Harry Ward is one of the fastest emerging digital artists in the UK scene right now. Hailing from Bolton in England’s north, Harry’s work is routed in modern pop culture and the UK music scene – providing work for the likes of Guvna B, D Double E, and the BBC. We had a quick conversation about what he’s done, what he’s doing, and what he plans to do in the visual arts scene through 2020 and beyond.
You’ve had a quick, quick rise in working in the UK creative scene – especially working with musicians and pop culture. There’s a real mix of Sam Spratt and Reuben Dangoor going on in your current portfolio – from your music covers to your D-Double illustration. What do you put that down to outside of how skilled a painter you are? A lot of people might just put it down to luck, but I can imagine there a lot more work that goes on behind the scenes.
I guess it’s been down to putting out content as consistently as I can. I tailor my personal work towards the projects I’d like to get commissioned for and do what I can to get those pieces in front of the people that can hire me. I can trace most of my commissions back to a certain piece of personal work that caught the eye of a client.
That’s a good strategic way of planning, and I guess it’s exponential with the more commissions you do. Can you talk us through some of your commissions and how some of them have come about specifically?
A good example would be my recent work for Guvna B. This came directly from my work for his good friend Barney Artist. Subsequently, my work for Barney can be traced back to a certain piece of personal work I had created quite some time before, illustrations of his good mates Loyle Carner and Tom Misch. I found out later that Barney had seen this piece and had kept me in mind for some work further down the line. You never know who’s aware of what you’re doing or who may want to work together but the right project isn’t there just yet. You also don’t know the intricate links between people and where one piece of work could take you.
I love that work, it’s got that good, authentic feel that I think cover art needs to start engaging with. It’s crazy to think you only need one link to make everything fall in to place, like, who knows how high up our work and ideas have been seen? Not even the face names either, there’s a lot of people behind the scenes that are important to that whole system too.
Exactly right, that’s why it’s very important to keep producing work and staying consistent. You never know who’s paying attention.
You’ve spoken to me before about being from Bolton, which isn’t necessarily one of the first places people think of when it comes to UK art. Can you outline what it’s like being an artist from there? How different you think it is in comparison to being an artist in, say, London or Liverpool?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure there is a difference. Granted I’ve had to turn down a couple exhibitions down in London, but apart from that I’ve not felt any disadvantage with being from Bolton. Everyone is connected online, and without leaving my studio I can become fully immersed in the illustration world. We can have conversations like this. I can share my work on my website and Instagram which is my own personal online gallery and I can get in touch directly with potential clients. We live in a time where it doesn’t matter where you’re based – you don’t even have to leave your house – and you can still get stuck into the art world.
Yeah, I think you’ve summed it up well there. There will always be struggles location wise, but being a digital artist online, there’s easier ways to get your work out there in front of the right eyes. I think websites are definitely the way to for digital artists especially, it’s like building your own gallery from the ground up, unlike having to sort all the connections, printing, and travelling needed for a physical exhibition. Is it tough knowing you have those opportunities in front of you and knowing you might have to turn them down because of something like travel? What have you/can you learn from that?
Although it is a little disappointing when I have to turn things down, it doesn’t mean I can’t get involved in events down in London for example, I just have to choose more carefully what’s worth the cost of travel. As my career progresses, and I hopefully start to earn more, money won’t be a factor and I’ll be able to travel wherever the work takes me. I’m still very much at the start of my career and I’m still working everything out. I suppose I’ve learned how to find different methods to ‘exhibit’ but in the online space on sites like Behance, PosterSpy, AOI, Instagram, Twitter and more.
I guess everything like that is a lesson though, sometimes it’s better to seek the lessons from rejection than the rewards of acceptance, especially when you’re earlier on in your freelance career. I remember my first exhibition down in London thinking – mad – how am I gonna get two canvases down there, afford everything, and actually make something of the day? But it’s then that you realise that there’s a lot of people and companies around that are there to help people. The visual art scene gets a lot of stick from people on the outside for a lack of support sometimes, but when you look under the surface you realise just how much work people put in to these sorts of things.
I’ve found that everyone in the industry I’ve come across so far has been very supportive and helpful, there’s been times where I needed to ask advice from other illustrators, yourself included, and it’s been very beneficial. I sense a real community of people wanting to see others succeed. Although it’s a very competitive industry, I feel like there’s a bit of tribe mentality between creatives, we feed off each other and push each other to be the best we can.
It all paves the way, really. With digital art being so fresh, I don’t think anyone knows what’s down the line. Being an artist is tough, but when the medium you’re working in has barely matured, it’s even harder. Your development from when we first spoke has been crazy though, so, to me, it feels like you’re on track to carry the torch for digital art.
Thank you for your kind words man, it’s exciting to see where things go this is just the start.
What’s the story behind your start? How did you come about being a digital artist?
The main thing that first attracted me towards digital painting was the freedom – the thought of having hundreds of different brushes that created different marks ready to go with a click was really exciting. Mistakes didn’t matter, I could fully explore my creative range and quickly I realised you could create a realistic painterly aesthetic through the digital medium. This, to me, was much more engaging then traditional methods, so I’ve stuck with it. The skills between digital and traditional are transferable, so I still pick up a pencil and have a sketch. It’s a nice change to have that tactile experience, but I can’t see myself going back to traditional methods any time soon.
We’re at the very beginning of a new ‘art genre’ or new art medium in the form of digital art too. I always like to think the Instagram, pop-culture approach to digital art we see today will be like the Upper Paleolithic cave art we study so hard today, how their work documented the world around them the same way we do now. Can you talk to us about some of the trend setting artists you follow, and which of these inspire you the most?
There are countless artists who inspire me but some of my personal favourites include Rory Kurtz, Ignacio RC, Dave Merrel, Berret Chapman, Grzegorz Domaradzki and of course the two fantastic artists you mentioned before, Sam Spratt and Reuben Dangoor. I’m also very inspired by people like Freya Betts and yourself who are, like me, in the earlier stages of their career. It’s nice to see how other fellow artists progress through the industry and build a community together.
Sam Spratt and Reuben have done crazy levels from early – they’re definitely at the top when it comes to digital painting and illustration. I think people like you and me, like you said, early on in their career, are reaping the rewards of their hard work too because people take the whole medium a lot more seriously. Is the path that they have gone down the way you see yourself going? Or have you got your eyes of different things? Bearing in mind your technique and network has developed as quickly as it has this early.
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, I know I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without those artists you’ve mentioned. I would never have realised what types of projects that were possible. If I could go down a similar path as them I would be a very happy man, but I’m not expecting anything. Putting out consistent and relevant work which could help me progress to where I want to be is my main focus.
It’s good getting your perspective on things, and it’ll be good to talk to you again in a few years to see just how much changes. Last up, can we what can we expect from you in the rest of 2020? Do you have anything specific planned, or is it just a case of seeing where the work takes you?
It’s been a pleasure, thanks for reaching out. In terms of what I’m up too, I’m focussing on getting my portfolios in order and reaching out to potential clients. There’s a few more pieces of album art on the way soon along with a variety of personal work which I’m feeling really good about. I have my studiohaytch profile running alongside my Illustration work, so you can expect plenty more hip-hop prints, stickers and all of that good stuff. You can find all my work here.
You can find more of Harry’s work online: