Tom Brown was raised by books in much the same way that Tarzan was raised by apes but with much less dramatic results. He got his first professional illustration gig when he was thirteen and has been working in the field since then. (Taking time out for meals and such) He is also half of the primary creative team responsible for Hopeless, Maine.
CV includes work for Penguin/Random House, Chaosium, Archaia, Hippocampus Press, Centipede Press, Gallant Knight Games, Outland Entertainment, Boom Studios, Archaia comics as well as work with individual authors, musicians and creatives. If you would like to commission him for Book cover, CD/ Album cover, promotional art, Comics covers/ Alternate covers, art for your kickstarter campaign, tattoo design or personal commission, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom can be found here:
Tom’s Twitter: @GothicalTomB
Hopeless, Maine Twitter: @HopelessMaine
My portfolio and commissioning page: https://mothfestival.wordpress.com/commissioning-tom/
When did you know you wanted to become an illustrator?
I started drawing when I was about six, and taking it seriously (as seriously as a six year old can be said to take things) Lions. I got that the back legs bent backwards and was ridiculously pleased with myself. Then I discovered Comic books, and illustrated books, and absolutely knew I wanted to be part of that world. That has not changed since (Though my expectations are now both more, and less realistic) Books, gods I love books, Even though the publishing industry is a hot mess right now, there is nowhere else I really want to be, art-wise.
How long does it typically take to make a page or cover for a book?
Comics page takes a day. That’s all the time you are really allowed for a comics page. This is one of the reasons I’m mostly doing illustration these days. I love going mad with detail and taking time to think about things. A book cover can take me from one to four days, based on complexity and (honestly) budget.
What’s your favourite piece of art equipment?
Grip pencil! Same one i have had for years and years. That and a lead pointer. Gives me a needle sharp point which digs into the paper just a bit and is deeply satisfying. First time I used it, I knew it would change my art forever and a lot. I was not wrong.
Do you have a favourite colour scheme, if so what and why?
I like earthy tones, sepia, buttery gold, parchment tones with a splash of medieval jewel like colour. Burgundies and emerald. I accidentally discovered that brick red and turquoise make a really good palette.
Who were your inspirations when starting out?
Very eclectic. Comic Books and Edward Gorey and characters on cereal boxes, monsters, all sorts of monsters, The Doré engravings from the divine comedy, John Tenniel, Pulp and science fiction book covers, The Addams family…Then when I went to art school in Rhode island I was exposed to a whole new swathe of art and illustration, Dulac, the Symbolists, Simes illustrations for Lord Dunsany.
Perhaps most importantly, some of the illustrators and comics artists working at the time as The Studio, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor Smith and Berni Wrightson, especeally Barry Windsor Smith. Those were my art heroes at the time, and they are still among my favourites.
Do you have another job beside being an illustrator, if so what?
Yes. Odd to say, but i’m apparently also a professional singer and performer with our group The Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. No one was more surprised than I was. We were hired to do a performance during a book festival for our Hopeless, Maine project, and at that point, it was all graphic novels. Can’t really do dramatic readings from graphic novels, so we worked in folk music that we knew that suited our gothic themes. We sing together anyway. Nimue is a musician and singe and has been part of the folk scene in the UK for years. Well…people liked it. So Nimue wrote a show with a lot of songs in it, and we also developed a wider setlist for settings where a show won’t work, and… we are now booked at festivals, steampunk events, one sold out show at a gothic mansion, and we are recording our first album. I have also written two songs now, for OF well, the words at least. The tune to one of them was written by my son Cormac. Um. Strange sort of world, innit?
What do you do to overcome a creative block?
As an illustrator, that’s not really an issue for me so much. As long as I have time, something will come as a response to what I’m illustrating. Time is the key though. Burnout is real.
Do you have a favourite piece in your portfolio, if so could you share it and talk about it?
