New tutor, Clay Thompson, has plenty of experience to draw on. In his day job as a designer of trading software (user experience platform design for an investment bank), Clay commutes up to London most days and this gives him some quiet time to draw. Nearly all his drawing is currently done on the train. But this wasn’t always the case.
He grew up in Canada and has been free hand drawing birds and animals since he was just 3 years old. Calgary was so cold and he used to visit the Winter Gardens - like a mini Eden project - which was full of wildlife subjects. Clay laughs and says “I felt like the strangest kid sometimes! But my Grandmother was an oil painter and when she set up an easel, I’d watch the empty white board and the chemistry she mixed up on her palette and a picture would just emerge. It was magical.” Clay spent a lot of time with his grandparents and these early influences stuck fast.
Clay’s design career started when he left school and became a commercial artist and illustrator. His apprenticeship was in airbrushing and began in 1987. These were the days of real paint, not digital airbrushing. Macs were really expensive back then and there was no such thing as Photoshop. He spent most of his time drawing and preparing illustrations, and then moved into a visualisation role. Basically this means if you are producing a new product, Clay would sketch out what the physical thing might look like. You might just recognise some of his amazing work in the following images:
He also designed the 2002 World Cup corporate marks, seen by about 4 billion people for the Korea Japan FIFA world Cup. Clay worked on these images for about a year in total, which started 3 years ahead of the world cup.
Clay now mentors many young designers, and teaches drawing to groups of colleagues at work. His approach is relaxed and supportive. “You have to get people comfortable with just making marks. There is no judgement in art in my view. What people think has little relevance to the process. For me it’s more about how does this make me feel when I am doing it. I’m all for getting people to enjoy the process. The destination is not the main event – drawing is about answering questions – how do I make this 3D thing 2D? It’s also a form of meditation and a way to switch off while I’m commuting.”
His work is now mostly in graphite (pencil), and this is how he will be teaching his first course at Ardington in September 2020. Clay uses a Derwent mechanical pencil, (0.5mm) and works in layers, laying down all the tonal layers first and then uses a putty rubber to remove and lift off the highlights. Then he goes back in for the detail. There are maybe three layers in total and he works across the whole piece rather than being too systematic.
Interestingly, Clay works mostly from memory, simply laying down some negative space at the start from reference material and then the rest comes from his memory of the original detailed observation. You can see just how fine is the detail achieved in some of his latest work below:
What’s next for Clay?
“I want to do something with my art – I’m aiming at being more commercial. When it’s your day job, the joy can go out of the discipline. But I’m now enjoying drawing every day and it’s on my terms – doing subjects that I love. I would like to do a series of British wildlife as there are so many amazing British animals that people don’t get to see. It would be great to do a collection and start selling them.”
If you would like to draw on Clay’s experience as an artist, illustrator and designer, we are delighted to invite you to sign up for his class – simply click the button below to read all about his upcoming two day workshop.