The Picture & The Process: Lindsey Spinks

20th July 2012

Jill Glenn meets local illustrator Lindsey Spinks, whose original cinema drawing graces our front cover this issue.

From a studio in the hall of the family home in Pinner, Lindsey Spinks, 25, creates intricate illustrations that delight the eye and have wide-ranging commercial appeal. Her work appears on packaging, in magazines and journals (her very first job was for the British Medical Journal, drawing buildings for an illustrated piece on where people like to die…), and, as of this summer, on a range of partyware and bunting with a celebratory ‘Village Fete’ theme (example above), available via John Lewis and Selfridges.

Detail from an illustration for the Financial Times

The artwork right was commissioned by the Financial Times to accompany a New Year’s Eve feature based on various predictions for the 2012; although it was originally scheduled to run inside the paper, the FT liked it so much that it made the front page, and she was commissioned by them again this spring for a Jubilee-linked piece entitled A Disuniting Kingdom.

It’s a very different career from that which she was planning as a teenager. Art was her first love, yes – but animals were her first job; she left school at 16, and spent a couple of years working as a trainee veterinary nurse… although her beloved mechanical pencil was always in her pocket, and at 18 she enrolled at West Herts College in Watford to study art and design. (She’s just been back for a session as a visiting illustrator, working with the current crop of students; “an amazing day,” she says. “A sweet feeling…”. ). The foundation course was an opportunity to experiment in a wide range of artistic styles and practices, but by year two she was starting to specialise in fine art and illustration. “Drawing is just the thing that I clocked with,” she explains. “I like the detail. I get lost in the picture and the process…”

A degree was the next step – but Illustration is a trendy subject and Kingston University, her first choice, turned her down because the course was oversubscribed. That was a setback, but she was quite determined that Kingston was where she was going. “Nowhere else inspired me so much… the enthusiasm… the standard of work, the high standard from the graduates.” She emailed the course director constantly, reminding him that she was still there, reminding him that she didn’t want to go anywhere else, that she would carry on reapplying until they accepted her. She got the place she’d set her heart on.

That persistence, that commitment, is typical of Lindsey. Today she’s a delightful mixture of quirky artist and hard-headed businesswoman. A short internship at the Association of Illustrators taught her the importance of commercial acumen, so when she finished her course, in 2010, she bought a mailing list of art directors and buyers – “expensive, but an investment” – and set about getting her name known. The course, which she loved (“just loved…” she beams) had been “intense and critical”, so it was a pleasure to start getting positive reinforcement from agencies who liked her work, and then to be recruited by The Artworks Illustration Agency to their Startworks programme which mentors new graduates. That was a huge bonus. “My visual style wasn’t coherent,” she says, “and my portfolio was mismatched.” Not any more.

The same agency still represents her, and has put her in touch with an array of interesting clients. She embraces the varied challenges with, I think, the same steadfastness that she demonstrated in pursuing that university place at Kingston. She enjoys the constraints of a complicated brief, enjoys balancing the artistic vision and the commercial reality. Her first job via Artworks was to illustrate packaging for curry powder. “Not big budget,” she admits, “but good experience.”

While there is, of course, the usual freelancer’s workflow problem (“flood or famine”, Lindsey says, cheerfully adding, “In June last year I had five jobs at once…”) every job is different and she definitely relishes this. “I get bored quite easily, and this keeps me entertained… and you can always improve, and progress. That’s very appealing.”

detail from Prague

I’d like to be able to report that her incredibly intense work is all produced by hand, but although she begins with a pencil drawing or sketch she then scans that into Photoshop and works with innumerable layers and files to create the final piece. She still draws for pleasure, though (the impression of Prague, right, was produced for the fun of it after a recent weekend trip. “I like wonky lines and a lot of detail,” she says, which doesn’t even begin to hint at the systematic level of complexity she employs to turn the original idea into the finished article. It’s no surprise to learn that she looks at the illustrations before the features in every magazine or paper she picks up.

Her inspiration is wide-ranging – Victorian patterns, handwriting, vintage ephemera – and the artists she admires are just as varied. German Olaf Hajek gets the thumbs up for creating work that he likes, but that others want to buy into; “his work is not commercial,” Lindsey explains, “but its application is.” Hajek’s style has a strong element of magic realism – “portraits with flowers coming out of the hair” – and while Lindsey’s pieces are perhaps more straightforward, it’s easy to see Hajek’s influence. Londoner Clare Mallison (whose drawings accompany the Dinner Tonight column in The Times every day) is another favourite; Lindsey admires Mallison’s penmanship, and her vivid hand-rendering. Then there’s David Sparshott, also a Londoner, whose work has recently appeared in the New York Times… “He’s very traditional,” Lindsey says admiringly. “You can see his passion for drawing just by looking at his work.”

Exactly like someone else I could mention…

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