Vis-Ed: Give Up Art—The Visualists Behind Tempa and Apple Pips Give It All Up
- Words: Tim Saputo
London-based design house Give Up Art has more than just a clever name behind it. Amongst numerous projects, the husband-wife team of Stuart and Emma Hammersley has also been responsible for the visual identities of dubstep powerhouse Tempa Records, and Appleblim's Apple Pips label.
But it's their collaborative projects that have garnered the pair the most spark, like their joint effort with XLR8R photographer Shaun Bloodworth, and Bleep.com, entitled North/South/East/West, in which they created a limited-edition package of photographs and music from the likes of Rustie, HudMo, Falty DL, Mike Slott, FlyLo, Matthew David, and Daedelus. We spoke with GUA's sole designer, Mr. Hammersley, nearly four years after the company formed, about his creative process, why the N/S/E/W project was so gratifying, and which "wedding" tunes he gets down to. Patric Fallon and Tim Saputo
XLR8R: Where did you grow up?
Stuart Hammersley: In a village in Essex, about 70 miles from London. I had good times growing up there. After I finished school, I got a place at The London College of Printing to study graphic design, so I moved to London at age 19, and have been here ever since.
What did you get from your education that wouldn't necessarily translate to job skills?
Some great friends, mainly. That and how to throw a pretty good party...
What has been the most gratifying project you've done so far?
Hard to say, really. I always try to work hard and spend time on projects so that I'm happy with them anyway. But, like lots of designers or artists, I imagine you're probably never entirely happy with older work. For client work, the Benga album and "Night" singles on Tempa is one of them. The photography from Shaun Bloodworth came out great, and the packaging we came up with looked amazing. Plus, I bumped into Benga just after the finished product had been delivered to Tempa, and he was really, really stoked with how it had turned out. So things like that, when the artist or client is really pleased as well, is hugely gratifying. On a more personal note, the recent North/South/East/West project we worked on with Shaun again, and Bleep.com, was great fun and a lot of hard work to put together. But I'm really happy with how all of it—the photography, the design, and of course the music—came together. And we met some great and inspiring people along the way.
Do you find yourself coming back to certain themes throughout your work? If so, do you choose to embrace it or fight it?
Yes, sometimes the same things crop up, and it can be interesting to try and refine and improve upon past efforts. But equally, I like to try and move things on, or in different directions, and collaborating with other people is one of the best ways to do this... and being open to others' ideas can help you take things in a different direction that I maybe wouldn't go on myself.
One thing I admire about your work is that it is seemingly guided by classic international typographic principles, and at the same time looks futuristic and fresh. Is your subtlety a reaction to the past decade of mega-graphic overload?
I don't think it's been a hugely conscious decision. I was, and still am, a great admirer of that early-'90s Designer's Republic work—that was the epitome of mega-graphic overload. The thing is they did it so well, and so many other people didn't. But I really just personally like the clear, simple, and bold approaches—and believe in the power of clear and direct graphic communication... but not so severe that it becomes cold and uninteresting I hope. I also just happen to really love flat, graphic colors and well-designed typography.
What are some sources you draw from creatively, that might not directly correlate with graphic design?
Many of the usual things, like films, music, art. I also have two young sons, who are always drawing and making comics and stuff like that. And it's always great for me to see their take on things... their sometimes odd ways of looking at things.
What do you do when you are faced with a creative block?
I've learnt to just leave what I'm stuck on, and do something else. Ideally, I'll go away and do something completely unrelated to it, and come back to it with fresh eyes. And usually what's wrong with something will become apparent.
Have you had a mentor figure in your career who has influenced your work, work ethic, or process?
Not directly, no. Certain colleagues or collaborators I've worked with in the past have been inspiring. And I always have the desire to keep improving both Give Up Art and myself. But mainly I'd say Emma, my wife and partner in GUA, has always been really supportive and honest in her opinions when it's needed. And she's a really good motivator and inspiration in getting things done.
What typeface would you like to never see used again?
Well you could so easily start with about 5,000 crappily digitized, awful comedy fonts out there. But a proper typeface—well, despite it being designed by the great Otl Aicher—I'd have to say Rotis.
What's your process like? What's the first thing you usually do?
