He's got a certificate that says so in his home in New York. How alien is he? These days, not very. After years as a Scot living in the United States, he's now an American citizen, and has been for some years ("I got to vote for Barack Obama"). And when I meet him he's in Glasgow on a flying visit to his homeland. So, not so alien at all, then.
The extraordinary ability, though? Well, that's a given.
The fact is for quite a while Arkle, 44, has been the go-to guy for some of the most prestigious publications – The New Yorker, The New York Times and Time magazine among them – when they've been looking for an illustrator. He's wielded his pencil for brands as diverse as Nike and Toyota to The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Not bad for a self-proclaimed fire-raiser from Penicuik.
"My mother's house was right on the edge of town with nothing but fields and hills behind," he tells me, recalling his childhood, in a hotel bar in the centre of Glasgow. "We'd go off and run wild in the hillls and did a ton of stupid things. We set fire to half of a field once. We didn't intend the whole field to catch fire - but it happened. My brother actually started it. We tried to put it out but it went crazy and we ran home and my mother said, 'You stink of smoke.' The fire brigade never got called – it burnt out. What was funny, we would see a new group of kids who would discover matches and another bit of the field or the trees would catch fire. There is some rite of passage in Penicuik where you have to start a fire."
Thankfully Arkle has spent most of the rest of his life pursuing creation rather than destruction. Inspired by a childhood devotion to 2000AD, he went to the Royal College of Art in London to study illustration. "I thought originally I might do film," he explains, "then I met the film department at Central Saint Martins and I'd never seen more pretentious people in my life."
Pretentious is the last word to describe Arkle's work. Quirky or funny or unfussy might be better. Bold or vivid would also do. It was the boldness and vividness that attracted Scottish whisky maker anCnoc to approach Arkle to see if he would be interested in a collaboration. "We were seeking an illustrator or artist who could bring anCnoc's character to life in his or her own medium," says Gillian Gibson, the whisky's brand manager. Arkle fitted the part. "His Scottish roots and genuine love of whisky were also a great fit."
As a result, there are now 1000 cases of Peter Arkle limited-edition whisky on sale around the world (or 999 if the illustrator gets his way). Arkle has designed labels, packaging and even some of the casks. To do so, he spent two days at the anCnoc distillery in Strathspey to try to distil some of the character of the place and its product. "The first day just involved drinking," Arkle admits. "The next day I explored every nook and cranny. You collect and absorb as much as you can and see what comes out of your head later."
What came out offers a contemporary take on an old favourite. Pipes, for a start. "I love complicated drawings so when I saw those I thought I have to do something with those complicated wriggly pipes everywhere. I often get told by art directors to simplify things because I go on and on and on. My first thought in any project is the really complicated thing and doing the really complicated thing I feel relieved because the client will know I've worked hard. Then I know they'll be happy and I'll be less nervous and I can do some sillier ideas. It's often those sillier ideas that are the best thing." n