How would you describe your work to someone who is not familiar with it?
This is really hard, and I hate doing it. I sometimes say “graphic artist” but it usually requires more descriptors like “A lot of custom lettering, ornament, sometimes patterns … a graphic designer but also an illustrator of sorts; a typographic artist.” Confusing enough?
Who does your work appeal to and why?
I don’t know. I don’t know why, anyway. I’m a little amazed that some of the best people in the industry, who have impeccable taste—and often a very clean and traditional aesthetic—really love my work. I’m also very alarmed that I’m popular with the “unicorn set.” The girly-girls … this is alarming because it’s not what my work is about at all, although it is frequently pretty.
How long does it take to create a project?
It depends. How long does it take to build a house? It takes me less time than building most houses: in my case 1 hour to 1 month. But usually a few days plus approvals.
What does a typical day look like?
I used to have a typical day, but I no longer do. But I will say that I spend a lot of time sleeping and relaxing. This helps a lot for getting ideas and working through problems.
Describe your style:
My “style” is always evolving, and if you look at my work you can see multiple interests emerge. People tend to think of me in terms of the swirly, pretty vector art, but it is much more varied than that. I’m quite happy that my work is eclectic while still personally identifiable. I expect it to change a lot over the next few years.
Where do you get your inspiration?
First off, let me go on a little rant about Inspiration vs. Influence vs. Reference material:
Inspiration is that unexpected moment of discovery when the mind leaps to a new place triggered by something interesting. That something interesting can be a thing you’ve read, or seen on the street, or in a book or gallery, or a piece of music, or something really great or something really awful. For me it is often unrelated to my work and is completely unpredictable.
Influence is when you see something you like, usually work that is related to the work you do, and you absorb whatever it is you like about it and either consciously or subconsciously emulate it or somehow incorporate something of it into your own work.
Reference material is when you look at something specific and try to make something like that.
Who or what is your greatest influence?
Most of the usual suspects such as 14th–18th c calligraphy, illuminated manuscripts, islamic art, art nouveau, the Arts & Crafts movement, typography, textiles from around the world, old lace, Baroque, Rococco or Gothic anything, psychedelia, grafitti, Victoriana, Money, engraving, Persian carpets … the list goes on.
Surprisingly, I’m not a big fan of Celtic knotwork or M.C. Escher.
Less obviously, but just as important, are my interests in Modernist architecture and design, Swiss typography, contemporary art, photography, sculpture (too many forms to enumerate), fashion, writing and any number of things that might pass my way randomly at any point in time.
What reference material do you use?
I have no desire to create something I’ve seen before, and I do not troll books for images to trigger ideas. I already have more ideas than I can handle. However, there are times that I need to know what something looks like (an elephant, say), or if I’ve been asked to emulate a historical style, then I turn to books and the internet for reference. I look at the reference, and then I put it away so I don’t copy the reference.
Whose work do you admire?
This is very difficult to answer, as there are so many people, I’m always meeting or finding new ones and forgetting others. An incomplete list: Ralph Schraivogel, René Knip, Joachim Sauter, TROIKA, Niessen & DeVries, Eike König, Eddie Opara, Doyald Young, Ed Fella, Herb Lubalin, Josef Müller-Brockman, William Morris, Alphonse Mucha, Chris Ware, El Lissitsky, Rudolf Koch, Moholy Nagy, Gert Dumbar, Ray Fenwick, Andrea Deszö, Stefan Sagmeister, Victor Moscoso, Will Bradley, Ingres, Caravaggio, Rick Valicenti, Alexander Calder, William Thauberger, Fred Tomasselli, Jenny Holzer, Ed Rushe, Paula Scher, Rickie Jay, Rennie Mackintosh, Martin Venezky, John Langdon, Koloman Moser, Siggi Eggertson, Christoph Niemann, Jonathan Barnbrook, Mathew Barney, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham, Antonio Gaudí, Hundertwasser, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Neutra, Tibor Kalman, A.A.Milne, Milton Glaser, Peter Greenaway, Fred Tomaselli, Mark Tansey and probably hundreds of others whose omittance will cause me to slap my head and say, “Goddammit, how could I forget ————??”
Where do you get your ideas?
From my own ripe imagination. (See the inspiration questions above.)
What is your process?
I am one of those people who usually has an idea just “pop into my head.” This is disappointing to people because there’s no “map” to follow. But the idea usually has some reasoning or concept to it … so while I think of myself as largely a visual designer, the visuals have some reason for being the way they do.
I almost always start with pencil and paper. It’s the way I think—visually—best. It’s not uncommon for me to go from one sketch (maybe two) straight to final (after approval). So I don’t do a lot of exploration or multiple working drawings. So i draw and map it out in pencil, sometimes scan and redraw, then take it into Illustrator and trace it, if that’s what the final will be. Other times the finished work is in pen and ink. Or scratchboard. Or photography. Or ballpoint pen … it really varies.
What is your favourite medium to work with?
In a way, pencil. I’m very fond of my sketches, and I’ve been meaning to work more in pencil for a final, whereas currently I mostly use it for sketches. But i do love the control I get in vector art.
What other mediums do you work in?
Peruse my website and you will find out.
What do you consider to be the most important aspects of your work?
Well, it kind of depends on the project, but in general it is very important to me that my work have some kind of structure, logic (both visually and conceptually), that it be intriguing or worth looking at for a long time, or exploring further, and most importantly that it brings some kind of delight or joy to the viewer.
What distinguishes your work from that of your contemporaries?
I think that my work is more adventurous than many people’s, and more structured and considered than most, and if I do say so, it’s also better crafted than most as well. Mostly it’s more varied.
What conditions do you need in order to work to your full capacity?
It depends on what part of the process, but I work best at home, in my studio; working for a full day on one thing (no distractions); being alone (no distractions); and with music.
How important is Canada and your home to your work?
Well, I love Canada, it truly is a great place to live, and the fact that i live and work on an island with few distractions means i get a lot of concentrated work done, so that’s very important. But I’m not convinced that the physical surroundings are an aesthetic influence.
I also need to get out now and then, get to a big city and not be such a weirdo hermit.
What do you see as weaknesses in your work?
I’m very good with typography, but it’s still not where I want it to be. My conservative training still holds me back, and I really want to work on that. Unfortunately I don’t get a lot of type-heavy projects. I have to make these up myself. People often want to learn “advanced typography” from me, and I don’t know how to tell them I’m still struggling with that myself—and in fact I don’t even know what that is or how you could possibly teach it.
I also think I’m shitty with colour. Very unsophisticated. It needs a lot of work.
How can I do work like you?
Please remember: I have over 30 years of experience. So, practice, practice, practice.
What is your background?
I am Canadian, and I grew up in Saskatchewan but have spent most of my adult life in and around Vancouver, BC. I don’t have a formal education in design. I went to art school of one year in 1982, but I consider myself an art school drop out. I started out in 1983 as a book typesetter, where I was trained on the job in a very traditional and “classical” typesetting style. Then in 1993 I started and co-owned a design firm for 9 years until 2003 when I quit to do this thing I do now, which we can call “graphic art” for lack of a better term. I work from my home on an island of the West Coast of Canada, near Vancouver.
What in your career are you most proud of so far?
I’m most proud that other people find my work inspirational. That I am able to make things which inspires other people to make new things is really the most rewarding aspect of working, period. I get emails from people every day telling me how my work has affected them and this is simply wonderful to me.
I am also extremely proud that I have the trust and friendship of some of the most respected people in design in the world. People who used to be my idols are now my friends: this is my greatest measure of success. And I am continually meeting new people whose work astonishes and humbles me. I am a very lucky person.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes, I spent 3 years too long as a book typesetter and 4 years too long as a graphic designer. That’s 7 years I wish I had back. Sometimes I regret not aggressively going for big money projects when I was at my peak, but c’est la vie: I’m still happy.
What motivates you to design?
I really enjoy figuring things out. Some people call this “problem solving” but it’s not a term I care for. In fact, I really like complexity so I often start with creating problems that I then have to figure out how to “solve”. That’s not really solving anything, but the mental exercise is stimulating. Ideally I end up with something that has an “Aha!” moment for both myself and the viewer.
In your own words, what is design?
Figuring things out.
What pisses you off most in the design world?
The displacement of visual design by “strategy”. The business emphasis of the industry and the sneer of “mere imagery.” Most of our greatest design idols were and are image makers over strategists. Paul Rand signed almost every piece of work he did except logos, but including advertisements and Annual Report covers (! yes!). The visual is, in my opinion, the most powerful and most interesting part of graphic design. If you look at work from the 20s to the 60s, you will see mostly work (posters, books, music, ads) that have no apparent strategy whatsoever. They are gorgeous and iconic pieces of artistic design. Doing work like that today would be extremely difficult, and it’s to society’s loss, in my opinion. Don’t get me started …
What does it take to do great graphic design?
Deep interest and commitment beyond expected requirements, plus intelligence, imagination and tenacity.
Do you have any words of wisdom for graphic design students or practitioners starting out?
Don’t buy a house, don’t get married, don’t have kids yet. You need to have the freedom to experiment and take risks. You may starve, but it’s important that you have as few financial obligations as possible in order to keep your freedom.
Learn to write, write well and write a lot.
Look at work from other countries. Find the great designers you’ve never heard of. www.a-g-i.org is a good place to start.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Hanging out with friends, petting my dog, watching movies, sitting and staring into space.
How do you get your clients?
So far, they come to me.
Who are your clients?
Mostly other graphic designers or art directors.
Are there any projects you’d like to work on or things you’d like to do in the future?
There are many, but my dream is to work with architecture.
What awards have you won?
I don’t enter design awards unless someone else (client) enters for me. I’m too lazy to fill out all the forms and mail things in on time.
How important is it to be recognised?
It’s important, but for me there are easier ways to get into books and magazines than entering awards.
What do you look for in other peoples work?
Joy. I look for something that right off delights me. And this doesn’t necessarily mean light and cheery. Of course the pinnacle is to find something you wish you’d done yourself. Working down from there, I look for things that invoke my curiousity, make me approach and explore them, and after that it’s detail … so many things fail the detail test.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who was always full of surprises, who made work that was worthwhile, worth keeping and remembering, and who was nice.
What comes first, Family or work?
It used to be work, but now it’s my dog.
What is your favourite font?
I don’t have one.
What is your favourite colour?
Ultramarine Blue or Quinacridone Red
What software do you use?
What is/are your favourite music/books/movies …
Please. Spare me.