Stuart Hughes artwork

Book covers, magazine covers, cassette inlays, advertising posters... they’re all grist to Stuart Hughes’ artistic mill. He’s been involved with the home computer industry since the early eighties, when he regularly provided cover artwork for Popular Computing Weekly, back in the days when it had a full colour cover. As a result of his magazine work, software companies began ’phoning him up, offering commissions....

Following a Graphic Design course at Norwich School of Art, Stuart Hughes took a job in his home town of Liverpool, teaching art in a junior school. Within a year he’d worked out that teaching was not what he wanted to do, and in 1975 he moved to London to take up the craft of illustrator.

Stuart’s first love has always been Science Fiction and Fantasy, and he produced samples of his surreal work and trotted round showing them to people. ‘Very good,’ they’d say, ‘but we need a picture of a tank... or a picture of two young lovers gazing into the sunset’. Drawings for such magazines as Hi! and Fab 208 helped pay the bills, but Stuart didn’t fancy illustrating slushy stories for women’s and teen magazines for ever.

He took a part time teaching job, and concentrated on getting together a portfolio of Science Fiction/Fantasy paintings. After a couple of years, he started doing Sci-Fi book covers for Pan and Futura, and his agent secured some very well-paid work for him — remember the advert for No6 cigarettes... the two hot air balloons? Artist: Stuart Hughes.

‘After a while, that sort of work, although lucrative, became a bit boring’, Stuart explained, ‘and I was ready for a change’. And so Stuart Hughes scampered off to San Francisco, where he got work in a shop which sold cowboy hats and boots. Soon he was offered a job in a camera shop, which was owned by the same company. ‘Being British in San Francisco is a definite advantage,’ Stuart explained, ‘the locals tend to work for money rather than to further their career, and if they fancy a day off, lounging on the beach, they simply take it. They tend to get a job in order to raise cash so they can go off and do something, and once they’ve amassed enough money they’re off. I had the conventional nine-to-five British attitude, and the management loved that. Two weeks after I started work in the camera shop, I was made manager!’

Stuart Hughes artwork for The Artist

After six months in the sun, and with a budding career in retail management in front of him, Stuart decided to come home and carry on with illustration. And walked straight into the recession. Undeterred, he doing Popular Computer Weekly covers, with another artist, Ian Craig, and soon software houses started ringing him offering work. ‘It was incredible — in 1981, at last people were asking me to do what I love doing...’

Tim Langdell of Softek (now The Edge) was one of the first people to commission Stuart, and has become a regular customer. More recently, Stuart has done the illustration for The Edge’s new game Fairlight and the graphics package The Artist (look for the adverts!). Artic and CCS, as well as Interface Books, Addison Wesley and Sunshine Publications all commissioned paintings from Stuart.

‘A couple of years ago, software houses were asking me to do all the design work for inlays as well as illustrations, and I thought about hiring designers and setting up in business. Then I realised that if I did, I would become a manager and it would have detracted from painting. I gave up the idea, as I realised that illustrating was more important to me.’

Nowadays the computer book side of Stuart’s work has slowed down a bit, and he’s beginning to work for Sci-Fi books again. ‘It pays more, but I find the work a bit more restrictive — I tend to get a tighter brief. I’m happiest when I’ve got two weeks to complete a painting and can do pretty much what I want. However, the people who let me do that tend not to be able to afford much...’.

Stuart usually works in acrylics, using an airbrush, and sometimes works in oils — but an oil painting takes a couple of days to dry and there usually isn’t time for such luxury. Clients tend to want finished artwork in ten days, and Stuart likes to take a couple of weeks. ‘I prefer to spend a week working on the rough and sorting out the referencing and then another week on the painting itself. I can work in parallel on a couple of paintings, producing a finished picture every week... and my record is seven illustrations in ten days. That marathon was very rewarding financially, but it took a lot out of me.’

‘My main interest lies in drawing people — so few artists can paint people well. If you try to make up a figure, it’s very hard to prevent the finished painting looking like the person was made up. I take a lot of photographs of people, which I work from — for instance for a helmeted pilot, I took photos of a friend wearing a motorbike helmet, which I used as the basis for my painting, adding details to make the whole thing look futuristic. If there’s a lot of perspective work to be done, I have a friend who is an expert in Technical Drawing and I collaborate with him. He will draw out the perspective for me — he understands perspective much better than I do and takes a couple of hours to produce an accurate drawing whereas I could easily spend several days producing a less accurate piece of work’.

Stuart Hughes artwork

‘Every painting is a challenge; I almost work myself up into a state referencing it and then become hyperactive while I’m actually painting it. Once it’s complete, I need a couple of days to recover.’

Stuart has never really got involved in computer graphics: ‘After a couple of hours at the computer, I tend to get bored. I find it’s much better to produce a piece of finished artwork for a loading screen, say, and then let a programmer put it onto the screen. When you work with a programmer, or directly with the computer, the finished image suffers because you start off with restrictions.’

While Stuart Hughes could always go back to what could have been a very promising career in American Retail Management, it would be an evident waste of his talents. What would he like to go forward to? ‘One of my main aims in life is to work on a Ridley Scott movie, such as Dune. Ever since I saw Blade Runner I’ve admired the man’s work, and have been totally influenced by the imagery in the film’.

Are you reading this, Ridley? Get in touch with the man, eh?