Phil Maltz is a self-taught illustrator from London who creates detailed urban scenes and buildings using watercolour, Promarkers and fineliners. His inspiration comes from growing up in East London.
Tell us a bit about your background and the kind of work you make.
I’ve always had a creative streak, taking after my grandmother who is the artist in the family. I studied Graphic Design at university but I’ve worked in video production for the last 19 years. In that time, I dabbled a little with pencil sketching and acrylic painting but nothing serious.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that I decided to take art seriously. I started an Instagram channel to log my progress, focusing my attention on sketching London architecture. I’m now a self-taught, self-employed artist, painting commissioned house portraits for clients all over the world.
Your drawings are immensely detailed, how long does the average drawing take?
Times vary depending on the level of detail in the scene I’m painting and the size of the piece, but it can take a good number of hours spread over a two-week period.
You describe yourself as ‘self-taught’. When did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?
When I decided to start developing my artistic skills, I didn’t really know where it would lead. I certainly didn’t expect to reach a place where I would be doing commissions or selling prints of my artwork. But this all come as a result of the success of my Instagram channel. Posting updates of my work and processes in the early days helped to grow my following from 0 to 10k in 4 months. This response greatly encouraged me to take my artistic work more seriously.
What has been your most ambitious drawing yet?
My most ambitious drawing so far is probably the commission I received from the president of a college in the Virgin Islands! This was a three-portrait commission at A3 size, and the subjects I had to draw were million miles away (well, only 4000 miles!) from the London architecture that I was used to. But that’s the beauty of being given subjects to draw, they force you out of your comfort zone and this is where you develop new techniques and grow in confidence as an artist.
You use Promarkers, fineliners and watercolours in your work, what is it about these materials that made you choose them?
At the start of my creative journey, I was drawn to sketching with fineliners rather than pencil. I like that style of drawing and took inspiration from other artists who produced similar work to what I wanted to achieve. I’d never used watercolour at this stage, and I wasn’t confident at all using colour. So, as a first step, I was encouraged to use Promarkers. I really liked the dual tip feature and wide range of colours. It was only later that I transitioned to using watercolour alongside my fineliner drawings and developing my passion for colour and detail.
Do you have a typical routine when you start a new piece?
I always start my routine by creating a digital composition of the subject. So it might be that I distort the image a little, add extra features like a nicer door or better window reflections. At this point I would like to say I’m not a traditional sketcher. I prefer to work slowly and with accuracy rather than quick and loose. When I want to be extra accurate, I will even attempt to use a lightbox to map out the proportions, particularly on bigger pieces. But when you use thick (300gsm) watercolour paper, you can only see so much detail with a lightbox, so I then resort to working side-by-side with a printout of the composition matching the scale of my canvas. Once all the detail is adding with a fineliner, I then start adding the watercolour.
Do you have any hacks or shortcuts that you’d like to share, for example do you repurpose any items?
Creating a colour mixing chart is really helpful and encourages you to mix colours rather than just use the stock pigment. You can get some amazing colour variations when you manually mix your pigments.
Your work often depicts buildings and urban architecture, what’s your favourite type of building to draw and where do you get your inspiration from?
My favourite architecture will always be East London’s Victorian and Georgian period town houses. I grew up in East London, so I have a personal connection to the area. Working in London (pre-pandemic) I was surrounded by interesting, old architecture, full of character and charm, holding its own against the modern glass and steel structures in close proximity. Traditional brickwork is one of my passions.
You incorporate a lot of foliage and botanical elements in your drawings as well. How does this process differ from the more urban elements?
Well, the challenge I really enjoy is capturing what I see, and I love the mixture of the urban and natural elements living side-by-side, even sometimes interacting with each other. When I choose a composition, I always look for key things. Interesting window reflections, exposed brickwork, and that mixture of both the urban and the natural.
You seem to draw a lot of inspiration from cities, especially London. Do you tend to make work when travelling?
No, I may see something inspiring and take a quick photo, but my work processes are solely studio-based. I need to be able to concentrate and take my time.
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator today? And the most challenging thing?
The best thing is being able to create something outside of the digital space, with traditional tools. Without social media, I probably wouldn’t have had the encouragement to pursue this particular creative outlet and opened doors professionally.
Do you have one piece of advice for illustrators who are just starting out and considering a freelance career?
You could be an amazing artist, but if no one knows you or your work exists, you will never succeed to connect with the people who might one day pay you for your work. For me, the key to success has been a combination of people liking my artistic style, people trusting me as a brand, and the global reach of my work through social media. Without those 3 things, someone in the British Virgin Islands would never have found me, liked my work, and trusted me with a commission.
Are there any artists or illustrators that you are particularly inspired by?
I’ve always been inspired by legendary British artist David Hockney, in particular, his huge photo montages. I’m also inspired by the line drawings of @shoreditchsketcher, the linework and colours of @martynhay3s, the accuracy of Vasundhara and the style of Liam O’Farrell.
All images courtesy of the artist, click here to see more of Phil’s work.