Liam Brazier is a UK-based illustrator and animator. He is known for utilizing paper collage techniques to create “low poly art”, focusing on shapes and colors to reduce images to as few basic forms as possible.
“… Having work critiqued was certainly sobering – in fact, I’d say my biggest takeaway from art education was that taste is underlined, capital letter SUBJECTIVE …“
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Can you please tell us a bit about your background?
I’d like to preface this with a statement that I don’t know what I’m doing. I never have and don’t expect that to change. If anything I’m slightly dubious of those that say they do. I can only speak of my experience and I have zero doubt there are better ways of approaching everything I attempt. I tumble through existence blindly doing what my brain says, trusting it daily to be clever enough to talk to my hands into working properly. As a system it is flawed, but I’m in deep now.
The only fact I can say for certain about me is that I’m not particularly interesting, but am probably quite random.
The only perfect anagram of my surname is ‘bizarre’.
I’m one of those annoyingly single-minded people that showed some apparent aptitude for drawing from a very young age and my very particular brain went ‘right! Let’s do that then’. I physically can’t recall a time in my life I didn’t want to draw – there was a period of a burgeoning business in the school playgrounds of my youth wherein I scribbled various comic or cartoon characters for money …or snacks.
I swiftly became identified as ‘the one that could do art’ (I’m possibly remembering that more kindly than the 80s-90s UK Comprehensive school truth) and that was perfectly fine with me. I’m sure I craved the affirmation, and I really was quite terrible at most other things.
What inspired you to make art?
I’ve always been a fan of media. If I want to align myself with liking something I’m mostly obsessive about discovering the perfect distillation of that – I’ve been known to be impressed by a band and listen to every song in their discography just to identify their (in my ears) ‘best song’ before throwing it on an agonized over mix-tape playlist.
Films, music, TV, books I consume still more than I do food. I am a child of the 80s – I was born in 1980 when the consumption of such was blossoming to a stratospheric level, even before the internet reared its ugly head. Like most my age Star Wars was absolutely inescapable. Attracted to its utter newness in this reality, something amazingly formed and directed squarely at me (and sure; a billion others like me).
My clear obsessiveness echos onto most things I am fond of – I like an intriguing narrative, so musically I’ll gravitate to the Pumpkins, the Beatles, where the story of them is intrinsic to their being. Comedy; it’d not just be a sitcom but something like Red Dwarf with inbuilt lore. Give me an alternative universe to gaze into.
I grew up in a thoroughly grey seaside town that I could never understand why, outside of family, anyone wouldn’t leave should opportunity allow. Even within the relatively tiny confines of the UK you can travel just an hour away and be somewhere remarkably better, more alive, more multicultural, more creative. Sure you can blossom here, some do, but from my singular perspective it’s a daisy in the cracked concrete of a prison yard and the cell doors are wide open.
I can tell you if I don’t like something, that’s easy, though whittling down favourites is a more decisive attitude than I can personally own. I certainly enjoy ‘art’, I appreciate the aesthetics, the construction, the visual ideas, that’s all super impressive stuff but I still hold a bugbear about the focus on art history at an education level, I don’t honestly care. I want to make stuff.
Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught? What did you study? What were the “aha” moments? What did you find the most beneficial?
I’m never certain if studying art throughout my education actually taught me anything outside of giving me the opportunity to explore and define my leanings creatively.
Art was always there for me. I actually progressed quite well in a variety of school subjects I think mainly because you had to create a title page in your exercise book for each project and I’d do some elaborate illustration. Which is great …until exams don’t ask you to do that. Art however was a much more simple premise: create something.
I did ‘Art’ (and Design because it was a secret second drawing class) at GCSE level, ‘General Art and Design’ at college, which to its credit allowed me to try various disciplines in the first year and then specialise in illustration come the second. Lastly was illustration (sorry: Visual Communication) for my degree.
In hindsight, it was a weird time to be studying art, or anything I’d imagine. The only computer access we had throughout the three years of my degree were a week using a primordial version of what would become Adobe’s After Effects (something I’d later embrace for my animation work), downloading guitar tabs in the campus library, maybe an hour being shown how to do hideous Photoshop effects in something Photoshop-like, and our tutor discovering keys in our final weeks to what we’d all assumed was a cupboard only to unveil a bunch of those (then) new iMacs.
Having work critiqued was certainly sobering – in fact, I’d say my biggest takeaway from art education was that taste is underlined, capital letter SUBJECTIVE. We had tutors rotate out throughout uni and one would adore what I was doing, another not get it at all. It’s a harsh lesson but an important one.
I’m being very down on the experience but it was creative freedom I’d forever yearn for since, and I certainly grew as a person in those years, and creatively saw building blocks of what I’d be identified with to this day.
So yes I studied at art schools, but also yes, I think it’s not too egotistical to say; in terms of work, I am self-taught.
How did you develop your own art style? Where do you go for inspiration? How do you keep your creativity flowing?
It’s the process that engulfs my interest most, always has been.
My grandparents gifted me a stack of coloured paper when I went off to art college and these places aren’t awash with budget – even my uni ran out of supplied paper by the second freshers week.