Oh… ok. I think Bridge Of Bottles sort of..sums up my overall work and themes pretty well, and it is from Hopeless, Maine which I co-created with Nimue, and has been a big part of my life for a lot of years. In the Hopeless, Maine graphic novels, we make the two page spreads do a different job in each book. In Personal Demons, they were journeying images. Moving from one place to another. This one just came into my head and was a pleasure and a compulsion while I was working on it. In the setting, it is only sensible to be superstitious, (the island is haunted and overrun by magic and strange things) So…just making small shrines of bottles at one spot is exactly what the people there would do just..in desperation to placate…anything or gain some sort of benign attention. That’s the main character, Salamandra as a young girl, with a crow on her shoulder crossing the bridge. The bottles, of course, quickly attracted occupants.
What was your first book related project?
First year of art school, I fell in with the HP Lovecraftian crowd. First paying gigs were cover art and Illustration for HPL and weird tales/cosmic horror. HPL is a problematic figure ( bloody awful human being in many ways) but the people that gather around his mythos are taken as a whole, absolutely amazing. When I have been in trouble, these are the people that have invariably helped.
What type of media do you prefer to work in and why?
These days it is invariably pencil originals scanned and coloured (or not) digitally. I used to use dip pen and watercolour and chalk and all sorts, but this is where I have landed for a lot of reasons.
Do you have a playlist you like working to? If so do you want to share it?
No steady Playlist. I have bandcamp habits and one of my favourite bands in the world at all ever, is Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken toys. They have got me through some hellish assignments. Recently a chap named Steven C Davis has been putting up a wonderful eclectic show on Mixcloud. Breathe, it’s called. Wonderful to work to, and lasts four hours or more. Love his tase in music. Also, he’s done a hopeless, Maine themed show. (with three tracks that other bands including Walter Sickert have done inspired by Hopeless,Maine. I’ll give you a link! https://www.mixcloud.com/stevencdavis10/ Also Genevieve Tudor’s Sunday folk show on iplayer. https://www.facebook.com/genevieve.tudor
Do you have any rituals when working?
Not really. I used to, but not so much now. Comics were such a time magnet that I became a bit..no frills. May be getting back to that sort of thing though.
Do you have a favourite artist outside of the world of books, if so who and why?
Could not possibly pick a favourite artist. I love a wide range of art. The pre raphaelites, the Symbolists, The Surrealists…Oh! Bosch! Bloody love Bosch!
Did the books you read as a child influence your work?
I describe myself as someone who was raised by books in the same way that Tarzan was raised by apes, but with less dramatic results. Books were my world, and still are a very large part of it. Profound impact, yes.
Has your illustration/art style changed over time?
A lot! Used to work on all sorts of media, sort of..middle of the road stuff, fantasy, horror, a lot of pen and ink with fine detail. Now i’ve just sort of wandered off on my own a bit. I had to re-teach myself how to draw after one difficult period and..well, here we are. Still very much a work in progress though, and always will be.
How closely do you work with the author on developing the illustrations for a book?
Depends on what the author wants and needs, and what sort of time constraints there are. It’s all sorts of different relationships with a lot of variety, which I love. I work very closely with Nimue on the Hopeless, Maine stuff, some people, just give me a few words, and have expectations based on my history with them. Others want a lot of input.
If you could illustrate any classic book which would it be and why?
Something by Ray Bradbury. Something Wicked This Way Comes, maybe. Or King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany.
If you can please tell us about your latest project and if not your last project
GAH! I’ve got a silly amount on at the moment, and, always. Several Hopeless, Maine projects, work for games companies, Chaosium inc. and Gallant Knight games, work with several individual game designers and authors, there is a new project in the pipeline with Professor Elemental, a film, I need to get moving again, currently also really enjoying doing the art for an Arthurian themed tarot deck, Variant comics cover art…um.
Do you have any events on in the near future?
Yes! Pretty much something every month, or.. more.
- We have an online festival of strangeness from the Eldritch Broadcasting company at the end of February at https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/
- We will be performing as part of the Gloucester Folk Trail 18th February
- We have a gallery show at Lansdowne Gallery in early March https://lansdownhall.org/
- A steampunk event at Upton on Severn at the end of March
- The Goblin Masquerade at the end of April, (Performing and being there with books, art and things)
and something every month for the rest of the year. We can still be booked for UK things if people are interested.