A few years back I was collecting interviews for a personal project – a self published magazine that would revolve around a different theme each volume. The theme of the first volume was going to be Beards. Unfortunately I never did get the magazine to print, but the upside was that I got to speak to some really amazing people. People I look up to. I came accross the manuscipts of those interviews recently and wanted to share them rather than leave them dormant on a hard drive. With the permission of the subjects I present these interviews to you now.
High on my list of individuals I wanted to talk to was Gavin Strange. Gavin is a prolific designer from Bristol with an infectious enthusiasm for life. He was, and is a great inspiration and I am really thankful he took the time to talk to me. If you have met Gav this wont surprise you as he is one of the nicest guys I have met.
Back in 2012 I arranged to meet Gavin and take some photos at an event he had organised in Bristol: Fixed & Chips. I followed up with the following questions via email.
With this publication being of the bearded nature we should get your two cents on the topic of beards. Aardmans latest release is a swashbuckling adventure featuring many a marvellous beard. There are also a few fantastic facial specimens in Böikzmöind. Are you partial to a bit of facial growth or are you a clean shaven minimalist?
More than anything, I'd love to be able to grow a proper beard but alas I am not blessed with the correct genes, all I can muster is a stubbly lil' thing, nothing impressive at all. I admire those who are fortunate enough to conjour up their own majestic face warmers!
You are currently senior designer at Aardman Digital in beautiful Bristol. How did you get to where you are today, was Aardman always the end goal?
I'm very fortunate to have the job I have! I got here through a combination of hard work and a whole lot of luck! I've worked for myself for 4 years and was a junior designer / designer in Leicester for 4 years before that. When I came to Bristol I just put my name about that I was available for work and signed up to a site called 'Bristol Media' - as luck would have it, Dan Efergan, then newly appointed Creative Director of Aardman Digital happened to find my work via Bristol Media and asked me to come in to chat about a spot of freelance work. Those 6 months of freelance then turned into a job offer of becoming Digital's Senior Designer - It was an offer simply too good to not grab by the horns and I've been here ever since!
Aardman is often heralded as a jewel in British cinema, but being a film studio there must be restrictions in how you can express yourself creatively, do you find this is the case?
I'm super lucky and am not restricted in my creativity at Aards, which I love! Obviously the scale of projects we work on are much larger than my personal projects so you're part of a big team but that's great to get that knowledge and experience of working with lots of talented people who make you up your game! My personal projects are always really welcomed inside Aardman too, for instance i have my collection of artist customised Droplets on permanent display in the Atrium of the main Aardman studios, so they're really welcoming of my 'other' side of creativity, which is very nice!
You are currently involved in a few different personal projects on the side of working with Aardman. How important do you think side projects are within professional life as a designer? I think they're critical really! The just allow you to flex those creative muscles that you may not get a chance to during the day job - they help you stay fresh and most important, learn and hone brand new skills! It's all about balance though, all work and no play makes designers very dull! As I get older I'm picking and choosing my personal projects and taking my time with them.
You carry out your personal projects under the pseudonym The Jam Factory, where did this idea originate? Is it something you want to grow, or will it remain a personal outlet for your creativity?
Haha, well the name 'JamFactory' came about because i couldn't think of a cool name! My old boss told me I needed my own website for me to use as my own online playground and he said I needed a domain name. I desperately wanted something cool sounding but I couldn't think of anything so I ended up just saying "Erm…. Jam…. Factory… *available* - DONE!" and that was it! I like to use the name though, as i'm a big fan of alter ego's, especially in hip-hop and in comics, so I like my personal work going out 'under' the name JamFactory. Its going to remain as just a personal outlet, I don't have plans to build it into anything bigger like a studio or collective or anything, and as I get older I use my real name more (I credit myself as 'Gavin Strange' in Böikzmöind rather than 'JamFactory').
Congratulations are in order for your recent release of Böikzmöind. It's been receiving a lot of warm praise. It must be a culmination of a lot of work behind the scenes, are you glad it's coming to its fruition?
Wow, thank you very much sir, very kind of you to say! I'm so pleased and so proud of the project, it far exceeded anything i'd ever envisaged for it. It's been an incredible ride (no pun intended… ok, a little bit intended) that has taken me halfway around the world and introduced me to some incredible people and it's also taken me through a lot, at some points i've looked upon it as a curse but then other times as a blessing, it's been a roller coaster for sure!
