Following on from his brilliant talk at OFFF15 in Barcelona last month, illustrator Steve Wilson took some time out to chat to us about his recent projects with bands Panama Wedding, Audiodamn and Satchmode, what he got up to at OFFF15, the tools of his trade, his earliest memories of drawing, new exhibition work for both KK Outlet and Print Club London and how moving to Brighton changed his life.

What is the first memory you have of drawing?
Drawing with my Granddad. He would come over every Sunday and would sit for hours with me. He would bring books where the things we drew were broken down into simple shapes, circles, etc. He was very much a person of simple pleasures, calm and easy to be around.


He was very generous with his time and never seemed in a rush to be anywhere else, seems strange to think of people like that now but I credit his time and patience with me at an early age that set the foundation for me and ignited my love for drawing.

Was there a lot of art in your household growing up?
No not at all. Woodchip and Artex covered every surface. I don’t remember a single piece of art on the walls in the house I grew up in. If there was it would most likely have been some sort of Bob Ross effort. I grew up in Cheshunt, just up the A10 from Enfield Town and then in my teens moved a few miles up the road into Essex. I lived my whole life in and around that area until I moved to Brighton to start University.


That area I grew up in I think of as pretty much devoid of any visual arts culture, it was one of those areas where material possessions are everything, a flashy car is a sign of success. Arriving in Brighton to study was a baptism of fire and the beginning of a very steep learning curve. In all honesty I was completely out of my depth or at least felt that way, everyone else seemed to know so much more about films, the arts and music, but I loved the experience of it all.

You were one of the featured artists last month at OFFF15 in Barcelona. What did you talk about ?
I did a small intro about my background that culminated in my studies at Brighton University in the late 90's. I wanted to mention my time there before I started talking about my work as it was very important in shaping the way I have approached my career. Brighton was a very open and experimental course and I think on the whole my work is still very versatile because I have continued with that mindset.


I feel very fortunate to have studied when I did because it straddled the analogue and digital eras of design. I didn't actually start using the computer until after I graduated and I still use a lot of analogue techniques and principles to inform projects now. The bulk of my talk at OFFF was explaining how the analogue has informed the digital using specific case studies of my work. I tried to offer as much insight as possible into my working methods and where my ideas have come from as that is the kind of thing that interests me.

Can you tell us a little bit about your work for Soiree Graphique?
Soiree Graphique is an annual exhibition held in Bern, Switzerland by a great agency called Komet. It’s really just a celebration of design where they ask designers to submit a piece of work and it is exhibited and also re-interpreted by a fine artist. It is totally open, no brief, only dimensions are given and it has had some brilliant contributors since it began.


I decided to create a ‘typographic portrait’. I used a specifically English term to describe a person ‘A So&So’ which I then created a poster around. A So&So is used to describe ‘an unspecified person, usually someone unpleasant or not worthy of mention’ which I thought was a funny description for an artwork. Visually as well the term is symmetrical almost as the words are repeated so it allowed me to play with the patterns and shapes of the words.

You work with a lot with musicians like Panama Wedding creating album covers that will become synonymous with the band. What creative processes do you go through with the musicians when working on a project like that?
Always a phone conversation with the band first. They talk about the album they have created and what it’s about. I’ll usually get sent a couple of tracks to listen to as well. The phone conversation reveals a lot though and usually gives me plenty of things to consider and I get an instant feel for the characters I am dealing with. From that point it is over to me really. I’ll usually sit on it for a few days and allow ideas to come into my head rather than sit there trying to force an idea or trawling the web for inspiration. I’d rather something comes to me naturally. One of the nice things about music jobs is you get a little more time usually. My thought processes and considerations vary from sleeve to sleeve.


I have been fortunate with Panama Wedding because the band’s label and management have allowed the singer (Peter) and I to work closely with one another without any outside input. I respect Peter's opinion and because of the simplicity of it just being the two of us we have built up a working relationship that I think works very well and as a result has produced strong work. The first time I worked with them it was their debut album. The fact it was a debut album was an important factor. So much of the marketing is online now so the designs need to work small so I opted for a very bold graphic approach so the covers were instantly recognisable even as thumbnails.

All of my designs for them up until recently have been for singles and EPs and have been very graphic and digital but Peter and I felt it would be nice to retain the graphic nature of their work which is starting to define the band visually but take it to another level by having something made into an object for the new album. We felt a graphic piece of stained glass could be a really simple and relevant way of doing that. We have tried to create something iconic and as the album is titled Fly To Panama, we have used a plane symbol from above to create a cross as a nod to the religious context that stained glass is usually found. I created the piece digitally until Peter was happy with it and then I used a stained glass guy I found down the end of my street to make it. It is currently being photographed.

