Featured Director - Taylan Mutaf


LTP: Hi Taylan thanks for coming to chat with me. Shall we just dive in?

TM: Sounds great.

LTP: So first question: What was the journey that you took to work in the industry? Was it always planned or did it just fall into your lap?

TM: Interesting question! I wasn’t thinking about studying film actually, I was thinking about studying something else. However, I ended up I a film school and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But then I made a music video for a friend of mine and I really liked the idea of creating something from scratch, showing it to people and getting their feedback on it which I felt was a very rewarding process. Like a carpenter turns a piece of wood into a table and then they see someone using it and enjoying it.

LTP: You’ve worked on some interesting projects like promos for Red Bull or Water Aid. Which is your favourite and why?

TM: Does is need to be professional?

DH: Oh no not at all!

TM: I think I really like my snail film that is on my private videos on Vimeo. I was walking to a friend’s house and was listening to a Neil Young song and I thought wow this snail moves in a really interesting. Way so using the music I filmed it and made a little music video.

LTP: Recently you’ve been in Barcelona at a finance market for a music documentary. Can you tell me anything about that?

TM: It’s a music documentary about three women in their early twenties who are living in Rio De Janeiro, and I spent 3 weeks with them in 2015 while they were shooting around England and a couple of countries in Europe. So, I went to the Glastonbury festival and was able to see them in their day to day life, and this is a documentary about that. In those three weeks I discovered way much more than music, which I won’t announce yet, but I will say that it’s lots about their challenges in a male dominated music industry as well as being people of colour. It’s all about the struggles they face and how they want to change these things with their music because they have quite political lyrics, as well as being populists, and so we want to go to brazil and see their lives there, and as a group

LTP: So you’re doing a documentary feature and would you say that that is your preferred medium for features?

TM: This is the second documentary feature film that I am working on. I got commissioned on my previous film and this project is one that I discovered. I am working with two other people on my team: a creative producer and a writer who is Portuguese.

LTP: On your roster, you’ve got a music video, Elevated. Would you say that may have influenced the decision to work on a music documentary?

TM: Yeah I like to work with music and dance as I believe they have a positive influence on human beings. When you look at different cultures, at the people dancing and singing, their happiness shows and we need to go back to that human self. Through music videos and features I’d like to shine a light on that and discover issues around it.

LTP: What would you say are some of the tough realities about being a director?

TM: I think that a tough reality is that it’s not a job, but more of a lifestyle. You really need to see life in a certain angle, but at the same time the work that you put into a project you might not see back any progress on in the short run, so you must be constantly able to create a mantle of strength around it and have faith in the idea. You work on things and sometimes it pans out that you don’t get to do it, but you still learn from the experience.

LTP: How would you describe your style as a director?

TM: I would say I’m more of a naturalistic person – catching the reality is my thing.

LTP: What do you love most about directing?

TM: Getting to know people and understanding being human.

LTP: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had a director?

TM: It’s a constant challenge and you have to see the good side of everything because when you put effort into something and it doesn’t come back to you in the short run you have to be patient and this is a great challenge. Being patient is what I learned from directing.

LTP: What would you say to someone wanting to embark on the directing path who is just starting out?

TM: Again I would say perseverance and don’t give up in the first stages when it doesn’t work out for you. You have to really believe in what you do – believing in yourself is a key thing, and if you can take it from there and keep that energy going then hopefully you will get where you want to go.

LTP: What do you like to do when not working on a film or project?

TM: Gardening and I like to host dinner parties with friends. I won’t say the cliché of going to exhibitions as everyone says that.

LTP: What do you look for when looking for a project?

TM: Inspiration and interest I’d say, but ultimately I need to break it down and find an idea that excites myself, and if that idea can inspire other people that’s a great thing.

LTP: And finally, what is on the horizon for you work wise? What are you most excited about?

TM: A long term project which is probably going to take about another year and half and we are planning to go to Brazil in september, but it’s not confirmed yet so we’ll see how it goes!

LTP: That's great thanks for chatting to me Taylan!


Featured Friend - Jenni Desmond

For our final interview this year we spoke to children's author Jenni Desmond. Jenni's work has won widespread acclaim and has been translated into several languages. She told us a little about what she's working on at the moment, why she loves working with animals, and how she got started as an illustrator.

JD: Hello!

LTP: I was going to ask you a little bit about how you got into illustration. I know you did your MA with the Cambridge School of Art – was it at that time you thought you could make a go of illustration full time?

JD: I started about a year before that, when I was trying to work out what to do with my life! One summer I did a week’s children’s book illustration course in London and it was like a light turned on in my head. It was like one of those clichés when you suddenly find ‘the one’ which you never thought existed. I then worked really, really hard to get my portfolio to a point where I could get onto the MA.

I spent a year going to the Putney School of Art where I did a children’s illustration course half a day per week. I worked pretty much eighteen hours a day whilst doing bar jobs and things, I was completely obsessed, I didn’t do much else other than illustration. I then got onto the MA and worked just as obsessively during that time too.

LTP: And then from there you started with your first publications?

JD: After the graduate show I got an agent and they got me my first book deal, and from there it slowly and gradually built up. That was four or five years ago.

LTP: Your style is quite distinctive, particularly in the way you use colours, how expressive and funny your characters are yet how ‘animal-like’ they remain; when did your ‘style’ emerge?

JD: When I was on the MA we were told never to talk about ‘style’, because you should only be thinking about improving your artwork. But I think my style started developing after the course. It was quite difficult, I was told by professionals that I had about three different styles after I graduated, but I just kept working and tried not to look at too many other illustrators, I looked at lots of other different forms of artwork, I tried to be true to myself.

I think the only way you can get an individual style that isn’t the same as someone else’s is by not looking at or worrying about other people’s work too much and being true to your own personality. Hopefully you get more secure in who you are and how you want to say things and then that should trickle through into your work, becoming recognisably you.  It’s also about understanding which mediums you use better; (I use mostly watercolour, acrylic and pencil crayons) – you start developing habits and they become your ‘style’..


LTP: Do you deliberately avoid looking at other illustrators’ work, then?

JD: I think it’s important to see what kind of other books are out there, and I love reading picture books and will always go to the children’s section when I’m in a bookshop. But in terms of inspiration I’ll try not to look illustrators particularly, I’ll look at exhibitions, photography, looking around me and at things from nature.

LTP: Your work deals with animals first and foremost – was it a love of animals that led you to do books on endangered animals and the environment?

JD: I think animals are a good way of creating characters because you don’t have to worry about race or sex. Also animals are really cute! So yeah, creating animals takes a lot of the issues away; you also don’t have to create parents and it doesn’t matter if they get into a dangerous situation.  

With my endangered series it happened naturally and I’ve become very passionate about the series – I started with the Blue Whale book and it was bought as part of a four-book deal.

LTP: Do you think that’s why animals are so appealing to kids, then? Because of the simplicity of them and because they can be so characterful without being too complicated?

JD: I very much doubt that a child has ever said ‘it’s better being an animal because they don’t have a race or a sex,’ I think children just like a good story that’s funny, I don’t think they consciously pick it apart particularly. I think they generally like animals and if they see a book with their favourite animal in it they’ll be more inclined to read it. They tend to like furry things with big eyes!

LTP: What’s inspiring you at the moment?

JD: I really love interior design; I’m obsessed with interior design magazines and I love textiles and fabric designs. I can’t help myself but look at that kind of stuff all the time, so if I’m online I’m more often than not looking at it. I think it probably goes into my work, the love of texture. In the last book I did there are a couple of interior scenes, and I loved creating lots of tables and chairs for that. My partner is an architect so we spend a lot of time looking at buildings and evaluating them, and I think being in nature as well is a big inspiration. We just did the West Highland Way in Scotland - that was very inspiring – the mountains and the skies.

LTP: Would you ever consider doing a tactile book of any kind?

JD: I’d love to, but I don’t think 3D is my strength!

LTP: Maybe one day. I know you can’t give too much away, but is there anything on the horizon we can look forward to?

JD: I just finished a book about saving the tiger with WWF that’s just come out. If you sponsor a tiger over Christmas you get a book by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by me. And then I’m working on the next of my non-fiction series called ‘The Elephant’ which I’m doing a lot of research for at the moment. Then I’m illustrating the text for my next book with Jeanne Willis. So lots of things!

LTP: Ok, that’s just about everything, thanks very much!

JD: Thanks!

Featured Friend - Zena McKeown

This week we chatted to jeweller and portrait artist Zena McKeown. Zena has run her own jewellery label Me and Zena since 2007 and her wares have since been worn by the likes of Rihanna and Cara Delavingne.


LTP: Hello!

ZM: Hello!

LTP: So has jewellery always been your main interest?

ZM: No, not really! But I think there was something that drew me to it, it always seemed like this small, secret, symbolic magical thing. And from being a teenager I always had a necklace or a charm or a ring, to me it always symbolised something that was a secret for me, and I’d wear them every day and create stories around its personal symbology. So I always had a weird connection to it, but I never thought about it as a career.

LTP: So how did it turn into a career?

ZM: When I moved to London after I finished my art degree, I started to tie art and fashion together a bit more. London was a very inspirational place for fashion, really different to Edinburgh, where I’d studied. So I got really excited about fashion at that point, but I think jewellery was also a practicality – I had a market stall at the time selling my artwork, and because I couldn’t drive I thought I’d make jewellery (easy to carry). So straight away after moving to London, I was really excited about it.

LTP: Roughly what time was this?

ZM: 2005.

LTP: So what was happening in London at the time that was getting you so excited and making you think to commercialise your passion for jewellery?

ZM: There was a real DIY vibe for jewellery. I think people were getting a bit sick of what was on the high street – which wasn’t very good at all – and people had started to drill holes in random objects and things like that! Tatty Divine were getting really big at the time and they were an art school brand, and I think their attitude was quite inspirational to people who’d come out of art college. So I think it was this feeling that you really could do it yourself and that you didn’t have to have ties to anybody in the fashion world.

LTP: So regarding what you said about attaching stories to your jewellery and always being excited about the meaning behind it, does this go some way to explaining your current range? There’s a combination of Eastern symbology, words and sayings with a very western aesthetic – bright colours, golds, very ostentatious. Did you want there to be a meaning behind it?

ZM: With that particular collection, it was inspired by my long term interest in the occult, esoterica and yoga. That stuff is kind of fashionable now, which is a bit annoying for me because you don’t just want to do something because it’s fashionable, but at the same time I am very interested in this stuff. Also teenagers love that ‘faux depth’ thing, maybe I was guilty of that when I was younger, wanting a ring that says something on it that means something. Astrology is really big with teenagers at the moment, so I guess I tied my own person interests in with that. Also in the past I would always use words and games in my jewellery, secret little messages and things like that. But I don’t think I made anything with any kind of spiritual meaning before that collection.

LTP: So it wasn’t out of a connection to the things you were making into jewellery but it also wasn’t a deliberate ploy to appeal to teens and people in their early twenties, it was just having fun with words and messages and involving it in the jewellery?

ZM: It’s a combination of all of that. When you’re running a business you have to keep your eye on what sells – you can’t just put your favourite word or phrase on your jewellery, it has to be something that appeals to an audience.

LTP: Aside from jewellery, you’re also becoming more interested in portraiture. What do you get out of it that you don’t from jewellery?

ZM: Well when designing jewellery, the design part is a small part of running the business. With portraits, it’s more of a hobby. I feel like I’m at a professional standard, but it’s a way to relax. The appeal is entirely creative. I’m not putting pressure on myself to make money from it, and that’s when creativity is best, when you get the most from it.

LTP: Was there any reason you took to portraits in particular? Were there a couple of people that caught your eye and made you want to draw them?

ZM: I don’t know, from a young age I was always obsessed with people’s faces! I just wanted to draw people and I found some faces perfect and I wanted to recreate them. As a teenager it was a kind of worship – drawing people I was really into, people in bands, actors, that sort of thing.

LTP: What’s inspiring you at the moment?

ZM: Still combining the religious and pop culture.  I’m really into these new-age pseudo-Christian portraits that people do; I really love them and they always involve a glowing figure – I’d love to draw some pop-culture figures in that kind of style.

LTP: We look forward to it! Thanks.

ZM: Thanks!

Featured Friend - Nikki Strange

This week we interviewed our Hackney Downs neighbour Nikki Strange. Nikki started her design label from her bedroom in Hampshire and has since had her products appear in the likes of Topshop, Urban Outfitters and Marks and Spencers.

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LTP: Hello!

NS: Hello.

LTP: So you set up your label when you were still at living at home, and you worked from home whilst doing other jobs and freelancing as well? How did you find that?

NS: Well I was doing part time work just to bring in a bit of money and then in afternoons and evenings I’d do a bit of a freelancing too. I think the label happened quite accidentally; at the beginning I didn’t really know I was doing it, if that makes sense? I had a style and I won a lot of competitions with this company called Textile Federation when I was freshly graduated. They manufactured scarves, and my designs were sold in places like Topshop and Urban Outfitters.

So for one it was good to know I had a style (because I kept winning), but also everyone would say “that looks like a Nikki print!” And it was also good to have an outlet to get my work out there and get a bit of credibility in the textile/print world. So it started off like that more than setting up my own business.

