Lucy Brown Studio: Graphic Design
Earlier this month Notes on Design made a studio visit to UK based graphic designer – Lucy Brown. I was welcomed just in time for a quaint essential 4pm cup of tea and chat. Lucy Brown studio is situated in the leafy rural setting of North West England and within this studio snapshot Lucy talks about her studio build, inspirations and passion for the country life.
Notes on Design: Lucy, please enlighten us a little about where your studio is located, and how it came to fruition?
Lucy: The studio is in Cheshire surrounded by fields and cows. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to work. I renovated the building, with help from family and friends, between November ’09 and March of this year. Much blood, sweat, paint and tears went into it, all hours of the day and night, and in the middle of winter it was testing on the finger tips at times! It was originally a stable building, then an office, and now a typographic curiosity shop of sorts.
The studio came into being over 5 years of experiences that taught me to know myself and how I work. It takes time to learn who you are, and time to build the courage to accept it in this industry. I studied graphic design/typography over 4 years at the London College of Communication. In first year, I thought I knew everything. In second year, I realised I didn’t but didn’t understand how I would ever get to a point where I did. In third year, I realised I knew nothing and wanting to learn just a portion of what would be a lifetime of learning. Throughout the course I worked very hard both in the studio at LCC and outside of college on work placements and occasionally longer jobs. 3 years ago, I was finishing my second year and about to begin a year of working in industry. That was when I really started to question my work, and my drive for what I was doing in design. I had worked in-house as a designer for the ICA and the Guardian that year and while I loved it, I was aware that something was missing.
Throughout 2008 I worked in Sydney as an art director at M&C Saatchi. My days were divided between working closely with creative director, Michael Andrews, and design director, Simon Hong. There was a stark difference. Within each role there was little time (unless you worked through the night, which I did several times with Simon) for the depth of craft and process that makes me tick. I should maybe have read Shaughnessy’s, “How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul,” before I left, because I was losing mine rapidly. I returned to London in the October to begin my final year at LCC and was determined to try and understand why my year in Sydney had been such a shock. My 4 final year projects subsequently all reflected the kind of questions I was asking myself. I was desperately trying to link my conceptual LCC education, my philosophical approach and my placement within commercial design, the result of which was a range of art-based, conceptual, typographic works.
During the final weeks of my course I came across the work of Oded Ezer during some research into Hebrew typography. I read his book, “The Typographer’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and it made my heart beat far too fast. I could see that this man had worked out all of the questions I was trying to answer. Oded is a wonderfully talented designer. Whilst he makes a living through commercial graphic design, at the same time he dedicates time to an experimental art-based practice which keeps him creatively alive. I emailed him to ask if he would be willing for me to come and learn from him for some time. Subsequently between September and November of last year, I worked alongside him in Givatayim, Israel. They were possible the most valuable 3 months of my education to date. Oded taught me to respect myself and my process, and to similarly not be afraid to not conform to the city. Before I left for Israel I was beginning to consider setting the studio up in the country but was obviously concerned that it might be a bad move.
He taught me then when you are content within yourself, you are content within your work. Hence, I made the decision to do what I am doing now, to set up on my own, in the country, and do what I love. So far, all is very well and I’m only half an hour from Liverpool and Manchester and only a 2 hour train journey to London. Throughout my time working alongside Oded I kept a diary of the process. Jotta.com is currently publishing the diary in installments, so the full process of our work together can be read there.
Notes on Design: Do you feel that your environment has a large influence on your daily work?
Lucy: I touched on it a little above but my environment is more than an influence, it supports my process and dictates my output. That is why it is so crucially important to me to have built this space. It is not for show, it is for myself, to primarily enable me to work well.
Yesterday I cycled to a meeting with a client and passed a field full of Rapeseed. There was such an incredible covering of yellow, so vibrantly strong and rich. Sights like that are not seen in the city but here remind me daily where my creativity derives from. I feel like my priorities are straight here. In the city I was soullessly working commercially. Here, I am content and therefore I’m happy doing either commercial or personal work.
Notes on Design: The studio and relocation is a significant new move for you, how do you envisage gaining new clients, contacts and networks from a rural location?
Lucy: As above, I’m very close to Manchester and Liverpool and not far from London on the train but I’m also enjoying working remotely. I did a small job for eBay last month which was not at all restricted by my location. Skype is very helpful in seeing someone’s face, too. I think that location rarely hinders these days. To date, things have crossed my path at different times that have led to other things and people and led to other work and other conversations, etc. Everything informs everything else, day by day.
A lot of the work I do is through word of mouth and I hope to always maintain a healthy reputation. The people I have known and worked with in London over 5 years has given me a relatively good foundation, and I’m currently getting to know people and studios in Manchester and around the North West. Thoughtful, a studio based in Stockport, have been an incredible support to me over the past 6 months. I’m very grateful to them for their encouragement and belief in my ideals.
I have done some teaching at LCC and CSM in the last year and I’m sure I’ll continue to build further connections with London. I’m currently doing a lot of work with a local bakery which is wonderful. For me, this is no lesser a job than working for M&C Saatchi. I simply aim to work well, regardless of the client. Yesterday I had a cup of tea with an artist, Emily Speed, who lives and works in the same small village as the studio. She has letterpress, screen printing and bookbinding facilities, all just up the road – who would have thought it in the middle of ‘nowhere’.
Notes on Design: Trends and fashions revolve within the graphic design industry the same as many other visual disciplines. What typographic styles and designs do you find interesting at the moment?
Lucy: Architecturally graphic typography fascinates me. I love to see letters take on a physical, tangible form that can be experienced by all the senses. This is why Oded’s work was such a strong influence on me. I also admire the work of Morag Myerscough for her consistent integration of typography into large-scale works. Last week I came across the Facade Printer (by Martin Fussenegger, Michael Sebastian and Julian Adenauera), a software controlled inkjet printer that creates images on an architectural scale. Have a look at it on Vimeo, it’s wonderful. In terms of work on more on a less architectural scale, Marian Bantjes… Jessica Hische… Alex Trochut. I find their talents inspirational.
Now that I’m in the studio and working commercially on my own I’m learning how to integrate my experimental practice with the demands of earning a living. I think the balance will come with time. Oded has taught me well and my environment will almost certainly help me along the way.
Notes on Design: I find your Work & Play project that you have on your website of interest. What does work & play mean to you?
Lucy: My interest in ‘work & play’ developed while working with Oded. He taught me that, to him, work is play and play is work. This was one of the concepts that helped me bridge the difference between my commercial ‘design’ work and my experimental ‘art-based’ work. I am training my brain to understand that they are one. It was interesting to see that in almost all of the submissions, work and play were portrayed as two separate, different things. The project is on the contemplating shelf at the moment, it will develop with time no doubt.
Notes on Design: Do you have any personal projects that you would like to develop in the near future, and do you think that your current environment will inspire your project or further thinking?
Lucy: During my time in Sydney I did a lot of research into the characteristics of autism and how it relates to the working process of designers. This informed my dissertation and several pieces of experimental work [Framework of Language, Visualthought and Typotherapy] last year. All of these will develop in the future, experimental work should never cease. Evolution is in its nature. ’26 clocks’, another project from my final year at LCC is something that I’d like to work on shortly too.