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Interview with BIF's founder Andrew Garnett

Updated: May 20, 2023

Welcome to BIF's first blog post! We thought it would make sense to start with how BIF began and where it's going and cover some questions that people might have about exhibiting with us. It's a bit of a long one, but we hope you will enjoy it and find it insightful!


Andrew Garnet outside his shop 'Family Store' on Bond Street, Brighton



When did you start BIF and why then?

I started thinking about BIF I think in 2014, when I was going to a few zine fairs or art fairs outside of Brighton, especially in London. It made me think about how there’s not really anything going on with illustration in Brighton. Back then I’d go to the Brighton University grad shows each year and notice that a lot young people were graduating and then leaving Brighton because there were no opportunities for illustrators here. I also used to run a t-shirt brand called ‘Illustrated Mind’ where I used to commission illustrators. So those combination of things were some main factors in starting BIF at that time and in this city.


Now back then it was a bit weird because the way illustrators were commissioned is so different to now. People now are being commissioned by instagram messenger, and its as easy as that, but back then the process was quite different. If you weren’t in or near a creative hub or agency, if there was no creative community where you were, especially as graduating creative students, there was no reason to hang around once you graduated. So they’d all end up moving back to London because there were no creative opportunities here in Brighton.


So I thought we need a thing like BIF to put into Brighton so while they are studying they feel like when they leave at lease there’s some kind of community that’s for them. Cos if there isn’t, they might as well go home or leave or go get a job in London. So that’s how BIF was born essentially.


What is your personal reason for creating BIF?


I think it was the challenge of it. There's always been a level of curation that I used to do, like with commissioning people for T-shirts, so it was a follow through from that… and then hopefully some people would apply from that pool of people to the fair… and hopefully we’d have enough content from all the other stuff I was involved with that BIF would hold up.


What are BIF’s values?

The values of BIF essentially are that it’s one part of a path for illustrators.


It’s to provide a sort of pathway for illustrators to see other people producing work that are like minded, and to see that they can do that too. It’s a kind of spring board towards a career in illustration. It’s way of creating stuff, it’s an avenue for them go down, that’s all. It’s providing that essentially.

So yeah. Doing that. Trying to highlight emerging grassroots illustrators but at the same time, career illustrators who are already established or who have been coming to BIF from the beginning and we still sort of let them through the door as it were and have them exhibit because it's good to have that staple core. A lot of them are Brighton illustrators. It’s good to have that arch of it. It’s a source to encourage illustrators to illustrate, to provide a bit of a community and to provide a bit of a calendar event for the Brighton community.


There’s not a great deal of illustration events going on in Brighton, there were but I think covid knocked that on the head quite a lot, yeah.




What advice do you have for illustrators for people who want to exhibit at BIF or similar events?


Make stuff, sell stuff, keep creating. You might not always get into this event or an event or the other event but you’ve gotta just keep creating. Keep creating until you find your own voice. If you do get into events like this just think about it as an avenue don’t think about it as a process of making money. Don’t undervalue people’s acknowledging of your work, or the interactions with fellow illustrators and with the public, and the shared experience you have at fairs. To be able to see how your work sits with other people is really important. But in terms of how to get in the fairs. Always create stuff!


Often I'm quite hard nosed. If I’ve seen an illustrator or creative and they haven’t made anything or they are pushing the same stuff that they were 6 months ago then they don’t always get through the door. But it depends, it is hard to know the reason for people not producing any recent work, as you never know the circumstances of people’s lives or what’s going on for them. But at the same time, for the public it’s important to keep seeing new work. If it’s the same thing every time it becomes nepotism by proxy. It can’t be a ‘mates get together’, it has to be an ‘illustrators get together.’ Try and sell stuff online, go beyond selling stuff to your friends and see what that reaction is.


When you are going through the websites & social media of exhibitors during the application process, what kind of stuff do you like to see?

Its all gut reaction when choosing, absolutely gut reaction. When you have that innate, inaudible the sense you get for it - when you see some work and get that ‘ah yeah’, that’s essentially what helps us to choose people, but there’s no real correct answer. When you start out as an illustrator it’s a bit like wearing gloves. The murder of illustration is being committed but you can’t see who’s doing the murder because you can’t see the finger prints. But after a while people get confident with the ‘illustration murdering’ and they take those gloves off and you can see their finger prints. And that stage is really important. Seeing people’s individual fingerprints is really important. I think that’s across the board with illustrators. Most illustrators starting out whether out of uni or just doing it themselves. In any kind of art - from music to illustration - you start off by copying, that’s how you learn it, I think. So what makes a big difference is seeing that point of cross over where you see people making their own style. And finding their own voice.




How important is style in illustration fairs, can you have multiple styles?

I would say a solid style is more helpful bec


ause I think when people have a mixed style… It depends what you mean because a mix of styles is different because people do work in different styles but mostly people find their place of comfort and where their style is their own.


When you see people trying lots of things they haven’t found what they are doing… now illustrators change their direction sometimes, absolutely, and that’s a different thing, but when there’s lots of different styles, I think that’s just when people haven’t found their voice as it were.


Having a solid style helps us because if we are looking at applicants and were trying to work out what they're trying to bring to the fair - if theres like, 8 or 9 styles its difficult to know which one they might bring. I think it’s good if people have their own style, so when the public see it, they feel confident with the person’s work and know who they are a bit more. Whereas if they walk up to someones table and theres 9 different styles you won’t be remembered or they might get a bit confused if it’s one artist or multiple artists.


