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Work / Illustration

A chat with illustrator William Davey about sketchbooks and his parent’s shed

Illustrator William Davey’s creative career began in his parent’s shed. “I’m from the south west of England, deep in the countryside, where the shed is central to daily life,” William tells It’s Nice That. “As a result, I grew up encouraged to make things in tandem with my dad fixing the car or making a rabbit hutch.”

No matter what William (or his dad) were working on, drawing was traditionally “a precursor to my experiments in the shed and became the principal and the most immediate way to make,” he explains. Since then, drawing has slowly but surely become the counterpart of William’s creative practice that we know him for, discovering his work as part of a typeface specimen by Bold Decisions last year.

“The single rule I maintain is to make, and I’ve adopted a thinking-through-making approach,” says the illustrator. “I sometimes don’t know where experiments or tests will lead but subsequently large projects have resulted from those initially insignificant ideas.” Consequently, William’s portfolio is a flurry of illustrations depicting different subjects, always drawn in his signature style that gives the impression of a ballpoint pen gliding across the page.

In terms of the subjects William illustrates his “independent practice often revolves around militarised landscape, place, humour and irony,” he explains. “I hold a particular interest in Britain, its eccentricities and special interest groups that are singular to its culture.” The illustrator’s back catalogue has led him to a recent project, “working on an artist book about a former military airfield in Suffolk with Italian print studio, Opificio della Rosa,” to be launched in March. “Ultimately, I’d like to focus on more self-initiated projects exploring place, historical narratives and site-specific work.”

To show his already blooming self-initiated projects, William sent us a number of scans from his sketchbooks, “an essential tool in my practice,” he explains. Sketchbooks, filled with the start of an idea and often dog-eared with enthusiastic drawings, also give us an insight into how his larger pieces begin to build up. “I keep a variety of different ones for different purposes: doodle books, sketchbooks for memory drawings, location or observational drawing etc,” William points out. “Many of them have become objects in their own right or significantly informed subsequent projects. The role of the sketchbook may vary but it is vital to my process.”

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