British illustrator and hand lettering artist Biff has always been drawing – ever since growing up in a seaside town in Dorset, his love for drawing "from birth" gave him a head start, taking him to cities like New York and London before back to Weymouth, where he's currently based.
Biff has a fresh eye and his seemingly on-the-fly “glorified” doodles, thoughts and sketches are humble yet speak reality. Although he doesn’t take himself too seriously, he does take drawing seriously, with practise, repetition and passion for his art.
By observing lettering styles in the street, drawing religiously in his sketchbooks and approaching his work with spontaneity, Biff has created a style that draws on popular culture and comments on it, while also touching on deeper issues such as equality and Brexit.
Recently signed with Jelly London, Biff tells us about his process, tools, future plans and passions.
Miriam Harris: Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you became an illustrator.
Biff: "I probably became an illustrator the same way most/ all other illustrators became one – I’ve never not drawn. The only way to get good at anything is practice, repetition and enjoying those two things. So I guess drawing from birth gave me a good head start. I’d always known I would become some kind of artist in some shape or form.
"It wasn’t until I got my first paid freelance gig in college that I knew I could definitely be one. When university came around, I swiftly realised it wasn’t for me and felt as though I was way more productive just pushing myself. So I quit after the first year and moved to London, taking on a bunch of internships at the best studios I could find (whilst illustrating and building up a reputation on the side)."
MH: How would you describe your style?
B: "I've always found this question hard and my answer usually changes. But right now, I'm trying not to take myself too seriously and I think my work reflects that. My style is honest, playful with an injection of personality."
MH: Your hand lettering is awesome – how have you honed your talent?
B: "Thanks! As I mentioned before, I put it all down to practice and observation. Sometimes I might see fonts or interesting lettering styles in the street. They don’t necessarily have to be amazing, just interesting. I’ll then replicate that lettering by hand and not worry about it coming out perfect (that’s where the sweet spot is).
"Taking the time to hand draw lettering adds vulnerability and a real, personal touch that you just can’t get with digital. It speaks to viewers on a human level without worrying or caring about spacing or kerning. Plus it’s fun!"
MH: What’s your creative process when it comes to lettering?
B: "Usually I’ll just go straight at it with pencil and paper- roughing out how I envisage it in my head. It’ll never come out exactly as planned, but I’ve learned to embrace that. The outlines are then inked up with either fine liner or brush and ink (depending on how brave I’m feeling).
"People often comment on how “clean” my work looks and ask how I do it. It’s usually because I’m confident with the materials I use and the mistakes I do make don’t look like mistakes because I’ve allowed them to be part of the work."
MH: And what about illustration?
B: "Pretty much the same deal. I treat them as the same thing. Either way, I’m depicting an idea or expressing my thoughts. Choosing whether to communicate that through lettering or illustration depends entirely on what it is."
MH: What tools are you using at the moment?
B: "I mostly use Posca pens, fine liners, brush and ink. Then I’ll work into it on Photoshop and play around with colour and composition. However, I’d love to learn how to use a tablet as I think it would benefit when it comes to producing large scale work and fun little GIFs and animations."
MH: We see you’re a notorious sketchbook doodler. Does this help with forming concepts and composition?
B: "Everything I do is pretty much a glorified doodle. My sketchbooks are my diaries, babies. I don’t understand how people can have ideas and not write or draw them out into a sketchbook. Thumbnails do help with composition on occasion if what i’m working on has a lot of elements to it. Other than that, spontaneity and going with my gut works fine for me."
MH: Where or who do you find inspiration from?
B: "Inspiration comes from literally everywhere. For example, my sketchbook pages (that you can find on my online portfolio) are a collection of illustrations i’ve picked out from movies, songs, conversation, pop culture, inanimate objects, sayings and more. I’ve always been a very observant person and my interests tend to shift all the time, so I think that’s carries on over to my work."
What are your favourite things to draw and why?
B: "Wonky 3D lettering is my favourite. It’s the only thing in my life that I enjoy going wrong. No matter what anyone says, there’s no wrong way of doing it (Which applies to all illustration I guess). I also like drawing plants and other inanimate objects. The combination of imaginary things coming out of my head and things that actually exist is aesthetically pleasing to me."
Your illustrations touch on equality, peace and Brexit – are these issues you’re passionate about? Any others?
B: "I think it’s important to use creativity to voice opinions – Serious or silly. I definitely believe that both genders are equal –women aren’t better than men, men aren’t better than women. Everyone wants peace and I get that me drawing an illustration based on it isn’t going to change much. But there’s no harm in trying to make people think about it, or even encourage people to talk about it. Brexit is just confusing and has turned into a big game of Chinese whispers, hence why I did a "Brexit Shmexit" postcard for Me & EU.
"I’m working on a small "Guilty Pleasures" project, which breaks down the stigma of "Things you should be into being the gender or age that you are". Like what you like and never hide it. I’d also love to work on something to help with cleaning our oceans and sea life conservation."
What are you working on at the moment?
B: "Right now Amnesty International are putting on a charity art show, so i’m illustrating a print for that. Working on prints is probably my favourite thing to do. You’re usually given a decent amount of freedom and there’s nothing better than people buying your print in person, knowing they’re going home to hang it on their wall."
And what’s next for you?
B: "I’ve just been signed to Jelly London. So hopefully I’ll be taking on some fun, new commissions. Other than that I’m on the lookout for some mural work and making plans to turn my lettering into 3D sculptures. Also looking into making little zines of my sketchbook pages to give out to whoever wants them. They’ll be full of what floats around my head on a daily basis. The idea of people owning something I’ve created that’s tangible and not on a computer screen or even a print, seems quite nice."