actual things in the story, more convey a mood or feeling that will suit the book. I'll come up with loads of options (I think I ended up with almost 20 different concepts for Lou Morgan's Blood and Feathers cover for example) after reading the rough synopsis, then together with the author and editor we choose one (or part of one) that works. After that I'll do whatever I think is best to get the effect I want.
A lot the time the books aren't finished when I start the cover art, so for more illustrative covers I rely heavily on the author to give me ideas or scenes from the story as a starting point for a sketch and we go from there.

6. What is it about the Pax Britannia setting that appeals to you creatively?
I just love old stuff. The way it looks and sounds and smells. Big rivets, pistons, chrome dials, brass, etc. There's something very appealing to me about nicely machined parts, and there's plenty of stuff like that in any steampunk setting. Plus Pax Britannia is full of genetic monstrosities, cars, freaky old weirdoes and all sorts of other things that are fun to play about with.

7. Of which piece of work are you most proud?
If it went well, whatever I finished last! I tend to go off my own art very quickly, and the more I look at stuff the more problems I can see with it. I have maybe a 1-2 week grace period when I'm happy with something, then the doubting starts... That said, I'm still quite happy with the cover I did for DEATH PLANET! that went in the Megazine recently and the cover for Regicide by Nicholas Royle.

8. Is there anything you haven’t illustrated yet that you would still like to?
I'd like to try some sequential comics stuff really, but they're just so time-consuming to do!

9. You are also a fan of Warhammer 40,000 and a skilled miniature painter. What is it about this dystopian far future medieval universe that appeals to you?
All the amazing art and design that goes into their stuff. When I was about 12 Warhammer (along with 2000AD) was my first exposure to all these weird stories and unique artwork that I'd never seen anything like before, and I still love both today. Painting Warhammer models requires this strange mixture of creativity and obsessive organisational behaviour which I find particularly satisfying for some reason.

10. What are you working on at the moment?
Absolutely nothing! Last Friday I finished the last three 2000 AD 'They are coming' teaser posters for CBR. You can see all 12 here: 

I went right up to the wire on that one, which was a bit of a stress as I had to get them all done before I take 2 weeks off to move house (this laptop is one of the few things not in a box!). When I start up again I've got to get the third eBook cover for Time's Arrow to do – you might have heard something about that? – and the design work for the rest of the Blood and Feathers book (like the spine and back cover layout, etc, plus the actual guts of the book). After that I really need to get on with the cover for the third volume of No Man's WorldThe Alleyman which I started bloody ages ago but had to ditch halfway through to get more urgent stuff finished (this happens a lot).

11. What advice would you give to any aspiring artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Don't give up. Even when you hear nothing back from every one of 3 million portfolios you send out. Just keep going and going and you'll get better and better with time. It’s taken me years and years of this and I still feel like I'm only just starting to make some progress.

12. Last question – do you have a favourite font for your design work? ;-)
Ha! There are plenty of fonts I hate – that'd be a bit easier to tell you about. There's every designers favourite moans like Comic Sans and Papyrus, but currently I'm filled with utter loathing for Nedian, which I've been forced into using so something can match an old series' cover designs (that I didn’t do). I'm also sick of seeing Trajan used absolutely bloody everywhere. I drive my wife mental by sitting watching TV adverts and barking out the names of fonts they use like some kind of typographic rain man.
On a slight tangent I've been badgering work to get me copy of Fontographer for ages so I can try and make some of my own, which if I ever get round to I'll put up as freeware somewhere.

You can see more examples of Pye's painting and design work (some of which is private or unpublished) over on his blog here, as well as weekly in the pages of 2000AD.

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