Focus explores the creative talent within the climbing community.
London-based climber and artist and designer Thomas Anthony sees synergies between his work and the sport that go further than just taking inspiration from the outdoors. He believes the two involve a similar problem-solving mindset to find the most efficient method. French born, he has worked for clients such as The New Yorker, Google, Liberty, The New York Times and Penguin.
How did you first develop your skills as an artist and designer?
It’s pretty classic I think. I have been drawing since I was a kid and later as a teenager I used to copy the pages of French comic books. But it’s only while studying product design that I really discovered illustration, on paper but also in the street where I used to paint animals. After graduating I moved to London and realized it could be a career path so I jumped in. Since then I have been working as a freelance illustrator, but also painting and designing limited edition objects.
You have a very distinctive and in many ways classic style. How did you develop it?
It came organically. It’s the result of experimentation with diverse techniques and influences. Once I found a process I was comfortable with and that worked well with my personality, I used it as a base—but it’s never set in stone. It keeps evolving a little everyday. I then developed a technique that would allow me to work with the same logic on paper with paint. That experience also modified a little the way I approach digital work; they are now feeding each other and that’s very interesting.
How does that process work for you? What goes into producing a piece from ideation to completion?
It usually starts with small thumbnails in a sketchbook, that’s where I develop the ideas. They come from observations or as visual solutions to a brief, then I move to the computer to refine them and see if they work as an image. Once that’s done, the process of actually drawing it starts. I spend a long time perfecting everything; sometimes fine tuning the colors can be more time consuming than creating the shapes themselves. Luckily, for each image it’s a bit different. I will struggle on different things and that’s what keeps it interesting. For paintings it’s more or less the same except the computer phase is much shorter, it’s usually more to plan everything. Once it’s all ready, I will then use a custom technique I developed over the years to transfer it to paper. I mainly paint with gouache, trying to achieve a similar feel to my digital work.
Where do you find inspiration for your work? Has climbing had an impact on how you approach it?
I find inspiration everywhere, in photography, cinema, painting—but also outside, a specific light or shadow might trigger something. I love climbing because it requires total focus. At precise moments you can’t think about anything else. I enjoy being completely cut off from work. I think for me these two activities are complementary, the process is somehow similar, they are both creative and involve problem solving. In my work I try to simplify things as much as possible, to find the most efficient way to tell a story, and I guess that’s also true for climbing. By trying different beta, refining body position, optimizing movements, I am also trying to be the most efficient with the holds I have. There is also a clear aesthetic link, it’s the lines, colors and shapes that drives our desire to climb a specific route or boulder. The very same that will make you dive into an image!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to follow a similar path?
I would say the best thing is to work hard, follow your instincts and stay true to yourself. Focus on work you enjoy doing and eventually people will notice it. A creative career is not easy, but can be very rewarding. It’s also great to a have other points of interest; for me climbing is that gate to a different world. It’s all about balance between work and fun, in climbing and in design!