Knomo have partnered with Microsoft Surface to celebrate People of Action. In this series, we share the stories of these creative, mobile and innovative individuals who are bringing brilliant ideas to life.
Phil, thanks so much for joining us. In a sentence can tell us what you ‘do’?
I am a freelance digital artist who (mainly) specialises is creating emotive, loose and painterly digital portraiture and art on the Microsoft Surface Pro – for global editorial work, brand campaigns and private commissions.
You can see Phil's online portfolio at www.philgallowaydraws.co.uk
How did the whole journey to becoming a digital artist begin?
I have always doodled, painted and drawn throughout my life and went on to study an Art History Masters at University, but up until a few years ago I hadn’t delved into the mysterious and fantastical world of digital art.
After University ‘life’ tended to get in the way of my art career and I eventually began working in special educational and behavioural needs schools. Although I am hugely proud of running small referral schools and helping so many young people back onto a meaningful, happier path and achieve their qualifications, I never saw this as my true passion and career for life. Art always was there, niggling away at me and began to consume most of my free time as I tried to forge a path into this creative world.
My journey and initial dalliance with digital art began after a social engagement team at Microsoft saw my moans on Twitter about my mobile phone at the time. I was becoming disillusioned with the phone and saw it as a means for consuming and indulging rather than creating and this concerned me. My plight struck a chord with Microsoft and they very kindly sent me a ‘phablet’ phone to trial for a few weeks. It was during this time that I first tried digital paint and created loose finger paintings and doodles.
It was like a light bulb flashed in my head as I was blown away by how far technology had come and what I had been missing out on! Ideas raced through my mind as I could now feasibly produce realistic looking paintings quickly with no mess, waste and expense of materials. I could paint and prep paintings anywhere and anytime and didn’t get paint all over the house or dog which was an added bonus.
I managed to upgrade the experience from mobile phone to full Microsoft Surface and the doors really started opening as more people saw my work and as I tried to push the boundaries of what could be achieved digitally to produce increasingly more vibrant and believable works of art.
The added screen size and ability to run such powerful apps and programs allowed me to hugely develop this area of my work and afforded me the opportunity to take the plunge into becoming a full time freelance artist. Microsoft picked up on what I was doing very early on and have been a huge help in supporting and championing me and my art ever since.
What are the key tools you need and use as an artist?
Although I do still paint and draw in traditional mediums, the bulk and majority of my work is now digital pieces which is a lot lighter on the necessary tools needed rather than carting my oil paints and easel around the house.
Now I never have my Microsoft Surface Pro and pen too far away from me, in case I have a moment free to draw or inspiration grabs me. The technology and apps have developed so much that I can sketch out my ideas quickly using the Sketchable app or Artrage Program just like I would pencil on paper. Most of my digital paintings are completed using Artrage which is an unbelievable program that recreates the flow and malleable texture of oil paint amazingly well – allowing me to paint just as I would do if I were squeezing paint from a tube.
These apps combined with the power, screen resolution and pressure sensitivity of the Surface means I don’t need much more other than a table or knee to lean on, a comfy chair to kick back in and a mug of green tea to slurp.
What three things does anyone starting in your industry need to know?
My art career is beginning to flourish and develop in ways and areas I never thought (and at a speed I could scarcely dream of)!
I would say the most important thing when starting out is to practice and hone your own personal style which sets you apart from others and makes your work recognisable. This can take time, but researching and looking at art throughout history can really help you find a style you love and can develop in.
Secondly, I would try to create a social media presence and portfolio website. Twitter has been hugely beneficial for me and I truly love the feedback I receive from my followers. Get your work out there and involved in groups and threads and always be polite and kind to everyone, it will come back to you!
Thirdly, I think it is always good to remember that overnight success in this field and medium is rare and it is always prudent to temper your expectations in the early months of starting out. Viral posts and work being picked up by celebrities can and does happen, but when you chat to other artists, even hugely popular and renowned ones, you quickly realise what a journey they have been on to forge their path to where they are now.
Keep working hard: your work will only benefit and it will begin to get noticed over time.
Finally, can you tell us about your greatest career highlight so far?
Ooft! This is a tough as there has been some crazy moments I couldn’t have imagined happening to me when I was back teaching!
It’s been a whirlwind from being involved in the BT Sport’s Champions Draw competition and seeing my art on tv adverts, to filming in London at Christmas for a Microsoft campaign right through to having the birth of my son announced (and cheered at!) on big screens along with my art around the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
But, I think the highlight so far was being asked to create a huge Renaissance scene for Nike in honour of Francesco Totti, his career and the launching of a new pair of his shiny gold boots. As a huge football fan this was an unbelievable honour and a dream come true, but also being an Art Historian who specialised in Baroque and Renaissance art meant this project blew me away!
This was by far the biggest commission I had received and although it nearly killed me painting such a huge scene in the short timescale I wanted to give it my all and try and create something that hadn’t been seen before for this kind of campaign. The response to the digital painting was truly overwhelming and nearly caused my phone to meltdown due to the constant ping of notifications as it spread around the world and was seen by millions. It was even spotted on Soccer AM which made me spit out my cereal! This piece is easily the highest profile artwork I’ve done to date, it opened doors and opportunities for me but also gave me a huge injection of confidence that I could undertake such a task and succeed.
Brilliant, thanks so much Phil!
Phil uses the Microsoft Surface Pro i7, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM
And carries a water-repellent, roll-top Knomo Cromwell Backpack
With thanks to Alon Zakaim Fine Art where this photoshoot took place.
Alon Zakaim Fine Art strives to be a leader in Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art. Operating from their Mayfair gallery, they deal in a wide range of high quality paintings and sculptures by artists including Monet, Picasso and Chagall.
Their latest exhibition, Dinamicaダイナミック, showcases Italian and Japanese art from the 1950s to the present day, exploring the evolving concepts, aesthetic parallels and thematic connections between artists from both countries who were aspiring to transform and redefine their art in the aftermath of World War II.
Dinamicaダイナミック will be on display at Alon Zakaim Fine Art, 5-7 Dover St. London W1S 4LD until 7 November 2017. 9am-6pm, Monday-Friday.