Artist Interview: Paul Hallam

In this final interview of the current series I am delighted to introduce you to the artwork of Australian artist Paul Hallam. Paul’s work is ‘bouncy’ vibrant and energetic, expressed in popular comic style art; a genre that is sadly often undervalued or underestimated in the art world. Paul’s artistic knowledge of anatomy gives his characters structure and believability  and the quirkiness in his illustrations endear these characters to the viewer while often illustrating a parody or life lesson. Even Paul’s signature on his artworks will induce a smile as it is usually accompanied by a loud exclamation mark!  To follow more of Paul’s work please see the links at the end of the interview.

Paul Hallam. ‘Cat water’, 2015, 20x21cm, Pen & Ink with digital colours.
  • Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Paul Hallam. I have been married to my wife Carolyn for almost 12 years and we have 4 young children. I currently work as a visual arts teacher’s aide and am studying graphic design, part time at Shillington College, Sydney.

  • Why do you do what you do?

A few reasons. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s the way I am wired.

  • How do you work?

I like trying out a bunch of different materials but my main tools are pen and ink, and digital art programs like Photoshop. I am just beginning to work out how to do my work completely on the computer. I have found that the digital process gives me a lot of freedom to experiment, especially in the rough sketching stage of drawing.

  • What’s your background?

In terms of art, my main background has been comic books. I’ve been reading comics since I was 13 and began drawing my own stories later on in high school. After school, I studied a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) majoring in illustration. That was a lot of fun. I then spent the next 10 years working in a different area before coming back to art and design in 2014.

  • What’s integral to the work of an artist?

I think that doing art is about seeing and showing. An artist needs to have the ability to see a complex object in such a way that you can break it down into its basic shapes, proportions and spaces. For example, being able to breakdown a car into rectangular prisms and cylinders. And then an artist needs to be able to take these basic shapes that they have seen and show them on the page.

I also think that it’s important for an artist to have a strong desire to keep learning, developing and improving. I want to be continually learning more about human anatomy, storytelling, colour, and so on.

Paul Hallam. ‘Superman Sketch’, 2016, 20x21cm, Graphite Pencil.
  • What role does the artist have in society?

I think the artist has many possible roles in society. The artist’s job can be to entertain, amuse, inspire, critique, instruct, to help others reflect, to show beauty and more.

  • What has been a seminal experience?

When I was in year 9 my friend gave me a copy of ‘How to draw comics the Marvel way’. This book changed the way I draw. It gave me all the basics that I needed. I still use the ideas and techniques today. I don’t know if I would have carried on with art in high school if not for that book. It equipped me and energised me for drawing. That period was a time of a huge leap in my art.

  • Explain what you do in 100 words

Generally, I start with a bunch of really small, rough sketches either on paper or on the computer. I then refine, adjust, combine and strengthen these initial sketches. Once the composition is sorted out, I will do a larger loose drawing, starting with stick figures and building up the shapes and forms. I usually then trace this either on a light box or on the computer to make a tighter drawing. Finally, this drawing is transferred onto Bristol board for inking and then I colour it in Photoshop. I try, throughout this process, to refine the image but I also strive to keep the energy of the first drawings. I don’t want my drawings to get too stiff.

  • How has your practice changed over time?

My practice has changed a lot over the years. I think I have gotten a bit looser with my drawing than I was maybe 10 years ago. It has also gotten more cartoony. A bit more bendy and exaggerated. I use computer programs more now as the software and hardware has improved and become more affordable.

Harry Potter
Paul Hallam. ‘Harry Potter’, 2015, 29.7x21cm, Pen & Ink and watercolour.
  • What art do you most identify with?

As I said before, I am a huge comic book fan. I really like the fact that comic stories can deal with deep and important themes as well as be entertaining. I can really identify with Spider-man. The main theme for his story is “With great power comes great responsibility”. He’s all about using his abilities for the sake of others, even when it costs him to do so. I like that moral rule. It’s something to aspire to. I also identify with Batman. Batman is a guy who sees criminals hurting people and getting away with it. He sees the inability and corruption of the police. So he does something about it. I think everyone can relate to that as they look around their community and the world.

In terms of artistic styles, I love bold, simple and graphic looking artwork. There is something very sophisticated about simplicity. I also love dynamic, exaggerated and cartoonish art. I can appreciate realism but it doesn’t really impact me as much as more stylised work.

  • What work do you most enjoying doing?

I did a book cover for a friend of mine last year. It was a parody of Star Wars called “Star Pizzas”. It was a fun project because I got to muck around with the designs of characters like ‘Darth Grater’, ‘Princess Lasagne Layers’ and other cheesy dad-joke characters.

Paul Hallam. ‘Star Pizzas’, 2016, 13x17cm, Pen & Ink with Digital colours.
  • What themes do you pursue?

Pop culture, everyday life, I like using humour in my work. I want it to be bouncy and optimistic.

  • What’s your favourite art work?

