V&A Illustration Awards: Interview with David McConochie – winner of the Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year prize

Word and Image
May 23, 2016

What is David McConochie’s secret? In the space of a year, he’s bagged two prestigious illustration awards and a lucrative commission for The Folio Society. He’s just been crowned Winner of the V&A Illustration Awards and to mark the opening of the 2016 Illustration Awards display, I caught up with David to find out more about him and why everything he touches turns to critical acclaim.

The Folio Book of Ghost Stories
The Folio Book of Ghost Stories Cover Design by © David McConochie

Nate Ev J: First of all, David, huge congratulations on winning the Award for Book Cover Design and the Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year Prize. How does it feel?

David McC: I’m absolutely over the moon.  I had no idea when I sent four speculative entries to the House of Illustration/Folio Society competition that I would end up at the V&A picking up awards. The V&A is an iconic institution and the hallowed ground of design so being recognised by the V&A is about the biggest honour I can imagine as an illustrator. When I look at some of the other shortlisted work and indeed some of the work not shortlisted it makes me very proud to be a part of the awards.

Nate Ev J: How did you find out about your success? What were you doing when you heard?

David McC:  I was just taking a break from work and having a cup of tea when I saw the email from the V&A. Going from thinking “I’ve been shortlisted”
to “I’ve won an award” to “I’ve won the overall award” was a lot to take in in a few seconds. I had to keep reading the email to make sure I hadn’t got it wrong.  I was just overjoyed and rang my girlfriend and family to tell them straight away.

Nate Ev J: You’ve also won the Folio/House of Illustration competition for your ghost story illustrations. Why do you think your particular conceptualisation of the genre has garnered such critical acclaim? What are you bringing to visualising the text that other illustrators aren’t?

David McC: I think all good book illustrations get to the absolute essence of what makes the book tick and how the reader’s imagination intertwines with the text. With this book it wasn’t just about creating dark or gruesome imagery.  I wanted to create subtlety and variation in tone and all of the ambiguities that make up a good ghost story. It’s something that doesn’t always happen in the visualisation of the genre.

© Folio Society

Nate Ev J: I love the way you’ve drawn on the influence of early photography to create the eerie textures on the cover of The Folio Book of Ghost Stories. But in researching your work for the display, I still found it very difficult to place you anywhere in the grand tradition of book illustration and cover design. Who are your influences?

David McC: Whilst it may not be so apparent in my work now my biggest influence was probably Robert Rauschenberg. Looking at his work while at college changed the way I looked at imagery and set me down a particular path. From here I also began looking at illustrations by artists in a more commercial setting such as Andrzej Klimowski and Dave McKean whose work appealed to my affinity with photomontage and collage.


Nate Ev J: Yes, I can see that your mixed-media approach involves the use of photomontage, assemblage, traditional illustration methods as well as photoshop. But what is the appeal of photoshop? What does it add to traditionally rendered work?

David McC:  I see Photoshop as working hand in hand with more traditional techniques rather than being opposed to them and I tend to move between methods depending on what I feel is appropriate for the image. I like to create imagery from every and any source. Often this is more traditional methods such as collage but Photoshop is also immensely useful for this process and gives countless options for manipulation and alteration that aren’t possible with traditional methods alone. I feel it affords me a greater level of play and experimentation and appeals to my working method which is often a strange combination of frenetic trial and error and careful tinkering.

Early studies for The Folio Book of Ghost Stories © David McConochie

Nate Ev J: Your background is actually in graphic design isn’t it? How did you segue into Illustration and when did you realise that illustration, rather than Design, was your calling?

David McC: Yes, I originally studied Graphic design and quite quickly realised that I was more drawn to pure image making than the more typographic elements of the course. I was extremely lucky to have a fantastic tutor who had a background in illustration and was very encouraging of my early attempts.
At first I felt a little lost amongst the Logo Design and more Typographic elements of the course but … I went out taking pictures, photocopying them cutting them up and painting into them and suddenly felt completely at home working in this chaotic manner. I think I realised at this stage that my future was as an illustrator rather than working at a Design Agency.

Nate Ev J: So cast your mind back to 5 years ago before this all began? What were you doing? And if Illustration hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing for a living instead?

David McC: I had not long moved to London from the North East. Commissions were sporadic and I was a bit frustrated but I kept busy with personal projects and filling sketchbooks. Certainly the V&A Illustration Awards would have seemed a remote idea at the time. But I always liked the idea of making things whatever that may be and fancied carpentry at one point. I  lacked the practical skills though so I’d probably be running a shop selling badly made chairs…

Nate Ev J: Your story of hardwork and perseverance is an inspiring one. Any words of advice to budding/student illustrators out there?

David McC: I would say don’t chase the market and try to mimic what’s already out there. Discovering and indulging your own interests and idiosyncrasies is the best way to enrich your work and the rest tends to follow.

Nate Ev J: And finally, having conquered the world of illustration and bagged two of the most prestigious awards in the country, I have to ask: What’s next for David McConochie?

David McC:  It’s difficult to say as illustration is always like walking down a path where you can never see further than the next step. I am starting work on some large paintings based on the Diary of Carolina Maria De Jesus who lived in a Sao Paulo Favela in the 1950s. A longer term ambition would be to display some personal work in a solo exhibition but who knows – As long as I’m busy and enjoying my work I’m happy.

The Folio Book of Ghost Stories
© David McConochie

Follow David @d_mcconochie

David McConochie’s award winning work and all the other category winners will be on display at the V&A from 24 May until 21 August 2016.


1 comment so far, view or add yours


You are a really motivational writer whether you intend to be or not. This article has inspired me to become more conscientious about my writing.

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