Could you tell me about where you grew up?
I grew up in a little village called Wheatley, just outside of Oxfordshire. It’s a small town, about the size of Bingham and surrounded by a lot of farm. No graffiti on the walls, but a lot of historic sites and woods.
Tell me about the journey that lead you from a small rural town to what you’re doing now in Nottingham?
I started out painting banners for raves, and I had a big interest in graffiti from when early graffiti books were starting to come out, but I never had access to paint or supplies that weren’t from the back of a magazine. Often you would order from there, it would turn up but it wasn’t what you wanted or even expected. Later I went down an educational route and studied a foundation in art and design, then went on to study illustration at Portsmouth university and then moved down to Nottingham. Having been putting on events and raves at Portsmouth, I met up with one half of Transit Mafia, who now runs Detonate. I kinda moved up here when they were just setting up and got involved with the art side of things through that.
I realised during that time illustration wasn’t opening up any career paths for me, so I self taught graphics and worked in a printers making the plates and the small bits of design here and there. Then I got a job in an agency as a junior where, as it was a small agency, I had to accelerate to mid-weight pretty quickly! At the same time I was freelancing in the evenings doing rave flyers, then those events would become bigger and more popular which gave me much more contracts with other promoters. I also got involved with youth programmes which has a lot of art workshops which set me up doing both design and youth work. During that time I did a lot of painting graffiti for fun and, while I wasn’t necessarily getting commissioned, doing youth work gave me access to lots of paint and I learned how to paint really fast alongside the kids.
“It sounds organised but it’s much more organic than that; I don’t have a business model or plan, never have.”
It’s been 17 years since then and over that time the print industry has died out; I’d be printing 50,000 flyers on the weekend back then but now it’s all online and I don’t go raving anymore! Over the years the workshops have continued but dropped down with the lack of art funding from the government. I’ve organically moved onto the commercial market for work which lead me to where I am now where I self-fund my projects through working. It sounds organised but it’s much more organic than that; I don’t have a business model or plan, never have. I try to steer my life in the direction I want it to by saying ‘I no longer set up business cards’ or ‘I no longer do logo design’ or right now I’m trying to keep off the computer as much as possible but it’s a very organic path. Even when I had a plan, such as deciding to focus on festivals for the next couple of years, we’ll do it and have a good laugh but wont make money from it.
Did you see yourself doing what you’re doing now when you were younger?
No not really, I remember I was going to move to Brighton after uni and I had it in my head that I was going to be a mural painter but other than some set design work I didn’t have any experience doing that, but as a naive idea I thought it would be quite fun.
So you were working a lot of jobs as you started this venture?
Over the years I’ve done house clearances for a landlord when I just started, then we’d do the decorating and get the houses ready for new carpets to be put in. I’ve sold logs at Christmas, craft fairs, been in a woman’s house and built her IKEA furniture! Lots of small ‘top up’ jobs to keep me going as I was getting started.
What would you say is the biggest risk you’ve taken so far?
I jumped off a cliff! I went to stay with a friend who lived in a little island near Mauritius and he said we should jump off this cliff, he said he’d done it before but by the time we got up there, all we could see was stone before the water and I asked him if he was sure he’d done it before and he hadn’t! He just saw someone else do it and wanted to try! But we jumped, well, more like fell off the cliff, because my legs collapsed but that was definitely my biggest risk. Went hill walking in China too, that was risky…
But in terms of work, every job is a risk; you don’t know what you’re going to do, what the surfaces are, what materials you’ll have, the logistics, the clients, the final result, there’s always an element of risk.
So every wall and surface you have come across must be a little bit different every time, like a new experience. Does this alter your approach to painting every time?
Yeah, lots of things to consider. Even yesterday I was using a metallic copper paint in a job and I didn’t know how it would react to the wall internally, working fine on shutter but on fresh plaster board it would be less metallic. And then the client would want it lacquered and you have consider what that would do to the paint. We had one experience with the same reliable ink that we have used for years on a wall that had extra paint underneath that we didn’t know about and the ink reacted in such a way that meant we had to repaint it about 4 or 5 times. You can’t be complacent, until you have your outlines done and you’ve tested the materials and its all up on the wall, you don’t know how it will end up. It’s more relaxed in personal projects though, compared to commercial projects, there is more lenience with mistakes, it’s forgiveable to say, run out of green paint and fade it in with a different green paint on a street wall, less so if it’s a persons office where it needs to look slick.
“Every job is a risk; you don’t know what you’re going to do, what the surfaces are, what materials you’ll have, the logistics, the clients, the final result, there’s always an element of risk.”
What is it about spray painting and stencilling murals that you enjoy?
