Quick on the draw: Clym Evernden

The quirky British artist talks fashion, image making, and new paths of illustration via Instagram

Growing up in the East Sussex countryside, I was always drawing nature. I was very interested in all things natural, particularly ornithology. This then developed into a habit of drawing the family pets. They were quite comic images – for example, trying to capture how the cat would behave in a certain way. I think this practice was quite significant as it taught me about form, movement and a certain kind of expression.

Drawing would become the thing I studied, but actually my first professional commission was the result of me writing to Harpers & Queen (now Harper's Bazaar) just before I started the first of my two BAs – I studied both English and Fine Art at Exeter, and then went on to study womenswear at Central Saint Martins. Looking back, that job was a really lucky and formative break, as my work featured in the fashion news pages, and, for an 18-year-old about to start university, it was quite a big deal. While studying for my degrees I would do the odd commission for various magazines – I remember working for Brides, doing something for British Vogue and sporadic pieces for the Telegraph magazine. While at Central Saint Martins, I also created a small T-shirt range. All of this helped me start to build a career based around art and fashion.

The Galliano and McQueen era in the 1990s really fuelled my desire to attend CSM, although as a typical teenager, I was unsure of the route ahead. But I knew I was interested in fashion. It all came quite naturally; I had already planned collections in my head. However, it soon became clear that the conceptual side was where my ability lay, and that pattern cutting was less my thing. After a while, I realised it was image making that I found more interesting, more immediate – I like things that can be produced quite quickly, and obviously making clothes is quite complex.

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After graduating, I worked with a designer for a few years, doing freelance illustrative work at the same time, constantly building up my portfolio. Then around five years ago I made the decision to go part-time to work on developing my freelance work. I also created more products and T-shirt ranges, as well as more artwork.

I joined Instagram at just the right time, and it has been a great medium through which to springboard awareness of what I've been doing. I was flown to Germany to capture the Schwarzkopf team working on their key looks, and I illustrated Graham Norton's biography The Life and Loves of a He Devil. Sizeable commissions started building up. I spent most of this time saving, prepping for the future. Eventually, I had enough work to leave my day job, working for a fashion designer, and focus on art full-time.

My signature style is all about a black ink fluid line – strong, quite graphic and not planned; it's something that I can do very easily, on the spot. This has been a very significant skill. I realised very early on that I had the power to record things, much like a photographer does, so I started drawing live events. It wouldn't have to be a fashion event; it could be a wedding or a corporate event, but this allowed me to meet people.

One commission that stands out was from when I met Charlotte Olympia, with whom I have now collaborated many times. The first commission was for her handbag launch, held in an intimate Knightsbridge restaurant. It was quite a high-profile affair as she had Mario Testino and Naomi Campbell on her guest list. The dinner placements were to be little cut-out figures of the attendees. I had about 57 to do and I was given spreadsheets of information: this is Mario… this is what he likes to wear… and all were to feature a drawing of a Charlotte Olympia accessory – for example, I put Mario in the little kitten slippers. It was really the first thing I had done that was really tough – I was up until 5am the night before. I think I woke up in bed with pieces of paper dotted all around me, and then just carried on. It had an incredible response, though – people still recognise and refer to my work from that dinner.

While illustration is still very much my thing, I have recently branched out into stop-frame animation. It’s a fact that, where social media is concerned, using video and motion is very appealing. Through my Instagram I have been working on a series of ‘folded stories’, where the scene changes as it unfolds. I draw an image on a folded-up piece of paper, and then unfold it and keep adding to the drawing. For New Year, I did one for myself where a firework rocket turns into a champagne glass and then we end up at a party with lots of people celebrating the arrival of 2017. I like to create things that have an element of wit and surprise about them and give people pleasure.

Then Loro Piana commissioned me to do a similar thing for Chinese New Year – that's what has been brilliant with social media, as brands do pick things up. And not just fashion brands – a folded-story project I've worked on with Samsung has just launched (to launch the new Galaxy S8, now on Instagram @samsungmobilekorea).

With social media, it can be easy to be swayed by what is popular, but I try my best not to let this influence me too much. With the folded stories, I was aware there was a sudden positive response, but I prefer to focus on having a great idea, rather than simply trying to recreate something that people may have really liked.

(Image credit: Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.)

Compared to 20 years ago, we are in a different era of illustration. I enjoy the ephemeral, transient nature of things that aren't so permanent. Maybe something that's drawn on the skin, for example. I also spend a lot of time looking at the pavement – photographing it and adding artwork on top of cracks, or to a discarded cigarette carton. Instagram acts as my constant gallery feed, as there's an immediate audience – and this works really well with my thought process. I enjoy producing things quickly, rather than in a laboured way. I really like it when things just happen.

As an artist, I don't really like to be categorised. My work certainly involves illustration, but I have always tried to broaden out into a wider arena, whether it's animation, mixed media or set design. I am always trying to avoid one particular way of working. I think there's an old-fashioned way of thinking about meeting certain criteria to be considered an artist. I like to do things that are more intuitive and less categorised. It doesn't have to be that heavy, or have a huge meaning behind it, and I like that.

In the future, I would like to create a book. A book can be quite a precious way of working, so I would love to find a modern way of doing it – something that has an element of surprise. Maybe it will be a pop-up book or a children's book – definitely quite interactive.

CLYM EVERNDEN is a British artist who shares his creations on his Instagram feed @clymdraws. He is in constant demand from a variety of brands who see his work as a way to bring wit and character to how they express themselves.

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