Boikzmoind talks about the relationship between man or woman and the fixed wheel bicycle. Do you feel it takes a certain type of person to become enamoured with riding a bike with just one gear and no freewheel? Is it a feeling shared with yourself or was it just the relationship among fixed gear riders the thing that drew you in?
It doesn't take a certain type of person, I think absolutely anyone can ride a fixed gear bike and fall in love with it. It's definitely a feeling shared by myself, I remember he first time I tried to ride a friends fixie and I thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever! He convinced me to turn my single speed into fixed and for 2 weeks it was the strangest experience then something just clicks and it all makes sense. It really is an incredible feeling to have that connection with the road and control over the bike, I believe anyone that sticks with it for a couple of weeks won't go back, it's just so addictive!
Taking on a project like Boikzmoind means you got the opportunity to really flex your creative muscle, was this a freeing or daunting experience?
It was completely freeing! Because I never planned it to be as big as It got, it all felt very natural and grew organically, I think If i'd have mapped it all out from the start then definitely It'd have been daunting! At so many points I had no clue what I was doing, only what I wanted to achieve, and that meant I relied on so many clever creative people who taught me me things, i'm so lucky and that project alone has taught me so much and given me lots of people I now call friends, which is fantastic!
Creating a personal project from scratch allows everything to have direct input from the originator, true creative freedom. Did you ever find yourself second guessing decisions? Did you have friends to fall back on and give input?
Thats what I absolutely loved about this project, I got to make it all my own, from the design of the website to the design of the credits, the framing of the shots to the size of the stickers, I got to play in all my favourite areas of design, it was such a buzz! But at every stage I needed people around me to bounce ideas off, pretty much every part of the project I was skyping / iChatting my friends or showing buddies at work, getting their input, and that was invaluable. Sometimes I'm pretty bad at that and get locked in my own world but its so rewarding to just stop, step away and show someone else, it's a great help!
A fellow designer and I were admiring the great book that comes with the film and he asked me, "why red?" You use a lovely red in the branding of Boikzmoind, so why red?
Ahh thank you! Ha, well the red came about as result of the name… if you say it phonetically it's "BIKES, MIND" in a Bristolian accent. I thought that if you add umlauts to the logo and swap the letters about a bit that it'd look like a swiss avant-garde art film, when really it's just a film about people with funny accents and their funny bikes! To follow that concept through, I thought all the graphics could be a nod to that classic Swiss modern design style, hence the red & white! I also personally love that style, so it was real fun to play with the minimalism, especially mirroring the subject of fixies, which are the most minimal of bicycles.
A lot of designers enjoy film and cinematography and fancy themselves directors, is it something you would recommend?
Yeah definitely, i absolutely love the film making side. I've always harboured dreams of being a director since spending too much time writing (bad) films rather than paying attention in Design college, so it's nice that 10 years later I'm kinda fulfilling my dream!
With Boikzmoind released, is your next project in the planning or will Boikzmoind keep you busy for the foreseeable future?
I'm still working on BOIKZMOIND at the moment, trying to get it released digitally as well as turning the photo book into a digital iBook but as I'm starting it from scratch it's taking a while and at the moment I've just moved flat amongst other things so I don't have much spare time at the moment, but I'm hoping to knuckle down when I get and push on with it. I have a bunch of other film related things I want to pursue too, so there's lots of work to be done on those!
A question I asked David Hieatt in another interview was, "Confucius said, "Chose a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." Is this something you can relate to? What does this mean to you?" I'm a big believer in doing what you love. How do feel about this statement?
Yeah definitely, the sentiment is a really nice sentiment but in the reality is you'll have to work really hard, but you will love it because you're fortunate enough to be doing something you love. Work is hard, it isn't easy, but by working on things you love you get the greatest feeling from doing it, satisfaction.
If i was to quote something it wouldn't be as ancient as Confucius in old China, it'd be Hollywood in 1976; There's a line in the classic film 'Bugsy Malone' that sums up how I see the world and how i like to live my life… "Give a little love and it all comes back to you".
Simple and true.
Words — Gavin Strange
Interview & Pictures — Jack Sadler