Pete Gamlen is a UK born illustrator currently living and working in New York. Having graduated from Brighton in 2010, he emigrated to the US and hasn’t looked back since. For a guy so fresh out of college, he’s made an impressive name for himself as an illustrator in his own right, picking up commissions for the likes of The Economist, The New York Times and Monocle, as well as recently contributing to Beck’s magnificent Song Reader. So how does a man of such impressive talent spend his days? What makes him tick? And what is it about the US that’s just so much more appealing than his native England? We traced him down and picked his brains for information.
Tell us a bit about your work .
I’m a freelance illustrator. A large portion of my commercial work is editorial, but I’ve also had the opportunity to work on some larger scale projects which have been exciting and unexpected, including an interactive project I’m intrigued to see come to fruition.
You’ve only been out of college a few years, how quickly did you find work after graduating?
I moved out to New York immediately after graduating, and it was only a week or two before I got a call from a client – from England! Honestly, I took a very pessimistic view of my prospects leaving school, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with the amount of work I’ve gotten since. It really comes in waves though; recently I hadn’t had a commission for a month or so, then I got three in one day! It’s pretty unpredictable.
How come you relocated to the US?
I had the opportunity to make the logistics work and I jumped at it. As an avid absorber of westerns and other American films as a kid I’d always been something of a yankophile, and New York is New York, so it was a pretty easy decision. So much of my work was taking place in the US of my mind’s eye, it felt obvious to try it out for real.
Is it really better than the UK?
I haven’t been back to the UK in since I left, so it’s hard to make the comparison; it feels like a long time ago. I like it a lot here, and it feels like the right place for me for the moment. I’ve been fortunate to form some great friendships here, which I think is the thing that truly makes a difference; more so than surroundings or whose face is on the currency. The food is the bomb though. I think I’d find it hard to adjust to somewhere I couldn’t find pierogi and pizza in a four block radius. Also, donuts.
Your work has flavors of Seth, but without the film noir darkness, where do you find the inspiration for your style?
The way I draw is always evolving. The jumping off point for my work will always be Hergé. I read Tintin avidly as a kid, and it made an indelible impression on me; the incredible drawing, the storytelling, the sense of substance in the world he created. He was very much inspired by cinema, as am I. I’ve always loved films and old movies were where I really started becoming fascinated with a certain time period in the past; the twenties to the fifties. I just loved the way that world looked; the clothes, cars, everything. That was the starting point to discovering the general visual culture, music and artists of the period.
I think the infatuation with detail also stems from Tintin; Hergé was tireless in his quest to fully flesh out each panel. When I was in university, I was especially invested in that whole world—everything I drew, and even the way I dressed, was a reflection of my interest, and my drawing style was very consciously in keeping with that. Since leaving school however, my adherence to those kinds of period trappings and stylistics has been less slavish, but although I now engage with a much larger spectrum of culture, (all for the better) the way I draw still reflects my affection for those influences.
How have you found being your own boss straight out of university?
Being self employed as a freelancer is a pretty bipolar lifestyle. When the work is coming in and you’re feeling good, it’s awesome, and very rewarding. On the other end of the spectrum, seeing as your life almost completely lacks any structure apart from that which is self imposed, it can be very easy to get in a rut, especially if commercial work has dried up. Also, unless you have a studio, it isn’t a job that puts you in the path of a lot of people. I know plenty of illustrators who find the isolating aspects the most difficult. I did freelance solidly until a few months ago, when I started working part time at a job. Ironically, although for most people being exclusively freelance is their goal, I’ve been feeling progressively more productive. I have a more urgent desire to draw when I’m not at work, and I’ve been working heavily on some as yet unseen personal comic projects, which have felt like the biggest breakthrough I’ve had in half a year.
Describe a typical day in the life of Pete Gamlen.
Lately I’ve been having pretty singularly dedicated days. I either wake up, drink an inadvisably large amount of coffee, and draw all day, or wake up, drink an inadvisable large amount of coffee and go to my job (and draw when I get home). I’m usually still awake at 3am, eating noodles and watching Seinfeld. Then I’ll go spend a day or two kicking around diners and bars with friends. I’m either in the mood to draw or not. I try to take as much advantage of either mood as possible!
What was plan B if you hadn’t have been an illustrator?
And the next step for 2013?
To keep pushing my personal work especially, and keep moving forward in general. I’ve been renewing my focus on my technical craft, and I want to keep dedicated to drawing as much as possible. It can be easy to let that slide, and it takes a lot of work to get back on track. 2013—keep on trucking.