Dylan and first I crossed paths in Tokyo in 2004 or thereabouts. We worked together teaching conversational English and he quickly made a name for himself with the illustrations he used to complement his teaching. I loved looking through his sketch books that were filled with quirky pictures inspired by his travels in Japan. He also introduced me to Photoshop blending modes – very useful information that carries over into video editing too. One of the things that inspired me most was how committed he was to learning the Japanese language. Of those not enrolled in full-time study, he was certainly one of the quickest to talk his way around Tokyo.
This year he has embarked on a personal project of illustrating all of the characters from The Wire. I’ve never seen the show. But, a lot of people whose opinions I trust have told me that I’d love it. Time is the only thing stopping me from jumping in. For the time being I will enjoy Dylan’s illustrations.
Of all the things you could be doing why commit yourself to illustrating all the characters from The Wire?
Good question! I’m watching The Wire through again for the third time. I’ve got to say, for me no other tv show or movie comes close to being as good as The Wire is. It helps me get through my working day and I’d like to promote the show as I feel it hasn’t got enough recognition. I also draw a lot of colourful cartoony work or do a lot of meetings, emailing and paperwork at my job so drawing realistic people like this is a welcome challenge.
You took time off illustrating and went to Japan when I met you. Looking back, what kind of an effect did this have on you and your work?
It all lead up to me setting up my work now. I trained and worked as an animator before going to Japan and meeting you. For two years, I gave up doing artwork and then carried on teaching in the UK. I just had to get back into making artwork and I took it a lot more seriously. I also had a plan to set up a business for some reason. And I co-founded Sun and Moon animation studios with my old university friend Louis Jones and some other friends – who went seperate ways in moving to Bali and America on their own animation and art projects. Coming from Japan and then teaching I felt very free with no ties, so I went back to my hometown of Bristol. I lived in a cheap house with some friends and worked in part time english and life drawing teaching and worked on setting up a business. Eventually I took a business course which was put on near where I lived.
Basically, the business course gave me confidence that it was possible and I set up a simple website with our old work on it. There were some Sristol design agency meet-and-greets and we got two key early clients from the doing animations and designs for some simple computer games. And we also found work with an educational company. That gave us the foot in the door to let us know that the company was real. Even though it took us a year or two more to form into a proper limited company.
Can you walk me through the process of doing one of these illustrations?
I use an iPad with a stylus pen and an art program called Procreate. I use a screen to draw on at work and I really don’t like the feeling of drawing on paper. The iPad is a fantastic tool as it combines the best of both worlds in having a digital art tool with a basic version of a Photoshop-type package which I can use at home on my lap in front of the tv. My girlfriend likes to watch television but I get bored quickly so drawing in front of the tv allows me to keep occupied and still spend time with Louise. I also find it very therapeutic and rewarding.
The process begins with choosing which character to draw and I then save photos of them from the internet as reference. I want to get a good likeness and capture the character but I don’t want to simply trace a photo. So they are placed on the blank space and then I try to come up with a rough pose. When I’m happy with that I sketch out the drawing on a new layer above the rough pose and refine it into a finished neat image. I then add the grey tones on a layer below.
What kind of response have you had to the pictures you’ve put out so far?
It seems to be a good response, Michael K Williams who plays Omar retweeted my image of him which led to me having around one and a half thousand hits in one day. Your Reddit posts are also driving great traffic to the site and your coverage is much appreciated! It seems to have generated a bit of interest on Reddit and Twitter which is great. I may as well take advantage of this technology which allows us to communicate with people across the world.
What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on?
We’re starting on a project to make an app which is helping families through a particular difficult time which they might have to face, I can’t say much about it until it’s released unfortunately. I’m also bidding to get some match funding to create a game for children with disabilities. These are both very meaningful and helpful projects which I’m very glad to be able to work on. We make quite a lot of educational animation and software which is great and I guess it is related to my time in teaching.
What’s next for Dylan Shipley?
The most exciting thing is the two projects I just mentioned I think. I’m really hoping we can win this bid and get funding so that we can make this app. I think it will be successful if we get the chance to make it and it will be our first project which is our own Ip. I’m also excited to see the burgeoning computer games industry forming here in Bristol with some very talented people coming to the fore all as part of the Bristol games hub.