I have always been drawn to the impressionist painters. I remember visiting the Art Gallery of NSW and being drawn to the works by Paul Cézzanne and Van Gogh. I think I like the vibrant colours, the textures and the energy of the Impressionists. When it comes to comic book art, I love the marvel comics style of the 60’s and 70’s. I have a print of the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-man) on my wall at home. It’s such an iconic image.

  • Describe a real-life situation that inspired you

I remember one drawing was surprisingly inspired by a year 1 child at school. I was pinning up some artwork in the library. The class had been given the task of creating a monster and they all did a fantastic job. But one drawing stood out to me. It was a giant pink blob, with three eyes and it was standing on multiple long legs. The student said that it was based on a spider. I thought it was cool and a little cute. This inspired me to create my own version of this “Brain-Spider”. Mine was less cute, but hopefully a lot more creepy.

  • Why art?

Because art adds so much flavour to life.

  • What is an artistic outlook on life?

I am extremely visual. I remember faces better than names, I usually notice what people are wearing, their hairstyles and their expressions. I also deconstruct the things that I see. It just happens automatically. I see something and I try and work out how to draw it.

  • What memorable responses have you had to your work?

In 2014 I took a painting course at a community college. Acrylic painting has always scared me, so I decided to do a beginner’s course to demystify it a bit. I spent the term creating a self portrait where my face was made up of various superheroes. We held an exhibition at the end of the term and it was so exciting to see people looking at my work. Especially when kids were trying to list all the superheroes in my portrait.

Super Self Portrait
Paul Hallam. ‘Superhero Self portrait’, 2015, 29.7x42cm, Acrylics.
  • Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

I’m an introvert so I don’t mind being by myself. However, with family, friends and social media, it’s all pretty balanced I think.

  • What do you dislike about the art world?

I remember feeling slightly annoyed at the low view many artists or art teachers have to comic art. It’s frustrating because some of the artwork is amazing. I think it’s changing at a popular level. Superheroes are very popular at the moment. I have heard of art galleries doing exhibitions of comic artists and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney did a Lego DC superheroes exhibit.

  • What do you dislike about your work?

I find it frustrating when there is one small bit of a drawing that just doesn’t look right. Often I will be whittling away at it over and over again. Sometimes I don’t see it until the work is finished and then all I can see is the mistake.

  • What do you like about your work?

I have fun doing it so hopefully my work is fun and interesting for others too.

  • Should art be funded?

Yes, as other areas are also funded. Creative arts are an important part of our society and should be respected and encouraged to flourish.

  • What role does arts funding have?

I think it would be fantastic if there could be more funding for good artists to work in schools and universities, whether to do permanent teaching jobs or to be visiting lecturers. I can imagine how helpful that would be to high school and Uni students.

  • What research do you do?

It depends. Some sketches are just ideas that pop into my head. They are inspired by books I have been reading (fiction, biographies), movies, TV shows, current events and everyday family life. My sketch book is right next to my bed to grab those ideas before they slip away. Other artworks require more research. For example the ‘Coffee Snobs’ illustration I spent a week mind mapping, investigating coffee culture in Australia and brainstorming different possible ideas for the brief.

Coffee Snobs
Paul Hallam. ‘Coffee snobs’, 2015, 20x15cm, pen and ink with digital colours.
  • What is your dream project?

Wow that’s a good question. I would love to work on a children’s book. I have been playing around with some ideas for some books. Or something superhero related? Comic books are great but they do require a significant amount of work within a small amount of time.

  • Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

Mike Wieringo, Skottie Young and Chris Bachalo. They are all American comic book artists who have styles that I enjoy. While I don’t think my art looks exactly like theirs, I do feel that they are some of my influences so I would love to be mentioned in the same breath as them.

Paul Hallam. ‘The man from the moon I’, 2002, 21×29.7cm, Pen & ink with digital colours.
Paul Hallam. ‘The man from the moon II’, 2002, 21×29.7cm, Pen & ink with digital colours.
  • Favourite or most inspirational place

I find inspiration in many places. I love looking through art books, lots of ideas come from hanging out with my kids or watching our dog chase our cat around the house. I have also found hanging out at the shops or the gym to be inspirational. You can see some interesting looking people doing strange and interesting things that make for good cartoon characters or stories.

  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Keep drawing all the time. Keep drawing the same thing over and over again until it becomes deeply ingrained.

  • Professionally, what’s your goal?

Even though I have been doing art for a long time, I have only been taking it more seriously over the last year and a half. Really I am just at the beginning of my professional life. I am looking forward to finishing off my studies this year, which will update and build on my previous learning. So my goal this year is to learn everything I need to be a creative, effective and efficient graphic designer/illustrator.

  • What wouldn’t you do without?

I’m a Christian so I would never want to be without Jesus. And also my relationships with my family.

Paul Hallam. ‘Blame it on the rain’, 2015, 24x27cm, Pen & Ink and Watercolour.

To reach Paul or to see more of his work follow these links:


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