The Papersmith Series — Gavin Strange | Bristol

The Papersmith Series — Gavin Strange | Bristol

Gavin Strange. Where to start?! Let’s begin with the day job. As a Senior Designer at Aardman Animations, he oversees and designs all the digital, online and interactive content, a role that we imagine is extremely fun and fulfilling. But, it doesn’t stop there for this man of many hats.

Gavin has a zest for side projects like no other creative individual we’ve met. His background in graphic design and a multidisciplinary skill-set has resulted in many projects embarked upon under his freelance moniker JamFactory. From filmmaking to music videos, illustration to toy design, there isn’t a medium unturned.

We loved the honesty of Gavin’s musings on his personal projects in Do Fly, his first book published by the The Do Book Co. In the book, he encourages the reader not to get hung up on choosing one route into a field over another, and to value the time outside of our work hours. It’s an inspiring read we’d highly recommend.

Just how does Gavin manage to spin all the plates, and have fingers in all the proverbial pies? As demonstrated in our interview that’s seeping with enthusiasm, it’s a love of learning new skills, an infectious energy, and a genuine adoration of his art.

Hello! Your energy for all things design is infectious. Tell us about your background, and what inspired your love of creating.

Aww thank you very much! I get so excited about making stuff because that feeling of just creating something from nothing is infectious itself. The reward is the catalyst, and the catalyst is the reward. It just feels totally natural to be excited about all things design!

My background was as a graphic designer, but I never felt like that was ‘enough’. I spent two years at college when I was young doing a BTEC in Graphic Design. I got my first job as a Junior Designer straight out of college, as I didn’t want to go to University. It was in that first job that I was taught to be a web designer. My boss then encouraged me to start my own website so I could upload and share my own work on there - that was where the name ‘JamFactory’ came from, as I needed to call it something.

Then that lead to me indulging my passion for side projects. Once I had that platform, I would just make work and share all of it online, just for fun. Logos, illustrations, photography, characters and clothing. Everything and anything that excited me, I would put it on my site.

17 years later and I’m still doing the same thing! I have my day job at Aardman, which I love, but then I’m still just excited to go home to learn new things, and try different techniques and mediums that I haven’t done before.

Tell us about your journey with Aardman. What does a day in the life of Senior Online Designer look like?

I really, really love my job! I feel so fortunate to be there. Like a lot of people, I grew up watching Aardman’s creations on my telly, so to be a part of it now feels so special. I’ve been there for nearly ten years, and every day is different!

My role means I do a lot of digital design - UI design, icon design, game design, identity design - but over the years my role has expanded into different areas and I’ve been able to work with lots of different departments. Just last week I was designing and animating motion graphics for Shaun the Sheep as well as creating an illustration for a collaboration with the British Council of India. Next week I’ll be art directing a 3D game for the BBC.

It’s always varied, I absolutely love it.

Can you tell our readers about some of your most memorable side projects?

I really enjoy variety, especially with side-projects, because why not!? You can do anything you like!

Some of my favourite side projects were making a documentary film about fixed gear bicycles in Bristol called BÖIKZMÖIND, and designing and painting giant 5ft sculptures for the Gromit Unleashed and Shaun in the City charity art trails. I’ve also created a range of designer vinyl toys called ‘Droplets’, written my first book called ‘Do Fly’ and co-directed the title sequence for the OFFF design festival in Barcelona. Most recently I proudly produced, directed, designed and animated a music video for American rapper P.O.S for his track ‘Born A Snake’.

You’ve mastered the art of the side project. But with so many passion projects on the go, are there times where things don’t turn into what you had initially dreamt? How do you approach these frustrations and remain brimming with enthusiasm and positivity?

That’s very kind of you to say but I don’t think I’ve mastered anything. I just like to continually learn and change my approach to things. I don’t think any of my passion projects have turned out like I first imagined, but that’s a good thing. I’ve learnt to try and be as casual as I can and think about how the projects can morph and change over time.

I constantly get frustrated. I become full of doubt and go through those agonising bouts of ‘can I do this?’. However, I’ve come to recognise those patterns and I know that they’re just part and parcel of the creative process. These feelings will come and go, and you’ve got to embrace it rather than fight it.

Basically, turn every negative into a positive where possible!

What advice would you pass on to those eager to get a new venture off the ground?

Simply, to just do it. I know that sounds blindingly obvious, but that’s because as soon as you get specific, the advice doesn't apply to everyone. Encouraging people to just do it, no matter what the obstacles - I think that’s the most powerful thing to hear.