I’ve always been obsessed with it; the visual aesthetic of it as well as the exhilarating nature of it, it’s something on a large scale that you need to commit to. You can’t just leave it how it is, you see it through to the end. There is also the social aspect of it, the painting is a by-product of festivals and parties where you could be painted by 2 o’clock and stay for a social afterwards or meet up with other people and other experiences you don’t get by staying at home and drawing by yourself. The people that you meet and the oppurtunities that open are sometimes more interesting than what you paint.
So there’s a strong sense of community?
Well, within the street art and graffiti scene there are loads of sub genres from the train painters to stencil artists and then there’s me, somewhere in the middle painting characters.
Are there any other mediums you’d like to work in?
I do use a computer a lot but I don’t like it. Pen and ink. Making little models. I hand draw a lot of stuff, working mainly in black and white using inks for drawing, maybe a bit of tracing back and forth before vectorising it on the computer.
Can you tell me about the process of going from a little black and white sketch to a 10 ft mural on the side of a building?
I set my own brief and ideas, I might have a pencil sketch to work from, its a bit more free to have the general composition on a piece of paper I’ve been drawing more pop culture cartoon imagery recently, which requires me to be a bit more correct. It’s the same with client work, the final product needs to be exactly the same as what they approved from you. There are loads of methods for this, you could hand sketch it, which I do for my own stuff, you might make grids on the wall for ease of use or for more commercial projects you might shine a projector on the wall if it’s internal, which also means you could cheat a bit with this method! But it really depends each time, sometimes it’s more organic and other times it’s more rigid if it is run by the client- it varies.
“The people that you meet and the opportunities that open are sometimes more interesting than what you paint.”
What has been your favourite project to work on?
We painted at Glastonbury at 2010, and we were there for a couple of weeks and painted loads of things. We had a nice project with all of us together in perfect weather, we would go out in the evening on our push-bikes and paint loads of things like toilets and skips along with our street art, experience wise it was my favourite. We also had a billboard we commandeered every few weeks which is fun to have in terms of space, but you’re 30ft up in the air hanging on a ledge over a road, which is a less fun experience when you’re actually painting it. So it’s a good thing to have and put whatever you want on… but a bit unnerving.
How does living in Nottingham influence you compared to Oxfordshire?
It’s a nice pace of life here. It allows me to do my own thing without too much hassle. There are many good spots to paint and lots of good artists here with a thriving art scene and plenty of sustainable work available. It’s a slower city compared to some, where the competition is much higher, but it’s not oversaturated so I’m not feeling swamped all the time; elsewhere I would be doing 10 times more for 100 times less.
People find their niche and do things for the right reasons over here, if you want to do something you can just do it without feeling like your work is going to be blogged about online before you’ve even got home.
“A piece on the street someone would walk past, appreciate it and take a photo of it, whereas in a gallery people are compelled to scratch their chin and evaluate it.”
Would you say you’re creatively satisfied?
No. [laughs] I would like to explore more personal work, but doing commercial projects leaves me short on time for my own. I’m lucky to be painting or drawing once or twice a week, I’m limited big time.
What advice would you give to young people starting out?
Try to get involved in projects, make as much of your personal work as you can and make sure its work that you want to do, not work you think you should be doing. Don’t be focused on the end goal, it makes it unattainable or you do attain it but leaves you in a lacklustre state after the fact.
Don’t be focused on the end goal. It makes it unattainable, or you do attain it but leaves you in a lacklustre state after the fact. It’s important to have that drive that keeps you going; there’s a hundred and one other things I’d like to do but I’ve still done more than I had ten years ago.
What about advice you would give to your younger self?
Make use of the facilities and resources like the screen printers at uni rather than attempting to make your own in a shed! It’s advice I would give to today’s students as well. The laser cutter bed is going to be considerably better than a stencil cutter from a craft shop, so make use of these resources while you can.
Would you say the accessibility of spray is part of what drew you to it?
Yeah, it’s difficult to get your work into galleries and it’s often a closed door and a serious environment, the street stuff is viewed differently and is more accessible to the public; a piece on the street someone would walk past, appreciate it and take a photo of it, whereas in a gallery people are compelled to scratch their chin and evaluate it. Very rarely if I’m painting on the street do people ask me why I’m doing it or what the piece is about, they’ll see it as an aesthetic and appreciate it or not appreciate it. I’m sure that Matisse’s blue period is probably because someone gave him a lot of blue paint. I’ve heard people critique my work and it will be completely wrong.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave, if any?
I’d like people to enjoy what I’ve painted along the way. I paint for myself and for other people to enjoy, so that’s all I can hope for.