Richard Field on his highly-detailed animal illustrations

Richard tells us about the process of creating each of his multi-layered digital illustrations, the time and the patience it requires - and why he loves it.

Richard Field, or Fieldinspired, has always been fascinated with the beauty of the world around him.

As a skateboarder growing up in London, Richard listened to 90s hip hop and collected graffiti art, but now creates vivid and infinitely detailed illustrations of exotic animals using Adobe Illustrator.

In the latest collection, Rich digitally built hundreds of layers for each print - beginning from the centre of each animal’s face, where he likes to illustrate the most detail.

Each piece has a minimum of 80 separate layers of patterns and half tones, some as many as 220, taking him around a week to complete.

We spoke to Richard about the process of creating each artwork, the time and the patience it requires, but why he loves it.

Miriam Harris: Talks us through the creative process of your images.

Richard Field: A few years ago I saved up what little money I had and bought myself a shiny new Wacom tablet. For a couple of painful months, I attempted to use it instead of a mouse. My productivity dropped, clients complained and I eventually gave up and chucked it on eBay. For the most part, my work is created on Adobe Illustrator using a good old-fashioned mouse! Funnily enough, the mouse I use is falling apart at the seams but I’m so used to the way if feels, I can’t bring myself to find a replacement. 

The hand-drawn stage tends to feature once I’m happy with the core shape of an illustration I’m working on. As incredible as Adobe Illustrator is, I find myself wanting a line to have a hand-drawn feel. I achieve this by printing off the artwork at any given stage, embellishing it using a fine-liner or a sharpie, scanning that back in and digitalising it using the live trace tool. Often using the lines to create blends within layers, I’ll repeat this process over and over again until I’m happy with the end result.

Image: All Seeing Owl (detail)

MH: How do you create the hundreds of layers for each piece?

RF: I begin by marking out a set of guides. One vertically in the centre of the canvas, one horizontally at the eye line, and then another two vertical guides to mark the distance between the eyes. Once those guides are set, I’ll begin working on the closest part of the animal’s face.

For example, if you were standing in front of a wolf, the closest part of the face would be tip of the nose. I start building up the artwork layer by layer; working by creating a new layer underneath the one I’ve just worked on. It’s funny - I sometimes finish a piece, look at my layers in Illustrator and chuckle to myself. Rather than the final layer sitting on top, it’s ‘Layer 1’ – it’s all topsy-turvy.

Image: The Old Octopus

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MH: How long would you roughly spend on each piece?

 RF: I’ll often set an illustration aside and come back to it later, so it’s hard to tell how long a piece has taken from start to finish. My recent illustrations have been getting increasingly detailed. The early prints, of which there aren’t many editions left now, only consisted of around 50 or so layers max. My latest illustration, Zebra, is 126 layers and took around a week I’d say. Interestingly, I’ve deleted as many pieces as I’ve released. Because of the way I work, it’s very hard to step backwards and amend part of an illustration – it’s a kind of an ‘all or nothing’ way of working.

If I reach a stage where, at the end of an evening perhaps, I look at the piece and it’s heading in the wrong direction, I’ll just delete it. Gone. Start again and learn the lessons from the previous version. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach but it works for me. Another good tip for young digital artists is to be patient. There’s a temptation to rush the final stages of an illustration – that overwhelming thirst to see the final piece finished. Take as much time with the final elements of one piece as you would with those at the beginning.

Image: Zebra (black and white)

MH: What influences your interest in animals?

 RF: Since I was a kid I’ve always been fascinated with the beauty of the world around me - from the perfect gradient sunsets form to the complex symmetry on a seemingly simple leaf. The way nature creates beautiful design so effortlessly has always filled me with wonder. I see patterns in the faces of animals. Some are very distinct, and others are much subtler, but there are beautiful lines and shapes. I try to encourage people to look a little closer, see if you can’t spot beauty you hadn’t noticed before. 

Image: Zebra (detail)

MH: Have you seen many of the animals you illustrate first-hand?

RF: Unfortunately, I’ve not been lucky enough to travel a huge amount – something I hope to rectify in my 30s. My fascination stems from large, beautifully printed, coffee table books about nature crammed full of awe-inspiring photography or from the gentle tones of Sir David Attenborough and jaw dropping nature documentaries like Life or Planet Earth. I always make a point of visiting the Wildlife Photographer of The Year exhibition each year as well – how can anyone not be inspired by that?

Image: The Travelling Turtle

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MH: What advice would you give to other artists wanting to sell their own prints?

RF: Be patient. Build a collection of pieces in your own style. Share your artwork with your friends on Facebook or Instagram and take their feedback on board. Be self-promoting and don’t be scared to ask people what they think. Be inspired by, but try not to copy the style of others – easier said than done – but try to find your own look and feel.

I’ve noticed over the years that it’s often the technique an artist uses that differentiates their work from others – perhaps find a way of producing artwork that uses technique or a set of tools that you don’t see used often. Finally, it’s the work you do outside of the day job that’s often the most rewarding. Dedicate a couple of evenings a week to just experimenting with different styles and techniques.

Image: Hummingbird

MH: How would you describe your style?

RF: Growing up a skateboarder in London, my style is influenced by many things including graffiti and street art. I’ve tried to create my own style of illustration through the technique I use – but I guess if I had to give it a description it would be abstract digital illustration.

MH: What other artists are you inspired by at the moment?

RF: It’s worth checking out Mr Piper, Hydro74, Mr Gauky, Nanami Cowdroy and Jeremy Ville.

Plus I’ve always been a big fan of the work by Shepard Faire, still churning out wicked artwork!

MH: What projects are you working on at the moment?

RF: As well as continuing to build the Fieldinspired brand, I’ve got some exciting private commissions and collaborative projects in the pipeline. Clothing has long been a big dream of mine, so as well as continuing to produce and sell limited edition prints, sticker packs and other cool stuff, I hope to release a range of apparel in 2017 with my illustration style at its core.

Image: The Giraffe