The Papersmith Series — Anna Fidalgo and Roger Kelly, Crispin Finn

The Papersmith Series — Anna Fidalgo and Roger Kelly, Crispin Finn

Anna and Roger are an illustrating duo tour de force. Designing under their alias, Crispin Finn, together they produce graphic screen prints, stationery and homewares - from packing tape to glassware.

The pair are renowned for their use of red, white and blue to create playful works that incorporate bold typography and vivid imagery. It is contemporary and wickedly stylish, yet maintains a nostalgic vibe evocative of late 20th century packaging design. A recent series of screenprints depicting ephemera from cult films is testament to this. They inject a lease of life into everyday, often overlooked objects, highlighting their design subtleties. Their inspiration stems from an ever growing collection of memorabilia from their travels; tea bags, coasters, plastic bags, games, maps - the list goes on.

Crispin Finn are scrupulous when it comes to their methods and materials, yet enjoy experimenting with new processes. A combination of careful research and compilation, as well as their ability to find opportunity in the challenges of a limited colour palette, makes their work ooze with vim and vigour.

It began out of a mutual frustration at the lack of well-designed yearly wall planners (a stationery staple for anybody who juggles many projects, creative or otherwise) so they created their own, and very quickly amassed a solid fan base. They now dedicate their time to both personal and commercial works, resulting in a healthy balance between hand-made and digitally produced works.

We were eager to rummage through their library of curios, so we sat down with Anna and Roger about their favourite books, their collaboration with Herb Lester, and one particular effervescent cocktail.

Hello Anna and Roger. Tell us about your backgrounds and how Crispin Finn came to be.

Anna’s background is in graphic design and Roger’s fine art, and we were both working full time in those areas when we first met. We started discussing ways of making things we needed or wanted but couldn’t find - top of that list was a year planner as we both relied on them but hated having such an ugly piece of stationery up on the wall all year round, so we decided to design and print our own. It was one of those pub discussions that actually turned into something, and quickly became a dedicated after-hours practice for us both. We found we worked really well together and it became a great way to realise creative projects that we hadn’t found ways of exploring in our daily practices.

The name “Crispin Finn” came very early on as we wanted to create a pseudonym to work behind that wouldn’t create conflict with the work we were making under our actual names. Crispin is Roger’s middle name, and Finn is an old nickname of Anna’s. It had a nice ring to it. Gradually the work began to circulate among our friends and we were lucky enough to be featured on a couple of blogs and in a few magazines which led to a commercial dimension for the products we were making, and invitations to exhibit further print based work. We built up some super relationships with stockists both in the UK and overseas, and after a few years of working evenings and weekends we realised it was time to make Crispin Finn our full time pursuit.

Your signature style is retro, a little bit cheeky and boldly tricolour. Was limiting your colour palette to red, white and blue a practical or aesthetic decision?

It was a bit of both. As we were using screen printing as a primary means of realising work we were advised by a print based friend to use a great quality american ink (TW) that was expensive but really good to work with. So we decided to buy it in large quantities but use just two colours on white paper. We loved that combination of red, white and blue; it felt very classic and also appears on a great deal of the ephemera, old and new, that we collect and get excited about. It also instilled a tight design rule on our work from the beginning that’s been really fun and challenging to work with. In turn it’s helped to create our aesthetic of strong, economic and graphic imagery.

Considering the detail that’s gone into your Movie Screen Prints, I can tell that you’re both dedicated cinephiles. How did you go about re-creating these iconic objects in print form?

We are definitely rather obsessed with film. The series started after watching a screening of Breakfast At Tiffany’s at the BFI. We love the film but also couldn’t stop talking about all the wonderful ephemera that appears all the way through. It was the starting point for the series - to create a visual souvenir of the objects that invoke the world and atmosphere of a particular movie, rather as though you’ve found the prop cupboard years later. It was important to us to make each reference as exact as possible which is often a difficult task. It takes a lot of research and careful drawing but hopefully the result is worth it and chimes with fans of the films we select. We have plans to keep adding to the series over time.

