Interview: Gilbert Ford

27 March 2013

’12 Days of New York’ (Book, Abrams, 2013)

Gilbert Ford grew up in a family of professional photographers in Jackson, Mississippi, and moved to New York to attend Pratt Institute. After graduating, he worked as a designer and illustrator for a giftware company, creating puzzles, games, stickers, stationery, and activity books for children, before setting out on his own in 2007. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. His illustrations have been recognized by Communication Arts, 3 x 3, The Society of Illustrators, and The Society of Publication Designers, amongst others.

Tell us about your new book,’12 Days of New York’
’12 Days of New York’ is a picture book I illustrated, published by Abrams. It is written by Tonya Bolden to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, about a class field trip NYC. It’s basically an arty tourist picture book, where every spread has a famous NYC landmark. I love drawing city life, so when Chad Beckerman offered me the job I was thrilled – knowing I could make it really special and very different from other New York City books. Plus, I always loved ‘This is New York’ by M. Sasek and I saw this as my chance to do my own version.

’12 Days of New York’ (Book, Abrams, 2013)

At what point did you feel you’d hit your stride in your career as an illustrator? Was there a milestone?
Some illustrators seem to blow up overnight. My career has gradually progressed over time. Every year gets a little better. I guess the milestone was in 2007, when I quit my day job and went freelance full-time.

Vegetarian Times (Editorial, 2012) For an article about having a vegetable garden

Who were some of your early influences? Who and what inspires you currently?
In school, I liked Edward Gorey and many 90s illustrators. I was influenced by my teachers the first few years out of school. Then I looked to illustrators from the past: Ronald Searle, Ben Shahn, Andy Warhol, Antonio Frasconi, M. Sasek, Tomi Ungerer, Andre François, Saul Bass, and Paul Rand. I had a day job designing and illustrating children’s products, which got me into children’s publishing. I looked at a lot of vintage picture books by Roger Duvoisin, Dr. Seuss, and early Golden Books by Richard Scarry and Mary Blair.

‘Faces In Places’ from a personal story of the same name (2012)

When I decided to freelance full time, I rented a studio in the Pencil Factory where I shared a space with Rachel Salomon, who influenced my work, along with many of the top illustrators that worked in the studios down the hall and upstairs. It was to be surrounded with such a variety of styles. Presently, I’m inspired by vintage French social studies posters, Art Nouveau decorative graphics, animations and Streamline Modern design from the 1930s, Memphis design from the 1980s, and I look at anyone who paints with watercolors.

Teaching Tolerance Magazine (Editorial, 2012)

Runners World (Editorial, 2012)

Can you describe your creative workspace?
I have a studio in my apartment now. It’s quite messy but I have two 50s-era metal desks with a computer, scanner, printers, etc. I also have a light table where I draw and paint with watercolor. On every wall there are double sided French Social Studies posters.

Your portfolio and blog are chock-full of great work – do you have a favorite project, or one especially close to your heart? Why?
I never kept a sketchbook until last year because I felt too much pressure to make every drawing look good. In order to become a better painter, I started a sketchbook with the rules: I couldn’t tear anything out, and I’d only paint from direct observation. Still lifes are boring to me; so I ended up painting from movies, pressing pause to sketch whatever was on the screen. I have been thrilled with the results because it has really forced me to think in a different way, reacting freely with the brush and colors. It’s just for me – there is nothing commercial about it.

(Personal, 2013)

Any cool upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I’m currently working on a few book covers and a book for middle-graders that I illustrated, entitled ‘Write This Book’, which should be out on April 2nd. I cannot talk about the other projects until I get the word from my agent that they are definitely happening.

Thanks Gilbert!

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