Let us proudly present the new kid on the block at TommyGood, Cleveland artist Oliver Barrett. We sat down and had a chat with the talented illustrator and learned about the benefits of a tasty breakfast, typefaces and one of the greatest opening scenes in a film ever. Enjoy.
Hey Oliver, introduce yourself, who is Oliver Barrett and how long have you been in the illustration game?
I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, but I’m sure anyone that’s in the creative industry would say the same. When it comes to drawing stuff for a living, I'm a noob, like a featherless baby bird. I’m just working myself into the ground and learning as much as I can without trying to piss anyone off too much.
Did you undertake formal training or are you self taught?
I went to school for design, but before I went into my major, we were required to take a bunch of drawing and painting classes. At the time I thought it was cool, but I just wanted to get into the major and learn about visual communication. Little did I know that all that drawing and painting stuff would stick with me and have such a huge effect on what I do. So, pretty much, that means pay attention all the time to everything. That may sound weird, but even though I didn’t want to take those classes, I still took them seriously and got so much out of them. Plus I’m still paying out the ass for that education, so I made sure to squeeze every last drop out of it.
One of the many things I love about your illustrations is your intricate portrait work. There are a whole lot of lines in there... How long does something like that take?
It depends on how I’m feeling and how good the reference is. If I’ve got a good photo with great lighting and I ate a tasty breakfast, I could pound out a portrait in no time. If it’s a bad reference, I have to do a lot of guess work in order to get the likeness and stuff right. It turns into a game of trial and error and takes longer.
Your illustrations have a very distinct style, particularly with your line work and hatching (is that what it is called?) was it a conscious decision to develop it that way or did it come about naturally?
Hatching/cross-hatching is what I call it. It was something that I just got wild about doing. When I started college, I thought I could draw pretty well, but there were people there that just made me look like a clown. One guy in particular had this cool style that was based around hatching and making a lot of marks. I took a lot of inspiration from that when it came to how I draw. Also, I just learned to approach a drawing like I’m carving the figure out of stone. Each mark chisels more of the figure out, and you have to think about what direction the planes of the figure are going and stuff like that.
Your work is also highlighted by some great typography, are you a font junkie?
I’m so much of a junkie that I’m going to correct you. I’m a type junkie. I think that’s the proper term. Think of it like this: a font is to an mp3 as a typeface is to a song. Typography is such a huge part of what I do. I’m a designer by trade. The illustration stuff just kind of came out of nowhere. Even when I’m working on something that mostly involves drawing, I’m trying to figure out a way to put some type into the mix.
You are an active user of websites like dribbble, ffffound and flickr. How have these sites helped with your work?
Sites like that have helped me find out who to contact when it comes to getting projects. It’s not like those websites helped a client find me. It was those sites that helped me find the right person to say ‘hey, I like what you’re doing and we should work together.’
'Once Upon a Time in the West' is one epic and beautiful looking film, what are your thoughts on it?
That opening scene where there’s little dialogue and then Charles Bronson shows em’ who’s boss is one of the greatest ever. The cinematography is unbelievable. And I don’t ever talk about stuff like that in fear of sounding like a dork, but for real, the composition of each shot could be an art print. I see that film and you can see it’s influence even today. You can’t look at some of the shots in a show like Breaking Bad (best show on tv) and not think it was somehow influenced by Sergio Leone and his crew.
Talk us through your process in creating OUATITW, how do you go about putting something like this together?
Well, to me, the film is about the end, or death of things. One being the old, wild west and the advent of the industrial revolution. There’s also the element of revenge, which only brings about sorrow and in this film’s case, more death. That being said, I was focused on bringing that theme of death into the poster. Obviously, I wanted to do some portraits in the poster, but I wanted it to be a part of the concept. After a series of rough sketches I arrived at the concept of creating a skull out of imagery from the film. The key portions being portraits of the films protagonist and antagonist and the films epic, opening shootout scene.
How do you choose the images you use to illustrate a film? Is it an artistic thing where the scene evokes an emotion or do you choose it based on the impact it will have on the people who see it?
It’s a bit of both. In most cases, I’ll watch a film once just to watch. After that, I’ll watch it on the computer and screen capture any scene that has even a speck of interest to me in terms of visuals, concept and emotion. Then, I narrow it down, choose a few, and get to work.
Who/what were your influences growing up? And who inspires you know?
Growing up, I was inspired by cartoons and comics ranging between the crappy animation of the transformers to the work found in frank miller-illustrated graphic novels. I think it was more about cool ideas and characters than about the actual visuals, but still, it made me who I am. Now, I’m just inspired by people who have great ideas and push them through tools that I know how to use. I’m sure you can take guesses at who those guys are, they're all over the interweb. It’s those guys that make me think “fuck, I wish I had thought of that” that really get me going.
Any parting advice for aspiring illustrators/designers?
Never, ever stop learning, no matter who you are. There is always more to learn and room to improve. You will never be the best. You can only hope to learn to try to get to the top. And if you do get to the top, eventually, someone will climb over you and you will have to get back to work, mother fucker.