Illustrator Toby Triumph on his polarising covers for Time Out magazine

Within weeks of moving to New York City from London, Toby managed to offend the people of Williamsburg with his magazine cover typography, but he has no regrets.

Some might agree that when you first move to a new city you should try to make a good impression, or at least make sure you don't make a bunch of enemies. But British illustrator Toby Triumph – who just moved from London to New York City – might have done just that within three weeks of touching down in the US.

Despite his love for New York City after spending a summer there in 2017, Toby recently created a particularly controversial cover illustration for Time Out New York, with the words: 'Williamsburg Sucks'. Although the title was meant to be provocative – and based on survey results which revealed most people thought the once was up-and-coming, but now gentrified Williamsburg neighbourhood was 'overrated' – it certainly left Toby in the firing line of strongly worded Instagram messages. Needless to say, looking for places in Brooklyn right now might prove to be a challenge for Toby.

But he’s been busy with a bunch of other commercial and personal projects, including creating a silk pocket square for the Mayfair tailors Turnball & Asser, hotel wallpaper and a set of detailed illustrations of fictionalised gangs (don’t worry, this one is a self initiated project, not a commissioned one).

Toby creates detailed hand-drawn pieces made up of a number of playful subjects and humorous phrases, completed with a bold colour palette. Sketching is the most important part of his creative process, and with his incredible line work he's gained clients such as Google, Coca Cola, Cancer Research UK and a number of publications.

As you see with Toby’s Time Out cover designs, he has an eye for bold typography – which you might have also seen in his contribution to the ‘To The Girls’ iMessage sticker pack initiated by his agency, Grand Matter, last year (seen here).

We ask Toby about what he’s hoping to achieve in New York City, what advice he has for artists wanting to better their skills at line drawing, and what’s inspiring him in the line of typography.

MH: What are you hoping to achieve during your time in the US?

Toby Triumph: "I love New York’s energy and creativity, I find it so infectious. I am already seeing the new energy channeling into my work, and am excited to see where it will lead my work over the next couple of years. I’ve got another exciting cover coming up over here, and am really excited to see my work come to life on a larger scale.

"I just want to meet as many creative people, partner with clients who share my passion for using illustration to spread colour and humour. I want to be a huge sponge, and just soak up the atmosphere of the city, and channel that into my work."

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MH: How did you come to illustrate the cover of Time Out for London and New York?

 TT: "My first ever commission when I graduated and moved to London was a double page spread in Time Out London. So it will always have a very special in my heart for seeking out and supporting young illustration talent. So for this to be my first commission off the plane immediately felt right."

MH: How did you decide on your final concepts?

 TT: "I worked very closely with Tom Hislop, the global creative director of Time Out to decide on concepts. Tom really liked a piece I had done called ‘The Look of Love’ (seen here) and particularly the way it combined type with small graphic elements throughout.

"I love big bold lettering, so we brought these two elements together. It was important to me that the nuances of each city came through in the type, and the sense of humours of the people living there, although not everyone saw the funny side."

MH: You wanted to be provocative with the covers, and you got a response. Were you still surprised by the amount of messages you received?

TT: "I think all artists seek to garner a reaction or provoke emotion in some way with their work. The statement that made up each cover came out the results of a global survey, that revealed an underbelly of what some people living in the city think but are too afraid to say.

"I think the statements are cheeky but not particularly offensive. I thoroughly enjoyed bringing these to life, and the messages I received on social media particularly to the New York cover were a real split between agreeing, and quite angrily disagreeing. People are fiercely proud of their area and district, and I feel the same about the area that I lived in in London, so I do understand people being angry. The cover started a group from Williamsburg boycotting Time Out, I had message from people saying that I should be ashamed of myself, and how dare I.

"I get it, but it doesn’t make me regret the work. I’m proud of it for polarising opinion."

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MH: How would you describe your illustration style, and what inspires you?

TT: "My style has always been very focussed on line work, and quality of line, mixed with a certain sense of humour. In recent years the colours have become a lot bolder, and my focus has been a bit more about bold graphic approaches. I think this growth in boldness has come as my confidence in the field of illustration has grown.

"My three main inspirations are Peter Blake, David Bowie and Vic & Bob. Somewhere in between all three of these lies my sweet spot."

MH: Your illustrations are often made up of a range of detailed line drawings – what’s your creative process?

TT: "I often create illustrations that are layered up, almost like a collage. I plan out the layout of the illustration meticulously and create very detailed roughs. The rough is the most important part of my creative process. If the rough sucks then the final piece will. Not much is left to chance, as I hate the idea of finishing something that I didn’t properly plan and it’s not what I wanted to make. It still happens, but I think the detailed rough makes this less likely.

"After that I redraw it all by hand, scan it in and colour it up on Adobe Photoshop."

MH: What advice would you have for an artist wanting to better their line drawing skills?

TT: "Draw everyday, be patient, and hold your breath when you’re drawing detailed bits.

"I genuinely only started liking my work two years ago, and I’ve been doing this for eight years. I think this has come from constantly working, and naturally forming my own style, and not rushing or trying to cut corners.

"Take your time, put in the hours and let everything bubble to the surface. There’s no shortcut, but that makes it all the more rewarding when it starts paying off."

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MH: You also create bright, playful lettering – what's inspiring you in the area of typography?

TT: "I just love typography and always have. One thing that has recently inspired me was the ‘An Incomplete History of Protest’ exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. One room was full of protest posters from the 60s and 70s, they were big, bold and in your face. It felt like they were smacking you over the head with type. Seeing all of the typography in the posters blew my mind. It was a huge inspiration.

"I also have about 18 million pinned type pieces on Pinterest. I love dipping into that when I’m in need of some inspiration."

MH: What recent projects have you finished working on?

TT: "I’ve just finished some work with  Transport for London (TFL) which I’m super excited about. TFL have commissioned some amazing work by some really good friends of mine such as Jack Hudson, Ryan Todd, Robert Hunter and Owen Gildersleeve so it was exciting to join the club. That will be out some time this year."

TT: "I’ve also created a design for a silk pocket square for the Mayfair tailors Turnball & Asser (seen here). We collaborated to create limited edition silk pocket squares and they gave us free creative reign over what we produced. They have made suits for the likes of Picasso, Winston Churchill and James Bond, so I created an illustration that felt a little exotic and indulgent to reflect their amazing history. That will be out later this year.

 "I’m also working on a self initiated project that i’m super excited about called ‘Gangs’. I’m creating a set of detailed illustrations of fictionalised gangs. Gangs that you’d want to be a part of. They’re surreal, and fun and a bit ridiculous, but so much fun to draw! These will end up as long illustrations full of 20 or so characters all walking together. I wanted to draw lots of super detailed characters, and this feels like a great vehicle for that. I’m fitting this in around commissions, so it’s ongoing and may take a while but you can see updates of this on my Instagram."

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