“I used to think we lived in a styleless age,” says the New York-based illustrator Tug Rice. “Early on, my illustrations tried to infuse some glamour into the world I saw… But now, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and sophistication of this decade.” Tug’s theatrically-realistic style of illustration is less and less seen in contemporary illustration circles, but its elegance and fluidity continue to beguile clients, making his kind of illustration highly commissionable despite its more traditional roots.
His work has been featured in the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal and Travel & Leisure among many more, bringing a sense of old Hollywood to editorial powerhouses. Tug tells It’s Nice That, “I did not see myself becoming an illustrator growing up”, but looking back he remembers, “no matter where I was, or where my focus laid at any point, I was always drawing… I’ve always been doing it – the difference now is that it’s my career.”
Tug’s influences are certifiably cultural. Whether it’s museums, operas or the theatre, Tug is drawn to “anything with pathos”. He prefers Wagner to Mozart, and favours Shakespeare’s tragedies over his comedies. Though such dark undertones fail to carry through to Tug’s seemingly lighthearted illustrations, he rationalises that perhaps his work is in fact “providing a respite from all that dark stuff”.
On his creative process, Tug explains: “I rarely know how a piece is going to turn out when I start it. I’m not big on preliminary sketches as I find that my best work comes when I start playing with all the tools like a scientific experiment.” Following a highly intuitive way of drawing, once he feels a piece is complete, he shares the results with his client. “I can’t say why something is finished, but I almost, always know for certain when.”
Rather unusually, Tug prefers working on commissions to personal work. He enjoys the relationship of trust between a client and an illustrator around a subject that “probably means a lot to them”. The illustrator goes on to say, “the reaction can be very emotional,” as when expectations are successfully met, immense satisfaction can follow. “I’ve had teary-eyed clients say to me, ‘That’s my dad! You captured him perfectly!’ or ‘The feeling of our home really comes through in this painting.’” Unlike many other illustrators, Tug revels in this challenge to serve up the client’s vision through pictorial representation. Through a singular ability to adopt the client’s vision and concept, Tug’s illustrations whole-heartedly reflect a given atmosphere through sleek, feathered lines.