Off The Page, with Adrian Forrow

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we spoke with Adrian Forrow, who won his very first National Magazine Award in 2016, winning the Gold Medal in Illustration for his series of illustrations featured alongside the article “My Prescribed Life” (The Walrus). The story is a memoir about the longstanding link between mental health and prescription dependency, and it also received an Honourable Mention for Best Health & Medicine article.

NMAF: As splashes of colour that break up pages otherwise saturated by text, magazine illustrations give the reader a welcomed break, a moment’s pause before they jump back into reading. What do you think the role of an illustration is for people reading magazine articles?

Adrian: The role of editorial Illustration should be additive. It should help set the mood of the forthcoming text. The image can help evoke visual interest and transport the reader to a place where ideas and understanding intersect.

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NMAF: What details do you need before you can properly begin your creative, designing process? Are there certain elements or information that your client or partner needs to relay, in order for you to develop your concept?

Adrian: What I find that works best for me is to receive the brief and the text and really absorb the core idea before putting pen to paper. Once I feel I have a grasp of the idea, I might discuss the tone of the imagery that I feel is best for the article. This is where collaboration can happen with the art director and it’s a great way to help inform your imagery. I try not to think about the imagery at this stage–just the mood, atmosphere and tone of the picture.

The other detail that is critical for my process is the dimensions of the image. It’s really important for me to consider the whole compositional area. The dimension can ignite my conceptual approach and really make the art feel customized to the space available.

NMAF: You won Gold in Illustration at last year’s National Magazine Awards for your pieces featured in a memoir called “My Prescribed Life.” The story, published in The Walrus, discussed the link between the author’s mental illness and related dependence on medication. How did the subject matter of the memoir influence your creative conceptualization for the piece? How did you decide what tone would be most appropriate?

Adrian: This was a great article and so interesting. It was a delicate and somewhat saddening topic. I knew the colours were going to be really important. I didn’t want to do what was expected. I knew I had to take an approach that might have to be more ambiguous and surreal.

I didn’t want to use this illustration to summarize or define the problem. Instead my intent was to ask a question or pose a contemplative composition so the viewer would be left to decipher the visual symbols that I included.

The colours were mostly primary and that helped carry the idea of youth and aging. The colours also helped to create a surreal or even jarring feeling in relation to the content. The goal was for the colours and composition to carry ideas about an altered state of reality.

NMAF: Your Gold win last year was also your first time being recognized by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. How does winning awards for your illustration work help you, on both a personal and professional level?

Adrian: It feels great to know that my work is being received and appreciated within the industry. Personally, it helps to motivate me to keep developing my skills as a visual communicator. Professionally, it helps to open doors and possibilities for new and exciting opportunities.

NMAF: Your work has adorned coffee cups, been part of the creative for major music festivals and has been made larger-than-life by outdoor mural installations. Your work has also appeared in magazines, including The New Yorker, Corporate Knights and The Walrus. As an illustrator, what types of creative collaborations do you like to pursue? Do you try to not limit yourself to any one medium?

Adrian: I feel that in many ways I am just getting started. I have so many ideas and desires to push what I can do. The best thing about my profession is the variety it offers. One day I’m drawing a coffee cup, the next day I’m painting a huge outdoor mural. Variety is the spice of life, so I try to be diverse in the projects I take on.

I also love the collaborative process and making things that fulfill a need or desire. I have always experimented with different approaches and tools for making images.  I think it helps my clients see different possibilities and vary their experiences with illustration.

As of now, I have been collaborating with Warby Parker for a new store mural which I am really excited to share with people. I have also been collaborating with Keilhauer to make some artful promotional products.


Adrian Forrow is a National Magazine Award-winning illustrator whose work has been published in The Walrus, Corporate Knights, Canadian Running & Cycling Magazine and The New Yorker. His debut National Magazine Award was the Gold Medal in Best Illustration, for his series of illustrations featured in The Walrus memoir, “My Prescribed Life“. 

Check out his work at www.adrianforrow.com.

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning illustrators including Gracia Lam, Hudson ChristieByron Eggenscwhiler, Roxanna Bikadoroff, Jillian Tamaki and Selena Wong. 


Submissions to the 40th Anniversary National Magazine Awards
The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including awards for Illustration and for Best New Magazine Illustrator.
Enter at magazine-awards.com.

In alternate years, the NMAF presents distinct awards for Best New Magazine Illustrator and Best New Magazine Photographer. For this year’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards, the Best New Visual Creator award will go to an illustrator whose early work in magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise.

Read more about the Best New Creators Awards here.