Having collaborated with the likes of Netflix, Metallica, and Iron Maiden, Alex Tilbrook has established himself as a highly sought-after artist and illustrator. His vivid and sharp art style is instantly recognizable – and if you’re getting strong heavy metal vibes, you might be onto something!
In this week’s On the Spot, Alex reveals how it all started with touring with his band, talks about his key inspirations, and lets us inside his creative process.
Let’s kick it off with the big one. Can you tell us a little about the designs you’ve created for Netflix?
I started working with Netflix in 2022 on some initial concepts for Strangers Things. The idea was to create a collection of vibrant, neon-style illustrations which would be used for a Halloween collection.
The first concepts I focused on were my versions of Vecna and the Demogorgon, which was later followed by my own take on the Hellfire Club logo. After I completed those illustrations for Stranger Things, I was asked to start work on some other licenses, such as The Witcher, Army of the Dead, and Squid Game.
How long did it take you to prepare a special collection for Netflix? What were the biggest challenges?
It has been a fairly long process creating the illustrations for this collection. We actually began work on the project in June 2022, which feels like a very long time ago now. The biggest challenge for me was the pressure of creating something that would be good enough to represent these iconic shows. As a big fan of Stranger Things in particular I know there is a lot of great artwork out there, so I felt it was really important to deliver the best work of my career on these. Luckily, the team at Netflix are fantastic to work with and have been great throughout the entire process.
What was your reaction when Netflix approached you?
I have been in this industry for around 10 years now, but I still feel shocked every time a client like Netflix reaches out to me about a project. My initial reaction was excitement, and my brain jumped straight into creative mode, thinking about what I might be able to create for this project.
Your portfolio is packed with projects for large clients. What are some of your most memorable collaborations?
I would say both Iron Maiden and Metallica are my most memorable collaborations. I grew up listening to these bands and studying the album artwork in my dad’s vinyl collection as a kid, so having the opportunity to work with them was incredible. It still feels surreal that I am able to create art for these artists for a living.
The Metallica ‘Spit Out The Bone’ illustration I worked on is one of my favorite projects to date. This was quite a challenging piece and took hours to complete, but I really enjoyed diving into the music video from the band and picking out details to include in the artwork.
You specialize in illustration, print design, and brand identity. What work do you enjoy doing the most?
Although I enjoy all aspects of my job, I would say that illustration will always be my main passion. I’ve always been interested in drawing for as long as I can remember, so every time I get a project which involves creating a bespoke piece of artwork for a client, I always get excited.
How did your artistic journey begin?
I’ve always enjoyed creating artwork for as long as I can remember. I would spend my time at school drawing over my books during class, entering art competitions at any opportunity, building things – basically being creative in any way I could.
I actually fell into my art career by accident during my time as a touring musician. I spent years touring with my band all over the world, and we would constantly need posters for our shows, merchandise, album artwork etc. Other bands we were on tour with would then ask me to do the same for them, and before long, people were paying me to create artwork for them. It has really snowballed from there and I have been doing it ever since.
What are your biggest inspirations?
There are various things that have inspired me over the years. Looking through old album artwork by artists like Derek Riggs who created the original iconic Iron Maiden illustrations always made me want to draw – I’d spend hours trying to recreate those album covers! Reading comic books and being completely in awe of the illustrations by the likes of artists such as Jim Lee and John Romita. There are also lots of great artists who are also a big inspiration to me at the moment, such as Dan Mumford, Luke Preece, and Ken Taylor.
What does your creative process look like and what tools do you use?
The first thing I do when starting a new piece is sit down and sketch up a few different layout options. A lot of the time I’ll do this with pen and paper before I start work on anything digital, but sometimes I’ll jump straight onto my Wacom tablet and sketch on there. These usually look very rough and mainly involve drawing shapes to help me work out how to position everything and get the overall composition correct.
The next step will be a rough digital line art sketch to start adding some detail in. This is a more refined version of my initial sketch and I’ll start adding some additional elements and thinking about light sources and smaller details.
Once I’m happy with this, I’ll move onto the final line art where I’ll start adding the finer details and blocking out the black line work. This is my favorite part of the process as you can start seeing the art come to life at this point.
The next step for me is to start adding color. I’ll usually block out the main colors, and then start shading and adding highlights over the top of that. I’ll usually add a few layers of shading to give the artwork some depth.
I generally do all of my artwork in Adobe Illustrator using a Wacom Cintiq Pro, however recently I have started experimenting with drawing in Photoshop, which is great for adding texture.
What do you consider to be your biggest success so far?
I’ve been very lucky with some of the opportunities I’ve had over the last few years, however I feel that my biggest success so far in terms of artwork I’m most proud of are the Stranger Things illustrations I’ve done for Netflix. I really pushed myself with these pieces and I feel that it’s my best work to date. I’m really excited for everyone to see them when they are finally released.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to keep creating as much as possible, and improving as an artist every day.
What piece of advice would you give to artists who want to work with brands?
Practice as much as you can, and put together a strong portfolio of work that you can send out to clients you want to work with. More often than not you won’t get a response, but if you keep going with it, eventually the opportunity will come.