An Interview with Tug Rice, Illustrator

Tug Rice is a New York City based illustrator who has also worked as both an actor and a writer. His art draws on the glamour and charm of a bygone era while retaining a contemporary, cutting edge feel. His illustrations have featured in publications including Elle Decor and Harper's Bazaar and he has worked with esteemed clients from Dior to the Carlyle Hotel.
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We are delighted to have collaborated with Tug on three collections of enamel and fine bone china pieces which will be released throughout October 2021. Here, read him answer a few of our questions giving his thoughts on drawing, drama, and Dalmatian print.
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When did you first realise you could draw?
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I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. It was a natural part of my day even as a young kid. I filled notebooks and notebooks with drawings of invented characters. I remember my paediatrician saw some drawings I had done and asked if she could keep them. She thought I might end up becoming a professional artist someday. I wonder if they’re still in her desk drawer...
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How do you think your work as both an actor and a writer informs your artwork?
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When I set out to create an illustration, a story inevitably forms. There is a narrative and it involves all the elements of a play or other work of fiction: leading characters, a setting, costumes, props, action, sometimes secondary characters, etc. I think of my illustrations as theatrical tableaux that could be put on a stage or adapted into a short story. It’s all connected. And, as in a drama, in addition to what’s obviously occurring in the scene there is often something else underneath.
 
What inspires all of that creativity in you?

Certainly living in the heart of Manhattan has its advantages. There are so many eccentric characters walking around, it really is like living inside a cover of The New Yorker. I find I don’t have to stretch too far to find inspiration. If I just look out my window, I’ll eventually see something interesting. As I’m writing this, I just poked my head out and saw a woman in a Dalmatian print coat walking her pet Dalmatian. I might have to draw that. 

The rosy-cheeked characters you paint are so animated and intriguing, and your pieces have been described as nostalgic, glamorous, and charming. What feelings are you trying to capture and express in your paintings?

Curiosity is what I’m after. Part of the fun is that I don’t necessarily know who these characters are or how they relate to each other. I make them up and I put them in scenes with other characters and it’s like a party game guessing their relationships and what’s going on. They are conversation pieces and I’m always amused to hear what people infer from these still images. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s interpretive and it invites you to engage with the art.  On a second or third viewing, you might catch something you didn’t see before or make a new assumption about the scene. 

Which other contemporary artists do you admire most?

David Downton, Andrea Ferolla, John Currin, and many more. 

Tell us a bit more, if you would, about the esteemed figure that is Hal the Bear and his story?

Gladly! As I understand it, charming bears have been a part of the Halcyon Days DNA for a long time. There were bear-shaped collectible bonbonierres and every year a new one would be introduced. Then for some years the bears went into hibernation. When I started collaborating with Halcyon Days, CEO and Chairman Pamela Harper asked if I would design a new bear. It was time for a revival. Pamela thought he should be a “bear about town” — distinguished, British, well-dressed — basically, the bear we all want to be or befriend. I had a wonderful time creating him. And when he was finished, Hal just seemed the perfect name. To me, Hal is an effortless dandy. As we see him currently in his velvet dinner jacket, tartan trousers, and walking stick, I imagine he is en route to a very smart  Christmas party in town. After that, he’ll probably pop into the club for a digestif with some pals and then retire to his tastefully decorated rooms in Half Moon Street. He has a very nice life!

As a proud New Yorker, how do you view our home city, London?

There’s an adage I’ve heard about foreigners who visit London for the first time and it’s that London is the only city in the world that lives up to one’s high expectations. That was definitely my experience when I first visited. I couldn’t believe that the history, charm, and beauty I’d read about were actually real. It’s astounding to be surrounded by those things on literally every street. Although I love New York, we just don’t have the same age and patina. London is very special to me and I’m proud to be collaborating with a company with such a strong presence there. And I cannot wait to return. 

Finally, what’s your idea of a perfect Christmas day?

Lots of naps. I’m a Christmas Eve person so Christmas Day for me is usually very low key and relaxing. I like to be in a bit of a food coma from the night before and for there to be a roaring fire nearby. I’d be perfectly happy spending the day on a sofa, drifting in and out of sleep with a new book on my lap. Eventually, I might manage to pull myself together for some chocolate chip cookies, preferably served on a Halcyon Days plate.

Tug Rice's three collections created in collaboration with Halcyon Days will be released throughout October 2021. See the Hal the Bear collection here and view Tug's website here.