Andrew Colin Beck, his Illustrative Journey, and the Process Behind his Portraitures

Illustration is an extremely technical form of communication and the best graphic artists have transformed countries, companies and policies.  Andrew Colin Beck’s ideas are transformative and his style, claiming that “Beck” shading and sharp edges still seem to always be unique for every piece he does. He’s best known for his portraiture’s particularly in Worth Magazine’s “Power 100” issue. The details in the hair, slight enlarging of the faces and of course the speckled-grainy shading create the wrinkles in Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Warren Buffett, Lou Jiwei, and others making them that much more enticing. The red that depicts the background around the faces gives the term, “Power” a new meaning.

Of course one would naturally ask about his political stance, (simply out of curiosity) and if this affected his work. Andrew replies thoughtfully that, “putting your voice into your work is crucial as an artist. I always try and infuse my opinion and outlook, no matter how subtly, into everything I illustrate. I am kind of an “a-political” person as far as true American Democrats vs. Republican politics go, but I am also an opinionated and passionate person. I think a message I try to express through all of my art is to shed convention, stop being who someone else wants you to be, and be free.  I am a bit of a neo-hippy. I am currently working on a psychedelic rock and roll band (new side project), and I am certain that even more of my persuasions will come out more explicitly in that arena.”

When asked to reveal his secrets and process, he simply raises his sketch book and tips his hat. He speaks slow, calm and almost in a way that he has had this conversation before, with the same gentle voice; audience drawn to his tone. “Hand drawing is where I start every project. Every time. My sketchbook is where the real magic happens. Ideas are first.” Andrew depicts someone both hungry for experience but also careful with every project he takes on, as if he heavily respects not just the client but the subject matter. This is evident in the eyes, the lips and the slightly raised eyebrows he depicted in the Worth pieces.

Donald Trump in “WWD Magazine”

Andrew, calling himself a Neo-Hippy, is refreshing to listen too as he described his start: “I was lucky enough to score a face-to-face meeting with Agent Pekka, showing them my work. I was pretty confident going into the meeting, which today seems laughable in hind-sight. They looked at all my work, and their feedback was essentially “call us back when you decide on one style”. I am amazed that such an obvious problem wasn’t obvious to me. This feedback sent me down a one year journey of exploring, crafting, refining and deciding what my personal style should be.” Before diving into how his young but expanded career positioned him to illustrate for companies like, GQ, Vanity Fair, Monocle Magazine, Huffington Post, LinkedIn, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, Worth, Men’s Health Magazine, PayPal, G.E., and Pentagram, we start this tail talking about his travels around the world with his son and wife:

Let us first start with your world travels and backpacking through the horizons? You traveled for 10 months. Sounds like a Dream. Can you talk about this incredible journey?

I was working as a graphic designer at the amazing Edenspiekermann in Amsterdam after having had an internship there during my university days. Working in a studio was rewarding and fun – and this experience really gave me a taste for international travel. My wife is a French teacher and one who is generally quite interested in cultures, languages and countries. When my job was ending in Amsterdam, and I was contemplating becoming a full time freelance illustrator, we talked at length about where  we should go next, seeing as my employment had become “location independent”.  My wife, Ashley, had the brilliant idea of traveling instead of just choosing a new location to hunker down. So from there, we packed up the small amount of things we wanted with us — got rid of everything else — and jumped into a 10 month journey that we will remember forever.

We explored 11 countries, stayed in a tree house, a cave, a palace, a hut and many other incredible abodes. We met elephants, monkeys, camels, hucksters, villains, wizards, kind souls and everything in between. It was Ashley, Colin (my son, 2 at the time), me, 2 suitcases, a handful of bags, and an acoustic guitar. We visited Morocco, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Greece and other inspiring places.

As we began our journey, my wife said “Would you like to take some time off and just vacation while we travel?” — and I said, “No way!” Working with huge amounts of inspiration washing over me daily was amazing. Just walking down the street would fill me with smells, sounds, textures, patterns and ideas that really fueled my creativity. It was a priceless time. I hope we do it again in the future!

Talk about your early beginnings. You were labeled in The Daily Universe as “a child with hyper-creativity”. Describe your home town? Was school or a person an influence during your early creative career?

