Illustration is an extremely technical form of communication and the best graphic artists have transformed countries, companies and policies. Andrew Colin Beck's ideas are transformative and his style, claiming that "Beck" shading and sharp edges still seem to always be unique for every piece he does. He's best known for his portraiture's particularly in Worth Magazine's "Power 100" issue. The details in the hair, slight enlarging of the faces and of course the speckled-grainy shading create the wrinkles in Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Warren Buffett, Lou Jiwei, and others making them that much more enticing. The red that depicts the background around the faces gives the term, "Power" a new meaning.
Of course one would naturally ask about his political stance, (simply out of curiosity) and if this affected his work. Andrew replies thoughtfully that, "putting your voice into your work is crucial as an artist. I always try and infuse my opinion and outlook, no matter how subtly, into everything I illustrate. I am kind of an “a-political” person as far as true American Democrats vs. Republican politics go, but I am also an opinionated and passionate person. I think a message I try to express through all of my art is to shed convention, stop being who someone else wants you to be, and be free. I am a bit of a neo-hippy. I am currently working on a psychedelic rock and roll band (new side project), and I am certain that even more of my persuasions will come out more explicitly in that arena."
When asked to reveal his secrets and process, he simply raises his sketch book and tips his hat. He speaks slow, calm and almost in a way that he has had this conversation before, with the same gentle voice; audience drawn to his tone. "Hand drawing is where I start every project. Every time. My sketchbook is where the real magic happens. Ideas are first." Andrew depicts someone both hungry for experience but also careful with every project he takes on, as if he heavily respects not just the client but the subject matter. This is evident in the eyes, the lips and the slightly raised eyebrows he depicted in the Worth pieces.
Andrew, calling himself a Neo-Hippy, is refreshing to listen too as he described his start: "I was lucky enough to score a face-to-face meeting with Agent Pekka, showing them my work. I was pretty confident going into the meeting, which today seems laughable in hind-sight. They looked at all my work, and their feedback was essentially “call us back when you decide on one style”. I am amazed that such an obvious problem wasn’t obvious to me. This feedback sent me down a one year journey of exploring, crafting, refining and deciding what my personal style should be." Before diving into how his young but expanded career positioned him to illustrate for companies like, GQ, Vanity Fair, Monocle Magazine, Huffington Post, LinkedIn, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, Worth, Men’s Health Magazine, PayPal, G.E., and Pentagram, we start this tail talking about his travels around the world with his son and wife:
Let us first start with your worldtravels and backpacking through the horizons? You traveled for 10 months. Soundslike a Dream. Can you talk about this incredible journey?
I was working as a graphicdesigner at the amazing Edenspiekermann in Amsterdam after having had aninternship there during my university days. Working in a studio was rewardingand fun - and this experience really gave me a taste for international travel.My wife is a French teacher and one who is generally quite interested incultures, languages and countries. When my job was ending in Amsterdam, and Iwas contemplating becoming a full time freelance illustrator, we talked atlength about where we should go next, seeing as my employment hadbecome “location independent”. My wife,Ashley, had the brilliant idea of traveling instead of just choosing a newlocation to hunker down. So from there, we packed up the small amount of thingswe wanted with us — got rid of everything else — and jumped into a 10 monthjourney that we will remember forever.
We explored 11 countries, stayed in a tree house, a cave, apalace, a hut and many other incredible abodes. We met elephants, monkeys,camels, hucksters, villains, wizards, kind souls and everything in between. Itwas Ashley, Colin (my son, 2 at the time), me, 2 suitcases, a handful of bags,and an acoustic guitar. We visited Morocco, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Indonesia,India, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Greece and other inspiring places.
As we began our journey, my wife said “Would you like to takesome time off and just vacation while we travel?” — and I said, “No way!”Working with huge amounts of inspiration washing over me daily was amazing.Just walking down the street would fill me with smells, sounds, textures,patterns and ideas that really fueled my creativity. It was a priceless time. Ihope we do it again in the future!
Talk about your early beginnings. You were labeled in The Daily Universe as “a child withhyper-creativity”. Describe your home town? Was school or a person an influenceduring your early creative career?
