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Floating Forward

FEBRUARY 20, 2014
After seeing Kron's great collage of Anelle I thought I'd post this. For those from outside the illustrator's world, Anelle is the director of the Society of Illustrators in NYC and has done some pretty amazing things since arriving. I was enjoying a few beers before the recent SI editorial opening when I was told Anelle liked one of my pieces and wanted to buy it for her office. I saw her when I got there and said I would be honored and made it her birthday present. The piece was commisioned by SooJin, one of my personal favorites that I've done for her.
I haven't posted much in a while, 2013 was a very strange year. I did some work in the early months that I was okay with- then I got sidetracked around mid year and maybe was a bit distracted from work. So now after the dust has settled I find myself in a familiar place, not caring much for anything I've done in the past and wondering where I'm going from here. I think I've posted these lines before-about having to turn everything upside down every so often, thinking now is one of those times.
The Newtown work marked the beginning of 2013, the tragedy happened in December 2012 and the work I did was in the months after. I can't really look at that work objectively anymore, I've seen it so many times. I know it meant something to me when I did it but now it's just past work. I am however very grateful that the series, or at least four of the series, will be a part of the S.I. traveling show. Some people will see them who have not,and hopefully see what I can't see anymore.
Continuing on the track of not being able to see ones own work clearly-I was pretty thrilled that S.I. chose to put the frog on the program and poster for the institutional and uncommisioned show. That image kind of represents a direction I'd like to explore, more natural organic images but done in my vector way of working. Done for Jim Burke-thanks Jim, an honor to be in the FROG calendar.
Like I said, weird year, confusing and trying but collectively it was pretty great.  I was happy to be featured in two industry magazines, 3x3 and CMYK, thanks to Charles Hively and Ronald Cala respectively. Possibly the biggest honor and most moving was that friend and fellow illustrator Tim OBrien agreed to write a bio essay on me for the 3x3 feature. Tim penned a very moving and eloquent piece on me and my work. I've included that at the bottom of this post. Tim's writing is always worth reading, please do.
Another fine thing that happened this year was being featured in two magazines, 3x3 and CMYK, thanks to Charles Hively and Ronald Cala respectively. Time Obrien, my friend and brilliant illustrator penned a very thoughtful essay about me and my work. I've attached it at the bottom of this post. Thanks again Tim!
Another fine thing that happened this year was being featured in two magazines, 3x3 and CMYK, thanks to Charles Hively and Ronald Cala respectively. Time Obrien, my friend and brilliant illustrator penned a very thoughtful essay about me and my work. I've attached it at the bottom of this post. Thanks again Tim!
Harry Campbell; The Road to Finding a Voice
By Tim O'Brien
The roads rise and fall. Wheels whirring, wind whistling by his helmet. Harry Campbell is out on his bike
for yet another 100 mile day. A dedicated cyclist puts in some serious miles each year, and Harry is serious.
Of course riding is his hobby, but the fortitude and endurance needed are a perfect fit for his chosen profession. Harry Campbell has been a working illustrator for over 25 years. Like his long bike trips, the road has been winding and circuitous. There were no short cuts to where Harry Campbell’s career is today.

Harry Campbell graduated from MICA in ’86 and came to New York City with his admittedly, inconsistent portfolio. Work was hard to come by, and Harry took whatever jobs he could find, such as a t-shirt printing company where he learned to do precise line work and cutting with an x-acto blade for screen-printing. These skills would come in handy years later. Harry worked a design studio at The Warner Bros. Studio Store and had a stint at Nickelodeon doing all kinds of projects. “I designed everything from Rugrats refrigerator magnets to subway signage, style guides etc. While working at Nick I developed an illustration style that was very "Nick" influenced, cartoony but a bit edgy, Ren and Stimpy influenced. During these days I was just trying to make a living, it had nothing to do with who I am or was.” Harry Campbell was not close to being the illustrator he wanted yet, but he was learning and earning, something many younger illustrators can relate to today.
In 2003 Harry felt the urge to surge. Who knows why we do it, but there comes a time when our ambition and energy and inspiration combine to move us forward into something new. Harry began drawing again, only this time with vector lines. “I had been doing it for a while and felt quite comfortable. I would pick up objects on my desk, like a tin toy or a phone, and I would just draw from observation. Something began clicking, it felt intuitive and right, but what do I do with it? So I put together a few illustrations and started sending them around, posting on the web.”
What Harry Campbell did was to create a clean, organized style of drawing that suited the information age. Subtle stylistic inventions of shifted color lines and unique croppings made this style unique and soon many art directors and designers sought out his work. Assignments where many specific items are listed or covered do not scare Campbell. He can bring together all these elements and the simplicity of clean, organized line without a value structure means more information can be conveyed more clearly. It is also true that in a digital age, these intricate, fine lined illustrations translate perfectly to the smartphone and tablet screen.
It is not only his style that sets his work apart; it began to be his problem solving that has become a calling card. As Campbell puts it, “I think the real start of developing a way of problem solving and honesty in the work came early on when I got a call from the New York Times op-ed page. For the first time I found myself face to face with some really great writing, strong emotional or political content. I really loved the challenge, it felt right.”
Ideas are the currency these days for illustrators, and it appears that both style and substance are mixed perfectly in Harry’s work. One sees hints of the clean problem solving of David Suter and Guy Billout in his work, but when filtered through Harry’s technique it becomes all his own.
Harry Campbell’s work has been seen in most major illustration competitions and exhibitions for the past decade. His career seems to be one in full bloom, so it was most impressive to see his work reach further this past year. Can a style of objects and precision cut to the heart? I wouldn’t think so, but following the shootings in Newtown Connecticut, Campbell said, “the Monday after the Newtown shootings I was to take my son to the bus, but I couldn't. That was the first image I thought of, the black bus, a hearse. I just imagined a bus in Newtown with no children to pick up. I posted that piece on Facebook and it was quickly picked up by the New York Times Letters page. I felt so strongly about this tragedy and the underlying gun issue that I decided I would continue the series, and every day I did a new piece.” This burst of inspiration continued and branched off into new areas and issues.
“I learned from these images that I could be very connected to my art, more than I knew, I found a place to express true emotion and conviction.” It’s not easy to communicate heartfelt emotion in a vector drawing. Just the mere sentence seems to highlight how difficult such a proposal can be. With Campbell, it’s not so much how it’s done now, it’s why.
Some artists hone in on their styles in college and enter the illustration market fully evolved, but most don’t. I would think that many young illustrators could take solace in the fact that success is not something that happens right away, that working hard and paying the bills is honorable and is its own form of success. Once earning a living is somewhat settled, an artist can then reach, search and try for the next challenge. The road to success is often a long one, full of detours and pitfalls, false starts and lessons learned. In the end this journey is our story, one we recount with pride. An artist arrives at where they are supposed to be eventually, and finding the sweet spot in one’s career is a fortunate thing. For Harry, it came after miles and miles on the road. We are glad he arrived.