“This city is an enigma” – Reyt Good Illustration’s Andy Slater on Sheffield
We’d had Andy Slater, founder of Reyt Good Illustration, in our sights for a feature ever since he moved into new digs around the corner from Exposed HQ, taking up shop and studio at Kelham Arcade’s cosy hub of independents. This was around the beginning of 2020, and just as we were planning to contact Andy to see how we was settling in and whether he’d be up for featuring in our April issue, a little thing called Covid-19 began making itself known in the UK.
We parked the idea as the magazine went on a pandemic-induced hiatus, but later established contact with the Sheffield artist around November time to see if he’d be up for designing a cover for our January 2021 comeback issue – a publication dedicated to raising spirits and looking ahead to all the wonderful things that’d hopefully be heading our way soon. However, the virus scuppered plans again: a fresh wave of cases and the discovery of a new variant meant another national lockdown was imminent and forced us to call off printing that issue.
But finally, almost a year after life as we knew it was shattered before slowly, delicately beginning its rebuild, we were able to get Andy into Exposed Magazine, put his mood-lifting cover artwork to good use and discuss his journey from frustrated staffer to becoming one of the city’s most in-demand artists. All in good time, eh?
So, let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into illustration?
I was never very academic at all, and I left school wondering what the hell I was going to do. I remember going to get careers advice at school and just telling them that I like drawing. They mentioned graphic design and I had no idea what that was, so they suggested that I do an art and design course first. I did that for two years at Norton College, which I absolutely loved. I remember thinking at the time that I was supposed to do a proper job, rather than just be creative and find your way; I thought the closest thing to that for me was to be a Graphic Designer. I went to Manchester to study Graphic Design, then I worked in the warehouse my dad worked at in the summer just to keep me going. This company employed a Marketing Manager and asked me to help, and then after three to four months they asked me if I wanted to be Marketing Assistant. Of course, I said yes! The Marketing Manager left around three years later, and so they asked me if I wanted to fill the role. Five or six years later I’d worked in the same company for ten years – still wanting to be a graphic designer, but realising that all my experience was in something I hadn’t studied.
Was there a bit of a ‘Eureka’ moment where you realised how you were going to break out of that?
Not as much, but I definitely grew sick of doing something that I’d just fallen into. To be honest, I had a bit of a mental breakdown. I eventually decided that life was too short and took the plunge: handed in my notice, moved back in with my parents, and knowing that ultimately I wanted to do something in drawing and illustration, I set up an Etsy and Instagram page and just went for it.
What were the first illustrations you put out there?
I’d created a few designs that I really loved, and because of my graphic design background, I liked to include wording into my designs. I did a few of these, and the idea really stuck in my mind. I was playing around with greeting cards, got them into a few shops in Sheffield, but it just didn’t feel right. Then I remember one day I sat and created the Sheffield cityscape, and it was then that it just clicked: I enjoy drawing buildings and cities, I’m more into urban than countryside, I like to be lost in a big city. That was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, and it helped me to find my niche.
Your output has increased loads recently, and it feels like you’ve reached a point where you’re really comfortable in your own skin. Would you say this is true?
It’s still really scary to put yourself out there, a very personal thing to do, and if someone doesn’t like something you’ve done, there’s no way of deflecting from that. It’s not like when you just show your mum and dad and they tell you it’s lovely. It’s still quite personal, but you do get over it a bit and begin to put trust in doing what you enjoy. I think if you don’t enjoy it, you might as well just be sat behind a desk; you have to have some confidence in yourself to do illustration. Even though I’ve only just started, I’ve learnt that you can say no to things, too, and there’s strength in that: finding the thing you really want to do as an artist. If I didn’t do that, I’d eventually find myself back in a job that I didn’t want to be doing.
Then I remember one day I sat and created the Sheffield cityscape, and it was then that it just clicked: I enjoy drawing buildings and cities, I’m more into urban than countryside, I like to be lost in a big city.
There’s a recurrent thread of nostalgia running through your work. Is a lot of it linked to personal stories and influences?
It is. There has to be something behind it. A lot of the time people ask me to draw something, but if there’s no passion or history behind it then I can’t. I don’t want to put something out there as me if it’s really not, just for the sake of it being popular. Sometimes people have asked me to draw certain music venue, for example, and if it’s somewhere I didn’t go or feel close to, I’d rather see someone else who had a connection to that place do it.
I think Sheffield, with its quirky buildings and sometimes quite strange local icons, lends itself to that style of art nicely.
Sheffield’s a bit of an enigma as a city, isn’t it? People move here and usually stay, and they don’t quite know why. I think that as Sheffielders we quite like that we can’t put our finger on it, because then it can’t be lost.
It’s a city full of hidden gems and people are proud of them, but in a reserved way. For example, (*pointing at illustration on the wall*) look at somewhere like Yellow Arch Studios and the albums that have been recorded there. It should be famous, but you go outside of Sheffield and no one knows. We quite like the fact it’s on a backstreet in Neepsend; we know what albums were recorded there and that’s enough.
Yeah, and iconic things like Tinsley Towers, which are just very connected to Sheffielders. There are plenty of other nostalgic memories that inspire me: heading down to Castle Market on a Saturday whenever we needed jeans or trainers, and going into the fish market so my mum could bring my Granny back a bag of cockles. All I remember is how much it stank! My Granny used to live in Chapeltown, and we always caught the same bus, this actually features in one of my illustrations, so there are always little personal touches dotted throughout my work.
Reyt Good Illustration has recently taken things up a notch, moving to this lovely new studio and shop space in Kelham Arcade. How has the move been?
It’s great to have my own professional space. I was at Abbeydale Picture House before, which was great for allowing me to have my own space to be creative, but I knew I needed a new place of my own to make me feel like I was doing something for myself. I saw this place in Kelham, and I looked at first thinking I really couldn’t afford it, but a couple of weeks later I just decided to go for it. Then Covid-19 happened…
Perfect timing. How have you managed work-wise throughout the pandemic?
When it first hit I’d only just got myself sorted, having built my website right at the end of 2019. It ended up being the website that kept me going, which was so fortunate, and it just grew and grew through social media, local collaborations and people seeing things around. I’ve worked on a couple of collaborations which have been really fun, and obviously help build your profile, it’s great to help people visualise what their brand means to them. I look forward to working on more collaborations as it means meeting more people doing amazing things around the local area.
How’s the rest of 2021 shaping up for Reyt Good Illustration?
I guess it’s just more of the same. Printed By Us have asked me to work with them, so that’s in the pipeline, and I have to get that just right without rushing. I’m really keen to do something that fits in with what they do and suits their style. I also have a few more commissions to get on with, and want to work on some bigger pieces myself just in terms of size. I’ve also got a mural I’m working on. I’ve done a couple in the past, like one for Nether Edge Pizza on Abbeydale Road, so I’m excited to get that finished. Hopefully I’ll continue being busy and more interesting projects will come this way.