Nigel Buchanan


You’ll find thought-provoking, intelligent concepts and delightfully biting wit laying just beneath the whimsical surface of Nigel Bucanan’s illustrations. The instant visual appeal of his skillfully executed images has earned him a diverse and  stellar clientele far beyond the borders of his native Australia. Clients include MTV, The Wall Street journal, and TIME magazine. His work has been featured in numerous annuals including Communication Arts and Leurzer’s Archive, and he just received word today that he’s a silver medal winner in this year’s New York Society of Illustrators Annual Competition.

I figured the mind behind these amazing images must have some fascinating history that would explain his unconventional vision, but when I asked Nigel for an interview, he claimed to be not very interesting. I decided to go ahead and throw him a few questions anyway to see what I could uncover. . . I still think he’s hiding something!

facewashHow did you first become interested in illustration as a career?

It was always what I wanted to do, but it took some time to work out what it was called and how to make a career of it. doing anything else seems an odd concept now. When I was studying in New Zealand during the 1980’s, illustration was used extensively and there was enormous demand. The notion that an illustrator was able to conceptualize in collaboration with an art director rather than be given a specific brief, was still gaining acceptance. Opportunities were opening up for full time illustration to be a viable career with the likes of Brad Holland and Marshall Arisman in the US and Sue Coe in the UK leading the way with hard hitting editorial illustration.

Did you have a formal art education?

I studied in Wellington New Zealand; a wonderful and rigourous course which had a healthy emphasis on drawing and other skills which really trained the eye to see and the mind to conceptualise.

buchanan2Who or what were your influences?

I love good design of all sorts. I love illustrations with some wickedness and a sense of humour. How can you go past Edward Gorey with the likes of ‘The Doubtful Guest’? . I find the work of Ray and Charles Eames very inspiring along with many of their contemporaries who managed to produce designs which have stood the test of time.

How has your approach to image making evolved over the years?

Evolution of one’s work is a slow but exciting necessity. I have over the last decade worked mostly for editorial clients, not by following a master plan but by having the good fortune to be asked to do them. It gives me the chance to design the images around the story which to my mind is the ideal way to work. I have been trying to simplify my work to keep an element of spontaneity and freshness, but I do get caught up in detail more than I should.

The biggest mechanical evolutionary leap was switching from paint and airbrush to digital, but the whole process reinforced the fact that the idea and design are paramount and rendering is merely the vehicle for that idea. The image making changed very little after the switch.

In the past I tried to keep my style of illustrating such that it could be used in a wide variety of areas, but now I do what I do and it still gets used in a variety of areas so it seems to best just to do what you do best and enjoy the most and hope someone else likes it too.

buchanan3What should an art director do to ensure the best results from an illustrator?

If an art director can communicate the nature of the article or objective of the illustration in broad terms with no suggested imagery, it leaves the canvas wide open and the possibilities exciting. So clear objectives but a blank canvas is the ideal scenario but I must say I do give a little extra to an art director who is involved, interested and has a discerning eye.

Illustrators are typically solitary creatures working in isolated studios, however, you share a studio with several other talented illustrators. How is that working out?

It’s a life saver. We have 5 illustrators and some designers in the studio. It acts as a support network when jobs go pear shaped, but mostly it is good company on a daily basis. The disconnect of working from home can be a problem for some people. The sense of belonging to a broader illustration community is greater when there is the banter and dramas of jobs unfolding in the background.

Tell us about Picture Pig.

PicturePig is a folio site, plain and simple. It is run as a co-operative in that no one gets paid for any part of it and we share our client lists and contacts. I built and maintain it with my limited web knowledge but I think it’s effectiveness is in it’s simplicity. The idea behind it is for the members on it to be able to  get our work in front of our clients in a cost effective way by pooling our advertising funds . We wanted it to be a useful tool for art buyers by having a good range of styles and giving them the means to get in touch with us easily with links to all our own sites. It has been fun to do and on a social level has the benefit of keeping in touch with a bunch of talented illustrators. We’ll be inviting a few new members soon but the total number will never be huge because we feel that our work would get lost if there were too many images to sift through.

dancersIt has been interesting tracking just what people look at; the results suggest that most viewers have very limited time to go beyond the site they are on so to have everything they need to navigate on the first page is essential. Simple and easy is best for a folio site, clients are busy people and at the Pig we try to give them a taste of what we do as a reminder that we are out there for them and ready to serve.

Where did the name come from?

It’s for people who cant get enough and just want to wallow in some images.

Do you see a difference between the tastes/aesthetics of your Australian clients and those in the US or other countries?

There are differences. US clients tend to appreciate some subtle sophisticated images, Australian clients seem to like some very up front and colorful ones, but this is generalising wildly. I love all clients!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not doing illustration?

I’m within cycling distance from the Sydney beaches so I head out there on a regular basis. I have a new baby son who I throw in the air a lot. He seems to like it.

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