Phil Dunne Interview

Chapter XXXVI: Heist

  Posted by Justin Maller  \  - @justinmaller   - — on March 08, 2009
Phil Dunne
us flag Dublin, Ireland. / United States
Phil Dunne

Justin Maller

Hey Phil, congratulations on being selected as the featured artist for 'Heist'. Tell us a little bit about yourself; what's daily life like for a man who loves robots?

Phil Dunne

Thank you very much Justin. I'm just on cloud nine to be a featured artist! I'm very honoured and proud to be nominated by all my friends at Depthcore. I have a dual identity at the moment. I currently work 9 to 5 as a display assistant and graphic designer in retail, and in my free time I'm an illustrator.

In my display job I have a varied role, one minute I'm working on signage, the next I'm styling a mannequin or working on a window display. I'm very lucky that I get to do something creative on a daily basis and that it's not a million miles away from my passion.

I'm a creative obsessive compulsive, forever thinking about my illustrations and the next piece I'm going to work on - I'm surprised I get anything done. On my way to work, I see somebody on the street and say, 'I want to draw that person.' Or I get ideas like 'That building would be cool in a music video' or 'that rubbish on the street would make a good brush in Photoshop.'

I read a lot of fashion magazines like I-D and Pop, or I'm on websites like Facehunter, Hint Magazine, Illustrophile and Scamp. etc. I also like watching Fashion TV, any music channel that actually plays music videos. I also keep my eye on whats current in design and illustration so I pick up Computer Arts, Grafik and Dazed and Confused. I look at what's in there and do the exact opposite of what's considered fashionable at the moment. The best way to stay original!


Justin Maller

Can you give us a little insight into your personal history as an illustrator?

Phil Dunne

Since day 0 I've been drawing and interested in art. I grew up on a diet of 80s cartoons like Ulyssess, He-Man and Transformers, and I collected the Garbage Pail kids cards which were illustrated by John Pound as well as stacks of Batman and X Men comic books. I discovered illustrators like Andy Kubert, Norm Breyfogle, Bill Finger, Pop Mhan, Seth Fisher, Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons.

I also loved video games but it was more the illustrated manuals that inspired me like Street Fighter illustrations and Nintendo characters. In my teens I was mad about an artist called Miram Kim and I read a lot about The Renaissance in school. I studied Visual Communications in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. It was the most exciting experience of my life. I'll probably never have a chance to hang out with so many talented individuals in my life again. I graduated in 2003 and I was doing little illustration jobs while working as a display assistant in a department store.

It took time to find my style and develop it. I used to pump out a lot of bad work, but I think you need time like that to realise who you really are. Things started to pick up after a year or two and I was starting to get noticed. I won a public design competition held by Candy Magazine and Sony Playstation Ireland. I also got work into magazines and books like Computer Arts, Grafuck, L'etoile and Belio. I took part in a few events organised by Candy Magazine and I've been lucky to get some nice commissions along the way too.

I recently completed my first big advertising commission here in Ireland, which was a t-side of a bus for Barry's Tea. It was fun to see my illustration zipping around the city!

Justin Maller

You really responded well to this theme, what about it lead to such prolific production from you? What has been your favourite dC Chapter to date?

Phil Dunne

I've only been with Depthcore since last year. Over the last few months it just clicked with me what a huge privilege and opportunity it is being part of this collective. Before I joined I was aware of it's huge impact on the illustration and design scene. It also has such a huge following too and it creates and encourages so much inspiration.

I've been described many times before as a prolific artist so maybe it is part of my appeal and my style. I love what I do and I'm addicted to my illustrations. One of the best things I learned when I started college was time management. I remembered what one of my tutors was always helping me to develop. A lot more organisation and efficiency with my work time has helped me greatly. I was like "Don't sit there watching random crap on TV...get up, use your talent and go do something that make a difference."

I also loved the theme 'Heist.' I could go anywhere with it. But I looked at like an album. You know like when you go buy an album and it's got the artist's style and vibe all over it. Some songs are slow and gentle, others are completely way out there. There are emotional ups and downs and you want to back and play it again. That's what I wanted to do, hopefully I've achieved it.

My favourite release from Depthcore was 'Noir.' I think every artist killed it on that one. It was a challenge for all concerned, working in only black and white but that's I think why Depthcore exists, to shake things up and do something different.

Justin Maller

Your creative process is intriguing to me; I can tell that it is steeped heavily in traditional illustration, but your unique style stems strongly from your digital post production - shed some light on the steps you go through in creating a piece.


Phil Dunne

Creating an illustration, whether it's a commercial job or a personal piece, it's all about emotion and originality. When I get goosebumps while I'm working I know I'm in the right direction. When I'm way off centre, by centre I mean what's currently 'going on' in illustration, I'm in the right direction!

I carry a sketchbook everywhere with me. Ideas hit me at the most unusual times, especially when I'm going to bed. Usually, I see the piece in my head, sketch it out then source the right images I need to get it done.

