Andrew Hooper is the Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Graphic Design at the University of Chester, in fact it was through talking to Andrew and one or two other lecturers in their offices that got me thinking the concept of this blog series. I liked the fact that each lecturer had their own office, and their own hidden bookshelves of reference material, or things that they deemed important enough to keep. I began telling other students to go and arrange talks with the tutors, even if it was just to get a closer look at what they kept on their bookshelves.
I have it on good authority that Andrew is an Illustrator too, so I thought I would try and find out some more.
What would you say are the three most important or influential books that you have on your book shelf? They don't have to be design related.
'Maus' by Art Spiegleman. Probably one of the most memorable reads I’ve ever had, coupled with the bold and simple depiction of such a horrific event, it really showed the power of visual narrative and set a different bar for the Graphic Novel. Spiegleman’s work with RAW also introduced me to many other artist/storytellers, some of which I mention later.
(Maus is a graphic novel depicting events during the Holocaust, and shows the Jews as Mice, the Germans as Cats, and the Polish as Pigs).
'Sunday Sketching' by Christoph Niemann. A document of a great creative – Niemann has an amazing ability to create a thoughtful and often amusing image from random items. His approach to divergent thinking is a great route to developing more structure graphical solutions.
(Christoph Niemann did a Ted Talk which is funny, as well as informative. He is also one of the subjects of the Netflix original documentary series Abstract - The Art of Design, which I urge any designer or artist to watch)
National Geographic – Not necessarily on my bookshelf but generally lying around the office or studio. A pure resource for collage or sparking an odd pairing for an idea – if you’re ever stuck for an idea then pick up a copy and create a random image using its content (or any dated second-hand book from the charity shop).
Is there a book that you go back to time and again, knowing that it will inspire you when you’ve hit a creative lull?
Not really an individual book – I’d say I’d be more inclined to try something new. Go browse the Library or Waterstones. Go out and observe and capture and create your own reference for inspiration.
Often as designers we take it for granted that people know the same things that we do; or have been on the same kind of journey. If Design is a language, what are the top 5 things (vocabulary, if you will) that a designer should know to help them converse in the world of design?
I’ve never been a fan of that level of elitism that sometimes comes with certain practices – I’ll always remember when a colleague was once belittled by a boss for not knowing what a particular acronym was. The simpler the delivery of design practice is, the more accessible it will be and a broader range of designers we’ll have – so my words are very simple…
Play – ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, well regardless of your name, not playing in design will make your work dull. Sometimes the freshest pieces of work I see are by school kids we work with, they still take time to play and this is an approach that even with the driest of briefs and tightest of deadlines can get you over that hurdle.
Real – Computers are great. They allow so many things to happen and simplify many processes but they are not all that design is. Get out and try something real rather than relying on filters and effects – students particularly have an opportunity to go nuts in trying something real and the only consequence would be learning something new.
Reference – Sometimes I think this is a dying element as I see many Students attempting things purely from their own head. There seems to be a sticking point about using reference images which ultimately inspire you, make your work easier and more accurate – and don’t just glance on your phone which leads me to…
Look – Just take the time to stop and observe the world. The number of times I’ve commuted in on the train and all around me are a sea of people on their phones. Look at the world passing by, you may learn something new.
Trending – Don’t spend your time chasing a trend, develop who you are as an individual and make the next trend. But also be flexible enough to make another and another – this might be a tall order but I’d rather help produce creative thinkers with an open approach than watching someone perfecting a momentary fad.
I'm with you on Acronyms, although I'm probably guilty of using them more often then I should. I just think that if you say an Acronym, and then have to say it out in full so that it can be understood, nobody has saved any time.
As for the 5 things, I think everyone I have asked so far has given me something different, and they are all gold.
Would you say that you have a favourite designer, and can you explain why they hold that rank with you?
I think most people will have a range of favourites and these will peak at different times. Through my own University days I was practically in love with the work of Vaughn Oliver and his record covers for 4AD, they weren’t afraid to be beautiful and text and image collided to visualise the sounds of the bands they promoted (Pixies/Cocteau Twins/Breeders).
Currently I’ve been into the playful cartoons of Saul Steinberg who was an early version of Christoph Niemann, both have an amazing way of seeing alternative applications for the everyday, and Steinberg’s playing with visual narrative has been a huge influence.
My perennial favourite has to be David Lynch – across his many platforms (artist, film-maker, cartoonist, musician), he has carved a unique voice that is an assault on the senses and isn’t afraid of losing an audience during the process. Where he forms emotional responses rather than typical narratives is where the interest lies, plotting recognisable paths at first that diverge into the unknown. If you think he’s just weird then watch ‘The Straight Story’ and you’ll be moved by its ordinary simplicity.
I went to see a talk by Vaughn Oliver in London where he explained how he got started in the industry. His work is very interesting, and he is very funny too.
Are there any other books you’d like to recommend?
Graphic novels have played a big part in my influences and ongoing enjoyment of visual narratives. I was brought up on the British classic comics such as the Beano and 2000AD but shifted attention more to an American Indie Market (Never been a Marvel or Dc fan).
Daniel Clowes ranks highly for both his drawing ability, adaptability of style and the way he blends the mundane with the bizarre (‘Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron’, ‘David Boring’, ‘Ice Haven’) – all have their individual voices but are distinctively Clowes in style.
Charles Burns has also been a favourite with his heavy contrast artwork and again themes straddling ordinary and weird (‘Black Hole’, ‘X-ed Out’).
Similarly with literature I’ve been more American focussed – John Steinbeck can exhaust you with an epic (‘Grapes of Wrath’) and warm your soul with a short (‘Cannery Row’, ’Tortilla Flat’)
Paul Auster is probably the most read author of mine, somehow, you’re pulled along reading about very little and then you get whacked over the head with something.
I usually have several books on the go from various disciplines, currently I’m reading ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy Toole, ‘Room to Dream’ the latest Lynch Biography by himself and Kristine McKenna and ‘The Making of the Planet of the Apes’ (Top 5 Film) by J. W. Rinzler.
Thanks Andrew, you've given me a wealth of things to investigate further. I am hoping that not only will these conversational interviews serve me well in the future as a place to look back on and learn from, but that others may get inspiration from them too. I particularly hope that any students at the University of Chester that come across this blog series will see it as a way of getting to know more about the lecturers and technicians that they may well take for granted, as well as being turned onto other designers or creatives that are either mentioned, or interviewed later.