Raised in West Virginia, USA, illustrator Tim McDonagh produces dazzlingly detailed images inspired directly by the natural world. We caught up with him to learn more about the origins and development of his distinctive style, with an abridged version of our interview appearing in Talent in Grafik 190. For the full interview and an extended selection of Tim’s illustrations, read on…
Grafik: Describe your work in three words…
Tim McDonagh: Ink, undertones, critters.
G: What are the best and worst aspects of what you do?
TM: The best aspect would probably be being able to study, look at and draw animals as a job. I love trying to take in every feather and just trying to find different ways of making them look slightly obscure. I think the worst part is there are so many ideas and ways of illustrating that I would love to explore but simply don’t have the time. It’s frustrating sometimes.
G: Who are your heroes?
TM: Adrian Tomine really had a big effect on me—the way he can use a brush and ink is staggering. A lot of poster artists too, like Aaron Horkey, Daniel Danger, Olly Moss and Tyler Stout.
G: How did your interest in animals arise?
TM: I spent an important part of my childhood in West Virginia. As kids all we would do was catch snapping turtles and snakes—in retrospect it was kind of dangerous, but I think there was a thrill in getting so close to these strange creatures.
G: If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
TM: Oh I don’t know. I was rubbish at everything else in school. Maybe a fisherman? That always looks like fun.
G: Tell us about a favourite recent project.
TM: I find personal projects the most rewarding. I’m slowly developing a character who tries to dress up like Batman. He’s a small boy who goes around the woods finding wildlife in trouble and slowly realises that he doesn’t have anything in common with the real Batman. I’m turning this into a small narrative; I’m not really sure what its finished form will be but it’s been a really fun project to have on the side of commercial work.
G: What’s your favourite spot for sketching?
TM: I would say my computer desk; that’s probably not a very fashionable thing to say, though. We do have a mountain next to where we live (it’s more of a really big hill) where I look to go when looking for inspiration, great views and lots of strange broken buildings and dead things up there.
G: What inspires you?
TM: I think seeing a sort of obsession in other illustrators inspires me—people like Charles Schultz or Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware. Where there is just an insane drive to create such beautiful drawings and so many of them. I think Aaron Horkey said in an interview he has OCD when it comes to his drawings, which is something I’m trying to develop.
G: What are you working on right now?
TM: I’ve got a few things on the go at the moment. A few illustrations for Ryanair, an album and sleeve design for a great band, and I’ve just finished off a front cover for a Vodafone customer magazine. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, which is good, I guess—it stops me playing videogames.