Q&A Artist Profile Levi Pinfold
Levi Pinfold’s artwork evokes an air of the old masters, each brush stroke brings to life a reality we are familiar with, yet somehow the detail he adds creates a world which is definitely not of our time, more like a parallel universe where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. His stylised realism, along with enviable drawing skills and writing talent, have become much admired by readers and critics alike, winning him many accolades in his relatively short career so far. In this interview, we discover what inspires and delights him.
With your professional commitments do you still find the time to keep a sketch book?
I haven’t regularly kept a sketchbook in some time now, but my studio tends to turn into a kind of sketchbook during each project.
What has been your career highlight thus far?
Regularly solving small problems is perhaps the most satisfying thing about the job. I’m at my happiest when all of a sudden something that has been causing difficulties clicks into place. Most of my career highlights are fairly quiet and unexpected by nature like that, and quite hard to explain. Perhaps noticing things like the odd slant of a tree or the texture of it’s bark that I can later use in a book is a good example. At moments I find myself amazed that those seemingly abstract observations are, in some way, my job.
It is a privilege to do this for a living, and I am always taken aback when someone tells me they like what I’m doing. That kind of thing is really good too.
Which golden piece of advice would you give to a newly graduated illustrator?
I suppose I could advise that you work harder than anyone else you know, or read like mad, or spend every waking moment firing ideas as if you were some sort of magic kiln. This is all good advice, but if you really want to be an artist you’ll be doing that anyway. Advice is a tricky thing to give, particularly if it’s golden. You should always be suspicious of golden things.
Maybe you can only try to be pleasant to work with, be genuine about what you do, and always remember why you wanted to be an illustrator in the first place. Really, making something good that works well is what it’s all about.
You are well known for creating your own paints and tempera. Tell us a bit about the tools of your trade?
Making paint is useful when painting in egg tempera – you can control the consistency of the paint, and it is relatively cheap. Also, if you want tempera pictures to survive longer than a year, you can only paint on a true chalk gesso ground that isn’t commercially available. You have to cook it from scratch and do all sorts of things like ensuring it’s the correct temperature and is applied at the correct speed. As you can imagine, this takes a reasonable chunk of time and can be incredibly frustrating when you get it wrong, so I’ve decided to leave it in the domain of medieval monkish sorts for now… (Yes, I am blaming you behind your back, Cennino Cennini). Really, all of this experimentation was a way of finding a working style that fits comfortably with me. Recently I’ve been trying to find a way to combine all the bits I like from tempera painting, watercolour, and digital media. So far the results are quite exciting. To me, in any case, because I can paint the pictures quicker!
What are you working on at the moment? And can we have a sneak peek?
I’ve been working on my next picture book for a while now, and it’s almost done. It’s called Greenling.
Can you list three books you enjoyed as a child which most influenced your decision to become an illustrator?
American comics – I’d find it hard to name one title. Silver Surfer, maybe. Steve Ditko’s run on the first ever Spider-Man stories, ever since I got hold of some collected back issues when I was 8. It all led to me finding things like Watchmen and Sandman when I was just the right age.
Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man had a tremendous impact on me when I was a boy. I think it was the first book I really felt was speaking to me directly, as I grew up in a landscape quite similar to Hogarth’s. I don’t think I can fault George Adamson’s pen and ink interpretations in the first iteration. Nor Andrew Davidson’s for the second. Laura Carlin has just illustrated a beautiful version too. I think her work is fantastic, but that’s beside the point as I shouldn’t be answering this question with things I’ve discovered as an adult.
Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are among the wisest books ever written for children. Her illustrations are unique, and I reckon she was an actual genius. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just liked the stories. Thanks, Tove Jansson!
If you could illustrate one fairy tale or classic children’s book which would you choose and why?
Alan Garner has written classic after classic, and is still doing so with a crop of staggering novels for grown-ups. The Owl Service has a haunting authenticity and intensity that appeals to me personally. It would require a very different approach, of course, and would prove a real challenge…I’m not sure I could do it justice but it would be interesting to find out.
You can discover more about Levi’s world on his website here.