Meet the über-tal­ented graphic artist who adorned our Il­lus­tra­tion An­nual with fluid type and vi­brant splashes of colour

Computer Arts Collection - - Contents - Words: Ju­lia Sa­gar Pho­tog­ra­phy: Rob Monk

When we asked mixed­me­dia mae­stro Nikki Far­quhar­son to help us cel­e­brate the Com­puter Arts Collection Il­lus­tra­tion An­nual with a touch of ty­po­graphic magic, we knew we wouldn’t be dis­ap­pointed. The Lon­don-based graphic artist pulled out all the stops, hand­craft­ing 10 elab­o­rate im­ages to mark each dif­fer­ent sec­tion in­side the pub­li­ca­tion. We caught up with her to find out what in­spired her in­tri­cately pat­terned de­signs – and what else she’s been up to this year.

You of­ten cre­ate your draw­ings with a “made-up story” in mind. What’s the story be­hind your open­ers for our 2014 Il­lus­tra­tion An­nual?

I knew straight away I wanted to il­lus­trate the type it­self. Af­ter a lit­tle thought, I came up with the con­cept of hav­ing each opener in the ty­po­graphic set look as though it was made up of small, prim­i­tive-style crea­tures that had clus­tered to­gether to form groups of ran­dom shapes, which hap­pened to mimic the ba­sic ap­pear­ance of recog­nis­able char­ac­ters.

With the con­cept for the sec­tion open­ers nailed, where did you start in bring­ing your ideas to life?

The first step was to choose a type­face for my tem­plates as I very rarely draw type free­hand. Once I found the type­face with the right frame to aid my il­lus­tra­tion, I put to­gether some rough com­po­si­tions and printed them out. I used those tem­plates to sketch the il­lus­tra­tions in pen­cil, which then be­came the tem­plate I used for the fi­nal ink out­lines.

On sep­a­rate sheets, I mocked up colour and pat­tern com­bi­na­tions un­til I was happy with my fi­nal choices. The next stage was to start ink­ing ev­ery­thing in. It’s a slow and me­thod­i­cal process – but it’s the stage I en­joy the most.

The let­ter­ing al­most ap­pears to be mov­ing on the page – was this in­ten­tional? How did you achieve this ef­fect?

I wanted the over­all aes­thetic to have a very or­ganic feel. I chose a bold type­face for my ini­tial tem­plate, but de­lib­er­ately soft­ened its frame­work by stick­ing to fluid, curved lines in or­der to cre­ate these lit­tle, in­di­vid­ual shapes. I hoped to gen­er­ate a sense of life, as though these pieces re­ally are oth­er­worldly, in­ver­te­brate crea­tures.

Why did you break the type so un­con­ven­tion­ally on each spread?

One of the de­sign prob­lems I was struck by straight away was work­ing with ti­tles of vary­ing lengths. I knew that not all of them would be laid out ‘whole’. Stick­ing with the con­cept that these aren’t re­ally letters any­way, I con­cluded that hav­ing ev­ery word

“I try to walk the line be­tween con­sis­tency and spon­tane­ity: I want some sense of or­der com­bined with lit­tle, un­ex­pected sur­prises”

bro­ken up hap­haz­ardly not only made more sense, but also added some play­ful­ness. There is no ne­ces­sity on their part to be con­ven­tional.

How­ever, I can only be un­con­strained up to a point. I have a back­ground in graphic de­sign, which still heav­ily in­flu­ences how I treat type in my il­lus­tra­tive work. In this in­stance, I wanted the type size to re­main the same through­out, re­gard­less of word length. An­other ex­am­ple is choos­ing to align the type to the left. As much as my work looks im­promptu, I try to plan ev­ery­thing I draw.

Given that your work is hand-drawn, was it tricky to meet the dead­line?

As much as I en­joy cre­at­ing work with whim­si­cal sto­ries to in­spire me, I also had to be very prac­ti­cal. Know­ing that I had a short space of time to pro­duce 10 orig­i­nal pieces of art­work by hand, I had to bear many things in mind – but the main one was time. I of­ten do quite struc­tured pieces with the aid of rulers, which tends to mean lots of mea­sure­ments and cal­cu­la­tions. In this case, I de­lib­er­ately chose to aban­don those ex­tra steps. Work­ing with soft, flex­i­ble lines is not only one of my favourite styles, it also has the added ben­e­fit of be­ing quick. Apart from the pens, my hand and my imag­i­na­tion were the only tools I needed.

What was the most chal­leng­ing as­pect of the brief?

Un­ex­pect­edly, it was fi­nal­is­ing the colour and pat­tern com­bi­na­tions for the four pal­ettes. The orig­i­nal idea was to keep it ba­sic by al­ter­nat­ing be­tween red, green, yel­low and blue. I didn’t want to cre­ate any­thing too plain; but I wanted to avoid com­bi­na­tions that could be too time-con­sum­ing. Also, I wanted the pat­terns to re­sem­ble one an­other, while let­ting the pal­ettes ex­hibit their in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties.

