We talk to Karl James Mountford about his beautiful book cover illustrations, how he got started in Illustration, his inspirations & passions!
Im a big Pinterest fan, you never know what gems your going to stumble upon and for a several months these stunning book covers kept showing up in my feed. Other pinners I followed pinning them and recommendations had me intrigued - who was this talented Illustrator Karl James Mountford? Turns out he's a jolly nice chap and he kindly offered to answer a few questions for us!
BB: Can you tell us a little about your educational experience, did you study Illustration or discover it organically?
I was on of those kids that was always drawing and painting something from an early age, but I did study Art at college - we did everything, ceramics, screen printing, photography, painting, the whole shabang. I then went on to do a degree in Illustration at Swansea Met Uni and then that turned into me doing a Master degree in Visual Communication - I was basically avoiding the real world as much as I could by this point.
BB: Do you think your work is inspired by your German routes in anyway?
Im not sure, we left when I was pretty young so probably not. But I'd like to think there was some influence there. I was pretty keen on the German romanticism movement back in Uni. There was this painting by Casper David Friedrich called Moonrise over the ocean ( I think) and it's so beautiful but full of sadness just three figures sitting on a rock watching a ship sail away, it's haunting but shows nature at it best.I wonder if that counts as inspiration from my background?
BB: Your book covers are absolutely beautiful, can you talk us through your process from sketch to finished article?
Ah thanks . It helps that I love books and stories, so my mind set is to try my upmost to make a book cover that respects the story and yet it is still visually attractive to any one who looks upon it. (hopefully) I tend to start by making super rough sketches nothing more than stick men sort of sketches. Just so I've got an idea of where everything sits including title and authors name etc. Once i've done that I tend to focus on the character and start thinking about colours, especially limited colour palettes, you can really push the colours to work with texture and shape to build an image without using the entire rainbow. (I'm a big fan of really naff european tea towels, I have one framed on my wall - they make for the best wall art) but they use limited colour palettes and over detail everything so well. I try and take that approach with making book covers as my work can be a quite busy. So a limited palate hopefully evens it out a bit.
Once i've got a decent sketch ready, I scan it in and then use textures for elements (scanned paint marks or old paper) to build the work. For the Peter Pan one I built it all in black and white textures and then once they are all in place, I multiply the layer so that it's transparent and then colour-in behind it. So the textures do a lot of the work, in terms of showing tone and form. Like what they used to do with old black and white photos back in the day and they would paint on top of them to make them colourful. That's sort of my process.. although sometimes i'm lazy and just use digital textured brushes also.
I play around with the colours a lot too. I've got multiply files of various colours for book covers too. The Coraline illustration / book cover, I've got about 16 different colour versions on file.
BB: Are there any commercial clients, organisations or individuals out there that you would like to work with either for a commercially or in a collaborative way?
Oh there are stacks of folks I've dreamt of working with. I love LAIKA animation, I'd love to work for them, doing visual development stuff. They tell great stories and the artworks in those films are just too beautiful.
It would be a bit of dream come true to illustrate anything that Philip Pullman writes.
If Lena Dunham or Noel Fielding was ever to write a picture book I'd be very interested in illustrating that. I reckon they would be the right amount of weird and honest for a corker of picture book.
BB: You are represented by the Bright Group – can you tell us a little bit about your experience working with an illustration agent, the pros and cons, the ups & downs!
I've been with Bright for little over a year now, It's been a learning curve for me as an illustrator, felt like the new kid at school for the first few months, learning the ropes and building working relationships with the agents. Learning how they work and how I should work with them too.
Having an agent has been way more beneficial for me then doing it all by myself, which was what i was doing the first two years after leaving uni. But it's a hell of struggle on your own, getting your foot in the door feels like an impossible task and you spend most of the time promoting, emailing and negotiating fees etc which is a massive job itself but now with having an agent I can concentrate on the work at hand, mostly. Which is great.
I've gotta say the Bright agents have really looked after me, I haven't been without work for the past year - mind you, I've kept saying yes to pretty much any offer that came my way, just because of that age old illustrator fear of not knowing if this would be the last job before it dried up.
One of my agents, Nicky Lander - who is sort of my main agent I keep in contact with ( Even though you work with most of the agents at Bright) but Nicky in particular was a life saver last year, I was really under the weight of 5-6 meaty projects with all similar deadlines and publishing schedules which could unhinge the soundest of minds, so I was a bit of nervous wreck by the end of it. But Nicky would ring me up and just talk me down off the stress shelf about the work and what was manageable in the time frame which helps loads because you can feel like a one man band a lot of the time as an illustrator. So a bit of support goes such along way.
Bright do have a lot of artists on their books, I was worried when I first signed up with them that I might get lost in a vast sea of existing talent but i think in reality it's down to the individual to keep making portfolio work or any work for that matter - especially stuff you love to make and are interested in. Which is something i've really learnt this past year, as the work you make sticks with you. So it's best to make work you care about and hopefully that will have a knock on effect and you'll get hired for projects that are some what suited to your interest or general aesthetic.
BB: Are there any books you would love to illustrate?
I could list about 40 books off the top of my head, but I won't. I'll just name my ultimate favourite
Philip Pullmans his Dark Materials would be the dream job, like a special editions version (I've actually been brave enough to start sketching some ideas out for the trilogy) but I'm a bit reserved about completing it because I'm that in love with these books I wouldn't want to tarnish them with illustrations that don't suit the body of work which i know sounds daft. But I'd want to do a really good job on them.
BB: Which illustrators, artists, designers are inspiring you at the moment?
I think Andrew Hem is something else entirely. I saw one of his large prints a few years back (this is gonna sound soppy) but it just got hold of me and I genuinely felt in awe. So anything he does.
There are lots of amazing illustrators, who inspire me, Alfredo Caceres is another one who I just think is amazing, Feline Zegers, Shaun Tan, Sonny Ross, Zoe Persico, Cally Conway all of them make work that just has me a bit spell bound, the list could go on and on...
BB: Which website's do you visit regularly?
All the usual social media stuff (even though i'm getting worse at checking them) and I've been visiting/ listening to this podcast a lot lately called 'Better Friendship' where two friends get drunk and talk about everything and anything.
BB: Tell us about your workspace
I have two, I have a small studio set up in the house, I'm usually working here the most because it's just easier with deadlines etc but also have another shared space at Elysium studios in Swansea about an hour away from where i live, where there are lots of artists there who do all sorts of different and amazing things, it'a a real creative community.
BB: Do you have any interesting projects coming up?
I've got a few more Fiction books i'm working on so more book covers which is great. But i'm also writing my own picture book in my spare time - it's taking a forever though - as i'm over thinking it a lot but I'm hoping to pitch it to publishers towards the end of the year if all goes to plan.
BB: If we could have asked you any question in the interview what would it have been & what would your answer have been?
Are there any artistic skills you wish you'd learnt or want too?.
I wish I'd learnt to animate (maybe I should look into learning it) also I wish I could play guitar, effortlessly.
Boxbird would like to say a big thank you to Karl for taking the time to answer our questions! If you would like to see more of Karls work, contact him about a commission or follow him on social media this is how you can!
Website: karljamesmountford.com | Twitter: twitter.com/karlj_mountford | Facebook: facebook.com/KarlJamesMountford