With a love of science fiction and an inclination for hard work, we get acquainted with our next Artist of the Month…
Our new Artist of the Month’s age belies his experience. Fresh from his degree show at LJMU’s Art and Design Academy, and soon to officially graduate from Graphic Design and Illustration BA, John Biddle already has a catalogue of work as thick as a phonebook. He has worked as a designer and illustrator for Nonconform, Mercy (one of their pioneering Young Pines), Lime Pictures (designing the College Coffee shop in Hollyoaks), Uniform, Trinity Mirror and Sport Media, and is a regular contributor at New York based Real Eats Magazine. As if that weren’t enough, he was signed with indie-pop band The Seal Cub Clubbing Club before he was 21 years old; touring Europe, playing the festivals (Glastonbury, T in the Park), and recording BBC 6 Music sessions with Marc Riley. Jealous much?
Originally from West Kirby, John’s fascination with illustration came from book covers, especially the strong design and colour formats of Penguin books. He would select the novels with the best covers in second-hand stores, collecting and reading anything and everything that captured his imagination. “I think my inspirations are always literary based. Before I started drawing, I read a hell of a lot of books. Everything I read has inspired the work I’m making now. Most recently, Olaf Stapledon, a Wirral-based science fiction writer; I’ve been taking bits and pieces from his book and turning them into illustrations.”
Biddle first stumbled across Stapledon after buying an old Penguin edition of the author’s classic, Sirius (about a super-intelligent talking dog). Stapleton was cited as an inspiration for Arthur C. Clarke, Stanisław Lem and C. S. Lewis amongst others; his work is described by Biddle as “science fiction without the spaceships”. The bespoke banner Biddle has created is one such example; a comic strip-style illustration of The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham, a novel described at the time as ‘sheer melodrama … spiced with wit [and] with pungent commentary on human foibles’. No spaceships to be seen here, but instead unfolds a story of unseen aliens riding to earth on meteors, landing in the deep waters between the continental plates. The human race is attacked; atom bombs plunge into the deep to kill said-aliens; ending with, well we don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say Wyndham sought a more likely end-game than the one offered by Wells in The War of The Worlds.
The story is a perfect vehicle for Biddle’s illustration; a bright, neon, psychedelic colour palette, geometric patterns, and a total affinity with the weird. You can tell that he thrives on projects invloving imaginative and fantastical stories; therein lies the appeal in fantasy and fiction.
Other inspirations come from his two favourite illustrators: Micah Lidberg – “he’s really, really good, crazy landscapes and colours, interesting dinosaurs and characters” – and Sophia Martinek – “she does a lot for The Guardian; all pencil lines, drawings of gardens and complex cities.”
Biddle’s university experience has been a happy one. “The best thing at uni is the control element – you can do whatever you want. It’s quite obvious in my work the difference between my personal and commercial work. Commercial work can be so constrained. Within the boundaries you can do your own interesting thing, but I do find myself taking stuff out. In my own work I pile ideas in and make things really complicated. University work is a lot freer and more interesting to do – I really will miss it. You can take it for granted while you’re there and be sick of it and want to get a job. But the time and the freedom is great.”
Future projects include increasing his client base and starting his own business – “that’s very exciting” – and an exhibition of installation, sound and illustration with friend Nik Glover (formerly of The Seal Cub Clubbing Club, now of Loved Ones). Glover is currently recording a Radio Merseyside series on Stapledon’s other classic, The Last and First Men, and both are keen to expand this interpretation into a physical show (including making a big moving brain).
So just what is the secret of gaining and balancing so many projects? “You have to be able to do everything … I like the pressure of interpretation. Clients will give you three days to come up with something; it’s interesting to see what you can come up with on a subject you know nothing about. When I worked at Nonconform, I literally had no idea what they were asking me to do. So I went home of an evening and spent like ten hours learning software and features. I went in the next day and I could do it. You’ve got to push yourself. You have to be able to do everything, diversify, and give it a go.”
More of John Biddle’s lovely work can be seen at thispendantworld.co.uk