Illustrator Scott Balmer: ‘Taking in what I see and hear can really help in forming ideas’

Scott Balmer is a professional freelance illustrator who is currently based in Scotland, UK. He has produced artwork for numerous clients and galleries from around the world including illustrations for magazines, newspapers,​ and books amongst other things. We were eager to speak to him to find out more about his work and his two distinct styles of illustration…
How did your love of art and illustration form?

I don’t know when it happened exactly, but I’m sure that it was pretty much the same as other creatives in that just like everyone else I have been drawing from an early age. It’s something that I have always done and really liked doing as you didn’t need much in the realms of materials to draw something and it just grew from there.

I do think that the encouragement I got from my parents, school teachers and my peers pushed me to go further whether it was a teacher who commented on the trees I had drawn way back when I was about six, or learning something different like printmaking techniques to help push me further creatively.

I think a little bit of encouragement is all anyone really needs at any age. It’s good to have the opportunity and drive to go into uncharted territory with your art and see where it takes you.

“I think a little bit of encouragement is all anyone really needs at any age. It’s good to have the opportunity and drive to go into uncharted territory with your art and see where it takes you.”

What drove your creative imagination when you were younger?

At one point while growing up I wanted to be an inventor, I’m not sure if it was due to the Back to the Future films or something similar but I used to make drawings of my inventions and how they worked which was usually something like a car covered in contraptions that didn’t really enhance the car nor do anything feasible.

In some ways, I kind of have become an inventor, maybe not in the traditional world-changing technology way, but one who invents things in my drawings whether it is a surreal landscape or something slightly more grounded in reality, so I may have kept that dream alive to some extent.

Can you tell us more about your design background?

It’s something that I rarely do which is a shame due to my illustration career taking front stage, though it is an aspect that I do like to keep up with and it does come in handy when necessary, usually in the form of personal projects such as posters. I might venture down into making a book at some point.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

I like taking nature walks and seeing the wildlife around where I live. Taking in what I see and hear can really help in forming ideas for my next illustration.

What would you say is your strongest skill?

I’m not sure, to be honest, probably figuring out ways to best capture a certain element in my illustrations without making it drawn out and overly complex.

You created an amazing piece for 100 Days. 100 Commissions. Tell us more about it.

Working on the illustration was a fun little project to do and I am glad that I was given the opportunity to make it since things just fell into place with putting it together. It’s nice to have more creative freedom than usual so I pulled all the stops to make sure that the final really stands out and to show how good Affinity Designer is to work with.

‘Space Oddity’ submitted by Scott to 100 Days. 100 Commissions.
What was your first impression of Affinity Designer?

The first-ever time that I had tried Affinity Designer was actually the iOS version which might not have been the best option to start off with since not only did I have to learn working within Affinity Designer but also the extra layer of the touch interface. I did play around with it a bit and was able to see the potential in the app. The feature that stood out most for me was the different personas as switching to the Pixel Persona really made me think of the directions I could take my work in.

“The feature that stood out most for me was the different personas as switching to the Pixel Persona really made me think of the directions I could take my work in. ”

It wasn’t until I picked up the desktop version of Affinity Photo that everything clicked. I opened up one of my illustrations and had a look at it to see how the app structures things on files that are familiar to me. Playing about with Affinity Photo really opened my eyes to how this app would work to the point I picked up Affinity Designer as well and saw that the apps behave similarly.

The beauty of Affinity Designer was that it did things way better than the competition and I found myself working quicker while being more efficient because of things such as pasting shapes inside other shapes. Also, the real icing on the cake was the ability to switch over to the Pixel Persona and paint with brushes without switching to another application to do so.

How would you describe your work?

I actually have two styles which are distinct from one another. They are made differently, though the work here originated from a very retro feel which was then simplified to a certain point while selecting bold colours mixed in with a hint of gradients to create my surreal landscapes.

In fact, this style is inspired by old 70s sci-fi and magazines such as OMNI, which was a scientific journal that had some of the best editorial illustrations at the time.

I think it’s a mixture of the above things that best describes this style.

Do you have a favourite piece of work?

I’m the type who usually finishes off what they were working on and then moves on to the next piece, so I don’t tend to dwell on what I have done in the past that much. Though that doesn’t mean there isn’t a few illustrations that fit this question.

One project would be a series of illustrations I made for the Times Educational Supplement. This was made in my other style that has a nice soft naïve feel to it that fitted well with this particular feature about having animals in the classroom for disabled and vulnerable children.

It’s one of the few projects that I was proud of illustrating for as I felt that I captured the subject matter well with a more personal feel to it that I think came through in the work. Plus, it was great fun putting it together.

Do you prefer to sketch your designs first before converting them into digital format?

To be honest, I normally go all in and make things with some form of an idea of what I am after but nothing too concrete. However, I know that this doesn’t fly well when it comes to making work for clients.

Even for some personal projects I usually start off making small thumbnail sketches where I am more interested in the actual idea, to the point where I feel I have exhausted all options. I then move on to making rough sketches, and since colour plays an important part in my work, the use of colour is utilised in my roughs to show the possible colour hues that I am thinking would work within the subject matter and the overall imagery depicted which could be used in the final.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?

I think it would be maintaining with current clients while also trying to get new clients interested in hiring me.

It’s like a juggling act that’s all about the fine movements and keeping momentum to make sure that I can keep doing illustration for as long as I can.

How do your pieces come together?

I usually start with a few thumbnail drawings where I concentrate more on the general idea rather than how well it’s drawn as it gives me room to fire out as many concepts as possible. I then move on to selecting a few which have potential to take further in rough form (though this is something I do when it comes to working with a client and the odd occasion where I need to figure out things within personal projects).

Then it’s off to creating the final. Once they are finished, they’re sent off to their destination whether it will be in print form or whatever the final product may be.

For how long have you worked professionally?

I actually haven’t kept count. However, it’s been about 10 years since I first started doing freelance.

How would you say your work stands out from others?

Some people may talk about how the shapes within their work or a certain technique may be what makes their work stand out, but I think the main aspect for me would be my ideas and how I capture them within my work whether it is in a personal piece or for a client—this is the one thing that is not easily emulated.

Lastly, what inspires you these days?

Looking at old designers and illustrators work can still inspire me as there is always someone you miss the first time you look around. I do have a soft spot for the old ZX Spectrum which was a very old microcomputer with a very basic method of drawing graphics on a screen. It always stood out to me as it could produce some amazing imagery with only a handful of colours and something that really gets me thinking about my own colour choices.


You can find more of Scott Balmer’s amazing work on his websites: scottbalmer.co.uk and scottbalmervectors.co.uk, his Behance profile and Instagram.