I also freelanced for different studios around London and LA as well. So that’s how it started: I was putting my work out on the internet and it was being received well, and then I started to set up a business very slowly. It wasn’t like how it is now by any stretch of the imagination.

LTP: So it was almost by accident through these prizes you were winning just out of university – is that where you started seriously thinking about design?

NS: It was whilst at uni, it’s always been a big thing. I’ve always loved print. I didn’t realize I had a style until my final year when I won a competition. One of my designs was used by a brand called Pyrus (who are still running) and that was the catalyst I think, realizing I stood out from my year group, as it were. I also realizd I didn’t enjoy commercial print, I always found it quite hard. I like doing what I want to do!

LTP: I think it’s clear that travel and escapism are major themes in your work; I was wondering if any of your travels in particular have inspired your range?

NS: For my current range I’ve done some Moroccan prints inspired by my trip there last year. But nothing is ever really from one trip; it’s more like an amalgamation of all of them. The collection I’ve just launched doesn’t look particularly Moroccan, that’s just one small part of it. I also went to Cambodia, which was very leafy and green so there’s more palm trees [in my designs] again this year. A lot of my trips to Asia – Bali, Indonesia, other places – become an amalgamation; a lot of the terrain is very similar there.

LTP: It’s interesting you say ‘amalgamation’ because there’s something very exotic about your work, but also something slightly magical as well. It’s almost like escapism through travel but also through imagination?

NS: Yeah, a lot of it (my work) is very surreal. Like a lot of the colours I use are more saturated than in real life, so often I’ll paint stuff, put it into Photoshop and then the colour palettes I’ll look at often aren’t real colour palettes, they’re ‘amplified’, I guess. A lot of the colours and textures I’ll use are [based in] my fantasized idea of a place, making it more whimsical than it really is.

LTP: So it’s also personal fantasy that you’re looking to translate into your designs?

NS: Yeah, definitely.

LTP: Your work also feels childlike; it reminds me of the kind of imagination you have when you’re a child. So does your work hark back to the way you thought when you were younger?

NS: I still think as a child, I suppose. I haven’t really ever done it deliberately. I don’t know, it might come from the commercial aspect; perhaps as a way of presenting the work? Maybe it’s the colour uses. A lot of my paintings are quite ‘naïve’. It’s just a reflection of how I think. I am quite a childlike person and I don’t really like growing up, so maybe that’s why?

LTP: Obviously like you said, even at university people were saying ‘oh, that looks like a ‘Nikki’ print,’ so it must have been pretty early on that the Nikki Strange look was starting to emerge?

NS: Not till my third year. Even the print that I did for that company didn’t really look like one of mine.  But I was developing a way of being able to understand a brief and create something that was directed towards that brief, and I think that’s why I won those competitions. I was always able to look at their mood boards and take my own spin on it.

So in that way I was quite receptive early on, to get what the client wants, and in my own work for my third year final major, you could definitely tell it was my own work. It was inspired by my trip to India with my family and there were lots of corals and pinks that were inspired by shells and flowers, which isn’t too far off what I do now, really.

LTP: You’ve recently started partnering with Topshop, and you’ve also previously partnered with ASOS, Marks and Spencer’s and Not On the Highstreet. What’s next for Nikki Strange?

NS: I’m quite happy, to be honest! Stressed enough as it is. I always like collaborating – for example I’d love to collaborate with a clothing range. There was an interiors company that allowed me to do wallpaper which was great. I’ll always be more interested in collaborating with others instead of furthering my own personal ventures or getting into the apparel market myself. I’m not really keen on growing for the sake of growing.

I think it’s important to remember why you got into this in the first place, and doing the artwork itself is a big thing for me. Next year I want to make sure I do lots more artwork and prints that are [based on] what I want to do. I think when you grow a company and you want to do more and more different types of apparel, textiles or accessories you can get caught up in the manufacturing. It’s about learning where you want to cut your brand off and then going on different tangents with other people. But I try not to overwhelm myself with too much. 

LTP: One last question – who do you look for in a collaborator? What do you look for in other people’s work?

NS: Probably skills that I don’t have, so with clothing perhaps people with a similar aesthetic or style that I have. I’d look for someone who could add another layer to what I do and have a skillset that I can’t offer so that we compliment each other.

LTP: Thanks Nikki!

NS: Thanks.

