7 celebrities you never knew were illustrators
Whether you’re an illustrator, art director, or web designer, creative people are often multi-talented, dabbling in a few things before choosing one aspect of their craft. So it’s no surprise that some the world’s most famous creative people have tried other areas of the arts.
We’ve already looked at famous people who started out as graphic designers. Now we’re looking at celebrity illustrators. Some started out as illustrators and moved on, while others have continued to use their best pencils and drawing skills throughout their careers…
01. Pierce Brosnan
Famous as the fourth-best James Bond, Pierce Brosnan trained as a commercial illustrator before getting his licence to kill.
The actor started out learning to draw at St. Martins, working his way through as a freelance illustrator. But he dropped out after attending a circus workshop and realising performance was his forte. He returned to St. Martin’s three years later, this time as a drama student.
That’s not the end of the story though. After handing over his Walther PPK to Daniel Craig, Brosnan has returned to illustration, producing abstract landscapes and portraits like a colour-blind Picasso. You can buy giclee prints of his work from his website.
02. Thom Yorke
Radiohead’s lead singer Yorke studied Fine Art and English at the University of Exeter and was an early adopter of computer-based design. And those art skills haven’t gone to waste.
The band are famously hands-on, from running their own websites to the creation of packaging and artwork for their increasingly glitchy musical output.
And Yorke has been well placed to lend a hand, alongside longterm collaborator Stanley Donwood, who has produced every Radiohead sleeve since The Bends.
“All of Thom’s stuff for his final degree show was done on computer,” Donwood told the NME in 2007. “I remember somebody wiped his final degree show by accident just before it was due in.”
More recently, he and Donwood have exhibited the collaborative live artworkKing Canute, and sold paintings for charity.
03. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is best known as the author of some of the 20th century’s most insightful literary fiction. The writer, who died in 2007, was revered for dark satirical novels Player Piano, Welcome to the Monkey House and a dozen others.
It’s less well known that the author had a parallel career in fine art, beginning as an illustrator of his own work. Preferring felt tip and markers, Vonnegut produced drawings for some of his best loved novels, including Slaughterhouse 5 and Breakfast of Champions.
In later life examples of his work were exhibited around the world, including an album cover he created for the rock band Phish.
Seven years after Vonnegut’s death his drawings were collected in a hefty volume edited by his daughter Nanette Vonnegut.
“Mr. Vonnegut thought of himself as a visual artist, but had to work as an author to make a living,” gallery owner Margo Fielden told the New York Times after the book’s publication.
04. Ian Dury
When Ian Dury wrote ‘There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards’, he could have been talking about himself.
Dury had massive hits in the 70s and 80s with his band The Blockheads, including Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, What a Waste and Spasticus Autisticus. A critically acclaimed lyricist, Dury grafted for years on the live circuit before his late 70s success. But before that, he was a talented commercial illustrator.
A student at the Royal College of Art between 1963 and 1967, Dury was taught by pop artist Peter Blake, the man who produced the sleeve illustration for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He went on to teach illustration around London art colleges in the late 60s while making a living as freelance illustrator.
Dury enjoyed a degree of success, with The Sunday Times among his main clients in the 1970s. Peter Blake observed that Dury was already playing in bands when they met at the RCA. Music finally won out, but he could have chosen either path.
05. Terry Gilliam
The film director and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam began his creative life as an illustrator. A massive fan of Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad magazine, Gilliam produced his own satirical student publication called Fang while at college, producing comic strips and illustrations for the magazine.
When he graduated, Gilliam moved to New York, landing a job working on Kurtzman’s more grown-up Help! magazine, creating photo-stories and comic strips.
“I got there and I remember going up the stairs, this callow youth from California, and I knock on the door and the door opens and inside this suite were gathered together all of my god hero cartoonists,” Gilliam wrote in an article, My MAD Mentor.
When the magazine folded, Gilliam moved to England and hooked up with a British actor he’d worked with during a Help! photoshoot – and that was John Cleese.
Tasked with creating animations for the chaotic sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Gilliam also co-directed the comedy troupe’s first film with Terry Jones; Monty Python’s Holy Grail. That lead to a third career directing cult flicks like Time Bandits, Brazil and 12 Monkeys.
06. John Lennon
Sharp tongued former Beatle John Lennon was famous as a world changing musician and peace activist before his life was ended prematurely in 1980. Less well known is that he was a visual artist, way before Yoko Ono came on the scene.
Lennon attended Liverpool College of Art in the late 50s and early 60s alongside best mate and first Beatles’ bass player Stuart Sutcliffe. Alas, he was too busy with the Beatles to graduate – but that didn’t stop him from drawing.
Lennon published two books during the Beatle years “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works”. They collected together story fragments, poems, cartoons and illustrations – some dating back to his childhood.
Lennon also illustrated the cover of 1974 solo album “Walls and Bridges” with drawings he produced as an 11 year old. More contemporary illustrations were used for posthumous releases “Wonsuponsatime” and the Imagine DVD.
After his death, Lennon’s estate published a book of his drawings, John Lennon: The Collected Artwork. A touring exhibition of Lennon’s illustration travels the USA every year.
The college Lennon originally attended is now part of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, set up by his old songwriting partner Sir Paul McCartney.
07. Derren Brown
Derren Brown isn’t content to be the UK’s hardest working magician and mentalist. He has a second job as a top celebrity caricaturist.
His accomplished drawing skills date back to school, where he made cruel drawings of his teachers to make his peers stop punching him.
Though he had no formal training (Brown studied Law and German at university), he later developed his skill with acrylics, painting celebrity friends and influencers; people like Stephen Fry and Woody Allen. Among them was German caricaturist Sebastian Kruger, who has a similarly wicked style.
The fruit of that work was collected into a 2009 book simply called “Portraits”. After that watershed, Brown tamed the more outlandish elements of his caricature, his work becoming less distorted and grotesque – but still recognisably hyperreal.
Derren Brown continues to paint and is represented by the Rebecca Hossack gallery in London and New York.