An Interview with Will Baker

Drawing inspiration from both the natural and urban worlds, !GWAK artist Will Baker is known for his stunning illustrations and creative writing. We chat to the collective’s newly appointed co-editor about his creative process, the relationship between his written and illustrative work and finding his style.

How would you describe your illustrative process-the movement from sketchbook to finished piece? What role do those initial sketchbook phases play?

The process I go through is one that I have discovered, over the years, works best for me. I have different methods of working for different outcomes: sometimes, the final article is the sketchbook. In which case, all the stages of my workings are visible whereas, with stand-alone pieces, my preliminary work is almost always separate. For the stand-alone, more illustrative work, the stages that come before have one aim in mind: to fail in as many ways as possible. I’m playing around with ideas here, and it is just as much in my interest to prove what doesn’t work, as it is to prove what does work. I work pretty quickly in a sketchbook dedicated to rough work, anything from initial sketches to colour swatches and stationary tests: I’m completely free to do what I like. At this point, I’m really trying to establish a sense of space, transcribing an idea into a physical form and this can be really hard if I’m aiming to get it on the first pass. I’m not afraid to make mistakes. In fact, sometimes, I do my first sketch wrong on purpose, just to not kid myself. I could make a huge thing about this being something we could all live by but I’ll let you make of it what you will.

When it comes to my more refined sketchbooks, my way of thinking doesn’t change, but the route I take to get there is different. When working on a sketchbook that I know is going to be more of a finished article, (something I’d plan on showing people, such as a travel journal) I have to remind myself that it’s not just one piece of work holding up the integrity of the sketchbook, but every image working together. It doesn’t work if one piece isn’t as strong as the others. It be like that sometimes, I suck it up and move on.

What role does YouTube play in your creative process?

Like most social media these days, my relationship with it is pretty love/hate: it’s great, but it causes its own set of problems. I won’t go down the algorithm rabbit hole, as annoying as it is, because it’s something I can’t change and, if anything, it makes me work harder. Everything up until the upload, whether it be an illustration or a speed-painting video, is a joy. I keep myself busy, I keep myself entertained, and I keep myself challenged. Up until a year ago, I had never edited a video, chosen a backing track or successfully composed a PowerPoint transition that wasn’t cringey; to now be making YouTube videos that people enjoy is all I need to want to keep doing it. The way I view myself and my channel on YouTube is ever evolving, but I’m hoping that there will come a time where the two embed themselves into my creative routine in a complimentary way.

As a writer as well as an illustrator, how do you find the respective creative disciplines inform each other, if at all?

In my opinion, the two go hand in hand. Obviously, the things that spring to mind for most are children’s book illustrations. That’s probably the most common response I hear when I tell people that I’m both an illustrator and a writer. And while, yes, I do see that as a probable future for myself, this isn’t the only way I see my illustrations and my writing coming together. I do see my illustrations being paired up with “more serious” writing: flash fiction, poetry, and zines.

I think the dynamic that illustration and written work have is something that is oversimplified. “You draw what is written, right?”—well yes…and no. You use the text as inspiration, but the illustration alone should be able to stand for itself: it should say something different, but not contradict. An illustration, regardless of its audience, isn’t very effective or smart if it directly correlates to the accompanying text. It should say the same and more. So when I’m writing with the intention of illustration, or vice versa, I’m constantly looking for what I can omit, and what else I can do to take it further. Chip Kidd did two TED talks on book design which I think are very helpful if anyone wants to look into this more.

What inspires you? Is it different for your writing and your illustration?

Commission work aside, my inspiration for my writing is the same as it is for my illustrations, but I think you can see how the two forms take it in different directions. I’m interested in human spaces and the people who inhabit them, urban areas specifically. I can’t get enough. Whenever I find myself in these spaces, I instantly want to draw, want to write. I think people are my main source of inspiration, for sure.

How do you feel your style has changed, and where do you see it heading?

I really started illustration around 2012 when my Middle School, which was being shut down, had me and a handful of other students illustrate a book on the school’s memories. We were all given examples of Quentin Blake’s work as inspiration for how we might go about doing it. I think you can see some clear parallels between my early work and his style. This is a great way of developing as an artist: even as high up as A-Levels, you’re encouraged to do artist transcriptions (direct copies of their work)—obviously not to rip them off, but to explore their process and allow it to inform your own way of thinking. After that, I started to develop my work so that it was more my own, trying different mediums and different ways of working. Life drawing marked a crucial point in my work, where I started to improve as an artist and illustrator, incorporating more life and energy into my pieces which I think was lacking before. I’m at a point in my work where I’m trying to pull everything together and form some kind of portfolio. I’m currently playing around with colour and mixed media in ways I hadn’t before, so I’m very excited to see where it leads me. I can’t tell you where because, currently, I don’t know.