Tom Parker, illustrator and drawerer of things. Englishman in Taipei, TW. Bits and Pieces with #Orbit #Pintoo. Jigsaw puzzles, paintings, character concepts, maps! Don’t forget maps.
Welcome to the Asylum, Tom! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Thanks! I’ll have a Pina Colada in a real coconut, please.
I’m Tom. I live in Taipei, Taiwan with my wife and pigdog. I was born in Wales and lived in England most of my life – with some time in other places as well. But settling in Taiwan until I grow old and shrivel up into a tiny mummified action figure.
I have to confess, I’m a fan of your art work and commissioning an original art from you depicting the Asylum is on my bucket list. How did you start your career? Was it a childhood dream or something you discovered you love to do in later years?
Oh that’s a great idea! We can map it out but make sure it’s not actually 100% correct otherwise people will escape. Imagine the chaos.
Of course. It will need some extra secret tunnels and false exits and such. For some reason everyone wants to get out of here. I honestly don’t understand. Am I such a bad host? Anyway, you were talking about your career…
My first job was selling ice creams in Bath, on the street. Then a few catering things. Then I became a graphic designer/mac operator for a couple of places. Mostly doing adverts and leaflets. Nothing too excting.
Then I moved to Cambridge and became an accidental chef (still not too sure how that happened). I was then a chef in London for many years until it wore me down and I thought I’d try to be self employed. It felt worth a shot after truly burning out.
Drawing/painting had always been the major „hobby” in my life but I’d totally put it aside for many years. So I went into it with the idea of combining some kind of design service with some print sales if I could draw anything people wanted. Then it developed from there.
How do you start a new project? I imagine doing maps and illustrations have quite a different process. Can you tell me a bit about your working methods?
There are two types of client. No THREE. Wait. Probably more. Well one type has a strict idea of what is required and sends you an absolute TON of info (too much info) and reading all that info (sometimes including an actual whole book) can and would take longer than the job itself. So I try to minimise that because I don’t think people want to also pay me to read their book.
Another type just has a very vague idea of what is required and possibly doesn’t really even know themselves what they want. I like those. Yes I am looking side eye at RJ Barker here. Then I get a lot of freedom and generally they like what I come up with, or we tweak it a little after sketches. That’s more like concept artwork. These apply to maps or any illustration.
(I definitely would be type two…)
Some maps start with a very vague setup and I have to ask questions about distances or terrain. But either way – the first type is also good, as long as the info is laid out neatly. So I can find the answers to questions myself.
Wait I said three types of client.
Oh let’s not go into the third.
Damn Tom, you can’t leave me hanging here just like this! NOW I really want to know about the third type…
As for methods – I don’t really call myself a digital artist, because it’s just an extra tool. But more often than not – the work I produce, whether it’s maps or artwork, is drawn by hand in pencil or pen, then scanned and coloured digitally. Often with extra layers of hand painted things like skies and water.
All maps are hand drawn.
What inspires your illustrations (not necessarily the commissioned ones as I would guess that requires some sample reading and conversations with the author)? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
I do try to do my own thing now and then, still. So far this year I haven’t had time. But I always keep a magic list of ideas that I want to draw. Those ideas can come from literally anywhere or anything.
Here’s the current list. With no context:
A ranch of Spherical Steam Powered Cows sucking up grass through brass instrument faces.
A Giant Yellow Flamingosaurus chasing a gecko on a motorbike.
A Neon Space Jellyfish attacking a city of Napoleonic Amphibians.
A Convent of Slug Nuns.
OMG, please make these happen!! I also want to live in your brain for story ideas…
Most of that nonsense started as a picture that popped up in my head from nowhere. I don’t do anything in particular to glean inspiration. And some days I have ZERO. I often listen to podcasts if I am drawing something monotonous (ink linework. Trees. Etc). And any music from Opera to US Southern Gothic. (No idea what I’ll listen to for the Slug Nuns… Black Sabbath?)
Nature seems to be a central element in your work – animals primarily. You seem to especially like fish and frogs. You even rescued a turtle a few months back. Penelope, was it? Do you often rescue animals?
Not deliberately. I found Penelope (the turtle) walking across the road outside our apartment at night. There was no water nearby, so I assume she escaped from a tank somehow. She is a small golden thread. Indigenous to Taiwan but also kept as pets here. So I took her in and made her a pond on the balcony.
We also have a cat called Miaow Miaow Roar (in Chinese). Though that is looked after by my wife’s cousin who lives with us for now (wife’s cousin is also a rescue animal who I shall one day release into the wild).
And our runt pigdog (Boston Terrier) which my wife rescued from someone who was trying to sell him as a miniature French Bulldog.
I did once rescue a rat from someone who had bought it to feed a python. Which is illegal. And cruel. She was called Lola. I used to let her roam my room at night but she was so noisy I had to wear earplugs. Until she found that out and would remove them from my ears and hide them while I was asleep.
LOL. Rats these days… *shakes head*
Do you have a piece (map or other art) you are especially proud of or has a special meaning to you?
Well. I think the Bridge, which is a big picture of various animals all travelling in different vehicles over water, land, sky. It was one of the first things I did when I became self employed, and I deliberately procrastinated over it for a long time while I decided what to do with my life. It’s quite cutesy and fun. Not for everyone. But each animal rhymes (sort of quite badly) with whatever it is riding in. Think Orangutan in an Ice Cream Van. Baboon in a hot Air Balloon.
