Often driven by some kind of message or narrative within, Tom Hubmann is an illustrator who likes to engage the imagination in a playful manner using formats that best support the message of each individual project. He makes prints, zines and comics which can be found in various boutique shops around the UK and his work has appeared in Anorak magazine, Design Week and at Magazine Library X. Recent clients include the Shelterbox Charity, Strapazin Mag and of course TP.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
Sure! I’m a freelance illustrator based in the Southwest. I opted out of London life and my previous career in the music industry after making the decision to try my hand at illustration and live by the sea. I got a place on the MA course down here in Falmouth and have never looked back. I try to create work that’s inspired by nature, nostalgia and the wonderment of everyday life. Using formats that best suite each project, I like to engage the imagination in a fun and playful manner.
Are you right or left-handed?
Left handed! It has it’s benefits when you’re sitting next to someone who’s right handed whilst drinking a cup of tea as you don’t knock elbows.
What appeals to you, or attracts you to, working in pencil?
Pencil is at the base level of most of my work. Whatever I’m working on, I always use pencil as a starting point. You can just draw away and not worry about mistakes. It normally gets rubbed out and there aren’t many projects that require me to use just pencil. That’s why working on TP was such fun. I’ve been pushing myself to go out of my comfort zone a lot recently and this was the perfect project. I almost forgot what you can achieve from using only pencil. The first issue of TP was so refreshing to see all these great illustrator’s work stripped down and bare, each responding to a central theme in the same medium and format. I think there’s a lot to be said for working within very simple parameters and I think a lot of artists produce some of their most interesting pieces working like this.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process, from the initial image or idea to the finished piece?
I’m very much about ideas and concepts. I usually just start by brainstorming all the ways I could approach a project regardless of medium / suitability / plausibility and so on. This can involve words, often cryptic phrases that not even I can decipher, image layouts and of course doodles. My sketchbooks are a mess. I’ll then play around and develop them to see what comes out. I then try and work out the best way they can be translated into a piece of illustration using a medium I think will best support the initial idea / message. I guess like lots of things in life, sometimes things come together quickly and with no fuss and other times you end up back at the start and realise that it’s just not working out. Although you’re not really back at the start if this happens – you learn more by making mistakes and even if you end up doing something completely different from what you first thought you’d do, it’s all valuable experience for the future.
How do you conceptualize/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?
Any or all of the above. I don’t have a set way for coming up with concepts. It normally starts off with an idea or a ‘brainwig’ which I then like to play around with and explore and just see where it goes. Sometimes they’re fully realised and you can more or less just put pen to paper – so to speak.
What size do you tend to work at? Do you have a preferred scale? Why this preference?
I don’t have a set size / scale I like to work with. It varies depending on what I’m working on but usually I work large and tend to scale it down.
Do you have a favourite subject matter? What’s the particular attraction to it?
I think like most people you naturally end up drawing things that really engage you at a personal level. I’m always interested in so many things it’s hard to pin down a singular subject matter. It’s a mixed blessing! Things that naturally seem to crop up a lot in my work are nature, food, light philosophy and the absurd. I often go through phases and at the moment I’m exploring the vast and bizarre nature of the cosmos / universe that we live in.
What materials do you seem to always return to?
Probably a simple black fine liner or my brushpen.
Can you tell us about a favourite or formative creative experience?
Not necessarily a favourite experience but certainly a formative one was halfway through my MA. My degree was in music and I’d always focused on this as an outlet for my creativity as my art teacher at school told me it would be a waste of time pursuing anything drawing related. I was given a HEART agency diary years later one Christmas and it really inspired me. After much drawing and researching, I finally decided I’d give illustration a try. The main ingredient I thought you’d need to become a successful illustrator was to have a really recognisable style so people could look at your work and say ‘oh, it’s clearly by this or that person’. I became really obsessed with this idea and that’s what I wanted to get out of my MA.
As time went on I remember getting quite worried as I didn’t like the idea of just working with a single medium and have a similar solution to each brief. I’ve always been interested in an eclectic practice and didn’t want to pigeon hole myself in to one thing. My course leader kept saying that it was fine and just kept asking me ‘but why are you drawing this or that’ and didn’t seem interested in the how. I guess most people came from an art background and knew how to get so and so effect but it was all very new to me. It sounds silly but I only really picked up a paintbrush for the first time toward the end of the MA course and this was an epiphany in itself!!
Half way through the year, I did a project that involved me picking a single central theme and just image making around it. It allowed me to really experiment with format and explore new ways of working. By the end, I’d produced quite a lot of work but it all somehow fitted together and you could see this through line. It sounds pretty elementary but at the time, I felt like I’d had a real breakthrough in discovering that it was the ideas that drive the illustration and that whatever you do, it will always come out with your mark or stamp on it.
When I studied music, I remember this argument between Baroque composers whereby they were arguing the importance of words within music. Should word dictate the harmony or vice versa? I thought this was quite comparable to illustration specifically as that’s very contextual and about communicating ideas and meanings and not making something that’s just pleasing to look at.
What is your favourite image or photograph? What brings you back to this picture?
For Christmas this year I got a vintage Tomi Ungerer poster that is framed now in our living room. A lot of his images just bring a smile to my face and take me back to my childhood. Lots of his books and images have gotten themselves firmly lodged in my brain and I like that they are so fun and playful but often with dark undertones.
Do you have any early memories of drawing or, what’s your first memory of an image?
I remember going on holiday as a kid, I’d fill up these tiny sketchbooks with futuristic battle scenes and weird characters. My dad used to get really worried and think I was somehow disturbed. I found a sketchbook a while back and it was pretty funny to see that I still visualise ideas in a very similar way. I also found a couple of pages my sister had filled in that just said ‘Tom is a pig, Tom is a pig, Tom is a pig’ over and over again. I probably stole her crayons or scribbled in her notebook or some mean act of brotherhood…
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yep. I keep quite a few. I’ve just started making these A5 ones which I use for most of my initial brainstorming. They’re quite messy and a bit all over the place. I then tend to use a larger sketchbook for developing the ideas I think are stronger.
Can you tell us about the use of text in your illustrations? We get the impression that you love to work with words as much as you do with image.
I love working with words and typography. Sometimes when you’re trying to communicate an idea the words offer you another option of doing so. I like the way you can be playful with dynamics, pace, tone and emphasis just like the spoken word. You can use it to get a very direct and clear message across or mess around to make the viewer really work for it.
We read that you’re a “keen fisherman”. Is there a relationship between casting a line and drawing a line?
What role does pencil play in your illustrations – mostly the surf and aquatic ones shown on Peas-on-Toast?
Pencil is I guess at the base of everything I do. Most drawings start out in pencil then are often inked over or rubbed out at some stage. It does seem a shame and I think I often overlook pencil (again, another reason why I’ve loved working on the TP stuff). I think occasionally I’ll do a drawing in pencil for a personal piece but usually it makes its way into my work in the form of a texture or shading.
What is your favourite Cornish seabird and why?
I’d have to say the Little Auk although I’ve not seen one yet. They’re kind of a small version of a puffin crossed with a penguin. I’m more of a fan of inland birds. I love birds of prey, especially Owls. I also love tropical birds and birds of paradise. When I was in South America, I visited the Bolivian rainforest and they were two a penny through the mangrove swamps. I could have spent a lifetime just observing and marveling at them.
Tell us about the Origin Coffee commission. How did that come about, and what were your inspirations for the design?
The design agency who deal with Origin Coffee (a-side) have invented this tradition of getting guest illustrators / designs to come up with the labels for Origins seasonal blends. They’ve had some great ones including Jack Teagle, Matt the Horse, Telegramme and just recently, John Kilburn too. It was a great honour to be asked to come up with one. I spent a while working on ideas then they called me in for a meeting and found this image in the archive section of my portfolio and asked if I wouldn’t mind using that. At first I was a bit shocked as I was really going to go to town but we talked about it and I realized it would work well. It was for a winter special and the guy dressed in a suit, scarf and with an umbrella flying through the sky on a pair of spring heeled shoes fitted snugly with the whole concept of coffee / caffeine giving you a lift. The character is the central one from a book I’ve been meaning to write for years now. One day I’ll barricade myself in somewhere remote with lots of supplies and get it done once and for all.
What directions are you interested in exploring in the future?
Most of my favourite films, books and records I’ve never felt like I’d be able to produce illustrations for. I think it’s because they’re often quite dark or serious and my work isn’t really about that so much. I decided to challenge myself a while back in this area by having a go at the Folio Society’s annual comp to illustrate Aldous Huxleys ‘ Brave New World’. Great book and one that I love but I thought my work may be to whimsical for it. After playing around and making a grand mess about the house I came up with a set of drawings I was really happy with and although have a loose feel, I hope have captured some of those dark undertones that run throughout the book. I like images that initially make you smile but then you walk away and find that they’re rattling around your head and there’s something else going on there. So in short – I’m trying to push myself to work with more challenging subject material and concepts.
What are you working on now? What can we look forward to from you next?
I’ve always got loads of stuff on the go. Too much than I can handle. I have notebooks full of lists entitled ‘stuff to do when I get more time’. The list increases disproportionately to the lists of ‘stuff I’ve actually finished’. In between commissions, I try to make time for personal projects that I suppress when I’ve got lots on.
I’ve been working on a concept for a collection of images called ‘The Cosmos, You & I’ which I’m really excited about. Sadly, I’m not going to be able to do anything with it for quite some time. I’m about to take an exhibition called ‘FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD’ to Bristol then hopefully on to London sometime in the Autumn / Winter. I’m planning to add to it as it goes and will include a tea tray I’ve designed with a furniture maker, hopefully a wine jug and several new paintings and prints. I’ve also got a book I’ve been working on about summers spent in the Austrian Alps which will hopefully be available soon and a collaboration with a stained glass maker for part of Brighton Festival. I’ve also done some new comics which will be appearing soon in Anorak mag and Strapazin mag.
Where can people get a hold of your work, or find out more about your previous projects?
Mainly on my website – www.tomhubmann.com
I also have some prints and books stocked at a few shops and boutiques around the UK including NGNG, Analogue and Pop which can also be found on the shop section on my website.
What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
I always go to the cinema around Christmas and that was the last time I went. We watched Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pii’.
What records or pieces of music are floating around in your head these days? Do you listen to anything while you’re working?
Yep, always! I can’t work without it. There’s such a strong link between music and illustration. I often conceptualise / analyse illustration the same way I do music. I’ll listen to music that suits the project I’m working on so for TP, that was a lot of psychedelic rare groove and prog records from times way back. The kind of weird and wonderful obscure stuff that seems to have fallen through the cracks for one reason or another and lurks at the fringes of mainstream culture. This stuff is the best! It’s often not so polished but it’s got loads of integrity, charm and honesty which is just the way I like it – warm, fuzzy and with loads of feel.
What are the books on your bedside table?
At the moment I’m reading ‘A Time of Gifts’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor. It’s about the authors journey to Constantinople on foot in the early 30s as an 18 year old living on his wits and a small amount of savings. It’s an amazing book and ridiculously well written. He reminds me of Laurie Lee in that so many sentences / paragraphs just feel like they have achieved total perfection. I am also still a bit obsessed with John Le Carre. I will probably read something by him again next.
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
Well…..it depends on the situation. I would say at times I’m partial to all three.
Favourite city in the world?
I’d have to say Innsbruck. I’m half Austrian and as kids, we’d spend most of our summer holidays there. My Austrian side of the family come from Innsbruck and it’s such a great town to relax in. I always get nostalgic when I think about it as it holds loads of great memories. It’s got mountain views on all sides and really feels like you’re in a magical valley protected by mountains.
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
I like foreign or unfamiliar places because you feel a bit more detached from them and can really let your imagination go wild. Ideally somewhere with a bit of history, culture and amazing landscapes and things you don’t normally see / experience. The world is so big and amazing and I find this a great way of reminding yourself of that. I lived in London on and off for most of my life but I’ve come to the conclusion that I almost find there’s too much to influence me and it just sort of seeps in without me really evaluating it and making conscious decisions. I love going into my own bubble but it’s important to go away regularly to get those cultural hits and give myself a reality check.
Tom’s work appears in Issue 2.0 of Tiny Pencil, the summerzine Monsters, Mammals & Mars! Available to buy here.