Peter Quinnell is a popular and successful illustrator, working for 25 years, primarily with collage. You will have seen his instantly recognisable work whilst out and about in Hastings but also in countless magazines and advertising. He works from Black Winkle Studio opposite the fisherman’s huts where he prides himself on “Experienced, fast and inexpensive. No job too large or too small”. I met up with Peter in his studio to talk with him about his work.
When and where did you study?
Chelsea School of Art ‘Graphics’ BA and then Royal College of Art MA ‘Illustration’
Were you there with Magda Archer?
Yes, we applied there together as one unit.
That’s interesting! So what did you do after graduating from the RCA?
As a pair, we just went straight into freelance illustration which was pretty good. But splitting the money two ways was hard. We went our separate ways in about 1996.
So what type of work were you creating back then, was it similar to what you’re producing now?
Pretty similar yeah, the same kind of area. We were doing 3D boxes simultaneously with collage. But I do a lot more flat collage now, there’s a large demand for that illustration-wise. I recently did adverts for The Guardian.
So what other clients do you have in terms of illustration?
A lot of magazines these days, not so many book covers unfortunately. I used to do a load of book covers but not anymore for some reason but I’d like to.
Having looked at your work, nostalgia, old images, old toys etc. seem to play a big part. Is this deliberate or is that simply because of the stuff that’s available to you?
Well using found objects tends to be the way I work. For the collage work, old stuff works much better commercially because there’s no copyright on it. I like it though, I like old stuff. It’s not particularly conscious, the nostalgia, it just turns out that way. But also I can’t use very modern stuff unless I take my own photographs.
Is there a certain era that you like the ‘look’ of more than others?
Not really. I suppose I don’t like ’80s stuff very much because I grew up in it. It’s gone out of fashion in my mind but I know that a lot of younger people see that as ‘charming’.
Which artists and illustrators do you admire yourself?
I’m really keen on Joseph Boeys and I sort of like Kurt Schwitters but I saw the show in London a couple of years ago and went off him a bit. The stuff I knew already was good, then the new stuff wasn’t so good. He scraped the barrel a bit. But at his best I like him a lot. Also Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Blake, Richard Long. Illustrators I like less, but I admire Paul Slater very much. Illustration usually serves as a function so it tends not to look as good as fine art. On Facebook there’s tonnes of good collage stuff, mainly fine art, but I’m finding a rich vein of international collage artists on there.
Do you use Facebook quite a lot?
I have a portfolio on there and I’ve sold a few things from there but I really think I need to set up a page. I don’t have tumblrs or twitters or anything and I have a phobia of the phone. But without the internet we wouldn’t be able to leave London and it’s just nice to live wherever you like.
In terms of producing illustration work, do you tend to work digitally or do you physically cut things out and stick?
I can do both but recently I’ve been working more digitally as I’m getting better at photoshop and it’s quicker. And companies don’t want to pay much anymore, the wages have gone down, so it makes sense. It does look a bit better if you can make them in real life. The fine art stuff, I do with real objects.
When you do handmade collage what do you use to stick bits down?
I use blu-tack initially then I can change things all the time, and then PVA usually. But sometimes blu-tack is good as it raises things slightly and gives it a nice lift. For the 3D stuff, I’m tending to use nails and wire a lot more.
Where do you source your material for collage, do you have certain websites that you often return to?
No, I have a loads of magazines and stuff at home. I also use the internet but quality is an issue as they often look pixelated. But if someone needs a certain celebrity for example, they need to supply a copyright-free picture.
What has been your favourite commission to date?
I really liked doing the Harvey Nicholls windows around 10 years ago. They took the collage and they blew up each piece really huge.
So where can we buy some of your stuff locally?
I sell badges and cards in the [Sussex Coast College] college art shop, and also in Made on the High Street.
Completely unrelated to anything, so just out of interest: What was on your last shopping list and was it on paper or on your phone or something?
I collect shopping lists but I never make my own – but if I did they would always contain cat food and loo roll.