How to Not Hate Your Job
HOW TO NOT HATE YOUR JOB.
Gavin Beattie set up his design practice in 2010 which he still runs from his studio in Delgany, Co. Wicklow. Gav also hand prints alongside his day-to-day work. One of Ireland’s leading print artists, he set up Tiny Little Horse with Bren Byrne in 2006, has done posters for the likes of Morrissey, Feist, David Grey and has completed the popular, iconic set of Irish Art Prints. We spoke to Gav about what it takes to go out on your own, and how the hell he manages to juggle his practice alongside his labour of love - fine art printing.
Did you always get to do what you loved for work? Tell us about that.
Not at all, I think that’s something you either have to really work at to make happen, or you get lucky. For me, I tend to put a lot on the long finger, so it took much longer than it should have. I went from studying Fine Art print, to working as a signwriter, to an apprenticeship in a design studio - so I knew it would involve a certain amount of learning, as well as slog work. Lots of slog work!
What happened to make you realise you needed to change your job? What was the “eye opener”?
I stayed in my first design job for a long time, I learnt a huge amount during my time there, not just about design, but some pretty important stuff about what to do, and what not to do, when running your own business. Also, the right way to treat people - not just clients, but also suppliers. That job supported me through buying a house and raising two kids. I could have gone out on my own a bit sooner than I did, but when I jumped ship it was the right time. Well, apart from the fact that a recession had just begun.
How has your view of your own work/creativity changed since going out on your own?
A mortgage and two kids to help raise is a great incentive, but the freedom you get once you’re out on your own, dealing with your own clients and taking full responsibility for your work, can be both terrifying and hugely rewarding. Working for someone else meant all my work went through a filter before getting to the client. This was great for learning, and is important when a studio has to maintain a certain standard and style of work, but became claustrophobic at times, especially when I had a few years experience under my belt.
‘They need a meeting outside of 9-5 hours? You meet them. The print job came out wrong? You deal with it - there’s no hiding, it’s all on you.’
When dealing with your own clients you have more of a responsibility to get every element of the job right - client’s not happy with the work? You fix it. They need a meeting outside of 9-5 hours? You meet them. The print job came out wrong? You deal with it - there’s no hiding, it’s all on you. The same logic had to apply to my work, but I found the difference was I could concentrate more clearly on what the client needed out of the job, and not what I knew my employer wanted to show them. So, in a way, my work now is more ‘me’ as opposed to representing the studio I worked for. Having said that, it’s just as important to not be overly-precious about your own work style and to be open to taking outside direction when needed - you never stop learning.
What’s a typical day for you in your studio? How much design work do you do versus screen printing?
I work from a home studio and we’re up early in our house due to school hours, so I’m at my desk at 8am most days and finish around 5 or 6. I’d like to say I start with yoga and breathing exercises before planning the day ahead, but it’s just, put on some music, check emails, deal with any urgent jobs first and then look at the clock and start planning the rest of the day’s work. Being self-employed means every day is different, so some weeks can be full-on and others can be quiet.
For me, design work is my main source of income, so it takes priority over screen printing. I only print my own work, I’m not a print supplier, I’m just not set up to be one and prefer it that way to be honest. With screen printing I always need a lot more time to plan it, it’s never a last minute thing. For example, with most gig posters, I’ll design them and get approval at least a month before physical copies are needed. That way I can fit printing in between scheduled design work, if I’m having a print day, there’s not a lot of design work going. And if I’m having a REALLY quiet day I’ll go to the skatepark, or brew some beer, or do some housework. Actually, it’s mostly do some housework.
What poster/print got the biggest reaction? Why do you think it did?
It’s hard to say, some posters I think are going to sell well and get a good reception don’t, then others surprise me. My ‘War on Drugs’ print from 2014 was really well received and sold out pretty quickly - it’s got all the usual Tiny Little Horse stuff in there - dead trees, birds, mountains, that scanned-from-an-old-copy-of-the-Evening-Herald type I always use. It was a bit of a departure colour-wise for me too, maybe people were sick of black and gold?
My ‘Isis’ print from 2009 was popular too, not just with poster buyers, but also the band. That has quite a macabre story portrayed in a romantic, almost pretty way. I like creating images you have to take a second look at, that have something dark going on under the surface.
Then more recently I got to make a print for Idles when they played in Dublin. I went more typographic with that one and focused primarily on the lyrics of one song. There are a lot of really simple elements going on in there that tie in with both the song itself and the band’s ethos. I was happy with it, the band liked it, and it sold out really fast.
Do you think screen printing is a dying art?
No, it seems to go up and down in popularity, but hasn’t died yet. I’ve seen people get into it and be really enthusiastic about it at the start, then drop it when they realise how time consuming it can be. I mean, I did a bit of screen printing in school, then learnt how to do it properly in college, graduated, then never went near it for 10 years before picking it up again. I like complaining about it but I secretly love it. I’m just saying that as I haven’t printed anything in over a month now. I’ve to print today, so I’ll be sick of it again tomorrow!
Do you think that your current body of work benefits from your early years working in a design agency, how so?
Absolutely. I’ve talked about this with other poster artists, it’s a bit like the difference between being a designer and an illustrator, in the conventional sense. Some will concentrate on developing their own distinct style and eventually, you can spot their work a mile off. Others will change their approach for every job, use different media, colour palettes, drawing style and so on. With gig posters especially I think I approach the work in an illustrator manner, but plan it almost like a design/advertising approach. That’s been changing though over the last few years and sometimes I do less planning and more seeing-how-it-develops. It also works the other way round, my fine art education sometimes brings me on a completely different design path than if I had had a formal design education.
‘My fine art education sometimes brings me on a completely different design path than if I had had a formal design education.’
Advice for budding creatives wanting to build a career in a design craft? What should they do/not do/aim for.
Get stuck into the slog work and you’ll eventually get to do the fun stuff. But don’t put the fun stuff on the long finger for too long, or you’ll end up doing the slog work for 12 years and venting your resentment by drawing mocking caricatures of your boss based on daft shit he says on a daily basis.