Quite a few friends bought prints of it, so that helped with my confidence. And then on my second trip to Taiwan, long before I became resident – the Jigsaw Puzzle company Pintoo messaged me and asked if I’d want to license it to them to sell as a jigsaw puzzle! THAT was incredibly exciting (and still is). I have 3 puzzles with them now.
WHAT?! Okay, wait, I need to do a quick shopping, excuse me for a minute.
Right, please continue.
And one more piece. Wait 2 more. No ok. Well the Frog Prince is like „my hero” character. But I think the House Maze is special. I spent a LOT of time on that, as you can probably guess if you look at it. And most of the rooms refer to a fantasy or sci-fi film. So that’s probably more appropriate for now!
What advice would you give someone who is new to this world but would like to become an artist like you? Is there something you would have liked to knew before you started?
Network! When I were a wee lad we had no internet. I can’t imagine being able to get to a pro job level within this timeframe without the internet to show off/be nice to people/talk rubbish on. 80% of jobs I’ve done in the last 2 years came from someone seeing my work online or reading my idiotic Twitter discussions with RJ Barker (amongst others).
I feel so seen…
Let’s talk a bit about Fantasy. You work with quite a few authors, and your illustrations have quite a lot of fantastical elements. I guess it’s a safe bet to say to you like this genre. Which book or artwork introduced you to Fantasy? What makes it special to you?
When I was at Junior school we had one of those mini libraries, and a selection of books outside each classroom along a corridor with „skill levels” from yellow square to purple spot (little stickers on the books). I remember being a purple spot kid way before I was supposed to be. I read the Neverending Story very young. Then my Dad bought me The Hobbit. My Gran bought me the Weirdstone of Brisingamen.
After that I went straight into the bulk of books that were around at the time I was about 12 to 13: Dragonlance, Belgariad, and all the Fighting Fantasy Books (Russ Nicholson’s art in those books was a HUGE inspiration). Then in mid to late teens started really enjoying Moorcock and good old Robert E Howard.
I added sci-fi a bit later, after Red Dwarf appeared on TV!
It’s all about the escapism, of course. As simple as that.
I hear you.
Which one of your drawn characters would you like to live with in an Asylum? Or you can chose any other fictional character, if you like.
Prince Escamillo Bhambu! The Frog Prince. He is talkative and chatty and… wait he might be annoying. But I’m annoying as well. We’ll be fine.
You mentioned RJ Barker before. One of your most recent arts are the ones you did for The Bone Ships by him. You guys worked on quite a few projects together. How did you get to know him and what was the most challenging about creating arts for The Bone Ships?
We met in a fighting pit in Bangkok, I believe.
LOL. Now that’s a scene I want to see.
No, it was back in the days of Yahoo Groups. I probably thought he was a girl.
We had a great little community of gothy types back then. I did actually physically meet him ONCE – in a seedy club in Leeds? I think? The club wasn’t so seedy. Just all of us.
There hasn’t been anything challenging about The Bone Ships art. Which is a compliment. Because quite a while before the book was complete (am I allowed to say this?) we did a lot of concept stuff that was client-number-2-type. I just did what I wanted and he told me if it was good or needed a tweak.
I still have a LOT of sketches like a field guide to the flora and fauna of this world. We’ll do something with that at a later date, I think.
Awesome! I definitely will keep an eye open for that!
Oh I did get the actual Bone Ship drawing wrong a few times. Because I was too lazy to read the whole book first. But then I read enough to actually draw what I was supposed to.
Also the map in the book was CRAZY. Neither of us really knew what went where but we got there in the end, and if it’s a bit vague it’s fine – because it looks like the kind of map a drunk sailor might produce. (Like me)
Is there a Fantasy world/place you’d like to illustrate but didn’t have a chance yet?
I’m not sure. I always wanted to do my own LOTR maps. But there’s really no point.
I also love drawing mazes, so maybe a vast castle cutaway of some sort. But nothing specific from an established world that I can think of. I love drawing out new worlds that I know nothing about.
Those are always more exciting, aren’t they?
What are you working on now and what can we expect from you in the future? Would you like to try your hands, say, doing cover art at one point? Do you have something like a bucket list career-wise? Things you’d like to accomplish.
I’m doing a series of fantasy city maps for Andrew Eagle. 3 of 9 so far. And also currently working on a huge map of Taipei. I’ve been asked to draw on the walls of a restaurant. But those two maps are the main BIG JOBS I have right now.
I have an exihibiton of my Flying Fish coming up (I think. Need to confirm that) – so that’s quite exciting.
I do also have a book cover to do! It’s kind of a fun adventure romp. I need to get around to doing that soon. I’ve done a set of 3 covers – but they were mostly a quick mix of digital art and photo manipulation. I’d like to do some full-on artwork for a big fat fantasy book at some point. Or sci-fi! I CAN DRAW SPACE AND ROBOTS AND LASERS TOO. Nobody asks for those, though.
I don’t really have a bucket list. I’m just happy to get regular work and be able to afford to buy cheese and socks and stuff. Though I think a kind of 50/50 art/story book would be something I’d like to do. So basically an illustrated poem or something. Not a kid’s book, as such. I tend to shy away from those (they are NOT an easy option for author OR illustrator! I can say that much with confidence).
So, you are not one to be bored, I presume.
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
Maybe The Hobbit. Just for comfort levels. I’m not sure how much extra I could get out of it after the 6th reading. Maybe I can learn it backwards or something.
Sounds like a plan. Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
Thanks. Oh slide that pen under the door, would you? I need to start mapping this place!
If you’d like to get in contact with Tom Parker, you can find him on social media:
And if you didn’t have enough yet, here are a few more art works from Tom Parker: