Iain Macarthur - Paperlike Sessions London 2019

In Summer 2019, the Paperlike team set out to the UK to interview some of the most inspiring up-and-coming digital artists in London. These are the Paperlike Sessions, and today we're bringing you our interview with Iain Macarthur.

Iain is a digital illustrator from Swindon. In this interview, he tells us how his art was inspired by his childhood in Hong Kong and about working on his dream project for Game of Thrones.

Check out Iain's work and learn more about him on his Instagram profile

Transcript: Interview with Iain Macarthur.

Iain:

Yeah, I'm a freelance illustrator. I'm also a graphic designer based in London. I was born in a small town called Swindon, which is Southwest of England, lived there most of my life, but I also lived in Hong Kong for several years. When I was little, my dad used to work in the Royal Air Force as a plane engineer, so he was assigned to Hong Kong, so we had the opportunity to live there. It was an amazing place. I absorbed all the culture, all the fantastic stuff there and then moved back to Swindon. So yeah, I moved around back and forth.

Iain:

I moved to London eight years ago as I figured it'd be a good place for me as a creative person to find job opportunities, and my skills of art and graphic design, and it's also a really cool place for meeting up with other artists as a community of creative people in like East London and South London.

Iain:

My work has several elements to it. I would say, mostly it's quite monochrome with elements of heavy patterns incorporated, but it also has elements of nature, Oriental patterns, also surrealism. So you get those kind of vibes from looking at my artwork. You could say... Yeah, it's just surreal, but also plays around with decorative, organic patterns.

Iain:

I guess there's also some pieces that have portraits. I do have a tendency of drawing faces, incorporated in my artwork. So it has that realism as well as other worldly things playing around in it.

Iain:

Yeah. Some of it is improvised. I think the pattern stuff, I just make up as I go along. But in this case, like with the split face that you mentioned, I looked at a lot of references on different angles of the face, and I looked at Pinterest on some reference images, like an apple splitting or an egg cracking. So I add those effects in some of my drawings to give off that surreal look to it.

Iain:

Especially living in Hong Kong, I got huge inspiration from the culture there. Also, the Philippines because my mum is from there and I sometimes travel there, seeing relatives. So I get inspiration from that culture. Yeah, there's a lot of Asian, Oriental elements in my artwork from my childhood or today.

Iain:

Yeah. I always had a passion in art in that sense, in early age. But during my school years, I didn't really have a plan, a career path to pursue at the time. I think my mum wanted me to be interested in business studies or something like, "Oh you should get a job in banking," or something financially sustainable. But for me, I was not interested in any of that. But at the end of my school years, I think my teacher recommended me to look into illustration. And at the time I didn't really know what illustration was, let alone what the word meant. This is the first time I've heard illustration, and I looked more into it and it definitely inspired me to pursue that as a career path.

Iain:

The year after I graduated, I had a part time job at a bar for a few months, but it didn't really work out for me that much. I just didn't see myself working there full time, so I quit that job and then I think I just went straight into illustration. It was quite challenging at the time as I didn't know what to do. How do I get my work out there? How do I get a job in designing things? I think a teacher from college gave me advice, "You should do group exhibitions or do competitions and just post your stuff on the internet. That's the way to get noticed and to get you work in that."

Iain:

It took a few years to build up on that, but eventually people noticed some of my work and I would get small commissions, like logo designs or draw little things for their website. But that built it up more for my portfolio and I started getting more better work, like shirt designs. And then eventually I got noticed by an agency in London, I think it was six years ago, something like that. And since then, I discovered that I was getting bigger jobs. I did jobs for Pepsi and alcohol companies, et cetera. So yeah, I've definitely evolved since then and gotten better at what I do.

Iain:

I think the best one I've worked on had to be this commission I did, I think it was two years ago, I worked with this creative agency called Publicis London, they're based in Baker Street, and they wanted me to do a couple of illustrations for this project that they were collaborating with Game of Thrones. That was probably the biggest commission, and one of the most fun I've ever worked on. So they hired, I think me and a couple of artists to come up with these intricate designs that would be laser etched onto these doors, and they would use these doors and have them placed in restaurants and pubs around Northern Ireland, because Game of Thrones is mostly filmed in Northern Ireland and they wanted to, I think commercialize it as a tourist thing, a tourist attraction.

