Lesley's Girls Vintage is more than just a shop blog or a fashion journal, we like to share more than that; from what means a lot to us personally, to events we have been to, to products we have enjoyed or to art we appreciate (although personally I know very little about art except what I like). So when the chance came my way to chat to a local illustrator who's work is inspired largely by the past, it of course would end up here. So enjoy our interview with the talented Phil Howell, where we learn never to ask an illustrator about trade secrets for fear of imminent death!
Tell us a little bit about what you do- are purely a commissioned illustrator/designer or do you do you pick and choose your topics?
I work full time as an illustrator, and have been lucky enough to been doing this for the last 3 years. There are two sides to how it works: I take on commissions from clients, from corporate brands right through to indie bands. I also have my personal work, where I pick the topics. I am lucky enough to sell these either as artwork on my etsy store or sometimes I post a piece online and a brand gets in touch to buy it, it's pretty crazy.
How long have you been illustrating and what first got you into it? What media do you use/prefer to use- more electronic design or hand drawings?
My mum and dad first got me in to illustration really, buying me pads and pencils, in outraging me and letting me watch cartoons and Disney films. The biggest turning point in all of this was going to Disney world age 8 and seeing . Where the animations and illustrators worked on the studio tour, I remember all I wanted was to have tours on my desk and draw all day like them days.
If I told you what media I used I'ld have to kill you! But no it's a mix of hand drawn, computer work and paper cut out.
Your obviously have a love of vintage, is much of the art/decor in your own home vintage or vintage inspired? And your life in general- does it have a nostalgic influence or do you live firmly in the 21st century?
All day every day, my work is a massive hat tip to Mary Blair, I love (always have) golden circle books, old ladybird book covers and 60s cartoons.
I like old advertising, it is cleverer than nowadays where you can just take a photo of the product. Also in the 1960s it was less about sex selling, so brands had to do different things- word play and graphics were much more important then. I also dress quite vintage, listen to vinyl, read real books and live quite old fashioned. I do however have and iPad and live on the Internet so it's a balance.
What era would you say your main inspiration comes from (to me it has a real 1950s/very early 60s feel), and do you have any particular artists/illustrators form that era that your are inspired by, or do you take inspiration from the general atmosphere of that period?
Yes- the 1950s and 1960s is my favourite and like I said I love Mary Blair, but also Walt Disney, Paul Rand, Hannah Barberra and Schultz they are all massive influences. I love old hand painted signs for the seaside, fair grounds and that inspires me a lot. The era is a tough thing for me because as much as the cartoons are lovely, it was a time of racism, sexism and homophobia, I think people forget that with the vintage trend at the moment.
You say your work is vintage inspired so I wondered whether you do anything to get yourself in the mindset for your work?
It's just the way I draw so it is second nature but I never say no to a little Billie Holiday when I'm working but I also listen to things like Jay-Z, Nico or Gaslight Anthem when I'm working.
I love your mad men collection, your website says soon to be updated- does that mean there are more to come?
Thank you. Well I have a new lady to draw, Megan! As for the infographic- I don't think I'll be updating that. It was too time consuming and I know it's bad as a huge fan, but I haven't watched session 5 yet! I did watch session one from the first time it aired but I'm so busy, and so I don't really watch television.
Finally, what has been your favourite project to date, and what would you most like to work on in future?
That's a tough one. I love working for sharks because I can do what I like, and illustrating Kanye has been huge for me it's not every day Pharrell Williams is tweeting at you! As for work in the future- I really want to work with vintage businesses helping them out. I see so much bad clip art and design out there and for a low cost we could work on really nice things together. Other than that I would like to work for Disney, the Natural History Museum, Harrod's, John Lewis, Topman and the London Underground.
Huge thanks to the lovely Phil for taking the time to answer our questions. I have really enjoyed re-reading through this, and love hearing from vintage lovers who have their eyes wide open to the fact that the past wasn't all rosy, as Phil says it shouldn't be forgotten that as beautiful as styling was then there were some real social issues and prejudices at the time. We're looking forward to seeing more of Phil's work.
Phil Howell can be found in the following on line places: Etsy, True Love Vintage, Phil Howell Design, True Love Vintage Twitter and Phil Howell Design Twitter.