Simon is primarily an exponent of line, the quality of which his commissioners have described as spontaneous, energetic, quirky, inherently humorous, adaptable, and elegant. One enthusiastic New York Art Director said ‘Spilsbury’s drawings always jump off the page and bite me on the ass.’ Quite good if you’re trying to reach an audience!
1. How would you describe your style in 3 words?
Energetic, responsive, spontaneous or if I’m allowed another three as Steve Heller says…. High, speed, engine.
2. What has been your favourite project to date and why?
I love working with advertising art directors and I’ve been privileged to work with some of the best. The best ones know why they want to work with you, which cuts out a lot of the small talk. The very best generally let you get on with it as they know this will usually produce the most intuitive, impactful work, especially at the beginning of a project. It’s still very much a team effort though and the AD will always add a huge amount and make your work look great in context.
Tough to choose a favourite as there have been so many over the years but highlights would involve Nike’s 96 sheet Fly poster — AD Marc Shillum, Newcastle Brown Ale 48 sheet poster — AD Guy Moore, Electoral Commission poster campaign for London Mayor — AD John Messum.
I think the true favourite aspect of my job is you never know what’s coming. The mix of media outlets be it editorial, tv or painting on a building are all rewarding in their own different ways.
3. How has the past year changed the way you work?
I challenged myself to build a new home studio from scratch so got rid of my studio in town. It took me four months and ruined my delicate artist’s hands (I did everything except the plastering) but the satisfaction was immense. The way it’s changed is I now work in isolation — time will tell whether that’s good or not.
4. What is your current workspace like?
See pics for interior. The exterior provides constant birdsong and if the window’s open at the back, a healthy babble from the stream.
5. It’s said that creativity thrives on the tension between freedom and constraint. How do you strike a balance between these when working to a commercial brief?
If the constraints of a brief are too stifling, I’ll tend to do my own thing and ignore most of it but keep the overall requirements in my head. A client will rarely return to over-analysed criteria if they see something they like. Remember they’re employing you to provide some magic and they won’t be surprised by anything if you slavishly tick all their boxes. Obviously, you get some pedantic clients who don’t know why they’re employing creative at all; frankly you shouldn’t bother working with them.
6. What is your favourite thing about being an illustrator and why?
Definitely the excitement that anything could be around the corner. You could be on a plane to New York to paint a building, picked up by a film crew to cover the Epsom Derby, draw a four millimetre bottle opener through a microscope that gets blown up onto a 48 sheet poster or being cabbed into the cauldron of a national newspaper to draw Tony Blair (my worst job….didn’t help that I didn’t know who he was at the time).
7. Having worked on various projects from advertising to live art — which has been your favourite avenue and why?
I love them all for different reasons. An outdoor project that requires physical as well as creative stamina is great for me, a spread in the Sunday Times is great for my mum and dad.
8. Where do you find inspiration for your work? Who influences you?
Inspiration can come from anywhere as long as you keep feeding your brain. Usually arrives when I’m walking and not thinking about it, the brain joins the dots when it’s idling. My influences change as I discover new people but generally, I’m fired up by analogue practitioners — I still love the way artists respond to things with drawing and the feel and smell of inks, paints, collage and print can’t be beaten.
9. How did you develop your signature energetic style? How does it differ to when you first started out?
The energy stems from the fact that I’ve never been able to sit still, so unless it comes out in one go the results are usually compromised. If I slave over things, it’s on a Mac, piecing together all the spontaneous bits I scan in individually. My style has become less controlled but more controlled with experience….and Macs.
10. What and who would be your dream project or client?
I’d like to paint on a Jumbo Jet or how about a live projection on a planet? I did a live animation of runners once for a half-marathon that was streamed onto BBC lorry screens, quite stressful.
11. What do you wish you’d known when just starting out that you know now?
That being self-conscious about your work is a waste of time; it’s subjective, some will love it some will hate it, so what?
Check out Simon's folio.