Michael Howard, aka nvm illustration, is a London-based artist and blogger. He graduated from the Manchester School of Art. His gorgeous ink portraits reveal the imperfections of people, their styles and their surroundings. Using detailed linework balanced out against negative space, the viewer is drawn into his characters, who are strangers, friends and fiction.
Hello Michael, you mainly illustrate people, who do you base your illustrations on? Friends, strangers, fantasy?
Usually it’s strangers, parts of strangers parts from people I know part imaginary. Though it’s quite funny when people ask if the portrait is of them. I guess it’s always going to be a person somewhere.
The intricate line drawings, which are at the same time quite basic, really draw you into the portraits and create quite moody, rough atmospheres. How would you describe your style?
I think it’s always changing. I can’t even explain it myself, it’s not a thing or style in any traditional sense. I guess you could call it mixed media I suppose, never too sure about this sort of thing.
Maybe somebody more qualified or the sort of person who likes to put things in boxes can come and put me in line.
Play a lot with borders and empty space, with only minimal use of color; do you feel this draws it back to the line work itself?
Negative space is important, it’s all about balance. I tend to keep minimal colour because I guess I like to eventuate the spacing, the detail and intensity in certain parts of an image. Sometimes too much colour can be distracting, at least for me.
“Inspiration is overrated, you need to work through your mess and your bad times in order to get things done.”
Where do you find inspiration from, I see a lot of influences from subcultures and the music scene?
I get inspiration from the imperfect I guess, the rawness and messiness of clothing, band logos, typography… the bits of shit on the floor that have been there forever that nobody notices. Little details I guess.
The bolder the identity, the bolder the influence I think. Trashy shit is great, crappy printed clothing, zines; the imperfect.
I love ‘Make Your Head Your Home’, what do you feel illustration and portraiture can reveal about people?
Portraiture, I never feel like anyone is revealing anything. It’s just a moment or an idea for me to express through drawing a portrait. The Make Your Head Your Home, again was just an idea of positive mental health, most of the time I’m happiest is when my mind is wandering in itself and it’s comforting.
Sometimes it’s different for me, I look at the technical ability and try to analyse how I’ve fucked up, could something have been better. I tend to try to not get swept away with the romanticism of it all.
You make a lot of associations to people and their environment, from Make Your Head Your Home, to the more soft illustrations of people and nature. At the same time, you draw a lot of attention to the things that make us who we are, clothes, hairstyle, our rooms. What draws you to this focus on people and their environment?
Environment is important, it gives situation, placement. As I’m developing, the more things I want to draw other than just faces and portraits. I want to draw what’s around them and most of the time it is intact more interesting.
Most of your work is drawn on ivory paper, textured paper, how did you come to use this paper and why?
Well here’s the thing, I can not for the life of me find a textured hand made paper that holds ink or detail. So I decided to get around this problem was to make the hand made paper, scan it in, then print it out and draw onto it. It worked well for a long time but it also got quite expensive with the printing as you can imagine. So then it became something I would add post finished illustration in photoshop. It saved a lot of paper and money.
It’s a nice intimate texture, something a little softer and less harsh as white background. Having this softness also lends quite tenderly to the line work.
When you draw items they are often quite isolated, tv’s, cameras, amps, what draws you to these technological objects?
Most of the time it’s to get away from drawing people. Sometimes, when you draw things for too long it gets frustrating and boring. Usually when I do these drawings they’re to reset myself, I get to draw quite technical accurate things like camera lenses. It’s a distraction I guess, there’s no interpretation about whether it looks right or wrong. It is or it isn’t and that is quite refreshing. They also helped me to work objects, text, clothing into my drawings, so I guess you could say they’re gateway drawings or almost prep drawings. Though not the sound effects pedals, I love that shit, they’re bad ass.
I have read you saying 90% of drawing is hiding your mistakes, surely the mistakes are in a way essential to the work?
Of course mistakes are essential to work, that’s how you learn. I hope to never stop making mistakes because the best things sometimes come from terrible drawings. You may spend 2 – 3 days on a drawing and it turns out like crap but you will have learnt something, had an idea you otherwise would not have. Inspiration is overrated, you need to work through your mess and your bad times in order to get things done.