My Cultural Capital
Paul Thurlby


This month we are delighted to introduce you to one of our favourite illustrators, Paul Thurlby. He has been producing cards and prints for us for 2 years and we thought it was about time we shone a light on the fantastic work he produces. Michelle C Porter went to meet him at his seafront home in Brighton to find out more.

I met up with Paul at his apartment in of the UK’s newest cities, Brighton. A city by the sea and home to many creatives who like their hustle and bustle with a dash of sea air. Clean and bright, Paul’s flat has a view that is pure and simply - the sea. Directly overlooking the beach, it’s a beautiful spot to work from. Calm, tranquil and free of visual clutter.

Paul originally hails from from Nottingham in the Midlands but it wasn’t this culture or landscape that initially inspired his work. Like many artists, his creativity was a means of escape, looking outwards rather than simply reflecting the familiar day to day of his ordinary life. He wanted to escape Nottingham and the past. Paul had ambitions to move to London and managed this via a move to study in High Wycombe at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College; a 45-minute journey from London proper but heading in the right direction. The lights may have brighter, the city more exciting but the streets weren't initially paved with gold and like any dream worth pursuing, success was by no means instant.

Working life began in a monotonous office environment, spreadsheets, data entry - the sort of work that is mind-numbingly dull but demands attention to detail. Paul was stuck in a rut and although “it blocked his creativity,”  he never gave up. He managed to work on occasional commissions outside of office hours. He told me that he would “ burn the midnight oil and fall asleep at the desk,” - much to the annoyance of his line manager.

It’s hard to get out of a rut, but sometimes we all need a little push, to listen to someone who has faith in us. In Paul’s case, this came from a temp who arrived at his office. Not only did she “inject a bit of fun into the place,” she gave him the confidence to ‘take a leap of faith and leave.”

The first two weeks Paul spent enjoying his new found freedom and did very little in the way of creative work. But, “having to find the rent is a great motivation,” He set to work designing postcards and sent them out to comms editors and was picked up by the Guardian. It was a defining moment, he was no longer an admin clerk but a working illustrator.

Like many people in the creative industries the recession hit and work slowed. It was at the point that he began to work on a personal project ‘ABC’. He set himself a personal challenge, to use the letter to communicate the word, to subvert the usual A for apple etc. It had a lot to do with problem-solving, when he solved the problem the challenge was rewarded with a eureka moment 'when an idea works it's a good feeling,' he said.   He posted the letters to Flickr and began to get great compliments from peers and was approached by a literary agent who said his work “makes me want to have children”. His first book, Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet went on to be published by Templar Publishing, and was the winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Opera Prima Award, 2013.

There is no doubting Paul’s perseverance, but what inspires him? Not his hometown, but other cities, European artists and poster designers whose work depicts a lifestyle very much removed from the Midlands of his childhood.

For his inspiration he looks outwards, to France and Italy - he has been very much inspired by the style of  European posters and the walls of his flat are peppered with their bold colours and distinctive shapes. He loves the humour of French designers like  Raymond Savignac and the glamour of the work produced by  Leonetto Cappiello. He is also inspired by the ideas and problem solving genius of British poster artist Abram Games,  the only ever designer to win the title - Official War Poster Artist.

Paul has followed in the tradition of the masters like Toulouse Lautrec and has produced some stunning posters of his own. Posters for cities, tennis and commercial products. Posters can turn cities into visual feasts and Paul is keeping the tradition alive with his vintage inspired images that fuse innocence, romance and humour with a bold splash of European glamour.

City Books is an ongoing personal project for Paul. Published by Hodder Children’s Books, these books are an illustrator’s tour of cities like New York and London.  Designed for children they are much loved by adults due to the originality and flair of the illustrations.  It is evident from his work that Paul loves cities and his favourite trips off his tongue without hesitation “Paris!” It’s not only his favourite city but his favourite City Book from the collection. He loves it “because it is romantic, creative and beautiful to look at.”

Despite his seductive sea view, he does like to travel away from home and spends a lot of time in Paris. More recently he designed the logo for Kosak in Montmartre. An ice cream and high-end chocolate shop run by two Parisian friends. Paul was quite happy to be part-paid in chocolates!

It’s been 11 years since Paul Thurlby left his desk and followed his dream and since then he has gone on to work for an impressive list of clients: The National Gallery London, Monocle, Amstel, The Guardian, Templar Publishing, Hachette, Pimm's, BBH New York, Mother London, The French Tourist Board, Washington Post, Camp Bestival, McGarryBowen London, Grosset and Dunlap / Penguin Group USA, Editions Milan, Size?, The New Yorker, Nokia, Ted Baker, Warner/Chappell, Tate Enterprises, Southbank Centre London, It’s Nice That, USA Today, Vanity Fair, The Times, The Independent, The Bank of England. He was recently a named illustrator for John Lewis and his name was a selling point for the campaign.  Imagine if he’d have given up, it’s a lesson to us all - stick to your dreams, keep burning the midnight oil. If you’re not an artist but see a talent that needs a light shining on it, give them the confidence to take that leap of faith; we’re so happy Paul did. P is for passion, perseverance, and Paul Thurlby.

Connor McNally

Author: Connor McNally

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