Featured Friend - Lydie Greco

This week we interviewed illustrator, designer, advertiser (and everything else in-between) Lydie Greco. Originally from France, Lydie is inspired by her love of people, and her award-winning work has taken her from Paris to New York and (luckily for us) London.

LTP: Bonjour!

LG: Bonjour!

LTP: You are a designer, an illustrator, a web designer, an animator and also, technically speaking, an advertiser. That’s a lot of strings to your bow, so how did you come to do so many things, and what did you start off as?

LG: How did I come to do so many different things? Because I’m an indecisive person! Maybe I should just call myself an ‘artist’, because I do anything that has to do with visuals – mostly 2D – so if you need a 2D image created, whether that’s illustration or animated or for a website or for a painting, I’m interested.

Initially, I wanted to be a fashion designer, but then I realsied I enjoyed drawing clothes and dresses more than I enjoyed sewing them! That’s when I went more towards the illustration route. But then I wasn’t accepted into any official illustration school in France because they’re quite selective, but I was accepted for a graphic design course. You know when you’re passing you’re A-levels and your teachers ask you ‘what do you want to do for a job?’ I said I liked to draw and they said ‘oh, you should be a graphic designer then!’ Although you don’t really draw as a graphic designer, but that’s the misconception.

LTP: So that’s truly where you started?

LG: I did graphic design, but I always did illustration on the side. And I found out while I was doing it that I was more interested in the advertising side of design than the pure ‘shape and form’. So there were people in my class who would be like ‘oh we just want to do big posters with a shape, and it’s art and it’s beautiful!’ But I’m like ‘no, if it doesn’t actually have a message, I’m not interested’; I’m not interested in an image that’s beautiful just for being beautiful, I’m more interested in making sense of things.

LTP: One of the main things that we drew from your blog and your pieces online was that you were interested in people. There seemed to be a greater interest in reflecting on people, what people are like down to very small details, and relationships between people. So this is something you’re interested in across all your works?

LG: Definitely. I think it’s not so much that I want to say something about people; it’s more that I like to observe people. I’m a bit of a creep in that sense! I just love people. Put me on a bench and I can spend hours watching people and drawing them. So it’s not so much about interacting with them and figuring out what their deep desires are or whatever, it’s more that I’m fascinated by the variety of human profiles, that’s why I enjoy living in London.

LTP: That particularly comes through very much in your (award-winning) tote bag design and your work for the London Transport Museum – a huge group of people outside Leadenhall Market – a very lively place within in slightly desolate location. So London is inspiring you towards all this? Even more so than other places?

LG: Well when I say London I mean Hackney, really. I’m going to sound like Sadiq Khan here because he always says we don’t just ‘tolerate our differences, we celebrate them’ which sounds cheesey but it’s very true, and I find that this is the best place in the world to live from that point of view! I’ve never seen so many different people from so many different backgrounds living so peacefully together. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s as good as it gets. It’s impressive.

LTP: Is there anything specifically that’s inspiring you at the moment?

LG: Well I think I’d like to focus more on what unites the whole thing (my work), and I think that probably is ‘people’ – I know that’s very broad! I think one of the things (in reference to your previous question) that comes to mind is my ‘Magic Depictor’ - where I hide inside a photobooth behind a mirror and draw people – and I think this explains how/why I love people. What’s really good is that the people forget they’re being watched and they are very natural – it’s amazing for me and gives me a lot of satisfaction. They don’t have any inhibition, they have no idea who I am or where I’m from, it’s like I’m not myself anymore, I’m just (the depictor), and also because it’s just a game either they play along or they don’t…so maybe that’s the most interesting thing – how humans play together.

LTP: So no room for a bit of introspection, then?

LG: I was into introspection a lot with my blog, where I’d draw myself all the time, and I did that from 2008 – 2011, and I think I got a bit tired of speaking about myself all the time!

LTP: Lydie, thanks for talking to us!

LG: You’re welcome!

Featured Friend - Dom Mckenzie

This week we interviewed illustrator and TP neighbour Dom Mackenzie. Dom illustrates for several magazines and newspapers, teaches illustration at home and abroad, and has just finished a third exhibition of his paintings.


Q: Hello Dom Mackenzie!

DM: Hi!

Q: So I suppose my first question is ‘when did you first consider illustration as a career?’

DM: Well I was always interested in art and I knew my future would be in art. I was doing the classic thing of always drawing, always being interested in art, but in my foundation year I did a project which asked us to make a leaflet about how to make something, and my tutor said “oh, that looks like quite a good illustration,” so I thought “oh, I’ll do illustration then!” So it wasn’t a conscious decision to do illustration over anything else, but I was always interested in stuff like Tin Tin and Ralph Steadman, stuff like that.