I can imagine you’ve collected some pretty zany printed ephemera on your travels. What are some of your favourite found goods? Where else do you look for inspiration?

We have a great collection of menus, plastic bags from the 90’s (many of which are now crumbling), paper placemats of maps collected from American diners, a series of beautiful 1950’s advent calendars, Paul McCartney’s “Matey For Eighty” desk calendar for the year 1980, various vernacular style shop signs, a complete set of Wacky Packages stickers, all kinds of paper drinks coasters, printed napkins, all sorts really. We also have a rather hallowed object in our studio - an original Olivetti Valentine typewriter.

Together all our collected ephemera and objects serve as a sort of visual diary and reminder of places and references we want to hang on to. Books, exhibitions, films, travel, experiences are all sources of inspiration. People too - seeing people live in an unapologetic way, making for the sake of making (whether it be food, craft, the written word) because it fulfils something within - is pretty much our reason for being.

How does stationery and paper play a part in your creative process? Do either of you have any go-to tools?

We have all sorts of stationery in the studio, from all kinds of paper clips and fasteners to envelopes and boxes, all of which we collect not only because we love the variety and characteristics of the items, but because they also form a sort of library of materials that we can refer to for both our own work and commissioned projects.

All of our work begins life on paper as lists, notes, sketches and drawings which then, if we feel an idea has legs, will usually be taken into the computer. Much of our commissioned based work is delivered as digital artwork but often personal work will then find its way back to paper via screen printing which remains a primary means of fabrication.

We’re lucky to have amassed a fair bit of physical equipment over the years so as well as two screen printing beds (one for paper and one for fabric) we also have various folding machines, embossing tools, and badge making presses, but if there is one object in particular that we couldn’t do without it’s probably a folding bone!

You’ve illustrated three maps for quirky cartographers, Herb Lester: Venice, Paris and one on London’s greener spots. What’s your process when designing an intricate map?

Herb Lester’s maps need to be both practical but beautiful, so Google maps is always a primary source for creating a geographically accurate base, then slowly building up with the information that is necessary - area names, local landmarks and so on, and then finally adding in all the entries. The hardest element is fitting in all entries within one scale, which sometimes requires page furniture, pointers or a little bit of imagination on the reader’s behalf.

Can you each pick a book from your bookshelf that you’ve a particular attachment to?

Anna - A Sophie Calle book that was published for M’as Tu Vue exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Apart from it being a beautifully designed book that serves as a great reference in its own right, it has interspersed papers of different sizes, colours and textures and it’s all bound in a bible-like tome. It also embodies, covers and touches upon so many points of inspiration: relationships, rules, Paul Auster, voyeurism, autobiography. You can dip in and out and still feel like you’re reading it for the first time. It feels like old memories being resurfaced.

Roger - This might be a bit of a cheat (as it isn’t a published book) but I’ve got a little French scrapbook from when I was about eight or nine years old full of packaging, posters and bits and pieces that i must have collected on one of my family’s annual holidays to a Gite in the south of France. It’s got all sorts stuck into it, from sugar cube wrappers to little flyers for local flea markets. I re-found it a few years ago and it was a great reminder that I’ve clearly always been a bit of a hoarder and tried to hold onto things that appealed visually.

What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you?

August is a busy time for us as it is when we prepare all our seasonal goods ready for the winter, including new ranges of stationery, wrap, calendars and our tenth (!) year planner. On top of that we’re developing several new print series and a book project, which we hope to be able to share more info on soon.

Before we part, we’re eager to sample the Crispin Fizz! Can you tell us about this project? What’s in one of these magic sounding concoctions?

That came about after a show we did at Beach London of cocktail prints - they hooked us up with master of Gin, Duncan McCrae from Hendricks who helped us design a red, white and blue cocktail that was also actually drinkable. It’s based on the classic White Lady cocktail but with the cointreau swapped for blue Curaçao. Like the White Lady it has a dash of egg white in the mix to give it a nice solid white head onto which we add orange bitters blown through a stencil. It definitely looks good but consuming more than one is dangerous..!

Thank you both!

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Images © Backyard Bill and Crispin Finn 2017
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