There are places to experiment a bit more and that’s what the internets for and slightly smaller fairs. We’re not a bit illustration fair by any stretch of anything but there are smaller art fairs that provide that. I think by the time you get to BIF we want people to have a fairly established style and they can be quite early on we do like, let like people in who have just started out but it’s just people often have a style already.



How important is the amount of followers you have when applying to BIF


Its not relevant!

Its nice to see that we have people who are established - every time we exhibit there’s always at least someone who we’re like ‘ah cool it’s them’ and we know their work and we love their work. It’s really important to us that what we’re doing is being a platform for people from A - Z, from either end. Its good to have big names (in inverted commas) or people who have a lot of followers; just because we like their work and it’s still exciting for us to go ‘they wanna come that’s cool to see their work in person’ it’s always nice to see people’s work in person in this ‘digital age’.

If we see someone’s work and we’re like ‘that’s cool’ and they’ve got 164 followers, it doesn’t make any difference because it’s the work. We go ‘ah that’s really amazing’ and there’s people this time that we’ve all been looking at and they’ve got like 364 followers and it’s really interesting work and they’ve got a weird sort of style or whatever style it is.


It’s not about followers, no.


‘Its my first time exhibiting what should I be aware of’. Say someones got through the application process and its their first time ever exhibiting.


Erm...

- Have realistic expectations.

- Be aware that the core thing for your first fair is not about making money its about seeing… If this is your first fair… it depends. If its your first fair - don’t worry about making money (or.. try and cover your costs) But… listen to what people say. See how other people do it… be an observer but really take part and sell stuff as well absolutely.

  • Make sure you’ve got a variation of stuff, not just stickers cos if you do wanna make money and you’re just selling 50p stickers all weekend your not gonna make much money.

  • Just be realistic, but also don’t undervalue your work when you are bringing it to the fair. Make sure you’ve got like a you know… Be confident about your work. You’re there because at least three people have gone that’s cool. And then if three people’ve said its cool then maybe its cool and then whatever cool means… and y’know, just yeah..just… have value in your work. Not just monetary but emotionally as well. Just yeah, try and enjoy it.


Any advice for someone who wants to start their own illustration fair?


Be realistic about the amount of time you have to get involved with it. It is a commitment. Do it for the love, not for the money. Just think of all the logistics, think of all the little logistics about it. We’ve always had enough people through the door. We’ve never had a bad footfall BIF (thank god) and we’re always waiting for that one to happen, we’re always waiting for the bad footfall BIF to occur. But thankfully the 10 or so things we have done, that has never happened, it has always been a decent footfall.


But just think about all of the elements that might be involved in it and depending on who applies, I wouldn’t put people through the door who you think people are gonna wanna see. Put people through the door who you think would be cool to be there sort of thing.


You know, don’t try and echo or imitate what other events do necessarily with the exhibitors, find your own voice with it, try and give it its own identity.


And you know, cos different people work in different… some people wanna like just have print heavy stuff… we’re like, across the board with mediums. There’s no medium that’s… Any mediums go, if you wanna bring potatoes and bring loads of faces on them, as long as its fun we’ll let that person through the door. Yeah.. I think its just about having… having and awareness of what the events are. If you’ve never been to events like this before and you suddenly wanna do one, you need to go to some of the events.


And don’t charge people the the earth! Again, particularly the first one, if you’re doing it to make a load of money, I think you are in it for the wrong reason. Its got to start from love of illustration or something like that, and then you gotta work out the mechanics of it, tryna generate and cover costs.



For people who have applied for say, 2 or 3 times and haven’t got in what would you say?


Keep applying.

This is the thing; we are only BIF. There are loads of other events out there and just because we don’t let you in, that doesn’t mean you’re work is any less or any greater than any of the people who have exhibited.


All we’re doing is just going for stuff that we are reacting to in our gut, its nothing personal, it’s never anything personal. So you just have to keep applying, and you just have to remember that we are only just one fair and theres other events out there, and I think that just because we’re wrong not you. Thats true, theres a truth in that. There are people who keep applying each year but we can’t just let people through the door because people have applied a bunch of times and Y’know. I dunno, I dunno its really hard.


Sometimes the work we feel like might also get lost in the type of event that we’ve got. A lot of the illustrators we get in are quite sort of big, bold, brash sort of stuff. And sometimes there’s some lighter, subtler work that we think ‘that’s just gonna get so lost’ and we’re fearful that they’re not gonna you know, cover their costs or they don’t have enough product… There’s a multitude of reasons. Like if you’re just selling prints, and it’s just those prints and you’ve only got a few of them. We’re not right about everything, its a degree of our curation which isn’t always correct. Or sometimes people are just too early. Often it’s just people are too early in the game.


But I would say keep applying. And if you’re like ‘screw you I don’t wanna apply anymore’ ‘still why haven’t I got in’ - there are other events out there, totally, and they’ve all got a different aesthetic and a different sort of, vista of work that they wanna represent.


Why has BIF’s name changed, and what does that mean for the future? And what are you going to be doing.


BIF’s name has changed because essentially we wanna do other events and other things in time.. and we feel like if you call it ‘Brighton Illustration Fair’ and you are doing a screening, it’s not that. It’s simply not that. So it’s just the work instead ‘foundation’ just to sort of paint a picture that there are other aspects to illustration that we’ve not either engaged with or that we haven’t dug into enough, that we hopefully wanna try and find a way of doing something with them, through events or whatever, so it’s just become something that’s beyond the fairs. The fairs will still be the sort of backbone of BIF but I think its important to change the name because were just trying to do other different things that’s all. It’s not like we’ve been taken over by a massive corporation, it’s far from it. It’s more just endeavouring to bring other stuff to the table that isn’t just fairs.

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