A task I thought would take me 30 min­utes took con­sid­er­ably longer – but it paid off.

I try to walk the line be­tween con­sis­tency and spon­tane­ity in my work: I want there to be some sense of or­der com­bined with lit­tle, un­ex­pected sur­prises. In this case, once I de­cided I was stick­ing with one style for the ty­pog­ra­phy, it was nec­es­sary to break up that repet­i­tive­ness with al­ter­nat­ing pal­ettes. It wouldn’t have felt right if I didn’t throw as many colours as I could at this huge project.

Your port­fo­lio is full of vivid and in­tri­cate pieces. Where do you stand in the min­i­mal­ist ver­sus ex­pres­sive de­bate?

Be­lieve it or not, I do have a re­ally strong af­fec­tion for min­i­mal­ism in de­sign but, if I’m hon­est, I don’t re­ally keep up with what’s on trend. One rea­son I changed my cre­ative path from graphic de­sign to il­lus­tra­tion was be­cause I de­sired the free­dom to be more ex­pres­sive with­out the obli­ga­tion of stick­ing to ‘de­sign rules’. I think it’s far more im­por­tant for cre­atives to be au­then­tic to them­selves and pro­duce work that matches their own per­sonal aes­thetic, re­gard­less of how pop­u­lar that style is in the mo­ment.

I don’t want to get lost in chas­ing fleet­ing fash­ions. As a commercial il­lus­tra­tor, I re­alise I cre­ate work for an au­di­ence but I also draw for my­self. The hard­est jobs to com­plete are when it feels like I’m com­pro­mis­ing my per­sonal aes­thet­ics to suit an­other.

What’s been your favourite project in the past 12 months?

A re­cent project I’m proud of is the il­lus­tra­tion I cre­ated for AnyForty, a UK-based streetwear brand founded by [ex-Com­puter Arts staffer] Alan War­dle. It got a lot of great feed­back and sold re­ally well, but I re­gard it a suc­cess be­cause the fi­nal vis­ual out­come was ex­actly what I in­tended. I was trusted to cre­ate what­ever I wanted and was also given the op­por­tu­nity to take my time, which is so rare in this in­dus­try.

Il­lus­tra­tion was a chal­leng­ing field to work in a few years ago. Is it an eas­ier ca­reer choice these days?

It isn’t easy free­lanc­ing in il­lus­tra­tion, es­pe­cially if your spe­cialty is re­garded as niche. I con­struct most of my art­work by hand so I of­ten have to turn down great jobs sim­ply be­cause the dead­line is too tight, and it could be a lit­tle while be­fore the next great op­por­tu­nity ar­rives. Hav­ing said that I love what I do for a liv­ing.

What do you have in the pipe­line?

I’m cur­rently work­ing on a new mixed-me­dia set called Mythos with in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­pher, Scott

“I don’t want to get lost in chas­ing fleet­ing fash­ions. As an il­lus­tra­tor I cre­ate work for an au­di­ence – but I also draw for my­self”

A. Wood­ward. With this project I’m tak­ing my mixed-me­dia style in a brand new di­rec­tion, so I’m look­ing for­ward to show­cas­ing that. I’m also plan­ning to start pro­duc­ing po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated ty­po­graphic il­lus­tra­tions and I’m in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing mixed­me­dia art based on pho­tos of my­self, too. I re­ally like the idea of be­ing in full con­trol of the whole im­age, from orig­i­nal photo to fi­nal out­come.

What would be your dream com­mis­sion – and who for?

I would love the op­por­tu­nity to col­lab­o­rate with an iconic fash­ion la­bel. Brands like Amer­i­can Ap­parel and Nike are work­ing with de­sign­ers to pro­duce beau­ti­ful, unique pat­terns for their cloth­ing and footwear. I’m of­ten told my il­lus­tra­tions would work well on fab­ric so a com­mis­sion of that cal­i­bre would be per­fect.

What’s the best piece of ad­vice you’ve ever re­ceived?

I still go by an old piece of ad­vice from a tu­tor at univer­sity who en­cour­aged me to swap ‘clever’ con­cepts with lit­tle mean­ing for ideas I gen­uinely be­lieve in. More re­cently, Adrian Shaugh­nessy tweeted that we should never agree to do any­thing in the fu­ture that we’d say no to if it pre­sented it­self to­mor­row. That’s re­ally smart ad­vice.

Tell us some­thing about you that we don’t know…

My friends and fam­ily would say I’m a bit of an over-or­gan­iser – from colour co-or­di­nat­ing my clothes, cat­a­logu­ing my shoes and cat­e­goris­ing books by genre to ar­rang­ing where food is placed in the fridge and on the plate. But I sim­ply be­lieve that a tidy space goes hand-in-hand with a tidy mind.

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