My name is Andy Griffiths. I was born in South Wales, UK. I’m 56 and I’ve worked as a
professional artist for over 30 years. I began my art career in 1990 as a trainee animator in
Cardiff, South Wales.
In 2004, I emigrated to New Zealand and continued my art career as a freelance illustrator producing illustrations and character designs for over 350 clients worldwide. I also regularly work as a teaching artist. I teach watercolour painting to adults and I also run comic and cartooning workshops for kids in my local area.
Please tell us about your art background.
I’ve always been fascinated with art. My first artistic obsessions were the Marvel comics my
dad bought me when I was about 7 years old. Artists like Jack Kirby and John Buscema
were my earliest influences. I left school with 3 A-Levels (Advanced Level) including A level
art. That was in the early 1980s. School art classes were my first exposure to watercolour.
I studied Architecture at the University of Plymouth, England, but after a year I realised
that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
A few years later, after doing various jobs, including working in the claims department of an insurance company and backpacking around Australia and South East Asia. I ended up on a job training scheme in an animation studio. This led to an actual paid job as a trainee Inbetweener for Siriol, a small Welsh animation studio. (Inbetweeners do the fill-in drawings between the animator’s “Key” drawings).
I spent 8 years in the animation industry, eventually ending up at Warner Bros London
feature film studio working on the movie Space Jam. When Warner Bros merged with Turner
Media, they downsized and shut down the London studio. I moved out of London and spent
several years after that doing different jobs including web design and freelance illustration.
Please tell us about your business.
Over the years I’ve diversified my income streams and I currently earn an income from a
combination of freelance illustration, freelance web design, teaching watercolour painting,
teaching cartooning, selling original artwork and online courses.
Please tell us about your online art classes.
I currently sell two online watercolour courses available from my blog solvingwatercolour.com. These are “Successful watercolor landscapes” and “How to paint mountains in watercolour” and I’ve recently started to offer live online classes once a week via Zoom. My blog has lots of free content in addition to the premium courses. I also have a small but growing YouTube channel called Solving Watercolour.
How do you promote your classes?
I mainly promote my classes through my blog and email subscriber list. By offering a lot of
good quality free content and being savvy about SEO I’m able to attract a decent audience to a platform that I’m completely in control of. (It’s currently receiving about 20,000 page views a month and growing.)
Please tell us about the cartoon and comic drawing workshops you do.
In addition to the Watercolour painting classes, I also teach cartooning to kids aged 8 – 12.
My own kids are in this age range, so I have a pretty good understanding of what interests
them. I teach the principles of cartooning that I learned from my years working in animation.
Such as designing characters by combining basic shapes, visual storytelling and the
rudiments of perspective. I try and make the classes fun by including learning games such
as story prompts and a card game that helps you to invent your own original superheroes by
combining random character traits e.g. insect plus alien technology or Werewolf plus sword
fighting ability. Due to New Zealand’s Covid restrictions, I’m not currently running cartooning
workshops but it’s something I hope to start again at some point.
Not many artists do both digital illustration and watercolor painting, how did those two different directions come about?
Digital art has been around for a long time. But it wasn’t really until the mid 90s that the
technology became widely available to the public. It had been confined to TV networks and
animation studios with massively expensive digital workstations like the Quantel Paintbox.
Suddenly, that processing power was available to everyone for a relatively affordable price. I
immediately knew that it was going to revolutionize the illustration and animation industries.
As I felt very artistically constrained in the animation industry, I saw digital art as a way to
pivot into illustration. So I bought a PC with the software Fractal Painter 4, Photoshop 3,
Adobe Illustrator 7 and an A3 Wacom drawing tablet and started working on my own ideas
and built a website called Zen Grenade Graphics promoting myself as a
character designer. That began a journey that lasted for many years.
It took a long time but I gradually became dissatisfied with digital art. It really started to bug
me that none of my art really existed outside of a computer screen. You can print it out but
that’s not really your art, it’s just a facsimile of your art. I wanted to feel the excitement and
the loss of control that you only get from working with traditional art techniques and
materials. The highs and lows of happy accidents, disastrous failures and hard won
successes that don’t really happen in the safe, predictable, sterile environment of the digital
workflow. One of the reasons I chose to go towards watercolours is because it’s probably the
most difficult medium to simulate digitally. Also, it’s just in my nature to zig when everyone
else is zagging.
Nowadays I’ve reached a compromise of mostly traditional watercolour with some
occasional digital work for speed when required.
Is there much overlap between digital art skills and more traditional painting skills?
I look at art skills, especially illustration, as a combination of drawing ability, plus design, plus
colour theory, plus a thorough understanding of your chosen medium. In that sense there is
a huge overlap between digital and traditional art. For a traditional artist, the one massive
advantage that digital art has is speed. You can try multiple approaches without ever
worrying about ruining a piece of work as you can always go back to earlier iterations.
For online teaching, do you think there is more demand for digital art lessons versus watercolor or oil painting?
There is a big demand for digital art lessons but there is also an overabundance of digital art
and digital art teachers. I’m sorry to say it but things have probably never been worse for
illustrators than they are right now. The golden age of illustration was probably from the
1950s to the 1980s and I don’t see that ever coming back again. Unfortunately, the
combination of the ease of entry into digital art, combined with the rise of freelancer websites
like Upwork and Fiverr with their “Race to the bottom” bidding systems and cheap stock
illustration providers have driven the perceived value of illustration right into the ground.
That’s why it probably accounts for only about 5% of my work now whereas 6 or 7 years ago
I was incredibly busy and sometimes had to turn well-paid projects down.
How do illustration clients find you?
My illustration clients consist of a handful that I’ve been working with for years. They know
me well and trust me to deliver what they need.
Do you have any advice for artists early in their careers?
It’s very hard for young artists right now. I think the way forward for them is to focus on building a network of fans either through social media or locally and in person and offer something stunning and unique that can be sold directly to an audience. Take watercolour painting for example. Watercolour is one of the most difficult mediums to master. If something is difficult to do that means there is less
For reasons I’ve previously stated, the ease of production of digital artwork has resulted in its
total devaluation in my opinion. So niche down and don’t shy away from something just
because it’s hard to do. Embrace the challenge. If I was just starting out as an artist. My
strategy would be to do what no one else is doing. Maybe revive a dying art like stained
glass window making but give it a completely unique spin.
I believe that young artists should focus on their drawing skills above all else. Good drawing
underpins everything. That might mean finding an art school with a strong focus on
traditional drawing skills. I think a better approach might be to find a personal mentor who
can really take you under their wing. Easier said than done, I know. I was in my thirties
before I found my first true mentor, a great guy called Mark, who worked alongside me at
Warner Bros and helped me get to the next level so much faster than I would have done by
Regarding business skills, the most crucial thing you need to know as a freelance artist is to
just treat it like any other job. Work out how much money you need to live on and decide on
what your hourly rate would need to be just as if you were working in a McDonalds. Be
realistic about the amount of time it takes you to produce something and don’t get taken in
by empty promises of great “Exposure”. Don’t chase the unicorn of Illustration agencies
either, they’re struggling to survive too. I’m with three illustration agencies and they rarely, if
ever, provide me with any work. The thing to remember is, persistence pays off but you need
to combine it with adaptability and outside-the-box thinking.’
Andy Griffiths Artist Links
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