With its chunky black outlines, wobbly cut-outs and happy, big-nosed faces, Adam Higton’s illustrations are unmistakably his own. Yet he has never rested on this visual niche, always curious and ambitious to learn new skills, which has led his bio to include musician, animator, rug-crafter, author and now teacher.
When we last spoke to Adam, he’d been making rugs, and last summer he exhibited a selection in a group show called Under Your Feet at the Ruthin Crafts Centre in Wales. Since then, he’s been working on a new batch of black and white designs. “As soon as I make about 20 or 30 I would like to organise a solo exhibition somewhere,” he says. As if that wasn’t enough, he also wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Who Am I? published by Nieves, and released an album under his music-making pseudonym Cosmic Neighbourhood, titled Library Vol 1 (more on this later).
His commercial practice has seen him create a piece for The New York Times calling for children on the climate protests to share their signs (below), and the cover of The Guardian’s G2 magazine on New Year’s Day, about getting your life in order in the fresh decade. “It was really fun to work on,” Adam remembers. “The majority of my illustration work comes from Germany or the United States so it was cool to have work in a British paper and go out and pick up a copy from the newsagents.”
Adam’s creative process has evolved in tandem; in his personal work he’s moved from working in limited colours to black and white, mainly to visually separate it from his more colourful commercial work, but also “as a way of further exploring the connection between my collages and my black and white line drawings,” he explains. In his commercial practice, he’s been looking more to pattern and building an archive of patterned blocks (seen on the G2 cover), and making line drawings using cut paper – such as the piece depicting a boy at his window (top).
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Adam had been branching into teaching and plans to get his qualification next year. “It has been really refreshing to spend time talking about art and mentoring students, introducing them to weird and wonderful things,” he says. Before Christmas, Adam ran a workshop on improvisation, bringing his instruments for the students to make music alongside creating a large improvised painting on the wall in response to the sounds. Since the crisis has unfolded, Adam has brought this collaborative spirit online, making colouring-in pages for people to download at home, available by messaging him on Instagram.
Meanwhile, he continues his parallel life as a musician. His latest album, the aforementioned Library Vol 1, is a collection of short instrumental songs recorded on four-track cassette in Adam’s bedroom (Adam playing percussion, drum machine and analogue synth with some experimental backwards sound recordings) with an accompanying animation that sees his brilliantly weird collaged creatures come to life.
“My process with Cosmic Neighbourhood has always been that I will draw in my sketchbook first and then turn the drawings into collages and then turn the collages into carpets, capes, prints or music. Since my last album, I have decided to make the collages using black and white paper so it has a stronger link to my drawing and stands apart from my client-based work.” Adam drew inspiration from Bruce Lacey, his favourite artist – in particular, the Nightmare Robots project – and an animation by Harry Smith called Heaven and Earth Magic.
For this particular animation, the idea, Adam says, was to “make a cape then make a video in the woods of me wearing it, then superimpose animated collages over the top of that. I made the cape and then the animations, but after that, I decided the animated collages worked well on their own and had a strong link to the album cover so it seemed to work OK as it was. Hopefully, once we are allowed to go out again, I’ll make another video outside to go with this one.” The album is released on Kit Records as 10-inch vinyl, available on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes, and soon to be licensed for CD release in Japan.