Interview with Adrian Forrow
Adrian is an award-winning multidisciplinary Artist and Illustrator living in Toronto with work that spans the globe. His work has been published by The New Yorker, The Walrus, Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, Bloomberg Business Week and The Globe and Mail.
Adrian Forrow’s Website + Instagram
While freelancing, collaborating on projects big and small, tactile and strategic, Adrian teaches conceptual narrative and media at OCAD University in Toronto. Lecturing at the same university he graduated from having won the Merit Award for his outstanding achievements in their Illustration Program.
On his website it states that he believes “in nurturing, training and building up the next generation of artists in Toronto”, it was this line that gave me the confidence to press send on my initial email to him.
While visiting Toronto based Colour Code Printing in early August I came across your beautiful abstract three colour zine “Modern Lovers”. The combination of colours paired with your warm, intricate, conceptual illustrations spoke to me; I was wondering if you could go into this project a little more for me?
Modern lovers was a project That I used to experiment with some sequential Narrative stuff. I really love narrative images and wanted to build more experience creating a piece of work that was unlike most of my commercial work.
I also wanted the project to be less precious and have fun making something that was a bit outside of my regular client workflow. As of recent, I am interested in more elaborated story telling. The Modern Lovers zine seemed like a fun way to try to challenge myself.
Across your portfolio of work, it’s impressive to see the variety of mediums that your work has been applied to, ranging from coffee cups, eyeglass cloths, t-shirts to printed magazines and large-scale murals. Would you say you have a favourite way of working? Bridging that gap from digital to completed printworks has been a real joy for me, is there something that you would like the opportunity to do more of and what are you enjoying just now?
I’m really into the collaborative process. I find the challenge of a new material captivating. I love it when my work can “live”, out in the word in a useful way. Having my work on objects of all sizes pleases me to know that people can interact with the art in a more personal way.
I also try to be as diverse as possible with the projects I take on. After all, variety is the spice of life. Taking on these diverse projects has really helped to challenged and motivate me.
I love process. I’m interested in tools and equipment. Printmaking has always been a big influence on me. I love playing with layers, registration, and overlapping transparent colours. More and more I am feeling fulfilled by being less precious about my practice. I am trying to embrace accidents and start something without fully knowing how it will turn out. I can overthink things and get obsessive.
when I look back on my work I am often more pleased with the crude sketch in my sketchbook than the final rendering. working digitally is amazing for the amount of possibilities at your fingertips but I still love pushing paint around and using my hands. I still try to make that a part of digital work that produces.
I recently took some pottery classes and I’m using resin to fix some surfboards. It might be fun to try to somehow combine the two?
Viewing your work it can be seen that Risograph printing would compliment any one of your projects, could you tell me what it was that led you to your first print?
For me, it was Glasgow’s Risotto studio‘s first sample pack, the textures and vibrancy of their colours led me to a print order almost immediately after receiving it. I would say I didn’t even really consider what I would do with posters at the time; I just wanted to get my hands on something printed by them.
As I mentioned, I have always loved printmaking, especially screen printing for its unique layering aesthetic. I’ve always had a small studio that proved difficult to modify it for all the screen printing equipment. When I first saw Risograph prints I was blown away by its similarity to screen printing with such minimal equipment.
My Japanese friend gave me a bunch of Riso prints from the artist http://100orange.net/ for my birthday. I remember being baffled as to how they were printed. I started to do some research and that began my love affair with the Risograph.
Working as a freelancer and a tutor at the same time must be great for your students, is this pretty commonplace for tutors at OCAD? To have that ongoing real-world experience must benefit your classes, I have recently left University, and I’m finding my feet freelancing, is there any key conversations that come up regularly with your students?
I think my experience as a currently working Freelance artist is a benefit to my students. The industry is in constant flux so my assignments and expectations reflect the experiences I have encountered, hopefully equipping my students with an understanding of how the industry can work.
I also learn a ton from my students. I really respect their artistic journey and I trip out on their progress. It’s motivating to me as well.
I mostly teach 1st and second-year students. Most of my students are really concerned about “style” and getting one. It’s a hard subject to address. Everyone’s experience is different but the common thread is usually experimentation and drawing/making a lot of diverse things. Focusing on “getting a style” usually ends up becoming derivative and less authentic.
Over the time we’ve been in contact you’ve been juggling several freelance jobs, how do you find managing the work-life balance? Is it something that you’re still learning to do or did you adapt quickly? A friend of mine and dog owner once gave me the simple advice “whether there was a dog in the flat or not, I always had to walk the dog”, taking that time outside was an essential part of giving himself the break he needed to work effectively.
Haha! great analogy. I really love being busy. I embrace the challenge and use it to motivate me to do more. That being said it is important to give yourself time to think and be away from your work. I always joke that I am a bad employer to myself. When I dive into a project I usually put all other aspects of life on pause. This sometimes includes eating drinking and sleeping. I rarely take breaks and feel overwhelmed with guilt when I do.
I’m getting better at resting and dealing with the guilt. When I go outside and ride my bike, travel, camp, surf, I realise how important it is to live and have experiences away from the studio.
My wife and I just rescued a puppy and she is teaching us to take time for ourselves and be more calculated with our work habits. I’m better at the balance than I used to be but it’s still a work in progress.
Is there anything you have coming up that I can highlight here for you? Possibly an item for sale via your shop or an upcoming project?
There have been some preliminary talks about working with a friend and their local surf brand to create some custom screen printed collateral and possibly some graphics for a custom surfboard.
I really hope we can make something together because I’ve wanted to work with this friend and his business since it started a few years ago. The brand is more than a shop and has created/supported a diverse community of people, motivated to get outside and improve the way we access our local waterfront. It should be a fun project!
Other than that I hope to hop into the driver seat and try to organise a thematic group show for some local artists and friends in the summer of 2019.
I’m also trying to combine travel with large-scale mural projects and hope to work with some friends to beautify urban spaces abroad.