I draw or trace from photographs I've taken or I model poses my myself and draw them out. I work mostly with technical pens and graphic drawing pencils, 4H to F. I like to create mystery too though, like make you think "Is that vector? Is that drawn straight into photoshop?" But I scan my drawings into photoshop, amp up the contrast to make them stronger. Then I just use a few layers, I play around with blending modes to get the image right. People think my illustrations must take a very, very long time because they are so intricate and detailed, but when I add all the hours I spend together, all in all it's a full day.

My drawings are the longest part, it takes a lot of me physically, The drawing I did for the Heist piece 'Scare Glow' was really taxing. That was done an A2 sheet of paper with and 0.2 technical pen. I was so tired afterwards. I felt like Superman being hit by kryptonite, I was like 'Lois, I got the cape but I can't fly!'

Justin Maller

Are there any particular personal philosophies or directions that serve as inspiration for your work? What is the best food for your creative soul? Any favourite artists or designers that serve as aesthetic touchstones for you?

Phil Dunne

I can't really say what drives me, maybe it's the thought I have a gift and talents that makes me unique and it is something that shouldn't be wasted. I've met so many talented people in my time who just through either sheer laziness or whatever haven't put those talents to use and it's such a shame. But on the flipside I've met people whose creative processes and work ethic have switched up my thinking. I'm really inspired by beauty, beautiful people and the challenge of creating a beautiful image.

The best food for the creative soul is the best food! Seriously a good diet makes a lot of difference. I learned that very quickly, you need to take care of yourself if you want to do things properly. Remember that there is a world outside of the desktop of your computer and go out and be in it. That helps me a lot, when I've got artists block I turn everything off and go for a walk or talk to people.

Here's a list of my inspirations:

  • Andy Warhol, the greatest artist ever. Read his book 'The Philosophy of Andy Warhol'.
  • Stephen Kelleher aka Frankenstyles, motion, design, illustration, street all in one package...stunning.
  • David LaChappelle google his photo 'Eminem: About to Blow.'
  • Seth Fisher, my favourite comic book artist...get your hands on his stuff!
  • Missy Elliott, her music and videos are genius, funny and surreal.
  • Federico Erra, an Italian photographer who is on Flickr, go see his work!
  • Gustav Klimt, M.C.
  • Escher
  • Seth McFarlane
  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Autumn Whitehurst
  • Deanne Cheuk
  • Steve Wilson
  • Audrey Kawasaki
  • Sam Weber

I'm also inspired by actors like:

  • Johnny Depp
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers
  • Marlon Brando
  • Jack Nicholson

... and models like:

  • Omahyra Mota
  • Will Chalker
  • Sessilee Lopez
  • Twiggy

I think any one person who has a very distinctive look and presence is an inspiration to me!

Justin Maller

As one of the few Irish members of dC, give us your opinion on the level of talent in designers and illustrators being produced by Ireland. What's the creative scene like over there?

Phil Dunne

Ireland has such a unique creative scene. There is the Candy Collective, which is made up of illustrators and photographers like BrenB and Aidan Kelly. They put together a magazine called Candy that can be downloaded from They've been huge in the last few years, they've promoted Irish creativity on a global scale while also making us aware of some wonderful talents. They also organise events like Sweettalk where they ask creatives to come and give presentations about their work. There is an incredibly high level of talent of illustrators here. I recommend you drop by to see the unbelievable amount of talent there.

Also have mad respect for the talents of Stephen Kelleher aka Frankenstyles, Lili Forberg, Aidan Kelly, Richard Gilligan, BrenB, Richard Seabrooke, D.A.D.D.Y., Morgan Weymes, Asbestos, Brian Coldrick to but a few!

Major shout out to Jonathan Wong, who started all this Depthcore thing for me. I first saw his work in Computer Arts and was blown away. I couldn't believe he was so young and in college but his work was so professional and original.

There is definitely something that people gravitate towards because you're Irish. It's not just in design or art. Look at musicians like U2 or The Script or actors like Cillian Murphy. They've got just got something very different going on but they're also at the top of their game. Maybe that's something to do with the culture we have in Ireland, like the literature and art. I'm a big Cillian Murphy fan, he's incredibly diverse and has his own style. But he never does interviews or red carpets. He's very private and it's all about his work which really inspires me. But he can go from the Scarecrow in Batman Begins to a transvestite in Breakfast in Pluto, and be convincing in all; that's what I consider huge talent.

Justin Maller

Where do you plan to take your personal work? Are there any areas (either conceptual or technical) that you are especially keen to explore?

Phil Dunne

I've been thinking a long time about working on street art. I've always been a huge admirer of it and street artists inspire me by how they are constantly thinking outside of the box. I think it would be great for my work and I have some cool ideas. It's the legal thing which concerns me. I don't want to get arrested or sued ' perhaps I should stop discussing here to retain anonymity!

I also want to produce a big self initiated project. Since I was a teenager I was always wanted to do a fashion based illustration where I'd hire a model, take shots in a studio and then draw illustrations around the photos. I hope to work with an Irish model called Sam Homan on a big illustration project. I'd be doing the photography which is something I've never done before.

Basically I want it be a personal project that looks like an ad campaign...that's something that's important in my work. My personal work should stand up to the commercial projects I get, in regards to the level of skill and attention I give them.

