Iain McIntosh kindly agreed to let us busybody students interview him. A transcript can be found below, and audio is now available too. Interview taken 22/2/12.
How did you get started working as an illustrator?
I originally come from Motherwell in the West, and then I used to go to evening class when I was at school at Glasgow, but if I’d gone to Glasgow art college I would have had to stay at home [laughs], so I applied for Edinburgh and moved to Edinburgh because I loved Edinburgh. At art college I kind of tried to get jobs like doing dance posters and record sleeves, like I did punk record sleeves and things like that, so it’s back to this thing that if you can find real jobs or do stuff for people, even doing little publications and things, that are for people – it’s great experience.
When did you start working? Was it as soon as you finished uni?
I started – I kind of was working at the royal observatory doing exhibition design, or the graphics for exhibition design, and there wasn’t so much – it was hard to be an illustrator as such, so I was kind of doing a lot of design, but putting illustration into it. And in those days, this is, kind of, the late ‘70s, if you did a book jacket, you kind of had to do everything on the book jacket, so, like I was even taking photographs, and, you know, anything that was required within that book jacket, I would design it, and then assemble it. So bit by bit I kind of was freelancing, and getting more and more work, but the record sleeves made me enough money, because I did record sleeves until into the early ‘80s, and so that was kind of subsidising the publishing in some ways. And then I started getting design, you know, doing the illustrations for the design, rather than having to do the concepts, and whisky labels, things like that, and work for adverts, lots of adverts, and so that’s how, bit by bit by bit, one job kind of dovetailed into the other. You hope that one job will dovetail into the other.
And do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Ah, as I say, try and find real, small, they only have to be little projects, but even if it’s for a friend, or somebody, you’re designing their letterhead, you know, actual real jobs. Trying, you know, rather than, because we’re all much better when we don’t have to deal with anybody, so you can think up better ideas when they’re not challenged. But in some ways, you actually progress by having to make it for a purpose, and having your idea, which you think is great, challenged by somebody else. So I’d say, try and look for people who have got real businesses, say, or connections, and do things for them.
Finally, what’s your favourite thing to work on – books, adverts, etc.?
Oh God, er, your favourite thing’s the thing you’re working on at the moment, because it’s usually, it’s the most kind of interesting thing, and so the nicest thing is getting a variety of work, because I still get – I still do whisky labels – I’m doing this Canadian thing just now, which is quite quirky, so I’m drawing moose and mosquitos, and all this sort of thing, so it’s getting a variety of work rather than any one specific, because, I mean, one, if you were just ploughing one furrow, it would get a bit duller.
So you don’t mind working on Alexander McCall Smith books?
Oh no, I love working on them [laughs]. Absolutely. God bless him. I can’t remember the year that he started getting more success, but I mean I’ve – a lot of my work over the last decade has been on kind of spinoffs and things, so there are, if you imagine, even the American covers are different to the British covers, because the publishers will decide they don’t look right in America, they’re fine in Britain, and there’s different publishers involved, so that’s been a real foundation over the last decade.
Ok, thanks very much!