October 14, 2015

Before you dive into Artist of the Week, grab yourself a pair of shades and set yourself up with a suitably trippy soundtrack. Now, take a deep breath and jump into the popping, wonderful and grotesque world of illustrator, Rob Flowers.

A buff for all things folklore and mythology, Rob’s illustrations are awash with the humorously absurd, from sword-wielding apes to mustached Machiavellian magicians. We caught up with Rob to discuss his penchant for early McDonald’s advertising, his epic collection of 80s gross-out toys and his love for magical mythology.

UO: Can you tell us how you got into illustration? Do you come from a creative family or is it all your own?

My dad’s an electrician and my mum is a nurse so no I’m not from a family of artists or anything. I’ve always been interested in drawing – I could always draw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles better than anyone else in my class, I guess it grew from there really.

UO: How would you describe your style in three words?

Colourful, trippy and grotesque

UO: You’ve done so many amazing collaborations with Nike, House of Holland, British Museum, Anorak Magazine, the list goes on. What have been your favourite projects to work on and why?

Oh that’s a tough one but I recently did a poster for the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall that I really enjoyed drawing. The print features items from the collection so it was great fun to research through the museum’s amazing archive.

I’m a huge fan of magic and magical iconography so I was really excited to work on the magic issue of Anorak Magazine. I illustrated the cover and six pages inside, all about the history of magic and magicians.

UO: Do you have any ideas or concepts you find yourself repeatedly drawn to?

I’m very much interested in folklore, mythology and cryptozoology so things like unexplained phenomena and mythical beasts are a constant source of inspiration. I’m actually working on a book about sinkholes and their mystical origins at the moment.

UO: How did your incredible collection of random toys start? Where do you find them? Do you have a favourite?

I’ve always loved toys and a fair bit of my collection is from my childhood. As you might be able to tell from my work, I’ve never really grown up so they’ve always been part of my life. I started seriously collecting about 10 years ago and I mostly get stuff from eBay, flea markets and junk shops. I usually take a spare suitcase on holiday with me, so I’ve got room for all my purchases!

As for a favourite it’s hard to pick out one thing in particular but if I was pushed it’d have to say either my 1973 Milton Bradley Officer Big Mac puppet or a couple of ‘Whirling Eyes’ squeezy rubber toys that I got from a flea market, which I love because they’re really crazy looking.

UO: What is it about 70s/80s fast food advertising that inspires you so much?

I’m a big fan of costume and mascot designs and McDonald’s 1970s advertising campaign, McDonaldland (which gave us awesome characters such as Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac and The Grimace). I love the tone of programmes and adverts aimed at children from that decade, basically anything by Sid and Marty Kroftt. The acid colours and crazy character designs are something I always refer to when I’m working.

UO: You also cite folklore as a big influence. Is there a particular area such as Nordic folklore or Celtic folklore that inspires you, or is it a more encompassing fascination?

I’m interested in all sorts of folklore, any mythology really, but mostly the monster based stuff. I’m particularly fascinated with British Folklore and ritual, things like Black Shuck, the Cutty Wren and Wookie Hole. I also love researching pagan festivals that involve costume and adornment like the Kukeri in Bulgaria…..Oh and I love a good seasonal festival, like Krampus Night.

UO: What’s the best and worst thing about your job?

The best thing – I draw pictures for a living, which is pretty awesome. The worst thing, RSI in my graphics tablet finger.

UO: Do you have any advice for artists hoping to go freelance?

Be prepared for long hours and short deadlines. And also, to quote Anthony Burril ‘work hard and be nice to people’

UO: If you feel creatively blocked, do you have any rituals to unleash your creativity?

I watch an episode of The Simpsons – that usually sorts me out. Or a bit of eBaying.

UO: Where do you seek inspiration, personally and professionally?

My girlfriend is a constant source of inspiration, she’s a published writer and academic and the smartest and hardest working person I know. Either that or I’ll have a look at some of W.W Denslow’s output and feel bad about myself.