We TAKE FIVE to catch up with artist Andrew Whitson and find out more about what inspires his Creative practice as he shares his latest series of Illustrations, “Familiar”

Q: Tell us a bit about your latest series ‘Familiar’. (themes, inspiration, concept)
‘Familiar was an idea born out of the thought that we may all have an unseen but ever present protector. This concept is of course not new as can be witnessed through countless cultures around the world which also hold this to be a very real possibility (or desire). The idea initially came from a comic book project on I had been working where Familiars took the form of a spiritual police force working in tandem with the main protagonist from the story.  It soon became apparent however that this concept should be extended beyond one art platform where the visual triggers could be used as a design tag or signature style to steer some of my new visual explorations and ideas.

In the current use of these visual tags, the idea is to explore childhood pop culture influences at a time when television and other mass media technology was still in its infancy and therefore quite limited, not only in its quality, but also its quantity. In a way it is a nostalgic throw back to a simpler time which through the 70’s 80’s and 90’s began to find its Pop culture feet before the digital revolution began to take hold.

Therefore, each of the mass media formats I am exploring wether they be children’s television, Iconic movies of the time or Pop music and its stars, are being re visited from this nostalgic point in time where I am re constructing them with my own tag attached. In a way this could be described as a modern interpretation through my own recollections imprinted and interfering!


Q: What is your creative process for your artistic practice? (studio routines, influences, inspirations)
I always work from the afternoon (3.30pm) into the night (10.00 pm) during the week and stick to five hours on a Sat and five hours on a Sunday, unless there is a pressing deadline which may require me to up my game for that period. I work from An Cultúrlann on the Falls Road where I have a duplex office space which is the home of my publishing house. I used to only concentrate on illustrating one book a year but now am outputting up to three books as my style has changed to accommodate the heavier workload. I began my career as an illustrator and painter and now I am beginning to move back into custom projects of my own such as Familiars. Growing up in a gatehouse in the grounds of a very rural psyhchiatric hospital in Scotland where my dad worked, access to literature up to the age of eight only came from three sources:

1. Comics my dad brought home from the hospital which no longer had any interest with the patients, probably donated by charities and /or relatives who would visit. I loved reading OOR WULLIE, THE BROONS DENNIS THE MENACE, THE BEANO AND COMMANDO which were often dropped off in a huge pile in my room when dad got home. I recently found out that D.C. Thomson is the Scottish publisher of these titles which would explain the odd addition of Commando on this list. It was probably in the batch of deliveries to the hospital. This joyful weekly expectation soon expanded into something which completely blew my mind, one of the batches of comics contained something different and new….. the inclusion of 2000AD! It was 1977, and Star Wars was just about to be released.

2. Book prizes that my dad had won in Sunday School competitions mainly related to knowledge
of the Old Testament.

Boxes of books always lay strewn across the floors of the bedrooms in this house. When I began to look inside the books, I noticed one thing they all had in common, my Dad’s name on certificates stuck inside on the front end papers with dates and what the books were awarded for, mainly Bible knowledge.

Two books which I still remember clearly to this day were, Moby Dick by Herman Melville and The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells. I must admit that I was initially drawn in, not by the desire to read these classics but by the illustrations and photos included in those particular editions. Tripod aliens and captains wrestling with sea whales, what’s not to like? Eventually though I did get down to reading these titles which have remained with me to the present day.

3. My primary school which had all the obvious curriculum based content, but also the encyclopedia which always drew my interest. Although I enjoyed reading Stig of the Dump by Clive King and Prince Caspian by C.S.Lewis in the classroom with the odd bit of Roald Dahl thrown in for good measure,it was the classroom encyclopedia which really grasped my imagination. Not only because of all the factual info, but also because there were illustrations in them, lots and lots of brilliant illustrations! Many a school afternoon I would spend pouring over these pages until it was no longer enough to merely read the content no, I wanted to copy the illustrations!

Initially,illustrators or artists’ work of anything which I could copy from books, comics, encyclopedia, colouring books and magazines. I soon began to try and copy Spiderman by Jack Kirby (more often than not succumbing to just tracing the character in frustration at my own inability to draw Spiderman as well as Jack!) It’s not only today’s children who are exposed to self imposed pressures! Richard Dadd and his “The Fairy Feller’s Master- Stroke,” was a big influence as was Joseph Noel Paton’s “The Fairy Raid: Carrying off a Changeling, Midsummer Eve.

”Dali was a fascination for a long time but in terms of illustrators, Alan Lee, Arthur Rackham and Norman Rockwell have a lot to answer for!

Over the years, my interests have changed and today I am very eclectic in my artistic fascinations. I have always admired the “GREAT” masters we all know and love, from Hiëronymus Bosch right through to Millais of PreRaphaelite fame, but presently I am really interested in the Brooklyn based artist KAWS and the Flat Art of Takashi Murakami.

Q: How did you get into illustrating?
I had been working on an Irish Mythology inspired large watercolour called “The Woodcutter.” I got a print made and began to post it around publishers. Literally, within two days I had a phone call from Apple Tree Press in Belfast asking if I would be interested in illustrating a book called “A Field Guide to Irish Fairies.” which I did and which was distributed by Chronicle books in America.

Q: What has been a highlight from your career as an artist?
This just happens to be a recent event organised by Máire Zepf (The current Seamus Heaney Children’s Fellow) in the Seamus Heaney Centre in Bellaghy with (the then Laureate na nÓg) PJ Lynch. It was called “Head over Heels,” and was an event where five Irish illustrators and two Irish authors responded to five winning stories from a schools based writing competition.

As the winning stories were read out in front of the winning schools, the illustrators had to illustrate their given story live while being filmed with the footage being beamed live onto a huge screen at the front of the theatre! I was proud to have been included in this project!

Q: What does the future hold for Andrew Whitson?
I want to continue developing my illustration work, publishing house and my own personal explorations of modern mass Pop culture through characters such as Familiar!

Written by Megan-Cáitlín Dallat

Images by Andrew Whitson

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