With an extensive range of subjects, so meticulously detailed, it might surprise you to know that all of Connor’s early illustrations were drawn by hand, which is a method he still favours. It’s pretty time consuming but mindful at the same time. He started off in pencil or pen then scanned his work into an old Mac Pro, using Photoshop and sometimes Illustrator to refine the image. More recently he has been transitioning to using an iPad so most of his current work is now produced digitally, which allows Connor to complete his commercially sold work more quickly and lends itself better to large print runs like his popular greetings card range. He is keen to maintain control over the process though, so is still printing to order at his home studio on the university side of Beeston. He particularly appreciates choosing the paper for his prints.
I first discovered Connor’s work a couple of years ago but he tells me that his drawing style has been developed over a number of years. He loved art growing up in Coventry, and at school was incredibly lucky to have access to graphic design and ceramic lessons as well as classic drawing and painting. This lead him to undertake a one-year Foundation Art Degree in nearby Leamington which he especially enjoyed. He saw this experience as ‘a great leveller’ – whatever their skill or ability everyone has to start at the same point and undertake the experimental and practice drawing activities before refining their individual style.
His early work draws a lot on nature and mentions his bear illustration as one of his favourites. Living on the edge of the urban landscape of Coventry gave him access to the countryside and opportunities to hang out with his friends, camping in woodlands and temporarily experiencing the ‘mountain man’ lifestyle. Whenever one of the group would undertake some kind of ‘basic survival’ activity the phrase ‘ mountain man makes fire’ or ‘mountain man cooks’ was a familiar call. This in fact where the name ‘Mountain Man Draws’ originates.
It took a few years and a couple of direction changes for Connor to become the successful illustrator that he is today. The art history course at Nottingham University was shelved simply because it wasn’t a good fit but also he was starting to think about how he could combine his creative imagination with a job that would pay the bills. He made the switch to an education degree at Trent. The Primary Ed course is pretty intense and didn’t leave much time for anything else, consequently, Connor began to realise how vital his art was to his well-being and executed another U-turn. He finished the course a year early, having made the decision that teaching wasn’t working for him either, and hasn’t looked back since.
2019 was a pivotal year for Connor. It was the year he identifies as one of ‘opportunities and growth.’ He stopped seeing illustration as a creative hobby and began to view it as something he could make into a fully-fledged business. Kicking off the year with an exhibition of his nature drawings at Pepper Rocks in February, standing at a number of craft fairs with his wife Nic, and expanding his range of stockists out of Nottingham and as far as Devizes he was encouraged by the response to his work. Nic supports the business with her social media skills and selling at markets, which Connor sees as greatly instrumental to his success. He has allowed the business to grow organically and doesn’t want to become a servant to social media – maintaining his authenticity is a key focus.
When I talk to Connor about his work, he is both exacting and modest. He knows what he is good at but he doesn’t like to shout about it. He loves ‘bikes, woodwork, nature, dogs, coffee, beer and of course drawing’ which happen to some of my favourite things too. He also appears to have a soft spot for Bill Murray, which I fully endorse! The man who has a passion for mountains also values his place in his community. In among the easy conversation we are having on the steps at Lakeside he tells me about his inspirations and how he doesn’t feel that being an illustrator is a ‘real job’ – it feels too easy! He is enthused by the support for his art and clearly finds a great deal of joy in what he does. This is evident in his attention to detail. There is something about the permanence of pen that encourages him to favour it as a medium, once the mark is made it is committed forever.
The pandemic has been a productive time for the mountain man, with his mountain woman working from home in her role as advisor for the IntoUniversity programme. Connor embraced the new pattern of life. Being motivated to work in the morning leaves time for a wander to the post box with orders in the afternoon, building fresh air and exercise into the working day. Although there is a fair bit of commission work, most of his sales are acquired through Etsy.
It is through Etsy that Connor connected with the man who commissioned him to illustrate his latest book. A gentleman in his late 80s, who writes books about what he is really interested in, has provided another interesting opportunity for Mountain Man to draw. Although nature has been a constant subject, you will also find playful illustrations of film stars, dinosaurs and regional maps when you browse Etsy or his social media feeds. I am particularly taken with the recent illustrations for an upcoming children’s book, which from what I can see will be pretty magical.
You can browse Connor’s range of illustrations on his website MountainManDraws.com and catch him in person at the new White Rose (or any charity shop really), The Bean, the Crow Inn or Lagan.