Illustrator and book cover designer Henry Rivers has made it his mission to take on the world from an illustrated perspective. From the crystal beaches of the Côte d’Azur to the tip of an iceberg in Antarctica, his work is an in depth, contemporary exploration of places. We sat down with him over a pint and had a chat about urban cityscapes, living the rural life and why he works with red and blue.
What's your favourite drink at Happy Hour?
A pint of bitter (though it can be hard to find in rural France).
If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
A photographer, or maybe a poker player.
You live in a small town close to Bordeaux. Why did you choose to move there specifically, and what is your favourite part of living ‘the rural life’?
I grew up on the Isle of Wight (a little island off the southern coast of England) and like being close to the sea, so that was one factor. Being close to Bordeaux is also appealing. My fiancée Grace and I love it there and visit the city on weekends quite often. There are loads of great design shops and amazing restaurants; it's not too big so you can walk everywhere and the architecture is beautiful. I also like wine. Although I spend so much time drawing cities, the full-time urban lifestyle is not for me. I prefer taking it in, in smaller doses. I guess I would always choose a few casual drinks in the garden over a night out at a bar. I also love being surrounded by wildlife. There are lots of Hoopoes (which personally I think are by far the coolest birds) in the village where we live. Watching them strut up and down the lawn whilst reading a book outside pretty much sums up what I enjoy most about 'the rural life'.
What city do you dream of visiting someday and why?
Tokyo. I'm obsessed with Murakami books at the moment and have a real craving to go to Japan. I find it fascinating to explore places that have a very different culture and way of life to what I'm used to.
Tell us a little bit more about your fascination with large-scale objects, small details and the interplay between the two.
Tough question! I think for me it started with photography. When I'm photographing a city I don't like the idea of taking a mediocre snapshot of a famous vista or facade that I could just buy on a postcard. Instead, I like to try and find moments or details which capture the true life and energy of each city. My favourite photos are when a moment or detail is combined with a glimpse of a famous landmark, thus placing it in context. When I set off to capture a city in an artwork I take a similar approach.
Why are red and blue such recurrent and prominent colours in your work?
When I started the series (New York was first), the only coloured pens I had in my pencil case were blue and red. I liked the result so decided to run with it; I never really looked back! Sometimes when I get to the digital stage of an artwork I'll experiment with different colours. But, for whatever reason, I usually end up back with a variation of blue and red.
In addition to being an illustrator you’ve also specialised in book cover design. When you take on a project how do you go about creating a cover from start to finish?
My process is pretty clear until the point where I submit a first set of drafts. After that, anything can happen. Balancing feedback from a publisher, author and marketing team can be a real challenge. Here's the straightforward bit:
Step 1. Read a section of the book (to get a feel for the atmosphere and style).
Step 2. Spend a few hours drawing the title of the book over and over again in different arrangements. This is to get a sense of how the words/letters sit together on a page, and how they can align to form part of the design.
Step 3. Draw dozens of quick-fire sketches, testing any idea that comes into my head and never letting myself get attached to one design.
Step 4. Put the sketches away for a few days (or weeks).
Step 5. Return to the sketches with a fresh perspective and see what still seems like a good idea. Then choose two or three to develop into actual drafts. This might involve a bit of watercolour painting, sourcing and editing a photograph, or more sketching.
If we were to step inside your workspace, what would we see?
I'm currently going through a phase of setting up camp in different parts in the house each day, rather than working in a fixed place. The consistent features of my 'nomadic workspace' are blue, red and black pens, a metal scale ruler (a relic from my days as an architecture student), a couple of sketchbooks and my laptop. I'll often have a film playing in the background. I'm learning French at the moment, so it's usually a French film, or a film dubbed into French; today I watched Notting Hill aka 'Coup de foudre à Notting Hill'.
Rio or Cairo?
Cairo. (Although I actually prefer my Rio poster to the Cairo one).