Toronto-based illustrator Adrian Forrow’s work explores the inner-workings of his imagination, inventing bright objects and playful worlds into existence. You might’ve already encountered his art: his expansive illustrations have appeared in publications like The New Yorker, The Walrus, and The Globe & Mail. He’s also partnered with organizations like The Toronto Raptors and Wayhome Music Festival. Outside of his practice, Adrian is an instructor at OCAD U. Adrian created the visuals for BonLook’s latest collection for men, called BIO, eyewear crafted in biodegradable acetate. We spoke to him about what influenced the art for this collection, his process, and how he gets out of a creative rut.
Photos: Adrian Forrow
Tell us about your journey towards becoming an artist
I’ve always enjoyed making things and had a natural-born curiosity, so I guess that’s where the creativity stems from. As for becoming an artist, my best friend’s dad was an illustrator and that showed me how I could turn this creativity into a career. As I got older, I realized what made me happiest was making things. School helped me focus on my interest in image-making and I became enthralled with creative communication through visual imagery.
What inspired the work you did for BonLook’s biodegradable acetate collection, BIO?
The natural world has been a common thread throughout my practice, so this project was a dream come true. The imagery for BIO came from reference illustrations often seen in scientific journals about newly discovered or rare natural specimens, kind of like Darwin's early sketches or the work of Ernst Haeckel. Back then, these kinds of images were drawn in the field as cameras weren’t widely available. I wanted to simplify these stylistic representations of the natural world and borrow some of the flattened shapes, rethinking the way each element could be arranged to fit within each other's positive and negative space in a composition. I also wanted the imagery to connote a sense of discovery by playing with the variety and simplification of form. I gave objects and animals faces to play into that which gave this work a friendly vibe.
How does partnering with brands influence the work you do?
I think of my practice being highly collaborative. I love working with specific clients to create bespoke imagery for a certain product or need. I think illustration can help remind consumers that there are people behind the brand, and they care about your experience. This is especially important given that, more and more, we’re being driven to digital spaces. Developing imagery for a brand and their needs poses some fresh and exciting challenges that can be distinct compared to a traditional editorial illustration (such as the artwork done for a magazine). I love editorial illustration, but the scope of a large window display engages with an audience in a different (and compelling) way. It’s highly interactive and hopefully makes the person’s shopping experience that much more pleasant.
Tell us about your creative process. What helps you get started on a new project?
My process can change depending on the ask, but it almost always starts with a conversation to discuss the client’s wants and what the limitations are, if any. I always try to define the scope of the project before I start sketching. Once I understand the parameters, I devote serious time to pushing a pencil around my sketchbook to play with the themes. I try to stay away from digital tools in the beginning, as this is my “mistake” and “exploration” stage. It's too easy to edit or remove when I draw digitally so I find sketching on paper helps the work feel unexpected and authentic to my creative voice.
How do you overcome creative blocks when there’s a deadline looming?
I love deadlines. They’re kind of exciting, in a way. I still get stressed out sometimes, but I love reaching that meditative state when focusing on a task for a period of time. I didn't always feel this way but lately I find that embracing a deadline rather than fearing it has made for less of a creative block. I think it’s important to have interests outside of what I do for work, like walking my dog or riding my bike. That helps get the creative juices flowing.
What travel destination(s) inspire you both on a professional and personal level?
Recently, I visited Oaxaca, and the experience was incredible. There were so many artisans and fantastic colours to take in. (The food was great, too.)
Are there any artists who've been a source of inspiration to you over the years?
I love the older masters of illustration and what they were able to achieve by blurring the lines between illustration, design, and art. Names like Paul Rand, Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser, Bruno Munari, Alexander Girard, Jacob Lawrence and Stuart Davis come to mind.