I was raised in “mormon-ville” Provo, Utah and mostly grew up around mysister and my mother. Played a lot of Barbies and listened to a lot of theMammas and the Pappas, the Beatles, Cat Stevens. I watched a lot of cartoonsand drew a lot of pictures in addition to playing with instruments. Actually Imade a lot of home movies — I liked to observe bugs in the grass.
My mom has been huge inspiration to me. She exposed me to all kinds ofstimulating things like operas, symphonies, silent movies, lessons, camps,demolition derbys, art-classes— in an effort to help me find my passions inlife. She sent me to sports camp (early on), and I came back crying the firstday (laughing). We quickly realized baseball wasn’t my thing. My mother alwaysfostered my interests. Bought me my first video camera, electric guitar,typewriter and probably more sketchbooks and pencils than a single mom shouldof had the burden of buying.
My childhood turned me on to drawing, and thinking differently, whichwas the basis of most of the creative endeavors that I work on now.
What an amazing mother. Seems likeintroducing you to drawing early on gave way to your illustration talent. Youmentioned you always start a drawing by hand, how did this method transitioninto the computer?
In 4th grade my family had a really big clunky family computer, andafter working on MS paint for a long time, my brother gave me this computerprogram called “Image Composer”. Thosewere probably my first forays into digital art. Universe rolled around and Iwas super fascinated with graphic design and illustration. Those classesintroduced me to the Adobe Suite. I was hooked.
One of the most remembered project thatmany of us in the office mentioned was your work on Worth Magazine and thepolitical figure illustrations you did. Can you elaborate on this project?
Portraiture has been something I have been interested in for a longtime. When I was young, I loved the famous American caricature artist, AlHirschfeld. I have always been amazed at his ability to take complex facialfeatures and personality and distill them into a handful of simple and powerfullines. I also really enjoy the economical process of trying to breakdowncomplicated structures into shapes and lines.
A few years ago, I had done a personal project called “The Crazy Ones”portraitizing a few of my personal heroes (John Lennon, Steve Jobs, etc.) andfrom there, I started getting contacted pretty frequently with requests forportrait work. ’Twas very exciting. Portraits are a great challenge, but theycan also be really stressful, because you must strike a balance between apleasing reduction of a face, and a undeniable likeness.
Working with Worth was great. That was probably the most illustrationsfor one job I have ever done. Marlena, my awesome agent, helped me score thatgreat project.
Talking more about landing clients itseems you have a strong hold on the magazine industry working for GQ, VanityFair, Monocle Magazine, Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, the New York Observer. Amazing. What was your first connection like? Canyou talk about the first time a magazine called you for work?
In the beginning I created a full portfolio of fake editorialillustrations: I commissioned myself to do art for articles that I found onlinein order to get practice and refine my style and abilities. After I finished Ishowed it to everyone in my circles, got feedback and shared it all over theinternet.
After that, the first magazine to contact me was “Makeshift”, aself-proclaimed “field-guide to hidden creativity”. Having seen my work onDribble, Makeshift gave me a really exciting and strong start and I am gratefulto them to this day. Next I reached out to a friend who had worked for “MonocleMagazine” (a longtime dream for me to work for). He put me in touch with them,and I was over-joyed to do a few spot illustrations for them.
Around this time I was searching for an agent. Icontacted incredible Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli and she graciously put me in contact with her agent.
You also worked for LinkedIn and othertechnology-based clients featuring human-centric and still life illustrations.How has that evolved?
I think working in various industries is really rewarding. It takes anart director with imagination to see somebodies editorial work and see how itcould translate into other spheres, so I am glad for the great people I haveworked with who have had that vision. I would love to work more in the foodindustry. I have done some work for an awesome cafe in Utah called “Morty’sCafe”, and it has been some of my favorite stuff to work on.
Having a diverse clientele is something that makes my job really fun.Currently, I finished projects for the Mormon Church, as well as Playboy. Ilike to joke that I have worked for God, and worked for the Devil. ;)
Another industry I have dabbled in but would LOVE to work more in ismusic, as far as album covers, merch, posters, etc. go.
Each illustration in your portfolio is so unique for its purpose, but also carries the“Beck” style, the grainy texture for shading, ect. How do you adapt to the needs and persona for each project and still keep your style.
