Mr. Thomas Hedger
Thomas Hedger’s work is like that one song that’ll get stuck inside your head, forcing you to put it on repeat. It’s catchy, memorable and it never gets dull. The familiarity of his drawn spaces, objects and stories, combined with his unlikely use of punchy colour and cheeky scenarios, is reminiscent of cartoons and super 90s-style graphics—fragments of his childhood memories.
And while Hedger’s not an architect, his work oozes with an array of spaces he’s imagined and represented through everything from whimsical perspectives all the way to colourful axonometrics—brilliant, yet habitual spaces which our imaginations get transported to. His illustrations are mature and smart while being uncompromisingly jovial, and although Hedger’s young—a student at Central Saint Martins—his portfolio boasts commissions from The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Urban Outfitters, Creative Review, Airbnb and Intern Magazine.
Learning about your work has been interesting in the sense that although, at first, what caught my attention was your vivid use of colour, the more I look at your drawings, the more architectural they become. How do space and architecture influence your illustrations?
I was first introduced to architectural drawing after an internship with an architectural firm when I was in high school. I liked the technical accuracy of line structure and started to experiment and incorporate this into my own drawings. The use of space and the placement of an image on a page had always played a part in how I presented my work.
I think your style is relatable to designers working in architecture-related fields because they’re reminiscent of floor plans, elevations, sections, axonometrics and perspectives drawn on AutoCAD. Is this something that you’ve done consciously?
No, it wasn’t conscious, but in hindsight I did use Google SketchUp. It was free, new at the time and easily accessible. It opened my eyes up to the possibility of digital drawing. I wasn’t drawing buildings though, I was drawing weird objects and organic shapes—crustacean inspired spikey domes, that kind of thing—but it was a lot of lines snapping to grids, all very accurate. You typed in increments of measurements, so I had to approach drawings in this very premeditated, precise way. When experimenting with vectors in other software alongside using SketchUp, it was like muscle memory.
Illustration is, to a great extent, about storytelling. What kind of stories does your work tell? And, secondly, how does the space or setting of those stories help tell your narrative?
Yeah, it’s definitely storytelling. You have to build up a whole visual narrative within one image and the space really builds the mood and sets the scene for whatever is going on. The positioning and filling of the space and how you frame images can really define it. Colour is the other element to the narrative but it can sometimes be subtracted, whereas space can’t. In my work, stories travel between sublime fantasy and capturing and amplifying something small into something that consumes a whole image. But professional work often has to show something in a more instantaneously recognizable way.
From what I see on your social media, you’re constantly working on new ideas, as well as ways of manipulating the space and line. What’s your creative process like?
It’s not really a creative process, or at least not a methodical one. An observation usually turns into an idea, and I then send myself an email with the idea written down so that I can start drawing it whenever I can. Sometimes when I start drawing, the idea evolves into a completely different image, depending on how the shapes turn out, and especially if I make a mistake and end up with a nice stroke. The story always relates back to the original idea though but the presentation might be different from how I first imagined. I think I’ve got around 600 unread self-sent emails in my inbox now.
You often play with perspective. Sometimes you flatten out a perspective with orthogonal lines but still maintaining the effect of depth, while others you’re much more traditional. Is the decision to manipulate space this way purely aesthetic or is there something else to it?
It’s both. Sometimes if there are a lot of things I want to put into one image, you wouldn’t necessarily see it all if using traditional perspective, so I manipulate the space to get what I want to in, in the most aesthetically pleasing way I can.
I think your work offers so much potential, I can’t help but wonder if you’re interested in exploring how it might translate in three dimensions.
Yeah definitely, I would like to do some physical 3D work. I have had some clay hanging around for a while but it hasn’t transformed into anything yet.
We’ve worked together on the cover of LOBBY No. 5, on the illustration for one of the issue’s articles, on mobile phone wallpapers and even on tote bags. But we’d actually never met in person! I’m curious, is being funny a characteristic of your day-to-day personality, or would you say that it’s something that illustration has allowed you to express?
It depends who you talk to! I think I’m more reserved than my drawings but I do like to express myself.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading Descent of Man by T. Coraghessan Boyle—dark short stories with twists that I can read in the Tube.
What can you tell me about being a young illustrator in London? How does being part of the city’s creative scene inform your work?
So many people, so many overheard conversations, so many more emails to myself.
There are a lot of places and spaces in your portfolio. Are these illustrated spaces imagined or are they real?
They might be based on bits of reality – the imagined spaces can have real sets with proportion in mind but the real spaces are never represented exactly as they are.
That might be why I don’t really recognise the places you draw. But they do feel familiar. Does London itself ever play a role in your illustrations?
Yeah definitely, but as I said above they’re often fragmented or anonymous looking buildings. I guess anyone can imagine the drawing to be anywhere and make it their own in that sense.
What’s your favourite place to work?
I think it has to be my own desk. It’s your own space that you create for this very reason and if it’s not your favourite spot to work at it might make things difficult. If I do venture out to draw, the view from the Tate can’t be beaten.
–Images courtesy of Thomas Hedger. To view more of his work, click here.
–Portrait image by Aurelie Garnier. To see her work, click here.