Interview with Simon Oxley, the illustrator who created the Twitter bird

Simon Oxley is a British illustrator and designer living in Japan. He runs his own design studio there. The most famous of his works are the logo for iStockphoto and the famous Twitter bird. All his creations are characterized by simplicity and brevity. Correspondents from Tutsplus delighted us with an interview with this original designer.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 40 years old, I live and work in Japan together with my wife Noriko and my two sons Tyler, 6 and Hagen, 4. I have been freelancing for the last 7 years, my clients here are many Japanese corporations. I also sell my work on postcards and posters in London, Melbourne and Los Angeles.

How did you become a designer?

I’ve loved drawing since I was a child. And my subsequent successes in it led me to seriously pursue this line of work. I started working for a small company that produced computer games. So I became a designer.

I would like to know about the bird for Twitter. How this drawing came about. You assumed it would become so popular.
I don’t remember exactly why I drew this bird anymore. I uploaded the drawing to iStockphoto and moved on. It was on iStockphoto that this bird was bought for a logo for a small amount of money. Of course, I had no idea it would become so famous.

Although the Twitter bird is not the official logo, it has already become a promoted brand. But it hasn’t paid any dividends for you. Aren’t you embarrassed by this state of affairs?

Even though I didn’t get rich with the help of this bird, I am not embarrassed by this state of affairs. I have a philosophical attitude to it. Of course, it would be great if I was mentioned as a creator of a bird on the service itself, but no, not so. Moreover, they don’t have to do that. I can see how people like Twitter, and I’m glad there’s some of my credit in that. On top of that, The Washington Post published an article about Twitter bird and me. So in the long run, it’s had a positive impact on my business and my creativity.

Where do you find ideas for your illustrations? What do you draw inspiration from?

Oh, that’s an impossible question to answer definitively. In life itself, in my memories. Many things.

Tell us about your creative process. Do you draw on paper or directly on a computer? What tools do you use?
I use Adobe Illustrator CS2 for my work. But I always keep a sheet of paper and pencils handy to sketch an idea right away. When I start working, I don’t know yet what the drawing should look like. It is born in the process of creation. Sometimes it comes out quickly, sometimes not so much.

What other meaningful projects have you done in your artistic biography? Tell us about your experience working with iStockphoto and Coca Cola.
I worked with iStockphoto back in 2005, when they were just starting out. I knew a few employees and was asked to make a logo and a few icons. As for Coca Cola, I worked with the Rock and Roll agency in Brussels. They specialize in music posters.

You have a lot of experience as a stock illustrator. What is the right way to work with sites like iStockphoto to achieve success in this business?

Tips… I guess I just got lucky and found my niche right away. I did not have a specific plan on how to work with content stock sites. I just did different drawings. Sometimes I presented one theme in different versions. You can’t tell right away which one will be successful. The market is diverse and multicultural. So there is always a possibility of finding a buyer.

What are you working on now? Is there anything you dream about?

Right now I’m drawing characters for several brands. I also don’t forget the theme of postcards and posters of my work which I get commissioned from small stores. And the dream… I would like to travel more with my family and buy a house with a big garden to grow vegetables. And creatively, I’m fine with everything as it is now.

What do you like and dislike about the web design industry?

I love looking at people’s drawings, I love listening to music written by people, watching sports. In my opinion, the design industry does not exist apart from other aspects of life. So when I look at websites or an exhibition of work, I look at them as if I were looking at all the other things in my life.

How do you feel about life in Japan? Do you miss England?

Yes, I miss my hometown a little bit, the air, the countryside, the relationships. But I feel good in Japan, too, even though it’s a different universe. The only thing is that I’m not very strong in Japanese yet. Otherwise, Japan has all the conditions for a long and happy life.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I go to the beach, to the woods, swim, play tennis, golf, read books, socialize with family and friends, play with my kids, watch them draw, cook food, drink beer and wine, just laugh at something.

What advice would you give to aspiring designers and artists?

No, I wouldn’t give any advice. First of all, it could just be wrong. And secondly, everyone has their own way.