Rob Hooper describes himself as a digital illustrator that “helps people bring their ideas to life with witty ideas and punchy visuals.” He’s been working in the creative industries for 35 years, migrating from a start in design and advertising into illustration around the turn of the century.
In the last 20 years, he has contributed to numerous award-winning advertising and design campaigns whilst gaining a reputation as a professional creator of slick computer-based and hand-drawn art.
We caught up with the “dangerously amateur philosopher,” undisciplined reader and pretty OK drummer this week to discuss his gradual migration to digital, his unwavering love of traditional illustration and his hopes for the future of creativity.
Where are you from and how did you get into the industry?
I was born in what was then Rhodesia and mainly grew up in Southern Africa. I moved to the UK in September of 2019.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I live in Stratford upon Avon and work for clients across the globe via the internet. As a freelancer, I have worked for agencies, design studios and publishers in the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK, but not forgetting my clients from South Africa either!
Explain your creative style and process
I am trying to settle into a unique style that is exclusively mine. I have many styles as a quick look through my portfolio will attest. That is the product of working in an industry that requires illustrators to be a Jack-Of-All-Trades to survive. Since I now intend to focus on my illustrative cartoon style, I want to nail that down into something distinctively my own. My most recognisable trait is clean precise lines and bright, bold colouring (or so I have been told!)
I learnt my process from Kit Hendricks of Pentagram: Don’t invest too much time in a piece until the client knows what they want. I rely on hand drawing very rough thumbnails on an iPad Pro to start to my process. I send my thumbnails via email to my client to hear what they feel about it and then respond to feedback to develop a way forward.
Typically, the process takes a few steps but each iteration of the illustration falls more and more in line with their expectations. I add details with each step until we are at the stage when I can start working on the final artwork. I then switch to Sketchbook Pro for my lines and Photoshop for the colouring. I also love vector artwork and get a kick out of crafting each line as perfectly as I can - a hangover from design methinks. The final application of the artwork will dictate which software application I use to complete the job.
Please provide one sentence about your spotlighted work on Creativepool
It’s a series of charming cartoony illustrations for a children’s book featuring a pig and his friend (a cat) that build and fly an aeroplane. You can read more about it right here!
How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?
Technology has made my job so much easier. In times past, my artwork was laboured over on a Bristol and Schoellerhamer board which took ages. I remember cutting rubylith and doing lettering by hand no less. It was a time when commercial art was still art, a craft that you did an apprenticeship for.
Computers have completely raised the game to a level I could have never dreamt of as a young artist. It’s incredibly exciting, I learn new tips and techniques every day and am always swamped by the possibilities. That is why I need to consolidate a unique style of my own to earn a living and leave the rest for playing around. That playfulness will eventually filter into my work I know, but trying to stay on top of it all will drive a person mad.
If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be?
I’d throw all the accountants out of the management boards. Since the suits have corporatised the industry they have taken an art form and turned it into a science. Advertising today lacks the sheer guts of advertising and design of the ’60s through to the ’80s. I do however appreciate the highest demand for art today is from the game industry. That still has a maverick outlook and the artwork they are creating is amazing!
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
I often noodle around on my iPad and see what develops. I follow people whose work I admire. To see what beautiful work is being done out there is very inspiring. I learn so much from them and naturally want to do the same!
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I was keen on being a musician when I was younger, but the Roland Drum Machine had just been launched and I thought: “Well, that’s us drummers done for!” Little did I realise that it would simply make drummers so much more accurate and spawn a whole generation of walking metronomes. That’s how amazing humans are.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
I’m always trying to fall in love with my most current project, that way the passion shines through and inspires me to craft the work to the best that time allows. I rarely enjoy anything I did a week ago and always feel I could have done better. What I am doing now should be the work I am most proud of. Anything less means I am either stagnating or regressing and that’s not good.
Nevertheless having said that: My series of 5 isometric vector cities is the job I still am pleased to look at after about a year now.
How do you recharge away from the office?
I take breaks, pursue other interests and remain in contact with my family and friends. I read philosophy and history. I love remaining in touch with Western Civilisation's core concepts. It imbues me with a sense of purpose and belonging to a greater whole in a continuum of culture.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives in the industry who are looking for commissions?
You are only as good as your last job. Always try to do your best!
What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?
I want the creative industries to replace politics. We need more dreamers and fewer professional benchwarmers.