I read that graffiti was what initially introduced you into the world of graphic design. How did you find the transition between producing graffiti and producing street art? What were some of the key differences you noticed between your work before and after university?
I struggle with the labels of the two, but I will stick to the terminology you’ve used as to not complicate things. The ‘Graffiti’ world is an entirely different beast. It’s more competitive and you’re not always producing your work for the right reasons. Once you make the conscious decision to stray away from the traditional Graffiti norms, you have to be prepared for negative opinions from that community. For that reason it’s important to be very self confident and truly believe in your own ideas and be honest about why you are pursuing them. I think some people are often afraid to step outside of the structure because they fear the opinions of others.
My work before university was a lot more empty in terms of concept. It was simply cosmetic for the sake of looking nice and had no real substance in terms of ideas behind it. This is a very common occurrence in the Graffiti world. There are lots of people in the scene who can create beautiful looking paintings but the stand out artists explore more interesting and exciting ideas and then present them in a beautiful way. These two things together are what creates powerful work. I would say that was the biggest change in my work after university. I began to really see the importance of a good solid idea as the foundation of a creative project. It also allowed me to realise that there were no real limits on what materials and methods I could use to convey my ideas.
Breaking into the industry as a graduate can be very difficult and quite daunting at times. How did you secure your first big commission/brief after graduating?
Looking back I honestly can’t remember the first ‘big’ commission I received after university. I do remember the feeling of fear that I would leave the safety of university and struggle to find work. However, after my third year I actually made a conscious decision to take a break from creating work for a while and I think it’s important that students know that is an option. The final year was just so intense that I wanted to give myself time to settle and figure out where I wanted to take my practice instead of just blindly continuing. It’s easy to get caught up in the fear of ‘needing to be noticed by the industry’ but the truth is there’s no real rush. By all means if you feel confident and comfortable in the work you’re producing then make the most of your ‘recent graduate’ title, but don’t feel pressured by it.
When you first get a new brief, how do you start the creative process, and how does this progress from words on a piece of paper to the final words on the wall?
I take the brief and scrawl all over it. I circle the important details like deadlines, dimensions etc and pick out the key elements that are needed for the design. I then rewrite the brief in its simplest form and figure out how I can then sell that idea back to the client in the most interesting way. I then start to doodle my first initial responses on loose pieces of paper and figure out what is working and what’s not. If the work is lettering, I will look at how certain words are best represented in terms of typefaces and structure. Sometimes these are blatantly obvious and to represent them any other way would be ridiculous, but other times there are numerous ways to convey the word. Then it’s a case of bringing all the different element together in a way that fits the format of the final space. From there it’s sourcing the correct materials for the specific surfaces and applying the final artwork to the space.
Is every element of your design planned? Or do you get inspired by the surface/surroundings you are painting?
A lot of the time clients want to have a pretty concrete idea of how the design will look, so it’s necessary to have final designs which show all elements to be included. However, very often I will slightly tweak small details or add things if i feel they are needed. However, I am always confident that these tweaks will definitely improve the overall feel of the piece and this hasn’t been a problem yet…
What would be your dream project/client, and why?
I used to be a lot more caught up on trying to attract the big dream clients like Nike, Adidas etc. However, at the moment I think I’m more focussed on developing my own personal work and then having people see that and commission me to create similar things for them. Some of my most interesting projects have been for smaller clients who allow me to have more creative freedom. A lot of the time with larger clients you find that things are a lot more restricted. Don’t get me wrong, I would still love to be approached by big brands but I see it a lot more as a bonus than a necessity. Exploring my own ideas is definitely what takes centre stage at the moment. This might change again further down the line and I think it’s important to allow yourself those periods where you look inwards instead of searching outwards.
Your work has been displayed worldwide over the last couple of years. What was your favourite city to work in and why?
Most of the international cities where I have created work has been for myself and off my own back. I’ve only had a few pieces internationally that were actually commissioned projects. Every time I am visiting a new country, I do my best to find a local paint shop and also a place where I can create something, it’s a little bit of a ritual for me and it’s something that I love to do. I enjoyed painting in Barcelona (Spain) because it was a beautiful day and I managed to find a totally untouched wall full of character. Another great one was painting in Stavanger (Norway) because I got up at 5am, watched the sun rise over the lakes and then painted a lettering piece reading ‘Hadet’ (Goodbye in Norwegian) with paint I had bought from a local painter who took me to his studio to choose my colours. All of these paintings create beautiful stories that allow me to remember a foreign place in a really intimate way.
Finally, what do you do when you hit a wall (not literally) in a project? How do you get past the creative block?
I don’t really experience creative block too much these days. I think that’s a big thing for me is to be constantly exploring and developing new ideas on my personal projects and then when a client brief comes along I allow them to feed into those. I think it works the other way too, sometimes I will find that ideas I have developed as part of a brief will then start making their way into my personal work and I feel like as a creative I should be open to that. It means that currently I’m working on a series of timelapse lettering animations that are create with masking tape. Another way I get past block is to just acknowledge that it’s part of the process and if I don’t feel in a creative headspace, I will take a break and do something else and then return to it later.
Interview conducted by: Lauren Dutch Sally Mosley Sam Buckley
Nathan Evans is an illustrator and murial artist specialising in hand-drawn and hand-painted lettering. He focuses on hand-drawn line work and intricate patterns, along with analogue mark-making to create texture.
He has over a decade’s worth of experience painting walls, and applies his illustrative style to larger scale projects. His images are multi-layered and rich in content, and follow vibrant colour patterns that provide his clients with a unique and eye-catching quality which adheres to their requirements