Q: Were there other kinds of art you were drawn to?

DM: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in lots of different things; for a while I wanted to be a painter and I used to do life drawing and stuff like that…at school I liked making things, I built radios and electronic dice, etc. I liked the idea that you had a brief to work to and an endgame, so maybe with painting I don’t have the right temperament for it, though recently I’ve developed that a bit more, so I suppose I’ve kind of reversed things a little bit. But I sort of fell into illustration and looking back on my influences it was probably the right fit.

Q: Speaking of painting, you had your third exhibition Dusk and Dawn back in May at the Gallery St Martins – was it a positive experience as a whole?

DM: Yeah, absolutely. I love doing commissions for clients, but it’s nice not having someone over your shoulder saying ‘oh I don’t like the blue on that’, etc. You’re the curator and designer and you decide what you want to do. Working in a short space of time suits me generally, I’m not someone to stretch out projects over a long space of time…I like to jump between projects quickly, and while I don’t get bored of stuff quickly I like to keep things moving. It’s the same with all the books I’ve done, I like to condense the work period into a small space of time.

Q: What was the genesis for Dusk and Dawn? You’ve had two other exhibitions before it as well.

DM: I kind of wanted to expand what I was doing, so my first exhibition was an exhibition of portraits of film stars, and that came about because I’d been offered a gallery space near where I was living in Cambridge at the time at an arts cinema, and it had this lovely art deco bar area, and you see those black and white portraits of film stars – Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, all that stuff – and I thought it would be quite fun to do a modern version of that and place them up on the wall.

The first show I did at the gallery St Martins I did two years ago and it was drawings of sketches I’d made around the world when I’d been travelling. With illustration you’ve always got a subject matter, but with Dusk and Dawn it was all about colours and tones, but there was no intellectual basis for it, I just wanted to explore colour and landscapes and how they can be quite abstract. I’ve always loved Turner’s paintings where you’re aware of a kind of landscape but it’s a bit blurry round the sides, you’re not quite sure of what you’re seeing.

Q: So it’s just for the pure aesthetic pleasure of it?

DM: Yeah, exactly!

Q: And the exhibition overall was a good one?

DM: Yeah, it would have been nice to sell a few more paintings, but I think in a way doing the exhibition wasn’t about the sales…I was looking to explore and grow as an artist, but thinking about it on the other hand I wouldn’t just want t be a painter, I like having lots of different strands to my work.

Q: Thinking about your paintings then going back to your illustrations, you do have a very distinctive style – very bold colours, very thick lines – and often in your work there’s a strong sense of humour which is consistent throughout your work. So when did the ‘Dom Mackenzie’ style come together?

DM: Well I never consciously developed a style, I think some people do, it took me a few years out of college to develop the way I work now. I had a weird experience in a way because a lot of art schools – particularly when you study illustration – try and say to you ‘you’ve got to find your style’ pretty early on to get you work, but I had an interesting tutor who said ‘don’t worry about your style, you’ll find it eventually’. It was more about getting those creative foundations and growing into your style later on. There’s always been a sense of humour in my work and a sense of visual wit and metaphor which is what I normally get hired for, but I’ve never been a huge fan of art that takes itself too seriously ,even with my paintings which aren’t really trying to be funny. I’ve always admired artists like David Hockney and Alex Katz – bright, colourful work.

Q: We thoroughly enjoyed your comic strip collection Tales of the Old West sand you’ve talked about doing some more of that?

DM: Yes, in theory I’ll be doing another book, but I’ve been a victim of my own success this year so it’s all taken a bit of a backseat. But the idea is that there’ll be something out for the Glasgow Comic Fest at the end of September. So far I have two pages in my sketchbook of plans, but the idea is that it’ll be finished and done for then, but as I said before I tend to work quite ‘last minute’ so it’ll probably be all pulled together at the end!

Q: Well we look forward to it! Thanks for talking to us.

Featured Friend - Andy Donohoe

This week we interviewed photographer Andy Donohoe. Andy started out in photgraphy at a very young age and has since travelled all over the world taking photographs of people, places and everything in between.

Q: Have you always taken photos?

AD: Always. My Dad bought me a camera when I was twelve, a Minolta X700, and I still shoot personal work on that camera, it’s still going really strong. I was very fortunate to go a school where I could study it [photography] at GCSE – that’s the key, nice and early. And then I studied a B-Tech at college, at university, then I went away for four years and was taking pictures the whole time. All sorts of little projects and different things.