I was raised in “mormon-ville” Provo, Utah and mostly grew up around my sister and my mother. Played a lot of Barbies and listened to a lot of the Mammas and the Pappas, the Beatles, Cat Stevens. I watched a lot of cartoons and drew a lot of pictures in addition to playing with instruments. Actually I made a lot of home movies — I liked to observe bugs in the grass.

My mom has been huge inspiration to me. She exposed me to all kinds of stimulating things like operas, symphonies, silent movies, lessons, camps, demolition derbys, art-classes— in an effort to help me find my passions in life. She sent me to sports camp (early on), and I came back crying the first day (laughing). We quickly realized baseball wasn’t my thing. My mother always fostered my interests. Bought me my first video camera, electric guitar, typewriter and probably more sketchbooks and pencils than a single mom should of had the burden of buying.

My childhood turned me on to drawing, and thinking differently, which was the basis of most of the creative endeavors that I work on now.

What an amazing mother. Seems like introducing you to drawing early on gave way to your illustration talent. You mentioned you always start a drawing by hand, how did this method transition into the computer?

In 4th grade my family had a really big clunky family computer, and after working on MS paint for a long time, my brother gave me this computer program called “Image Composer”.  Those were probably my first forays into digital art. Universe rolled around and I was super fascinated with graphic design and illustration. Those classes introduced me to the Adobe Suite. I was hooked.

One of the most remembered project that many of us in the office mentioned was your work on Worth Magazine and the political figure illustrations you did. Can you elaborate on this project?

Portraiture has been something I have been interested in for a long time. When I was young, I loved the famous American caricature artist, Al Hirschfeld. I have always been amazed at his ability to take complex facial features and personality and distill them into a handful of simple and powerful lines. I also really enjoy the economical process of trying to breakdown complicated structures into shapes and lines.

A few years ago, I had done a personal project called “The Crazy Ones” portraitizing a few of my personal heroes (John Lennon, Steve Jobs, etc.) and from there, I started getting contacted pretty frequently with requests for portrait work. ’Twas very exciting. Portraits are a great challenge, but they can also be really stressful, because you must strike a balance between a pleasing reduction of a face, and a undeniable likeness.

Working with Worth was great. That was probably the most illustrations for one job I have ever done. Marlena, my awesome agent, helped me score that great project.

Talking more about landing clients it seems you have a strong hold on the magazine industry working for GQ, Vanity Fair, Monocle Magazine, Huffington Post, The Boston Globe,  Fast Company,  the New York Observer. Amazing. What was your first connection like? Can you talk about the first time a magazine called you for work?

In the beginning I created a full portfolio of fake editorial illustrations: I commissioned myself to do art for articles that I found online in order to get practice and refine my style and abilities. After I finished I showed it to everyone in my circles, got feedback and shared it all over the internet.

After that, the first magazine to contact me was “Makeshift”, a self-proclaimed “field-guide to hidden creativity”. Having seen my work on Dribble, Makeshift gave me a really exciting and strong start and I am grateful to them to this day. Next I reached out to a friend who had worked for “Monocle Magazine” (a longtime dream for me to work for). He put me in touch with them, and I was over-joyed to do a few spot illustrations for them.

Around this time I was searching for an agent. I contacted incredible Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli and she graciously put me in contact with her agent.

You also worked for LinkedIn and other technology-based clients featuring human-centric and still life illustrations. How has that evolved?

I think working in various industries is really rewarding. It takes an art director with imagination to see somebodies editorial work and see how it could translate into other spheres, so I am glad for the great people I have worked with who have had that vision. I would love to work more in the food industry. I have done some work for an awesome cafe in Utah called “Morty’s Cafe”, and it has been some of my favorite stuff to work on.

Having a diverse clientele is something that makes my job really fun. Currently, I finished projects for the Mormon Church, as well as Playboy. I like to joke that I have worked for God, and worked for the Devil. 😉

Another industry I have dabbled in but would LOVE to work more in is music, as far as album covers, merch, posters, etc. go.

Each illustration in your portfolio is so unique for its purpose, but also carries theBeck” style, the grainy texture for shading, ect. How do you adapt to the needs and persona for each project and still keep your style.

Thanks for the compliment. This isn’t directly what you asked but developing my “Beck style”, as you put it, was a huge and crucial part of this journey that I am on. Indulge me as I go on what I think is an important tangent: I was trained as a graphic designer. In design school, you are trained to be as diverse as possible, giving you the ability to adapt to any client and project and come up with something unique and appropriate for anything thrown at you. This kind of trained all of us to be stylistic chameleons. Starting out as an illustrator I was exploring hundreds of different aesthetics and approaches to illustrating and it wasn’t until I had a meeting with Agent Pekka in Amsterdam, that my eyes were opened.

Agent Pekka was my favorite agent at the time, representing a lot of my favorite illustrators, and I was lucky enough to score a face-to-face meeting with them and show them my work. I was pretty confident going into the meeting . . . which seems laughable in hind-sight. They looked at all my work, and their feedback was essentially “call us back when you decide on one style”. I am amazed that such an obvious problem wasn’t obvious to me. This feedback sent me down a one year journey of exploring, crafting, refining and deciding what my personal style should be.

For a graphic designer, being a diverse shape-shifter is important. As an editorial illustrator, the opposite is true. You need to have the most defined, single-minded, and recognizable style you can possibly produce (in my experience).

Now to answer your question directly, the way I make it work for specific jobs comes down to sketches and conceptual thinking in the sketchbook. Then from there, I take those specific and bespoke concepts and bake them into my signature style.

Can you elaborate on how you start client onboarding, what is that discussion like?

Usually I get an email from an art director that says “Hi Andrew, we’ve seen your work in such and such publication, and we think you’d be perfect for such and such upcoming project we have going . . . are you available? And are you interested?”  From there I usually hand them off to my agent, Marlena Agency. Not too complicated.

Balancing work and life. Backpacking, working with Fortune 500 companies and finding time for your family and (wife, yes), how do you do it all? Did your family come with you during your adventures?

This is an important question for sure. So yes, wife and son were with me for all moments of my travels—I wouldn’t have done it without them. Now we all live in a house in Salt Lake City, and during the mornings through afternoons I work from my sketchbook and computer. In the early evenings I try and always spend time with them—walks, hikes, fairs, parks, toys, movies, playing instruments, whatever we want. And then in the evenings I spend time with my wife Ashley, keeping the embers burning. On top of that, I love writing music, and as mention before am starting up a band, and I have other hobbies, such as cartooning, exercising, being a Mormon, and dreaming up new crazy ideas.

Keeping it all in balance can indeed be challenging. But trying to keep it all a float is one of the greatest parts about trying to be a human.

What is in the future for Andrew? Is there a company you would like to work for, or project you would like to work on?

One of these days, not sure when, I would love to have the experience of having coworkers and going into an office again. The only real draw back of the freelance life (for me) is loneliness. It would have to be the right company and the right people, but it could be really fun to get back into that sphere.

My editorial bucket list: New York Times, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, WIRED and there’s more, but I won’t be greedy.

What has been your favorite project to date?

I recently did a few murals for a restaurant and a personal residence, and those were super fun. I have few more murals coming up soon and I am really excited to have my work going that direction. Seeing your work so large, and being able to work with paint, and your hands is really exciting, seeing as 90% of my work is behind a computer screen.

What can you tell someone that is just starting out in the creative industry?

I am glad you asked. Recently I did a podcast and they asked me this question and I feel I totally blew it . . . so now here’s my second chance! Here’s my advice: “FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT!”.  I think humans are immensely talented and capable creatures. We can accomplish nearly anything, but where we waffle is figuring out what we want to accomplish. So, for my younger friends who are just starting out in the creative industry, I tell them to put down your pencils, put down your iPhones, put down your YouTube tutorials and go outside in nature with a notebook. Sit there for as long as it takes. Sit there until you get bored and then keep sitting there. Sit there until your mind is totally clear. Then ask yourself the question: “What do I want?” Or maybe a variation, “What do I want to do?”. Spend as long as it takes to figure out what you truly desire and who you want to be.

Once you feel like you have an answer to that question, then dive in with all your heart and you will find success. It’s ok if the answer to this question changes over time but you must answer this question! Don’t give up, because it will be VERY hard to answer this question. So many people do not, and it leads to lots of mediocrity and stagnation.  You can do it! You are immensely powerful! GO!

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