Illustrator Paul Thurlby On Soaking Up Brighton’s Creativity


Illustrator Paul Thurlby On Soaking Up Brighton’s Creativity

Paul Thurlby is an award-winning illustrator. He lives in Brighton with his wife Eleonora, also a freelance illustrator, and their one-year-old son Leo. His client list includes: John Lewis, The National Gallery London, Transport for London, The Guardian, Pimm's, The French Tourist Board, Washington Post, Camp Bestival, Vanity Fair, The Times, The Independent and The Bank of England.

Credit: Saltdean Lido, Paul Thurlby

“I used to love drawing as a child. My Grandpa delivered newspapers and I used to use the spare papers to design detailed football stadiums with imaginary teams and strips. But at secondary school, I had no idea you could make a career out of art and design. I got a job in admin at Nottingham council and my boss, now my friend, noticed I was always drawing and encouraged me to go to art college.

But afterwards in order to pay my rent and student debts, I had to get a job working in admin for four years at the Royal Air Force. In September 2006 I decided if I didn’t quit to do something more creative, I never would. It was the best feeling ever leaving that job.

I sent out 50 postcards showcasing my work and got my first commission from The Guardian, which made me feel vindicated. My personal project, a children’s book called Alphabet, kept me occupied between commissions and after a literary agent in New York called and said ‘I really love your alphabet... it makes me want to have children’, I got a book deal.

I think your personal work, when you’re not working to a tight commissioned brief, is a good way to direct the sort of work you’d like to do in the future.

Credit: Tom Robinson/Handsome Frank

My wife and I moved to Brighton in the summer of 2017. We’d previously been living near Hoxton Square in London, which was very handy for everything but so polluted, and we wanted to start a family in a healthier and more relaxed place that wasn’t the suburbs.

My eyes were really painful for about a week after we first came to Brighton because the light is so bright. No wonder it’s called Bright-on. We live on the seafront and we get to see the weather happening – it’s different every day. The musician and singer Nick Cave said that living here makes you actually feel like you’re part of the weather, part of the storm.

For delicious food 64 degrees, a little restaurant on The Lanes, is definitely worth booking a table. There’s a sister seafood restaurant called Murmur on the seafront by the same chef, Michael Bremner, who was the Great British Menu winner 2017.

Most people get their fish and chips near the beach. But, that’s a mistake. You need to walk about 20 minutes from the beach to Bardsley’s. It’s a proper old fish and chip restaurant. Their walls pay homage to the music hall comedian, and famous Brightonian, Max Miller.

Busby & Wilds in Kemptown do a very good Sunday roast too. We live in Kemptown, in a crescent of houses covered in black glazed tiles that give an iridescent effect when the sun shines. They date back to the late 1700s – early 1800s and were some of the first houses in Brighton built deliberately to face the sea. On the right we can see Brighton Pier and on the left is the Marina. I’d definitely recommend Artists Open Houses in Brighton in May. You get to look at art and, best of all, you get to look around people’s houses.

I really love going in the opposite direction from all the tourists (although the independent shops in The Lanes are worth a wander); avoiding the pier and going past the marina on a beautiful walk by the chalk and limestone cliffs. There are even some sandy parts of the beach and a little café. I don’t know if it’s got a name but it’s a great place to get a cup of tea and a piece of cake and just soak up the quiet and the changing sea.

Apparently Audrey Hepburn posed for her first ever photo shoot in 1951 down there and one of the houses on our street was a rather grand hotel where Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor stayed. The artist David Shrigley, whose work I like a lot, lives in Kempton and the children’s author Raymond Briggs is also local.

Brighton has a reputation for being artistic but you need to go further away from the beach to find better art. There is a screen printing studio called The Private Press in Hollingdean Road which I like very much, where you can also buy prints.

I think illustration can really connect with people, evoke real feeling. It’s playful and fun, whereas photography can be more formal. One of the projects I’m most proud of was the summer campaign for John Lewis in 2017, called National Treasures. The campaign celebrating British summer time ran across all of John Lewis Shops – that’s about 16 miles of windows – and there were mobile installations hanging in each store. The Oxford Street store had 220 life sized characters alone.

When you’re working on something so intensely it can sometimes be difficult to appreciate it, rather than just thinking in terms of surviving a project, but a few months down the line I could see we’d created something unique.


Main image credit: Pool Couple 2019, Paul Thurlby

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