Q: So you studied photography at University? Which Uni?

AD: The University of Portsmouth. It was a really theory based course, it was basically a fine art degree. Lots of theory, philosophy, psychology.

Q: Was it your time at university or your initial times at school that really made you think ‘I want to do this forever’?

AD: It was college, really. I did a year of sixth form and then left to do this B-Tech, and after about six months I realised that leaving sixth form and going to college was the best decision I’d ever made. And I still stand by that – it was so hands on, you could just make your work…and it still gave me the points I needed to go to University.

Q: Conversely though, you said your time at Portsmouth was very theory based; did you find it hard going from one to the other?

AD: Yeah, studying it properly at uni was quite challenging, the theory stuff, my dissertation was quite hard. But still I feel that the theory stuff gave me a good grounding in art in general, in life. I also feel that uni is much more than what you study anyway. I know that’s going to sound cheesy, but you’re fending for yourself for the first time, you’re away from home, you’re becoming an adult, basically, and I really enjoyed that process.

Q: When I look through your collections, there’s a very distinctive style there. You’re primarily interested in people and places, but you’re also very interesting in the space between those two things; where people sit in places. And in your Japan collection the people almost seem lost in their spaces, eaten up by them. They’re small part of a much bigger thing.

AD: You’re talking about Rokko Island? So the place very much has “eaten up” the people. It was built as a utopian vision of the future in the 80s, then in the 90s it started to collapse, for various reasons there was a big recession in Japan, a huge earthquake, a couple of other things, and people started to move out of the island, and it’s now empty. There’s still a thriving community there, but less than half of the people that could be living there are living there. 

Q: I see, because there’s a lot of order in those photos, but a lot of order for no purpose. Everything has been settled and arranged, but it’s not come to anything. I saw something similar in your Kazakhstan collection; there’s all these huge buildings dominating the skyline and other buildings around them, but there’s hardly anyone around them.

AD: It’s interesting you picked up on that. That city that I went to, Almaty…that project is more telling of my eye being drawn to a certain style of architecture, that brutalist, communist-bloc style is very appealing to me.

Q: When do you think your style emerged? Or was [space] always something you were concerned with in a roundabout way?

AD: It’s interesting, I guess it was just part of personal development. As you get older, you learn about different things, you become interested in different things, and this was just something that drew itself out from a variety of different influences…a lot of the art I like and a lot of the music I listen to could be seen as ‘minimal’. I think that comes out in my work a lot, and I think this ‘minimal’ approach has a lot to do with space. I like space, I need space in my life, I like the outdoors and having room. 

For example, in any portrait of mine, I want the space to come across. The person needs space to breath in that photo. A lot of the architecture I’m into – brutalism, modernism – there’s comparisons that can be drawn with say, minimal techno, which I love and have done for years and years. So yeah, space and repetition.

Q: There’s a lot of character in the people you choose to photograph. When you see a person, what is it initially that draws you that person?

AD: I guess it starts from that first visual, my first judgement of them. If they look a bit interesting or weird, chances are they will be interesting or weird. And I’m going to want to talk to them, find out what they do and why they do it. Also I think it comes back to my beginnings; my camera has always been my way of interpreting the world…when I see someone interesting, because of my camera I’ll want to talk to them. I want to know their story.


Q: You’ve been all over the world – was there a place you visited that really made you think and perhaps even changed your outlook on photography?

AD: That’s a good one. I lived in Buenos Aires for a year, and that was a real eye-opening experience. I was shooting for an English language newspaper, and they sent me on all these different crazy stories, and that really opened my eyes and made me think that there’s so much going on that I don’t have any clue about. Like in the neighbourhoods you just turn a corner and there’s a crazy market you’ve never heard of or an art gallery with a live performance in it. Yeah, it was an interesting time for me.

Q: What’s inspiring you at the moment?

AD: Architecture. Living in London and the buildings I cycle past on a daily basis. Being freelance has really given me the opportunity to travel everywhere and get drawn in by all these amazing things around me. Being surrounded by creative people and living in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Q: And what can we look forward to from you in the future?

AD: I’m midway through a project at the Dictionary Hostel in Shoreditch, I’ve been staying there for a bit, meeting different people from around the world and taking their portrait. I’m also working on another project around pathways – it’s called ‘pathways of desire’ – those mud tracks in parks where people have taken their own route, that’s going to be a big project about people and why they follow the routes that they do.

