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An Interview With Stephen Millership

Stephen’s artwork revisits a classic era of poster design, taking many elements of popular retro travel art while remaining current and vibrant. 

How long have you been illustrating for?
Since I was a child, my Mum says I always had a pencil in my hand.

How do you work?
I work in Adobe Illustrator, I like to do as much research as possible into the subject, using mainly the internet to find reference to architecture, landscape or transport. I often portray the subject in quite a dramatic perspective and I find the illustrator programme ideal for this.

What’s your background?
After studying Graphic Design at college in the early eighties I found employment in design studios in around Manchester. This was pre-computer days so it was all scalpels, art board, magic markers and spray mount. In 1992 I was offered a job in a computer games firm, who trained me to use a computer and I loved it. After well over twenty years making games I was made redundant for the second time and decided to pursue my first love, illustration.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?
The ability to capture the feeling of a place or subject as economically as possible is very important for me.

Explain what you do in 100 words
The style of my art draws on the classic travel posters of the 1930’s and the optimism for the future portrayed in many of these vintage works. I have illustrated Tudor halls, rolling countryside and the concrete Brutalism of the 1970’s. I think this wide subject range is a reflection of growing up with heavy industry and being surrounded by rural Derbyshire. I aim to make the unattractive, attractive, to give a greater appreciation of loved and some not so loved subjects.

What art do you most identify with?
I have to say the classic era of the travel poster, I admire the freshness of design that the constraints of the production method imposed. I love the work of Tom Purvis for it’s stripped down beauty, it is so evocative of the 1930’s but still very contemporary and much copied even today.

What work do you most enjoying doing?
Transport-related subjects are something I am becoming very fond of, I like to try and capture the feeling of speed.

What themes do you pursue?
Landmarks, Cathedrals, transport, landscapes, brutalism and I am very fond of Scotland.

What’s your favourite artwork?
House by Rachel Whiteread, in 1993 she cast the interior of a Victorian terrace in concrete and described it as “Mummifying the air” It was like looking at solid negative space, it really got to me, imagine what the walls of the now-demolished house had witnessed over the years.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
I wanted to do a poster for my hometown of Ilkeston in Derbyshire, the original idea was to encourage people to use the flagging market. I had worked on the market as a teenager when it was thriving, with the decline of the steelworks, pits and the garments industries and the dominance of supermarkets the market was a shadow of its former self. I then thought, why stop there, Ilkeston has so many lovely views, so I did two more illustrations and contacted the local Museum, they loved them and asked for another 10. It feels great to celebrate my hometown in the travel poster style and recently I have produced an image to celebrate the reopening of one of the three railway stations that were closed in the 1960’s.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
As a teenager I worked many years on an outdoor market, then in kitchens washing up. I also had stint helping a removals firm, which didn’t last long as I suffered from motion sickness.

Why art?
I have always been able to draw, it comes from my mother who when I was young used to paint landscapes in oils.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I am lucky to have had a good reception to my work, the exhibition of original classic rail posters at Weston super Mare, organised by Richard Furness of the Poster to Poster books fame, stands out. My work was included with the greats of the genre, Purvis, Wilkinson, Cuneo, and people seemed to love it, a true honour for me.

What do you dislike about the art world?
The Artworld can get a little snobby and exclusive, at the other end of the scale it can be difficult to make a living from it.

What do you like about your work?
I like the fact that I produce work for prints and other merchandise, as a consequence it is affordable. Also, because I portray locations, some of which are not so well known, they can help people celebrate their locality.

What research do you do?
As mentioned previously, the internet is invaluable but I also visit places with my camera or sketchbook if possible. I like the idea of knowing more about a subject once the work is finished.

What is your dream project?
I think I have already had it, I fulfilled a childhood dream last year and illustrated a Ladybird book called Super Structures, this is published in May, I can’t wait to see it.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
Tom Purvis, Norman Wilkinson and Brian Cook.

Favourite or most inspirational place?
The Isle of Jura.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Regarding Art, it’s not what you put in it’s what you leave out that matters.

Professionally, what’s your goal?
I’d like to do another book for Ladybird or two, but mainly to carry on illustrating, enjoying your work is such a rare and wonderful thing.

How did you get into creating Travel Posters?
My favourite ever view is a place called Lagg looking up the east coast of the Isle of Jura. I took a photograph of the view and realised it looked like a travel poster. I researched the art of the rail poster and created my first 1930’s inspired image, that is what got the ball rolling for me.

Out of all of the locations you’ve illustrated, which was your favourite and why?
So far it has to be my Spaghetti Junction poster in the Lost Destination series. I was struggling trying to find a reference for the angle I wanted, in a Eureka moment I realised it didn’t really have to stick to reality as long as the image conveyed the feel of the place. I treated the subject as pure design and the finished result was all the better for this approach.

Do you have any new locations potentially coming soon?
I am working on Wells Cathedral, this kind of intricate architecture is always a challenge but I like learning about places that are new to me.

Which location would you be most keen to illustrate that you haven’t already and why?
When I was a kid I had a painting by numbers book which included the Taj Mahal at sunset, I still remember the pinks and oranges, I’d like to redo it without the aid of numbers.


Explore the complete Stephen Millership range here.

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1 comment

  • I love Stephen’s work!

    Thomas Gladding on

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