Thanks for the compliment. This isn’t directly what you asked butdeveloping my “Beck style”, as you put it, was a huge and crucial part of thisjourney that I am on. Indulge me as I go on what I think is an importanttangent: I was trained as a graphic designer. In design school, you are trainedto be as diverse as possible, giving you the ability to adapt to any client andproject and come up with something unique and appropriate for anything thrownat you. This kind of trained all of us to be stylistic chameleons. Starting outas an illustrator I was exploring hundreds of different aesthetics andapproaches to illustrating and it wasn’t until I had a meeting with Agent Pekkain Amsterdam, that my eyes were opened.
Agent Pekka was my favorite agent at the time, representing a lot of myfavorite illustrators, and I was lucky enough to score a face-to-face meetingwith them and show them my work. I was pretty confident going into the meeting. . . which seems laughable in hind-sight. They looked at all my work, andtheir feedback was essentially “call us back when you decide on one style”. Iam amazed that such an obvious problem wasn’t obvious to me. This feedback sentme down a one year journey of exploring, crafting, refining and deciding whatmy personal style should be.
For a graphic designer, being a diverse shape-shifter is important. Asan editorial illustrator, the opposite is true. You need to have the mostdefined, single-minded, and recognizable style you can possibly produce (in myexperience).
Now to answer your question directly, the way I make it work forspecific jobs comes down to sketches and conceptual thinking in the sketchbook.Then from there, I take those specific and bespoke concepts and bake them intomy signature style.
Can you elaborate on how you startclient onboarding, what is that discussion like?
Usually I get an email from an art director that says “Hi Andrew,we’ve seen your work in such and such publication, and we think you’d beperfect for such and such upcoming project we have going . . . are youavailable? And are you interested?” Fromthere I usually hand them off to my agent, Marlena Agency. Not too complicated.
Balancing work and life. Backpacking,working with Fortune 500 companies and finding time for your family and (wife,yes), how do you do it all? Did your family come with you during youradventures?
This is an important question for sure. So yes, wife and son were withme for all moments of my travels—I wouldn't have done it without them. Now weall live in a house in Salt Lake City, and during the mornings throughafternoons I work from my sketchbook and computer. In the early evenings I tryand always spend time with them—walks, hikes, fairs, parks, toys, movies,playing instruments, whatever we want. And then in the evenings I spend timewith my wife Ashley, keeping the embers burning. On top of that, I love writingmusic, and as mention before am starting up a band, and I have other hobbies,such as cartooning, exercising, being a Mormon, and dreaming up new crazyideas.
Keeping it all in balance can indeed be challenging. But trying to keepit all a float is one of the greatest parts about trying to be a human.
What is in the future for Andrew? Isthere a company you would like to work for, or project you would like to workon?
One of these days, not sure when, I would love to have the experienceof having coworkers and going into an office again. The only real draw back ofthe freelance life (for me) is loneliness. It would have to be the rightcompany and the right people, but it could be really fun to get back into thatsphere.
My editorial bucket list: New York Times, The New Yorker, Wall StreetJournal, WIRED and there’s more, but I won’t be greedy.
What has been your favorite project todate?
I recently did a few murals for a restaurant and a personal residence,and those were super fun. I have few more murals coming up soon and I am reallyexcited to have my work going that direction. Seeing your work so large, andbeing able to work with paint, and your hands is really exciting, seeing as 90%of my work is behind a computer screen.
What can you tell someone that is juststarting out in the creative industry?
I am glad you asked. Recently I did a podcast and they asked me thisquestion and I feel I totally blew it . . . so now here’s my second chance!Here’s my advice: “FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT!”. I think humans are immensely talented andcapable creatures. We can accomplish nearly anything, but where we waffle isfiguring out what we want toaccomplish. So, for my younger friends who are just starting out in thecreative industry, I tell them to put down your pencils, put down your iPhones,put down your YouTube tutorials and go outside in nature with a notebook. Sitthere for as long as it takes. Sit there until you get bored and then keepsitting there. Sit there until your mind is totally clear. Then ask yourselfthe question: “What do I want?” Or maybe a variation, “What do I want to do?”.Spend as long as it takes to figure out what you truly desire and who you wantto be.
Once you feel like you have an answer to that question, then dive inwith all your heart and you will find success. It’s ok if the answer to thisquestion changes over time but you must answer this question! Don’t give up,because it will be VERY hard to answer this question. So many people do not,and it leads to lots of mediocrity and stagnation. You can do it! You are immensely powerful!GO!