I want to work with photographers a lot more too. I'm working on a few illustrations with a very talented photographer called Lili Forberg. She does amazing editorial work for magazines in Ireland and abroad so hopefully she will like where I take her pieces and we can work more in the future!

Justin Maller

What do you do with yourself when you're not making art? Any other side projects you're involved in?


Phil Dunne

I spend a lot of time with my family. They make me who I am. Your time with them is very important, you will miss those times someday. As I've said before I watch a lot of DVDs, read a lot about fashion and art. I really want to do something with Men's fashions, whether it's setting up a blog about fashion and styling or meeting with fashionable people in Dublin that's definitely an area I want to explore someday.

My love of fashion is getting stronger everyday. I love looking around charity shops, boutiques and stalls and seeing what I can find. Sometimes I like to stroll into Oxfam or antique shops and find something to draw inspiration from. I find it a surprising way to get fresh ideas.

Justin Maller

We've seen digital art change drastically in the seven or so years dC has been in existence; where do you see it going in the next twenty?


Phil Dunne

That's a tough question, look at how quickly technology is advancing. Ten years ago in college I would have laughed at the idea of a touch screen phone or a TV the width of a slice of toast, but it's happened. Who knows, in twenty years I could be viewing my pieces I done for this pack on a neural interface that projects them directly into my eyes!

Because of youtube, facebook and the fact that more people watch the internet than tv, digital art and animation is far more relevant than ever. Everyone wants technology but customising it to their individual styles and tastes is really important to them too.

Hand drawn techniques will never leave illustration, it appeals to people because there appears to be a lot more skill or personality involved. But by saying that I'm not disrespecting 3D or vector work, as these styles will always be popular because of animation, movies and video games, they create that slick and hyperreal look that you can't get down on paper with a pencil. Certain styles go up and down in popularity but it will always be the digital artist who is doing his or her own thing that is completely left of centre.

The global recession and environmental issues will have a massive effect. It's getting way more expensive to print, so I can see a lot more magazines dead in the water this year. Online publishing will open up more opportunities for animation and interaction because of the integration of all these mediums.

What's more beneficial to the environment too? Printing 20,000 copies of your magazine in paper or uploading to a website for anyone to access and download, anywhere, anytime?\ What is easier and less expensive to promote? Why pay so much for something and then stick it in a shop where you have to wait a certain time to get it?

People want information and inspiration more directly now. You could argue that it is nice to hold printed material in your hands and flick through a book. I love buying my nice illustration books and magazines but I'm all for progress too.

Music downloads are so popular too, I think the traditional CD sleeves could be manipulated in iTunes in some way, like an interactive flash booklet that promotes the band or musician. How cool would that be? You could create something that would be a surreal experience and would change our perceptions of what an album is. It's very exciting to experience new forms of something that's considered traditional.

Justin Maller

How would you describe your career up until this moment? What influence, if any, has participating in dC had on it?

Phil Dunne

One word: Rollercoaster. There have been ups and downs but I'm staying focused and enjoying it. I've been incredibly lucky with the work I've gotten and the people I've met in my life. I count my blessings that I live in a society where I can put my work out there and express myself. You never know what is around the next corner! I know there is some folks out there waiting for me with many surprises.

Joining Depthcore has been a dream come true. Big respect again to Jonathan Wong for helping me get there! The best thing about Depthcore is the feedback I get on my work. I'm not talking about 'amazing work dude' but the constructive criticism from members has been invaluable. They've helped me step up my work to a much more professional level and rethink things about the way I do it. It's sad to see some illustrators and designers stuck in the some old style for years...I want to progress and take things to different levels. The journey is always better than the destination.

I remember when I was unemployed and clueless about even starting a career in illustration. I'd pick up a copy of Computer Arts and read about artists like Justin Maller, Pete Harrison and Nik Ainley amongst many others and thinking wow!

Now, here I am in a collective with them and they're helping me progress my style. But I got there with a lot of hard work, dedication and making tough sacrifices!

Justin Maller

Congrats again Phil, any last words? By the way, where did that nick of yours come from?

Phil Dunne

Love The Robot..! I asked many times where that came from so here it is. A few years ago I had a website with some bad attempts at illustration, really cheap photoshop knock offs that just looked really awful. The site got about two hits a week and there was no work or opportunities whatsoever.

I closed the site, took some time off and looked at what I was doing wrong. The most significant thing was that I was imitating what was out there and I didn't have a signature style of work. I was doing it for money alone and I had no passion for it.

I decided to turn off the computer for a while and went and bought a sketchbook with some pencils. I started to draw, draw and draw. I was drawing morning noon and night. My brother said to me one day "Look at all your drawings, you're like a robot scribbling away."

I think I jokingly replied "Yeah, all this drawing and nobody is interested. Somebody please, love the robot!" Those three words just banged around in my head and so I bought the web domain and had all these drawings that were developing into something that I was really happy with.

So there it began...Love The Robot.

- Back to Top   \   Back to Interview List   \   View Chapter XXXVI: Heist Submissions   \   Submissions by Phil Dunne