Pencil Bandit is an illustrator and animator based in East-London. The way he describes what he does on his website is: ”I draw colourful characters and make them move.” To be honest, there is much more behind Pencil Bandit’s work.
Where did your interests in illustrating and animating come from?
“As a kid I watched a lot of animation. Especially Aardman Animations. You know Wallace & Gromit? I would watch those VHSes over and over again. The interest in illustration traces back to The Beano, which is a UK comic I used to read when I was a kid. I would copy the art all the time. When you’re a kid, copying characters from the things you like is a great way to learn. Then I gradually started making my own comics and my own characters.”
How did you develop your cartoony art style? I don’t suppose The Beano looks a lot like your current work.
“It’s steadily changed. I used to draw a lot more detailed, intricate characters years ago, but over time I’ve pulled it back to a cleaner style. As you go along, you refine things and drop out details that kind of clutter the image. The daily drawings I did back in 2014 affected my style, too. I doodled something and posted it on Instagram every single day, without doing a sketch or anything beforehand. You draw things you wouldn’t normally draw.”
What does your process look like?
“During Inktober, I’ve realised that when I can already half-see what I want to draw in my head, I tend to get the best results. If I can’t see the shape of the illustration and I just start drawing, it can get a bit bogged down. Trying to figure it out as I go makes my drawings a bit less pure. Often I just do a little doodle on a post-it note and try to capture that same energy at a larger scale. After doodling, I’ll usually continue digitally on my Cintiq.”
What inspires your work?
“Obviously loads and loads of art, but I think a lot of cult British comedy and weird films as well. The League of Gentlemen is my absolute favourite British comedy. I think that’s where I really got into these grotesque characters. When I’m animating I listen to a lot of weird music, like strange ambient tunes. That gets me in the zone.”
How did you get into freelance graphic design?
“I basically taught myself, but first off I was trying to be a performer. I studied Drama. The animation and illustration was a hobby back then. That hobby grew and grew until it became the main thing. I’ve been posting art online for ages now. That’s where I’ve gradually built up my work. When you gain even a small audience, it gives you a little bit of a fake deadline and a fake client. It motivates you to post something or make a new animation because people are following you. That got me posting things online and taking part in competitions, which is where I’ve picked up any kind of notoriety and client base. I was the graphic designer for Soho Theatre and doing little jobs part-time before I got this big commission for Channel 4 and Orangina, which I’d pitched for. The job was going to take so much time that I had to leave my position at the theatre, and because I’d already built a little client base going fully freelance seemed possible after such a big job. It’s gone OK so far.”
What’s making a living from art like?
“It’s fun and it’s scary. With freelance, as everybody says, you either have no work coming in, or you have far too much work at once. You’re running around looking for work, or you’re running around trying to make all this work happen. That’s the crazy thing: there’s no in between. In a way though, it’s nice to have those down-times where you can focus on your personal work, and do drawing just for the hell of it.”
How is working for a client different to working on personal art?
“It’s a lot of compromise, but in a good way. When working on things for yourself it’s just you giving yourself feedback. Client work is exposed to more parties that make changes and give their own feedback. Sometimes that can be difficult, but also really helpful. You pour different perspectives into one piece of work.”
Let’s talk about some of your personal projects. Could you tell me more about The Solar System is Broken?
“The Solar System is Broken started as a series of paintings for a little exhibition in East London. I was quite obsessed with squeezing characters into little boxes at that time, for some reason. This exhibition gave me nine square frames I had to fill. I started trying to figure out what there were nine of, and was like ‘Hey, there were nine planets until Pluto got pushed out of the equation’. So I made characters out of the nine planetary gods. Pluto actually burst out of the last frame – he was like a cut-out. I really liked those characters, and I figured it would make a cool zine. I added little descriptions of their personalities. A lot of research went into the Roman gods that the planets are named after, and the different personalities they’re supposed to have.”
What about your zine-to-be, The Mirror Man? What’s the story behind that project?
“I’m really pleased with The Mirror Man. It was a comic I originally made for a kids’ horror anthology called BOO!. They had already published two issues, and The Mirror Man was going to be featured in the third one. Last Halloween there weren’t enough contributors, which made them wait another year. When they couldn’t get enough people to contribute this year either, it sadly had to get aborted, but we’ve been able to distribute the comics ourselves. The story was based on my fears as a kid. I had a mirror at the end of my bed, which I had nightmares about. In those nightmares I would look into that mirror and see a different, distorted face and all sorts of weird shit. That mirror would freak me out while I was awake as well. So I wrote this little poem and turned it into a comic.”
Why do you take part in Inktober?
“I think, A: Inktober gets me back working with pens and pencils, traditional stuff. And B: when I did daily drawings back in 2014 I realised that the routine is really helpful. It gets you out of bad habits, and besides that Inktober makes for such a great community. I followed about 50 new artists because of it.”
What is something you really want to do in the future?
‘’If I’d have to write down everything it’d take forever, but I think the main goal on that list would be making a short film. People who study animation finish their course with a short film, and as I’m self-taught I’ve never made one. I lack the time to make a short film, but maybe I’ll have enough time in the coming year. There are loads of ideas swerving around in my head: strange images, just things I want to animate, vague scenarios. I think I’m going to piece them together some day to figure out a narrative. Perhaps turn it into a weird dreamlike situation.’’
If you’re interested in seeing more of Pencil Bandit’s work, you can check out his website Pencilbandit.com or his Instagram page. We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that you’ll visit On-Art in the future again.