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Friday, 1 May 2015

GarconJon meets Tom Brodie-Browne

After visiting the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A last month, I was inspired to create my own perception of "Savage Beauty". For me, it's McQueen's Scottish influence that shines through in his work - particularly his Highland Rape collection from 1996 - so I really wanted to capture this in my next shoot. Despite living in Scotland for nearly two decades, I had never actually ventured further north than Oban, so this was a trip of discovery as much as anything else.

In the true spirit of McQueen I worked with fresh talent to feature in the shoot. Tom Brodie-Browne, the Scottish artist is at the start of an exciting career in illustration and made a striking model too. Exploring new art was always a priority for McQueen and so championing Mr Brodie-Browne seems absolutely right. We drove north together with plenty of time to talk art, life and Scottish roots.

Nearly all clothes on the shoot were made in the UK, in tribute to my new personal project, 'Manufacturing Menswear'.

Tom Brodie-Browne, Artist

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I lived in Kent until I was 6 and then my family moved to Ayrshire.

What's your star sign? I am a Virgo.

Describle yourself in 5 words. Ok but I want you to know I'm not awfully fond of describing myself. I guess one word would be indecisive; ironically one of the few things I'm absolutely sure about in myself. Another word would be introspective. Reserved comes to mind. Passionate, regardless of how contradictory that may be against reserved. Lastly I'd say independent? I don't know, these answers will without a doubt change later upon reflection.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? Honestly, I watched "My Girl" and wanted to run a funeral parlour. Preferably in the basement of a huge house just like in the film.

When did you realise you had a knack for art? Was there a eureka moment? Art has been an interest of mine since I was young. The idea of creating something on a blank page still excites me. When I have an interest in something I generally tend to go all out, read all the books, gain as much knowledge as I can and put that to some use. I find with art and music, it is the process and techniques that achieve that end goal of imagery or sound that thrill me even more so than the imagery and sound itself. I'm probably too technical minded to be considered a creative.

There's always a temptation for creatives across the UK to move to London, why have you chosen to stay in Scotland? If an opportunity came around to go live somewhere else for a while then I would take it. I would still call Scotland home though.

The idea behind the shoot comes from 'Savage Beauty' in nature, what inspires you about the Scottish landscape? As cliche as it sounds, it's nearly always the great outdoors that I find simply refreshing. It moves at its own pace, much like myself.

You've released a range of children's books. That's quite an interesting story, can you tell me about it? It started as a high school project actually. We created a book which simplified Tam O'Shanter for young children and we based the story around our own character who was a haggis. The whole thing screamed Scotland. We had quite a bit of success running the business during free periods and after school. We sold around 3,500 copies and won the regional Young Enterprise award.
Once school finished, we continued to run the company while at university and college, producing more books based around our Haggis Character and Robert Burns.

Later, some of us took the business in a slightly new direction publishing some of the first illustrated children's eBooks on Kindle, Kobo and even topped the charts on Apples iBooks store. By this point we had moved on from Robert Burns and we were producing 15 minute reads simplifying classics such as Machbeth, Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, Dracula, Jekyll and get the idea. Alongside these eBooks we created educational material for the classroom and our own electronic whiteboard software. We published everything in English and Gaelic too as there are still lots of Gaelic speaking families across Scotland. As well as being a founding director, my primary job throughout was illustration. We were young when it all started and I don't know how we dealt with the pressures of running a company on top of school and university but we did.

How did you get into illustration? I think it was just a skill I had which was useful. Looking back, I was really quite awful. Since leaving that behind, I've been able to focus on illustration for my own pleasure and in doing so, my ability has advanced far more than it ever could have while working to the requests of others. I don't think illustration or any creative ability is ever something that you can say "right, I know how to do that now". Tastes and trends change constantly and that's what keeps it interesting. I feel like I'm still getting into illustration really. Always pushing myself a little further with it.

Who or what has inspired your work most? Through social media I've discovered loads artist who blow my mind on a regular basis. Their work is a constant inspiration. Much like myself, a lot of them work a regular day job which is comforting to know. What's really nice is when I get messages saying that I have inspired someone. I think passing that passion on is what it's all about.

From the looks of things you've started to get into photography. I loved that you brought your film cameras and enjoyed shooting the landscape as much as I did - how did you get into shooting? Yes! Through modelling and spending so much time with photographers, I've found a new respect for the art of photography. I'm a sucker for anything with manual moving parts so I took my parents old film camera, a Minolta SRT-201, off their hands years ago. I never used it, I just wanted to know how it worked. I don't know if that's just a boy thing? As a kid I took apart countless TV remotes, clocks, computers, anything I could take a screw driver to really. I've always been curious in that way.

I finally got some film for my Minolta a couple of months back. After speaking with some photographers who still work with film, I got some pointers and took it for a spin. I've now delved quite far into the whole thing, as I do. I've just started doing C41 processing at home and bought a new film camera, a Minolta X-700, with a selection of lenses from 18mm up to 210mm. I've read up on dark room printing and I'm in the process of making myself an enlarger. I wish I got into this years ago, I'm really having so much fun with it! Again, it's the creating something on a blank page thrill that's getting me.

I also have a Kodak Tourist II which I brought along on our shoot and a Kodak Brownie box camera. I think it's super important to work with something so basic in order to truly understand how it all works. I don't know if I'll ever take this new hobby as far as to move onto digital photography. The process of developing the negatives and soon printing is exciting to me. Film is unpredictable, and I think I need that. I aim for perfection too much. I would drive myself crazy with a digital camera. Not to mention going home with 3 or 4 hundred photos; that would take me weeks to sort through and pick my shot.

What do you enjoy about photography vs illustration? How is your process different? Honestly the two go so hand in hand, I don't know why I didn't see it sooner. There definitely are differences to my approach though. Photography is so new to me but I guess so far I've noticed it can be a bit of a waiting game to get the shot you want. There's a lot of changing elements to take into account and therefore getting that shot can feel really rewarding. Getting that shot and then successful developing the film is even more rewarding! I'm fairly relaxed with it. For me it's about going outside, exploring and really taking in your surroundings.

With illustration I'm actually quite up-tight. I'm aiming to achieve the best I can. I want to surprise myself every time I sit down to draw. I work from photos mainly and draw a lot of portraits. If it's not instantly recognisable then I'm not going to be happy with it. I should probably loosen up but any time I draw I work it and work it until I've achieved some level of realism.

Finish these sentences....

Art is... everything.
Savage Beauty is... raw, intimidating, unparalleled excellence.
Scotland is... my home.
I am.... the walrus.

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom...Oh man I've not lived enough to be wise yet. I'll tell you when I get there, though I'm in no rush.

See the full shoot below.