His darkly political illustrations have accompanied columns for David Mitchell and Charlie Brooker in the Observer and the Guardian, and his client list includes Nike, the New York Times, Greenpeace and Penguin Books. We asked David Foldvari how he got started…
After graduating from Brighton I spent a while trying to get a job doing anything because I was broke and hated being on the dole.
This was around ’96. Back then you needed about £3-4,000 to have your own little Mac with a scanner and printer. I didn’t have that kind of money and my parents didn’t either. I was DJing at the time and had friends who were involved in the whole club music thing. Eventually I got a bank loan, bought a knackered old Mac Performa and started designing flyers and record covers for them.
I was doing what I considered to be fairly shit work. The money was good so I could have stuck with it but the illustration student in me said, “Hang on you’ve got to do something about this because the work you’re doing is diabolical”. I applied to do a master’s at the Royal College of Art, in the process pulled together a portfolio I was happier with, and went round London showing it to everyone.
The first job I got that way was for Dazed & Confused. I don’t know if they do now, but they never used to pay their illustrators so it was a free job. I went in to see them and three months later the art director asked me to do a little illustration for this column called Mixtape. When that came out it got spotted by Nike in France and straight away led to a massive ad campaign for them. Illustration wasn’t cool then. It used to be this horrible ’80s watercolour bollocks that nobody cared about. Then people like the Scrawl Collective, Graham Rounthwaite at The Face, Dazed & Confused pioneered a more youth-orientated illustration and made it cool again.
I mostly work at night. I use daytimes to do admin and supermarket shopping, all those boring things, but also cool stuff like going to shows. Something about nighttime is really inspiring. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel like you have to be anywhere or do anything. I have a set way of working. I research something. That gives me an idea. I research the idea and that naturally leads to a final piece. It’s a fairly simple process. My personal work includes loads of random things that aren’t actually random but are a result of that process, things that have fallen off the edge somewhere and been picked up by me later.
If I get stuck for ideas I look in places where I wouldn’t normally. Old design books, history books, the old Graphis posters annuals from the ’70s, can trigger off ideas. Before going to bed, if you really think about something, then normally when you wake up one of the first things that comes into your head is a good idea. Or sometimes ideas come from looking at what you’re doing and then thinking, “What if I just put that there?” You change the context and suddenly that forms a new idea. It’s a weirdly evolving organic process.
Being influenced is cool, but don’t be influenced by your contemporaries. Look outside illustration. Look at 20th century design – there’s so much to learn from it. What you get on It’s Nice That and similar things is a tiny cross section of fairly lightweight contemporary stuff. Go to a library, read some books, think about what you want to say, rather than what colours and techniques people are using, because it all ends up looking the same.
I’m worried that we’re going to go back to the ’80s and people are going to think illustration is nicey-nicey and not saying much. The thing to remember is that you are part of the new generation. You shouldn’t just blend in; you should move things forward. Slap people in the face with how fresh your work is compared to what’s out there already!
Illustrations by David Foldvari for the Museum of London's Dickens Dark London app.
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