Dermot Flynn tells Damian Dolan how he gave up a successful career as an arts teacher to build a growing reputation as a talented designer, illustrator and animator
After nine years it was all just becoming a little bit too safe for Dermot Flynn. An arts teacher at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, he’d already developed a respected reputation as a designer and illustrator, but it was time to take a leap into the unknown and commit himself full-time to his passion.
“It was now or never; if I didn’t do it now I never would and I’d always be wondering, why?” says Dermot. “Being a teacher was challenging, but it was the best fun I’ve had working anywhere. The kids were fantastic, they were bright and funny.
“But it was really comfortable; it was a safe environment and I just wanted to mix things up a bit. It was sad to leave, but it was time to move on and try something different.”
Not that Dermot is starting from square one, having combined his teaching commitments over the past nine years with freelancing as a designer and illustrator after setting up his own practice.
Represented by Dutch Uncle Agency in London, he can already boost an impressive client list which includes the likes of Pentagram, Adidas, Vodafone, New York Magazine, Conde Nast, Dentsu Japan, Winkreative, GQ, the Guardian, BMW, Francfranc, SwissAir, Nickelodeon, Vodafone, Boots, Toyotsa Japan, The Irish Times, HSBC, Vogue, Christies, Saatchi & Saatchi, Oxford University Press, The Guardian Marmite and Jameson.
His illustration work has won numerous awards, among them the 2002 Macmillan Prize for Children’s Book Illustration and a Silver Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival.
It’s also not his first leap into the unknown.
Born on the northside of Dublin, he attended Belvedere College in Dublin and inherited his passion for illustration from his mother, an art teacher.
“I was given art material from a very early age and I’d always be messing around with something at home, and making a mess of the kitchen. My mother, especially, was very helpful and very patient,” he said. “At school it was the only subject I was really good at and by the time I was 15 or 16 I realised it was the only thing I wanted to do.”
He studied Visual Communication at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin before beginning his career at Carton Levert in Blackrock doing illustration. It was all very “natural” for Dermot, who also began to explore animation during those two and a half years, before moving to Brighton to complete a Masters.
Then came his “lucky break”, landing a job as an in-house designer at the world-renowned StudioAKA in London in 2003, where amongst other things he gained experience in pitching for commercials and short films.
“It was one of the first big breaks I got. They were great to work for and very supportive and encouraging,” he said. “I had time there to develop as an illustrator and an animator. It was a great opportunity and training ground.”
But not shy of shaking things up, he left StudioAKA to do a PGC at Goldsmiths College and become an arts teacher.
Now nine years on he’s branching out once again, leaving the teaching world behind to balance commissioned work with his own projects.
The ones which appeal to him the most, are those where to gets to meet people and go unusual places, such as being commissioned by the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, to create a children’s book and series of Christmas window designs.
“I was flown over by the hotel and got to stay an entire week in five star luxury. A pretty nice gig!” recalls Dermot, for whom meeting Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy when he illustrated her book The Wren Boys, which retold the old Irish county Stephen’s Day tradition of ‘hunting the wren’ where local boys would dress up as mummers, catch the bird and parade it around town, was another highlight.
“I loved doing The Wren Boys; that was a lovely project to work on. Carol is a really impressive woman. When you get to meet people like her it’s great.
“I’ve also been doing a lot of private commissions for people’s special occasions and birthdays and the reaction of people when brought face-to-face with my work is just brilliant.
“I recently did some work for Clinique at Arnotts in Dublin, where I was doing portraits of Clinique customers. That was great; I met such a diverse bunch of people and seeing them react having their portraits done was just fantastic.”
Underlying everything, though, is Dermot’s passion for storytelling, whether that be static illustration or animation.
“I realised that stuff which had a narrative in in, that was what really appealed to me,” he added. “The levels of subtlety you can get within an image, just by the line work or the imagery, that’s what really appealed to me. It seemed more natural to me.”
Dermot divides himself between his London home in Brixton and his Oval work space, but he never goes too long before getting back to Dublin. The influence of both cities can be found in his work.