In a recent interview for a design magazine I was asked, "who and what inspires me". It's a question that I am often asked and my initial reply is usually "everything", from my family (my wife and son are without a doubt my biggest inspiration) to the great icons of our industry such as Paul Rand and Soul Bass to the the work of Henryk Thomaszewski, Jan Lenica and Henri Matisse (the list could go on and on and on…) I wake up inspired almost every morning and by the time I am in my studio, or out with my family on the weekend, I have often seen something to trigger creativity. It really does come from everywhere, from a texture, a colour, a conversation, a story to something quirky!
In Iconoclasts Season 6, Episode 5, Paul Smith tells how he was once walking down a street with an advertising exec. The marketing person says that he sees about three things whilst Smith sees around Fifty!
I am a huge fan of designer Michael Wollf and his thoughts on what he describes as his three muscles of creativity. "I have three muscles, without which I couldn’t do my work. The first is curiosity. (You can call it inquisitiveness, you can call it questioning.) The second muscle [is] the muscle of appreciation. It’s not questioning so much as it is noticing… how joyful things can be, how colourful things can be, what already exists as an inspiration. The muscle of curiosity and the muscle of appreciation enable the muscle of imagination."
But surely this intuition must take time to develop, nurture and mature. The incredible talents of David Beckham, Tiger Woods or Beyonce Knowles can be tracked back to a very early age! This started to make me think deeper about my very own personal development and the reason I think and see the world in the way that I do. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write about my design life and to encourage readers of this blog to also share their inspirations.
I was very fortunate in that I have always known that I was creative. As far back as I can remember I have loved drawing and mark making and then the reaction or emotion that it creates in others. I can still see myself sat in the lounge of my family home in front of the fire with a pack of crayons, drawing anything and everything that either caught my eye or inspired me. I loved the feedback I got from my free thinking parents who always supported me creatively. I have a deep emotional connection with colour. One of my earliest memories is walking with my mum and dad picking up coloured discs. I have grown to assume that the discs were leftover following a sporting event as we were walking on what I believe was a running track and the discs were yellow (gold for first place), blue (silver for second place) and red (bronze for third). My connection with colour grew over the years and I can still remember the kit of football players (from my dads Subuteo set) or the historic red uniforms of British soldiers to be of great interest and then communicating what I had seen with my pen and paper. I loved how you could combine colour to create mood and feeling. I enjoyed Lego, preferring my own constructions and not necessarily those shown on the box. I once built a whole underground train system from Lego bricks.
One of my prize possessions to this day is a 1969 copy of Tiger annual and 1960 copy of Beryl the peril. I love everything about them, from the illustration styles, the colours used, the style of print and even the smell of the ink and the paper. I was born in the 1970's and culturally, 1960's Britain holds a great of interest for me. I enjoyed the illustration quality of Tintin, Asterix and the Star Wars comics from the 1970/80s . They all inspired me early on to create my very own comic books and graphic novels. I still have my spin on Star Wars called Battle for the Stars!
I also distinctly remember in the 1980's having a great interest in video box cover art. I absolutely loved how the illustrators would capture the whole essence of the movie in one image. It was story telling and I admired the style of illustration and photography so much so that I tried to make my very own films. I would draw my own movies on a long roll of paper, then make my very own television by inserting two cardboard rolls into a cereal box. I would then wind the whole movie onto one of the card rolls and then pull down and attached to the other roll so you could wind the movie one frame at a time past a screen that I had cut into the box. Of course I had to also paint the cereal box in black for authenticity. Once again it was also important to see the reaction from my friends that I showed the movies too.
Also throughout the 80's, when not at school, I taught myself to program computer games. Most at my school loved playing them, but I preferred making them and spent so much of my recreation time either playing football, making dens, riding push bikes and motorcycles or in my bed-room taping away at my Sinclair spectrum. I became reasonably proficient and produced a few games including one (unofficially) for the popular television series at the time 'The A Team', yet preferred making the covers for the games so, so much more!
There was also an enjoyment to how my creativity could work for business. Making video games, movies and comic books wasn’t just about being creative but about entertainment, creating emotion and sometimes even charging for it. I wasn’t even ten years of age and had a concept of starting a drinks company with a friend. We built a makeshift shanty factory in my parent’s garden out of my father’s wood and made a drink from black berries that we picked from the field behind my garden. I even designed the label and here I am thirty plus years later a brand and packaging designer!!! The stains from that factory are probably still there to this day.
