Meet Andrew Kolb, illustrator and children’s author extraordinaire of Kolb Is Neat. Andrew’s colourful illustrations and modern spin on old-school classics — including Scooby Doo and The Ninja Turtles — make him a fan favourite among children and nostalgic adults, alike. Kolb is based in Toronto and Kitchener, but you’ll see his work across North America, whether in a gallery (California’s Gallery 1988 and Toronto’s NXNE); at your local bookstores; or out and about (Toronto Zoo, Target). Discover how Andrew broke into the notoriously tricky illustration industry; his recently published children’s book, Edmund Unravels; and his answer to the age old question: Star Wars or Star Trek?
TCT: Graphic design and the illustration business isn’t an easy venture to break into! How did you get your start in the industry?
Andrew: Well I first studied design and found I was illustrating 95 percent of my assignments and projects. This carried over into my early professional days when I was a junior at a few agencies. Eventually, I realized I was dreading the design gigs WITHOUT illustration and that perhaps illustration is where I belong. I certainly don’t regret my time as a designer since it’s heavily influenced my work as an illustrator, but I certainly prefer one over the other. As to breaking into illustration, that came from just constantly posting my work online. While I was discovering what I could and couldn’t achieve as an illustrator, I was sharing my work online, and eventually that lead to a few gallery and commercial projects. There were also a lot of cold calls and emails as well. Eventually, the smaller projects lead to bigger projects and everything works out if you stay dedicated and are receptive to what’s working and what isn’t. I don’t think I answered the question at all.
TCT: We love your ‘About Me’ section on your website, where you write ‘I draw pictures and tell stories. Sometimes my pictures tell a story and that’s when I have the most fun.’ When creating narratives — such as your children’s book Edmund Unravels — what comes first: the illustrations or the words?
Andrew: Hey thanks! This isn’t an exciting answer but… it depends. Sometimes the image comes first and then a story evolves out of that. Sometimes the opposite is true. Either way, I make sure they both complement each other. If the words come first, then they’ll still change and evolve once the pictures come into play. No matter what, it’ll be a symbiotic process of growth, and in that, I’m at my happiest.
TCT: What is the most interesting illustration gig you’ve taken on?
Andrew: I recently finished the artwork for a card game (a pub game of sorts) that was a lot of fun. The functionality of something like that was a challenge that I’d never come across before, so as of right now, it’s the one that stands out.
TCT: What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the illustration business?
Andrew: Keep at it and don’t give up. It’s not exciting or groundbreaking, but it’s true. You have to keep pushing your work to better yourself as an artist, and by sharing that work, you’ll be more likely to have it land in front of the eyes of someone who wants to hire you. Keep creating and continue to share it.
TCT: What’s next?
Andrew: Oh, lots of stuff! I guess the biggest thing is my next picture book (title TBD) about a pair of feet that have very different opinions on what type of socks to wear. Other than that, I’m working away on personal and professional work, as well as teaching!
TCT: Who would be your dream client?
Andrew: I consider myself very lucky that I’ve had the chance to work with lots of cool people and companies. I suppose a dream client would be something like a school mural or the outside of a building…something really big and challenging.
TCT: What piece of art would you most like to have in your living room?
Andrew: I’ve always loved the ceramic work of Debra Broz.
TCT: What’s the most memorable moment of your career (thus far)?
Andrew: I occasionally visit schools to read Edmund Unravels, and afterwards I usually do a quick drawing lesson. On one occasion, I was about five minutes into demonstrating how I draw Edmund when one of the seven-year-olds raises his hand to ask a question. He then proceeds to tell me that Edmund looks like a blue burger and convinces the class that they should all see it as well. I mean he’s not wrong, but it was less of a question and more of statement, so he’s destined for comment section greatness.
TCT: And finally, a few quickfire questions…
Apple or Android? Apple
Paperback or e-reader? Paperback
Love or friendship? Friendship
Ice cream or doughnuts? Doughnuts
Train or plane? Train (but only if there’s a crime to be solved)
Tell us: Star Wars or Star Trek? Yes
Interview by Alix Hall