IN CONVERSATION WITH: ANTHONY BURRILLSeptember 5, 2016
A tranquil hideaway in the heart of the countryside, Anthony Burrill’s studio is flooded in natural light and smells deliciously like fresh ink. A dreamy working space surrounded by luscious green fields and a beautifully landscaped garden covered in flowers, we couldn’t picture a more inspiring place to work. Showing us around his space, the graphic artist and print-maker spoke with us about finding inspiration in scrapbooking, what makes a great poster and finding a balance between analog printing techniques and the power of immediacy in the digital landscape.
UO: We loved taking a look at your old scrapbooks. What do you enjoy about scrapbooking and how does it inspire your work?
I collect printed ephemera such as discarded tickets, stickers, interesting envelopes, anything that catches my eye. I find inspiration in scrapbooking and like the ‘non-designed’ quality to it. I keep sketchbooks as visual diaries and a place to collect the things I find. I write ideas for projects, things to remind me of a particular moment or fleeting idea. It’s important to capture ideas as they occur. I like the physical act of writing things down with pen on paper. It feels more real than writing notes on my phone; it’s the physical act of writing something down that helps my train of thought develop an idea. I like looking back at old sketchbooks too. It’s interesting to see how projects started, sometimes by just a couple of words hastily scribbled down. By keeping these things together it gives a useful insight into how ideas can develop.
UO: What inspires your work outside the world of graphic design?
I’m interested in people and how they interact with each other. We’re all fascinated by each other; it’s part of being human. We want to find out what other people are thinking and doing. My work is a simple extension of who I am as a person; I’m constantly looking for new and interesting things for inspiration and I want to communicate the enjoyment of discovery to other people. I like to encourage people to find their own inspiration. A lot of my work is about questioning and searching for answers.
I like to take time to enjoy every day, to make it as enjoyable as possible. I don’t see what I do as work because I enjoy it too much. Going for a walk or watching a film are my favourite things to do. I like to switch off and try not think about things too hard, I let ideas develop and grow in my head and try not to formulate things too much and see where ideas lead.
It’s important to seek out inspiration in unlikely places, train yourself to see things differently. By seeing the world slightly differently you can present it in a new and interesting way. That’s the role of the artist, to highlight the beauty in the every day.
UO: Can you tell us about one of your favourite collaborative projects and why it has stuck in your mind?
All my projects are essentially collaborative, whether that’s working with a printer or a furniture designer. I enjoy the process of collaboration, developing ideas with friends to make interesting projects happen. One of my favourite collaborations is a poster printed with oil from the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010. I worked on the poster with an agency in Brussels called Happiness. The poster says ‘OIL & WATER DO NOT MIX’, and was made as a response to the unfolding ecological disaster. The poster gained a lot of attention and has become one of my best known projects. It came out of a collaborative process, a simple idea that was well executed and communicated.
UO: You work in both print and digital – how do you make two very different mediums work together to your advantage?
I like the different qualities of both mediums. I was educated in analogue techniques at college and only later adopted digital methods when they became more affordable and widely available. I couldn’t do the work I do without engaging with digital methods, although I work primarily with analogue techniques I use social media to communicate and distribute my work. I like the ‘hands on’ aspect of making analogue work, the slightly unpredictable nature of working with materials and the way it informs the work. Digital has its own unique qualities, the ease of connectivity is easy to take for granted, but I remember what it was like before we could all speak to each other easily and it wasn’t as much fun.
UO: How would you describe your style in three words?
I’d call it an approach rather than a style. Style suggests something that’s shallow and changeable. I’d describe my approach as ‘engaging, thoughtful and accessible’.
UO: In your opinion, what are the key factors in making a great poster?
Having something to say and saying it with visual wit. There has to be a reason for making a poster, it should get a message across, whether that’s light hearted or of more serious intent. Posters have great power, even in the digital age.
UO: How important is Instagram to your work as a creative outlet? What do you love the most about Instagram?
I like its immediacy. You get instant feedback when you post an image. It’s a good test to see if a piece of work is connecting with people. I like the diary aspect of it too. I try to post something as often as possible; it’s nice to scroll back through the timeline to see the progression of life and work. It’s made me a better designer, becoming even more economical with my work, trying to say the most with the least.
UO: Can you tell us a little about your relationship with printers Adams of Rye and why working with them is so special in producing your work?
I started working with Adams when I moved down to Rye from London in 2004. They are a traditional letterpress printers of the kind that would once have been widespread across the country. Their collection of wood type is enormous, I’m still only just scratching the surface. The way that the work is hand crafted gives it a unique quality, it feels human and tactile. I love the print quality, the smudges and character that give each print it’s own personality. It’s something that is impossible to replicate any other way. We work very simply together: I choose the words and then roughly lay out the type. Derek, the typesetter, puts the printing blocks together and Ian the printer makes the posters. I love spending time there, working with traditional techniques to produce work that feels both modern and traditional at the same time.
UO: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming book release and what we can expect?
I’ve been working on the book for the past year: it’s a distillation of ideas about how to lead a creative and fulfilling life. Explaining how I’ve developed my own working methods and developing strategies to help creative thinking.
UO: Words to live by?
It’s got to be ‘WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE’.
See more from Anthony Burrill here