SCHOOL DAYS AND DREAMING BIG IDEASMy love for all things creative was clearly evident throughout my school days. At junior school, my glowing end of year report was often blemished by the fact that I was often caught daydreaming! I find this of particular amusement to me in adult life as these days I am actually paid to dream big ideas each day!!! I strongly believe that time should be made for children of all ages to daydream. It shouldn't be seen as a negative but a huge plus. This is creativity! I am not condoning children that can't hold attention in class (as I probably did back then), but instead to make the time to dream so that they actually do focus in other lessons. I also look back to this time with great fondness as all of my classroom walls would be adorned with my colourful images, mainly of stock cars as my father would take me to car racing events on a Sunday afternoon in the west country mendips raceway. Another great inspiration for my drawing at an early age.
I also put a real emphasis on the importance of good teachers. I remember Mr Hawkins who saw my artistic talent and was the first teacher at junior school to hang my pictures onto the classroom walls.
Other than my family, one of the most important figures to me becoming the creative I am today was my secondary art school teacher Mr Sowden (I think Derek Sowden). Many would comment on him having one glass eye, however I never noticed! He spotted my artistic talent and was one of the greatest supports I have ever had. As I write this today, I realise just how much I owe to him for his support back then. I wasn't all that good, or that interested in anything other than art, design. I enjoyed sport but art and design really made me excited! I can still remember many of the artworks I produced, especially my final GCSE piece that tackled homelessness. A pretty large subject for a 14 year old. I still view this particular piece as one of my most important. If my mind serves me well, I was the only person in the whole year to achieve an A in art. Many took the subject believing it to be an easy way out but Mr Sowden could clearly see my absolute love for everything creative. I was a shy kid at school and being from a different part of town, I received a fair amount of bullying in the first two years of secondary school but as the word went around of my drawings on the wall of the art class, I became know for something positive and the bullying seem to suddenly cease. My creativity gave me a voice. Learning the importance of humour also helped a great deal.
I went on to study A levels at college and again had great teachers. This time a man and wife team (Davis if I remember correctly) that taught me the importance of integrity within my work (more on this in future posts). I continued to approach important issues within my work. I remember learning the art of screen printing and created the piece shown in my intro to this article, that tacked issues of politics, famine and disaster. I was incredibly interested in how activist art and design could make a difference.
After my A Levels I I did a year BTEC National Diploma as a way of foundation for University. My brilliant teacher Nick was the first to introduce me to the Mac and the amazing software, Aldus PageMaker, Freehand and a brand new application called Photoshop. At this time I was being heavily influenced by the work of Neville Brody and the flashy MTV visuals.
My activist creative streak continued to my University days where I wrote my thesis on Polish posters and how they used metaphor as a way of freedom of speech and past the watchful eye of the controlling government of the day. I did clash heads occasionally at university as many lecturers wanted the three year to solely be a place of discovery. I agree the importance of this, but I also wanted to be better prepared for life in the real commercial world of design. I had a lot more respect for the teachers that had spent time in the commercial environment and had practical experience over those who had spent their whole career in education alone. One of the great things about the university where I studied was that it was one of the last (I think even THE last!) universities in the country to continue to teach letterpress and hot type which I absolutely loved. It taught me so much about the art of typography. Another huge love of mine!
THE IMPORTANCE OF ENTERING COMPETITIONSAfter my degree show and achieving a good grade in my BA (Hons) in graphic design, I was encouraged to send work to the Young Designer Awards. For this I must thank the teaching team of Gwent College of Higher Education, especially Mr Terry Illot who was another massive inspiration to my career. I went on to be a winner of these awards, which became a stake in the ground and a real transition point into the commercial world of design. I have heard many say that awards aren't important, but this award changed my life. It still opens doors to this day and has led to many other awards. Most importantly it gave a huge amount of belief and courage to a un-confident young boy who grew up in the west of England. It took me to the countries capital London and then around the world. Ive worked in many design studios and Im currently based in Cape Town where Ive lived and worked for the past six years. It also just happened that the works that I had entered for the New Designers competition were large format posters made from cut paper and inspired by the Polish Poster artists, Henri Matisse and Sonia Delaunay. The inspiration I got from my design hero's once again helping my career!
In fact everything I have mentioned has played an important role in who I am today as both a designer and a person. At the core is a true love for what I do. My work these days is about designing success for businesses and products. I take meetings with the CEO's of large companies and direct design teams. I have had the great fortune of meeting many leaders within the design industry, including one of the most memorable being the late Massimo Vignelli. Two decades later I am still a commercial designer and continue to be as hungry and as foolish as I was in my earliest of memories, drawing in front of the fire with crayons.
I would love to hear your personal experiences and memories that play a role in either making you the designer you are today, or inspire you to be the future of the design industry of tomorrow.