It seems your work with Soja and Paolo Nutini have taken a similiar experimental and more analogue approach ?
Yes. Soja are a reggae band that have a huge following. They threw lots of ideas at me in terms of content so I had no issues there. My main consideration when I was thinking about that artwork was how I would represent the roughness of the reggae sound with my clean graphic work. That’s what informed my decision to take my design out of the computer and have it cut from wood.


Paolo Nutini again was similar to Soja. I was creating a design for his tour. Again it didn’t feel right to create something clean and graphic especially as his album cover and marketing material to that point had been painted and was quite textured and loose so again I decided to create something by hand. I used his album title 'Caustic Love' as inspiration and decided to try and create his logo to look like it had been affected by caustic erosion. This was a very quick turnaround of two days so I used a marbling technique to apply paint to a wooden construction of his logo. I had the logo laser cut and then did the rest in the back garden before photographing it.

What is hanging on your walls right now?
I have a lot of reclaimed/found stuff such as tin signs, etc. around the house and old album artwork but in terms of contemporary design I have a Craig and Karl, Parra, Andy Smith, Anthony Burrill, Eine, Ewen Spencer and Danny Clinch up at the moment.
Can you tell us a bit about your current projects with Audiodamn and Satchmode ?
Satchmode I worked with directly in a similar way to Panama Wedding, they had complete control over their creative which they passed on to me. As a result I got to do what I thought was right for them and they trusted my ideas and direction. The album was titled Afterglow and I realised the words 'Satchmode and 'Afterglow' both contained 9 letters so I based the design around that coincidence.


Audiodamn was a very different experience. They are signed to a big label so there was more people to please and I had less control over direction. I tried a large number of very varied routes for that one, some routes that were my own and some I was asked to do before we settled on a direction. I don't mind working like that sometimes as often the direction you are given can lead to new things and new ideas which you might not have done otherwise (which it did in this case) but equally I have had many other experiences where there are too many people providing opinions and feedback and it can cause problems. It's always a matter of opinion and you rarely please everyone so ultimately someone needs to have the final say and I feel like that should be the band or artist.

You collaborated last year with Thomas Burden for The New Pornographers album Brill Bruisers. Can you talk a bit about the processes involved in creating this work?
It was a job that came in for myself. I had a chat with A C Newman, the singer from the band and his management on the phone. We discussed various ideas but one that came up was the idea of making a neon sign. I liked that idea so said I’d sketch out some possible things we could have built and photographed. Anyway, various designs went back and forth and halfway through that process they changed the album title which was an integral part of the designs I was doing. Alongside that they were being quite particular about colours, etc. Neon is obviously a very expensive thing to have made and with the way the design was progressing and the changes being made I suggested perhaps we should make it in cinema 4D rather than build something that can’t be changed.


I did want to build a physical sign but I know how difficult music jobs can be to get over the line so this felt like a more controllable option. I got a vector template for the design agreed with them and then asked Tom to get involved and he took over modeling the design in cinema 4D. It’s the first time I’ve ever outsourced any of my work and I have to say it was a great experience. I’ve liked the things Tom has been doing for a while so it was a pleasure working with him. Once he had completed the cover and it was all signed off by the band I then designed the rest of the packaging.

What do you consider to be the tools of your trade?
Wacom Cintiq 24, Mac Pro, Camera (I use a Canon 5d Mk2), various other materials when required (Paint, Alginate, Plaster of Paris, Marbling Inks…to name a few). An ability to work under pressure, lots of motivation and a lot of patience with people.
Finally can you tell me where I can see your work this summer !
I'm involved in a couple of great exhibitions. The annual KK Outlet summer exhibition opened last week and I'm pleased to be a part of that. The theme for the show is 'Commute Nice London' and is about encouraging London's road users to get along better. I have created a poster around an adaptation of the well known phrase 'Stop, Look and Listen'. The phrase has been adapted to 'Stop, Look, Smile' and I illustrated it around the three circles and colours from a traffic light, each of which was given a twist to communicate the new phrase.


Then later in July I am one of the selected artists creating a poster with Print Club London for the Film 4 Summer Screen at Somerset House. I've illustrated a poster for the film 'An American Werewolf in London' which has been screen printed amazingly well by Sam at Tuckshop London. We have used fluro pink and blue inks overlaid on top of one another with a metallic silver layer on top. The design is based around the metamorphosis of the main character into the Werewolf. The show opens at Somerset House on the 29th July and all prints will be for sale with some great artists involved. It will be well worth a look.

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