Old Citizen (1981-1988) Tim Hutchinson – a career in art


06 June 2019
Publishing in October this year, ‘Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth’ is the latest book to be illustrated by Old Citizen, Tim Hutchinson. In this interview with Karen Sage, he talks about his twenty-year career as an illustrator.

‘I never expected to be an artist,’ says Tim Hutchinson. ‘I just drew things. My first drawing was on a piece of orange paper drawn in the back room of our house in Mile End in 1973. It was of a dog.’

Little did he know that almost forty years later he would be drawing another dog, this time for ‘Dylan’s Day’, the first book of his own creation following a long line of illustrated educational and history books for leading publishers.

His passion and talent for art were fostered at City of London School, which he says, ‘was incredible. I was given such freedom and the art room was my sanctuary. I spent every break in those two magical rooms at the top of the stairwell in the old school. Those memories are still filled with the smell of Mr. Fowler’s cigar and I remember the light pouring in from the skylights onto the pages and pages I drew and the canvases I painted on. Mr. Pomeroy taught me the history of art and opened up an incredible world. Mr. Blanch and Mr. Keates gave me books, ballet and opera, and opened my world up to travel. They made me curious and allowed me to be me. That was really something.’ 

Fine art was Tim’s focus when he took a foundation degree at Chelsea College of Art in 1988 and then a BA at Goldsmiths College, London. After graduating, he worked as an artist, exhibiting and staging numerous exhibitions in London, UK and Europe. At the same time, he worked in various London galleries as a curator and exhibition manager. In 1999 he gained an MA in Curating and Commissioning Contemporary and Fine Art at the Royal College in London, which led to a job as an art handling technician at Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Tate stores, where he worked for ten years. 

Tim started illustrating ‘as I needed a way of earning money,’ he says. To gain his first commission he ‘worked really hard sending off image after image to publisher after publisher. There is no easy way in. I spent years trying to get noticed. I still do. It is not an easy career at all. One day I got a call and my first book was for Dorling Kindersley, a world atlas.’

Dorling Kindersley, the British multinational publishing house, is renowned for its illustrated reference books for children and adults. Following that first project, Tim went on to win a string of commissions, including book series for Quarto, Tony Potter Publishing, Lonely Planet and Wayland Books.Stuff you should know about the planet Tim Hutchinson

He describes illustrating as a career as ‘more a collision of luck and talent. I have published over 40 books but I still don’t feel secure, or that I know what I’m doing. The key to making a living is to just keep plugging away. There have been days when I have wished that I could not draw because I would have a proper job like so many of the people I went to school with who are doctors and lawyers and seem very happy and can afford things in shops. It is feast and famine.

‘When I do have money I spend it on travel and music and festivals and friends and life experiences.  I use drawing to find new experiences and just watch the world as much as I can and try and take it in. The desire to learn new things is the pleasure of illustrating.’

Tim’s illustrations are characterised by their detail and a delight in showing how things work. ‘The thing that is most important to me is trying to explain the most complex subjects in the most fun and inspiring way,’ he says. ‘If you can grab a child’s interest then you open their brain up to everything. That is incredibly thrilling to see. I remember liking biology and science, because there were a lot of drawings of the insides of things and of how things worked. That’s how I Iearned to understand. Drawing was my way of getting through complicated stuff. My science and biology books were very colourful.’

‘Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth’ is Tim’s second book with publishing house QED and his favourite ‘as I feel that I am only now starting to get good at what I do.’ His first for QED was ‘Stuff You Should Know About The Human Body’. He describes what it’s like to take a book from concept to publication: ‘It began with a phone call and then an invite to go to their offices.  It is really amazing to have the support of a good publisher; you realise very quickly that there is a whole team of people behind the scenes working to get a book published. It can be very daunting too as the amount of work it takes can be overwhelming. I just take each page at a time and work very calmly and methodically. And then it is simply working every spare moment you have.’

Dylan's Day by Tim HutchinsonThe book that holds a special place in Tim’s heart is Dylan’s Day ‘because that book was just me and I was lucky enough to have a publisher that didn’t change it and accepted it for what it was,’ he says. ‘Dylan’s Day came from my dog Dylan. I wanted to see If I could write a classically simple book that said not very much other than the joy of getting up everyday to a new world.’

Tim currently divides his time between illustrating and managing New Art Projects, a contemporary gallery owned by Fred Mann. ‘I knew Fred from the YBA [Young British Artists] scene of the early 1990s in Shoreditch. We put on events and exhibitions and parties in abandoned buildings. He ran a space called Milch and I ran an art group called Avant-guard. I then ran a gallery called Gasworks in Oval before I did my degree. Afterwards I worked at the Jerwood gallery and ran a gallery with Fred called Rhodes and Mann before moving to the Tate. Fred opened his new gallery two years ago and persuaded me to join him.’

The role involves ‘Everything,’ says Tim. ‘Running the art programme of six exhibitions a year and managing fifteen artists, press, shipping, insurance, maintenance of the gallery, running events, cooking meals, serving drinks, hosting talks, performances, films, managing the social media presence of the gallery and the web site, installing the exhibitions, dealing with insurances and consignments and cleaning the windows and unblocking the sink.’

New Art Projects works with new and mid career artists. ‘The programme is very varied and inclusive. But the ethos of the galley is to showcase talented, amazing artwork. We are surviving and that is not easy these days under the threat of horrific cuts and the utter chaos of this stifling suffocating horrendous government and their Brexit madness.’

Asked what advice he’d give a boy at CLS contemplating a career in the art world, Tim says: ‘Have as many jobs as you can and don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy life and be kind to your friends. Travel and see as much of the world as you can. Art comes from life.  Art can also be a career but it is not an easy road. It is a thrilling world but never let the career part take over the art part. If you think you will earn a living from art you won’t. A career in the art world is as unpredictable and incredible as you can imagine, there is no right or wrong way of doing it. But always have a safety net and don’t put all your hopes into it. It comes and goes and just when you think nothing is going right, everything goes right.  Learn to live very simply and take everyday as it comes.  Look at the world around you and appreciate every moment. Jobs come and go. Art stays with you.’

Visit Tim Hutchinson's website.   'Stuff You Should Know About Planet Earth’ is published in October 2018. New Art Projects is located at 6D Sheep Lane, London E8 4QS.