Iain:

So wherever you go, to a restaurant or bar, you can find one of these doors and it will have the elements from the Game of Thrones show. Yeah, it was a really fun commission to work on. Yeah.

Paperlike:

Are you a fan of Game of Thrones yourself?

Iain:

Oh yeah, absolutely. I love Game of Thrones. When they called me about the show, I was just over the moon by it, like, "Oh my God, I have to do this."

Iain:

But at the time, I couldn't tell anyone about it because it was top secret stuff. You had to sign an NDA and keep your mouth shut throughout the project. Yeah, it was really hard to tell my housemates and friends about it. But I managed to keep it a secret until it was released.

Paperlike:

Do you remember that feeling that, I guess, it takes you almost back to being a kid again, right? Whenever you receive this unsolicited email and then you open it and it has something where you get that excitement-

Iain:

Oh, yeah.

Paperlike:

... out of nowhere. You know?

Iain:

Yeah. You're just overwhelmed by it.

Paperlike:

Do you remember where you were and the feeling that you had?

Iain:

At the time?

Paperlike:

Yeah.

Iain:

I think I was just in my flat, just being lazy, and I just got this random email and it was like, "We really like your work. We came across it on the internet. Would you be up for working for this Game of Thrones project?"

Iain:

And I was like, "Yeah. I'm totally down for that." Yeah, it was an amazing surprise to receive.

Iain:

Since I became an illustrator, I've had various emails from not just England, but places like America and Europe. These emails would be from college students or university students saying, "I really like your work. I'm using your work for a presentation I'm working on in my class." And it would be so humble to read those emails. I'll also be quite surprised as to why they would be into my work, as most of my work is pretty crazy. But yeah, it's quite satisfying to see those types of emails. But I don't think I have a specific favorite. I think it's just the emails from those types of fans and students.

Paperlike:

[crosstalk]

Iain:

Yeah.

Paperlike:

It's not even in a validation way, it's also just nice... You devote a lot of time to what you do.

Iain:

Yeah.

Paperlike:

A lot.

Iain:

Absolutely, yeah.

Paperlike:

And that's even before you were getting paid. The reason why you get to the stage is because you have a passion, right?

Iain:

Yeah.

Paperlike:

So in a way, it's just nice, where it is like, "Yeah, actually-"

Iain:

Yeah. I feel like I did something amazing for these people. It's great to know that your work is so inspiring to other people, it feels like you've done something good.

Paperlike:

And I guess also, you probably will remember what it was like being at that stage as well.

Iain:

Yeah. Because I was in the same shoes as them. I'll be emailing some of my favorite artists and just boasting about them, being so inspired by the work, that I've studied it in class. And now it's the other way around, where people are doing the same thing. Yeah, it's pretty amazing to experience.

Paperlike:

Do you have a particular artist that you remember from what, five, six years ago?

Iain:

Yeah. There's this one artist I always looked up to when I was at college. This guy called James Jean. He's this contemporary artist based in America, and his work is just so inspiring. He does paintings but his work is diverse. He's done jewelry stuff, done comic books, clothing, et cetera.

Iain:

I think I had the opportunity to meet him at a group exhibition one time in London. At the time, I didn't know what he looked because there wasn't any pictures of him on the internet and stuff. One of my friends who was with me who is also fan said, "Yeah, he's a short Asian guy with long hair," and funnily enough, everyone in the room was pretty much Asian. So it was like, "Oh okay, it could be any of these people." That didn't really narrow it down, but eventually I met him, and it was really amazing to speak to him and get advice on how to be an artist and that.

Iain:

You can find me, I've got a website, iainmacarthur.com. You can also find me on Instagram, which is iain.macarthur, that's where I post most of my sketches or latest work. So you can check my work on there.

Paperlike:

Perfect.

Iain:

Yeah.

Paperlike:

Cool. Thank you very much, man.

Iain:

Yeah, no worries.