East Croydon Cool talks… is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we spoke to Croydon artist, Anthony Walker, to learn more about the world of illustration.
Like many creatives, Anthony hasn’t had the most obvious route into the industry. Although he had a clear talent for art, he became disillusioned at school, fell into the wrong crowd and ended up in prison at 17. Despite using art both as therapy and for financial gain (he would sell his portraits to cellmates for snacks and tobacco!) he didn’t continue with it when he left. On release, he got himself sorted with a job and a new place to live but it was only a few years later, when a friend found him doodling at work, that he began thinking about art again.
Boosted by his friend’s comments, he set up an Instagram account to showcase his work, and began contacting social media influencers to ask to draw their portraits. His precision and attention to detail secured him a large and loyal following and allowed him to do art full time. This month he has collaborated with Your Shores, the online platform that works with artists to create limited edition leather jackets showcasing original designs.
We caught up with Anthony to chat more about his work…
When did you first realise you had a talent for illustration?
I first realised at a young age, probably about 5 when my teachers at school saw some of my work that I brought in from home, and they were amazed. They started entering me in small school art competitions with the older year kids. I remember it was a nice feeling being good at something not many others where good at, but I never really thought about it anymore than that as it was just a hobby and I was just a kid.
What made you want to specialise in portraits?
From a very young age I focused on still life drawing such as plants vases and anything else I could see around me but no matter how confident I got doing that, whenever I tried drawing faces I really struggled. It didn’t help the fact that I am perfectionist. So I made it my goal to learn to draw faces as I saw it as the pinnacle of art due to the difficulty of it. So over the next few years I drew face after face learning through trial and error.
What does a typical working day look like?
A typical day for me is I wake up about 9am, make breakfast while contemplating my day ahead and prioritising my workload. After breakfast ill usually go to the gym which is only a 2min walk so I have no excuses. After gym I come back and make a start or carry on with my next piece in line. I will draw usually a min of 10hours but this can vary depending on how inspired I feel that day. If its a particularly bad day and I am really not in the mood, I find a look through instagram at all the other amazing art work on there can sometimes be enough to get the creative juices flowing again.
How do you decide who to draw (personal choice versus commissions)?
When it comes to commissioned work I recommend people send me a high resolution digital image so I am able to zoom in without distortion. This helps me pick out all the fine detail in an image. Other than that I leave it to the client to pick the photo they want as they usually know what they are looking for.
When It comes to personal choice drawings this is a whole other thing as I pick images that spark that inspiration in me. It’s usually high contrast photos as good shadows really help bring a drawing to life. I love drawing or painting things of my choice as that’s when I enjoy myself the most and I am in my element, hence why I’m loving working with Your Shores as they give full control and freedom when painting the jackets.
How long does it take to draw a portrait?
It’s hard to say really as it depends on the detail, size, amount of faces etc but usually a A3 sized drawing with good detail can take about 20 plus hours from start to finish.
Who (dead or alive) would you most like to draw and why?
I would have to say the great Albert Einstein, other than my love of art I have a huge interest in science but I doubt much work would get done as I would have so many questions to ask. Haha!
How did art help you in prison?
For a few years before going to jail I had never imagined making money from drawing it was just a hobby of mine, especially because social media wasn’t around like it is now so I had given up on it due to my teenage social life which was spiralling out of control. Due to the life I was living and moving with the wrong crowed I ended up in jail for robbery at 17.
While I was in there I picked up a pencil and paper again and started drawing from some photos I had and my sell mate saw and was impressed so he told everyone on the wing so before I knew it I had other inmates coming to me asking for personal drawings in exchange for tobacco, snacks and drinks from the canteen orders. I got a good reputation and a lot of respect in jail for being the top artist.
I moved around a few times from HMP Highdown to HMP Feltham then finally on HMP Rochester where I joined an art class. During my time in the art class I painted a couple murals on the walls in the corridors and was introduced to tortillions which is an instrument used for smudging graphite or charcoal on paper. It’s essentially a piece of cardboard twisted very tightly into a point. This dramatically changed the way I draw as previously I used my fingers but with the small point of the tortillion I had much better control over the finer detail and was able to create much smoother blends which made my drawings a lot more life-like.
So drawing definitely helped me through jail in many ways.
How did you decide what to create for the Your Shores collaboration?
This was easy as I just went for what I love, and that’s tattoos. I have quite a lot of tattoos that cover my arms and chest and the odd ones on my back and neck, so I got my inspiration from my own tattoos really as I have a blue rose on the front of each shoulder and a skull in the centre of my chest so I combined both images in my own style.
What do you think of the creative scene in Croydon?
I am constantly impressed by the amount of creative talent in Croydon from the likes of Krept and Konan, Stormzy, Adel, AJ Tracey and so much more – it’s inspiring. This is definitely the era for creative minds in Croydon.
What are your plans for the future?
Well I hope to build an even stronger relationship with the team at Your Shores to see where this journey takes us as it’s been very exciting so far. Also I am starting to transition more over to large scale paintings which I will hopefully be starting my first collection soon. These will be for sale online and from selected art sellers.