First thing, always, is to sit and think for a while, with a sketchbook. I'm not amazing at drawing, so it's mainly just rough scribbles and written notes about print details, shoot ideas, font, etc. Then maybe I'll turn to books or the web for a bit of reference or research. Once a design is underway, I tend to work up ideas quickly, save a file, then re-work that version slightly. So I can end up with between 10 and 20 versions of one thing. Then I stop and review them again, and hopefully come to a decision, then work on refining that into something to show the client.
What do you find to be the biggest obstacle when designing type?
The letter S.
At which point did you feel people started to 'get' what you were doing?
I've never really thought about that to be honest. I suppose it might have been when our work for Tempa was starting to get a bit better known. There was a clear aesthetic to the label that people seemed to respond to and generally like, and I started to hear that from a few different people. So maybe then?
How did you start collaborating with photographer Shaun Bloodworth?
I used to art-direct a magazine about restaurants, chefs, and food, and Shaun came in to show his portfolio one day. I started to commission him on travel features and portraits. Not only were the pictures great, but Shaun's very easy to work with and cooperative. And enthusiastic. Plus, I think we bonded over a shared love of barbecued meat products.
What's your work space like? Are there some things you just cannot work without?
I share a studio with some friends who have another design studio called Picture. So there's about 12 desks, open plan... with a table-tennis table for a bit of exercise. And as long as I have a desk, a shelf of some good books, and I'm able to listen to music when I'm working, then I'm usually pretty okay. I don't like working in silence.
Who is one artist, living or dead, with whom you would really like to collaborate?
Sol Lewitt. Or Keith Haring or William Eggleston.
What do you listen to while you work?
All sorts of music, from fresh new tunes from our various music clients. Rinse.fm, lots of odd, old disco and DJ mixes. A fair bit of '70s German Krautrock stuff, if I can get away with it. Quite a few podcasts, XLR8R in there of course! I also have a pretty killer "wedding" playlist that's always a winner, if you like a bit of Carly Simon, Olivia Newton John, and ELO.
When you're designing an album cover, how much of it depends on what the music sounds like vs. what the artist wants to see?
I must say I've been really fortunate in that nearly always there's been at least one idea that we've come up with that the artist or label likes, rather than an artist coming with very firm fixed ideas.
Which designers in the past seem to have had the biggest influence on your work, and why?
In my early days at college it would have been David Carson's work for Ray Gun, the Designer's Republic, and Peter Saville's work for Factory Records. After college, I discovered a lot of Dutch designers like Ben Bos, Wim Crowell, and so on. They seemed to take the best bits of the International style of Swiss modernism and marry it with great colors and a bit more of a sense of fun.
What are your five favorite album covers of all time. Why?
Wow, tough question. I love so much cover design, and different things for different reasons. If you ask me tomorrow these may change, but right now I'd say: Kraftwerk Autobahn (Kling Klang). Super graphic. Blue motorway road sign, and some nice type as well. In fact, virtually any Kraftwerk album cover. Kraftwerk 1, Computer World, Trans Europe Express...
New Order Movement (Factory). Simple, minimal, and lovely Saville design. The uncoated blue stock it's made from really makes it. One of the reasons why a physical object for music is so appealing and important to me.
Yes Yes (Atlantic). Fletcher, Forbes, and Gill. Simple black cover, with a graphic, hand-drawn speech bubble in lovely clashing colors.
Just Ice Back To The Old School (Sleeping Bag). Hand-drawn illustrated cover by New York graf artists Gnome and Gemini. Mid-'80s classic graffiti drawing of Just Ice and Mantronix with a TR-909 under his arm. A sleeve I tried to copy as a teenager. And I'd say this sleeve is probably responsible, along with Keith Haring's art, for getting me interested in graphic design in the first place.
Miles Davis Tutu (Columbia). Phenomenal, stark black-and-white portrait from Irving Penn. Front, back covers, and inners—all great.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to design?
I read a great interview with Paul Rand a while back. I think he quotes Mies van der Rohe as saying that being good is more important than being original. Originality is a product, not an intention. I think that's a pretty good idea to stick to for GUA: really well-crafted, good work.
What's the best advice you've ever received? And the worst?
Best advice: Probably from Emma again, to just get on with things and do it, and try something. Better to try and fail, than never actually do it in the first place. Worst advice: My friend Joe telling me to try the chicken feet in a dim sum restaurant.
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