Andrew McIntosh, freelance illustrator based in Melbourne, illustrated this month’s cover of Apex Magazine, “Mushrooms!” The majority of his work is illustrating children’s books. With a pencil and sketchbook, he has been illustrating his whole life, but the transition to digital illustrating allowed him to bring color and light to his work. He has no official training, so studying the natural world, other artwork, and online resources has allowed him to develop and grow as an artist.
BRADLEY POWERS: Describe your process. What is the difference in your process for a personal work, a work for a children’s book cover, or a different kind of commission?
Andrew McIntosh: Most ideas come to mind pretty quickly, but sometimes I need to stare at a wall or close my eyes to see it. I sketch out a couple of roughs before finding reference material to work out the finer details.
Professionally, I first work out the roughs, then details, then finish the product with approvals along the way to minimize the amount of time taken on change requests. Books require continuity between pages and require a lot of back and forth during the early stages of design.
During my personal illustrations I work on all three sections at the same time, occasionally starting with blocks of color rather than black and white sketches.
BP: What are your influences as an artist and illustrator? Specifically, what are your influences behind the fantastical monsters that you create?
AM: I spend a lot of time looking at other works. There is a mind-boggling amount of amazing art in the world and we are so lucky to experience it. I’m also inspired by nature, particularly plants, and have many photos of moss, tiny grasses, flowers, and mushrooms on my phone.
Unfortunately, I have no answer about the influences of my creatures. Most of them just appear in my head, especially after I turn the light out to sleep, forcing me to get up and quickly sketch them down.
BP: Some of your works have specific breeds of animals and plants in them. How do you choose what you draw? Is it purely based on aesthetics or do you have some kind of connection to the kind of life you draw?
AM: I always have a particular mood/story/atmosphere that I want to achieve in any piece of work. I select vegetation that will complement the composition and visual goals. If I have a specific location in mind, it naturally comes with a particular cluster of vegetation and colors. For example, high up on a mountain you won’t find a lot of lush trees.
BP: What is the difference between creating a work of art for a younger audience versus an adult audience?
AM: Although we can all point out a few obvious areas to avoid for children, I feel there quickly becomes a blurry line. Kids understand a lot more than many give credit. However, children also have a wonderful innocence about them. They are full of fun, curiosity, and imagination. This is why they inspire us to create “kid-friendly” content that is also visually attractive to them. Bright colors, an inquisitive nature, and warm smiles are all things that reflect their natural personalities.
BP: The majority of the creatures in your works are smiling, some even with huge toothy grins. Why is that? What is the thought process or origin behind your smiling creatures?
AM: A smile is warming. When someone smiles it can make you feel relaxed and safe. The creatures are doing the same thing, trying to make you feel safe despite how they look.
BP: Describe how your work has evolved in the last 5 years.
AM: The subject matter of my personal work has not changed, but I like to think my understanding and representation of lighting has improved. It is something that I am passionate about and practice on a regular basis. I am also less afraid to rework large sections that are not successful. Previously I would stubbornly fight to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Now I know that seeing the potential of any piece as an iteration of a finished piece can help accept the loss—and the next version is almost always better.
BP: Thank you, Andrew, for this glimpse into the world of illustration! You can find more of Andrew’s incredible work at andrewmcintoshart.com or deviantart.com/andrewmcintoshart.