Anyway, it made sense to use what I had to hand and so I started carefully cutting out shapes and collaging them basically. In the mid 90s we are talking blunt scissors and a glue stick here, but it was effective in creating something that stood out somewhat.
At uni this became a more elaborate process.
Again; no computers to hand so I was sketching image breakdowns, going to a photocopy shop to get them blown up to scale (kids; ask your grandparents), tracing that on grease-proof paper then reverse applying those marks onto that same backlog of coloured paper I still had in tow. I’d scalpel cut the shapes and spray glue them onto the final piece. Apologies to my old landlord for the state of my uni bedroom carpet.
I liked the effect. The flat colour. The geometric shapes – after all cutting straight lines with a scalpel is much easier than curves. I liked the ridiculously laborious process as it felt like a hundred little steps I could check off on the journey I guess.
Post university I revisited the style sometime around the mid to late 2000s, this time with the aid of technology, and people seemed to approve. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I graduated to creating these precise shapes with vectors, and that only goes to please my obsessiveness further.
It’s these odd self-inflicted boundaries that push my inspiration. Can you make an illustration using only straight lines? Can you use only a limited colour palette? Etc. It’s varying the process that holds my interest.
How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?
Stubbornness is the flippant answer, but it’s not a mile from the truth.
Obviously, I’ve had a myriad of other jobs but I’ve pretty much always drawn things for people for money if they’d ask. I did some paid commissions while still at university, then the usual favours and little things for friends or friends-of-friends.
Teaching myself After Effects animation certainly helped me survive.
I was drawing and animating US adverts by my late 20s and with the birth of social media, my artwork was reaching more and more eyes.
After putting a series of superhero-inspired illustrations out there they went everywhere, from San Diego Comic-Con to being projected onto Battersea Power Station.
What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?
Some years ago I was invited to do a solo show in Greenwich, London and one of the attendees was there searching for more talent for their agency.
To this day I am repped by Illustration Ltd. worldwide and they help funnel jobs my way but, and I don’t say this as a boast but more an acknowledgment of professional failure; I have never once reached out to an art director or similar, never shown my portfolio to a prospective client, that process is alien to me.
Every single project I’ve had the pleasure (and some the displeasure) of working on has been from clients seeing something I’d done and wanting my input on something else.
It’s impossible to break down revenue streams, to my accountant’s annoyance. Every single job is different and every single one has their own idea of budget. Experience gives you the ability to refuse too low a paycheck but having no industry standards in regards to this stuff is a constant battle we all have. Obviously one major benefit of professional representation is their broader view of budgets and going-rates so I’m super happy for that.
In a broad sense the animation side of my business has higher budgets but is much more work, but the frequency of illustration jobs is greater.
What are you currently working on?
I illustrated and animated a horror-inspired short this year (2021) for a pair of Directors/Producers that I hope sees the light of day soon. It’s agonising sitting on finished work!
A big update for the Fortnite game came this month and I was invited to contribute an illustrated loading screen. This is very cool, says my eight-year-old nephew.
I played a small part in the Disney global animated Christmas advert – I produced some new Moana artwork that features and some others used for reference and paint-overs. That can be seen in pretty much every ad break for the rest of the month no doubt.
Unless the travel rules change for a fourth time this week it looks like I may be in Disneyland Paris by the time this interview is published. This is a long overdue trip to the ‘Hotel New York: The Art of Marvel’ for which I was the first artist brought on board (early 2018 I think) to help make superhero artwork for the extensive retheme.
Not only will I finally get to see the art I created in person for the first time but they asked me to help launch a new annual tradition at the hotel of having an artist decorate a giant Christmas bauble to be installed as part of the overlay decorations.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?
Above all ‘art’ or creating in general is my hobby, my drive, my passion. Improving.
Starting something that didn’t exist and making it a ‘thing’.
I’m a particularly low-rent Geppetto in that regard.
I can’t imagine not doing it – it occupies so much of me, brings me so much pleasure.
I don’t expect that from everyone in the industry but it’s hard for me to empathise with someone doing this job that doesn’t.
What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?
I am beholden to Adobe for animating in regards to After Effects.
Photoshop is a staple daily driver that I’m hoping to move away from given a chance.
For illustration work, I’ve moved pretty much wholesale onto the iPad in the past couple of years. Procreate for sketching/raster jobs and Vectornator for finals.
They’re intrinsically evil but social media apps are fairly invaluable – they are the sole self-promotion I do. I presume it helps as the work hasn’t dried up yet.
What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m a big fan of Edward Gorey’s output. He marries a style of language and drawing in a way few others can. Dark humour and gorgeous execution. See ‘The Hapless Child’ for my favourite.
Jeff Noon’s short story collection ‘Pixel Juice’ remains my favourite bit of written fiction. It has more ideas per page than most manage cover-to-cover. It’s weird, eye-opening, brain sparking and more in all the best ways.
I have nearly all of the ‘Art of Star Wars’ books. That stuff is pure creative fuel for me.
What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.
I’d certainly tell him to avoid a certain few projects that became more of a pain than they should have been.
Otherwise, just keep trying. Keep wanting to improve.
Do something random or interesting so you have an anecdote for interviews.
Get in touch with Liam
Thank you, Liam, for joining us today!
All artworks by Liam Brazier, used with permission.
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