Q: Thank you for your time! 

Featured Friend - Linda Toigo

For our first featured friend we interviewed papercut and book cultivation artist Linda Toigo. After working as an architect, she decided to swap buildings for books, and uses paper to create beautiful art all around the world.

Q: Hello Linda!

LT: Hello!

Q: So for the uninitiated and those who don’t know what you do, could you talk us through ‘book art’ and ‘papercut design’? 

LT: Oh, it’s a full world…it’s not very known where I come from, so everyone thinks I’m the only one doing it, especially book cultivation. But it’s a big thing going on in America, so there’s a lot of recognised book artists there. It’s based on altering a book, so taking an old book, or a used one, or a new one – any book – and considering it as an object and a material.

Papercut is very common in the UK and in a lot of other cultures because it’s a very cheap material. It’s been traditionally used in a lot of poorer environments as a material for art and decoration.

Q: So it’s quite a democratic artform?

LT: Yeah, basically. It’s used in the east and far east it’s used for religious purposes…in Poland it’s used for house decoration...it’s used as street art in Mexico. It’s used globally and in every country the style of cutting is very different, so it’s a very interesting field to study.

Q: Is that what attracted you to it (papercut)? The fact that everyone was doing it and there were all these different applications and designs?

LT: I think I just had a lot of paper in my house! So I started the same way as everyone else across the world; the material was available and magic thing about paper cutting is that everything is already there, you just have to eliminate what you don’t want. In a way you need patience, but I don’t think you need great skill.

Q: You mention that the actual process takes time, how long on average does it take you to complete one of your works?

LT: It really depends on the size [of the project], but the process of thinking about the work is equally long as the process of cutting, because everything needs to be held together by the other elements [of the design]. It needs to be carefully thought through otherwise it doesn’t stick together.

Q: So you can’t start a project and have an element of ‘see where this goes’, it’s got to be meticulously planned?

LT: For me, for the way my brain works and probably because of my background as an architect, it has to be planned a lot before starting. Some people can just take a cutter and go ahead, but not me. I need to know where I’m going.

Q: Is there any aspect of architecture that inspires you artistically? As opposed to giving you the skills to create your designs?

LT: I make a lot of landscapes, especially in my book art…and I end up creating lakes, valleys, caves, and this is somehow taken from my interest in landscape architecture and urban architecture. I was working a lot with big landscapes, territorial plans, level curves and all that, and during my study years I was also making [architectural] models, so the interest in small materials and using them to create three dimensional objects comes from back then.

Q: With your work in Taiwan, you were inspired by fairytales, stories, etc, but do you ever walk around London or elsewhere and see architecture that makes you think ‘this could be an idea?’

LT: Not really, no. I probably studied the wrong thing! It [architecture] gave me five years of my life where I met the right friends and the right people, and every element of my past is part of my present, but I don’t regret studying something that isn’t so consistent with what I’m doing now. I’m not really a fan of windows or sidewalks!

Q: So what’s inspiring you at the moment?

LT: At the moment I’m working on a series of anatomical papercuts. It’s something I started some time ago, but now I want to create a bigger series. I take etchings from Grey’s Anatomy – they’re very beautiful – and I dissect the images into different layers to make the papercut.

It’s a family reason for my interest in medical images; my father is a doctor, and I remember as a child going to the hospital and it being a familiar place. It was a positive emotional association, in a way. So all the images are something dear to my heart, for this reason.

Also I like the idea of working with a scalpel, the blades are in the same style as those used in surgeries. In fact, on the [papercut] blade it says ‘non sterile’, because they don’t want you to use it for surgery.

Q: So you’re taking your knife to a different kind of body, then?

LT: Yeah, that’s the idea.

Q: It’s a nice combination of form and content because the human body has layers in the same way that papercuts do.

LT: Yes, and it’s a good way to get to know more [about the body] – I have to choose, analyse and select the layers, so in a way I’m studyng myself and everyone else’s bodies.

Q: More generally, do you have a favourite project that you completed?

LT: Definitely Taiwan. That was a very special…I found out I was selected for the residency and I was panicking because I didn’t know what I was going to do! In my blog I wrote down my whole process and what I wanted to get from myself, and it was something that I was very happy with.

Another thing I liked doing was illustration for a book. I made big papercuts for a children’s novel and I had them photographed, so they were printed instead of produced as papercuts. The orignals will be touring in Italy to promote the book, which was a bestseller last year, so it was quite a good thing.

Q: Thank for you talking to us, and thanks for your time!