You’ll never have the time. You’ll never have the money. You’ll never have the knowledge. You’ll never have the perfect scenario. So stop putting things off and just go for it. The worst thing that will happen is that it won’t go as expected, but at least you’ll be able to change and adapt on the go.

Put one foot forward and see where it takes you!

Do you have a preference towards any particular medium?

I don’t actually. I love the variety. I suppose it does come down to graphic design being my core. I really appreciate symmetry and minimalism in all aspects of my work. I tend to work on the computer a lot, but that’s just what feels most comfortable to me. I loved working with my friend Merlin Crossingham on the OFFF titles when we had a section of stop-frame animation in our film. It was amazing to co-direct that and see that medium close-up. That felt really special.

The same with the music video too; I  worked with my buddy Jimmy who’s a master model maker and prop builder. Seeing something physical is really exciting, whether that be a real prop or a practical light. There’s something magical about doing things ‘in-camera’, as much as I love pixels. There’s a place for everything I think.

It’s been one year since you launched STRANGE with your wife, Janey. What inspired you both to open a physical store?

You guys were a big part of that! For reals! We just love and admire bricks and mortar stores and being able to curate the whole experience of how a customer feels when they walk into something you’ve created. We only dabble in pop-up shops at the moment, as financing a full store would be really tricky for us, but through the pop-ups we’ve had glimpses at what it would be like.

One day, the dream is to have a storefront / workshop. We’ve just got to keep plugging away and build our little corner of capitalism!

To answer your question about what inspired us to do it; it was just wanting to see it out in the world. We’d talked about doing something like a brand / store for years, but it was actually when we returned from The Do Lectures that gave us the kick to do it. We’d heard lots of stories of people without finance, without stability and without a plan just starting things regardless and it gave us that confidence to say, ‘well if they can, why can’t we!’

Let’s talk about printed matter! How does stationery and paper play a part in your creative process?

I just love all things print and pens, who doesn’t!? Aside from just being a sucker for beautifully designed stationery, I really enjoy using it all too. I always have my notebook on me and it’s quite a messy affair. Each page is a different paper colour so I’m always using different pens and pencils. It’s more a scrapbook than anything else.

Like lots of mediums, I love that different tools can lead you to new areas. So trying those lush brush pens makes you want to try a new style that does them justice. I like how different stationery tools may open up a whole new world of creation!

Name one or two magazines on your current reading list.

papGood question! I love The Great Discontent, Huck, Edge, Offscreen and Another Escape. I also recently discovered Four & Sons too, which is a beautifully designed magazine for dog owners. It’s rad.

We love your little nook under-the-stairs studio. Do you collect anything weird and wonderful?

Haha! Thanks very much! It’s a tiny wee space but I do love it. I like being surrounded by lots of ‘things’ to keep me inspired so it’s got lots of odds and sods; from postcards to pictures, skateboards to old video tapes. I also collect a lot of vinyl toys. I’ve got them here in my den in a toy cabinet and all over my desk at work. I think I like them because they’re all so different. It’s a great way to collect a huge variety of character designs. I don’t think it’s fair that you’re expected to stop collecting toys when you become an adult, so I decided to carry on!

Where do you go for inspiration?

All over really. I get inspired all the time, by just about everything! I really love what I do, so I like to be as open and receptive as I can. You never know where inspiration might come from.

I love seeing what others are doing too. Anytime I see a great image online I download it to my screensaver folder, so when my machine becomes idle it just shows me this huge slideshow of inspiring images. I find that really useful actually, it’s like a sea of inspiration washing over you every time you use the computer. It’s great.

Aside from that, it’s the usual hit list of inspiration. The great outdoors, the work of others, my family and my friends. I also find just making work inspires you to make even more. It’s a virtuous circle!

One of your heroes you’d like to share a cuppa with and why?

Oh man, what a good question! I really admire the artist KAWS. I’d love to have a chat with him and pick his brains. The same goes for Spike Jonze. I love what he does and would kill to share a brew and chat all things creative.

What does the rest of 2017 hold for you?

A bit of everything! I’m directing and animating a title sequence for the FITC design festival in Amsterdam. I’m speaking at the Something Good design event here in Bristol. I’m curating a design & music night with the West of England Design Forum. I’m releasing an audiobook version of my ‘Do Fly’ book, I’m making a few more short films and there’ll be lots of other bits along the way.

And, trying my hardest to be a rad dad to my boy Sully and good husband to my wife Janey!

Thank you!

Thank YOU guys! I’m very honoured to be a part of the Papersmiths world.

Follow Gavin on Instagram

Images by © Dan Pask and Gavin Strange 2017
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