Owen is an artist based in London specialising in handcrafted illustration, set design and art direction. His work explores light and shadow, ranging from intricate paper illustrations and animations, shot in his East London studio, to large-scale sets, window displays and installations.
I’ve been interested in art and design as far back as I can remember, most likely from my parent’s record collections, with lots of great illustrated 60s and 70s rock sleeves around our house. During my school years, I’d also spend a lot of my free time either in the art rooms painting large canvases or in the darkrooms, that we were lucky enough to have in our school, developing photos. So when it came to university and what direction to go in, I found it really difficult to pick one route.
It was around that time that I then discovered the work of Stefan Sagmeister, a designer who’s hands-on process is really present in his work. It made me realise that through design I could actually bring together all of my interests, experimenting with art, photography and design and the ways that they all overlap. I’ve been taking that same approach ever since.
I’ve recently had a son so my schedule has changed a lot this past few months! I’m now working a 4 day week, giving me a day at home with Arlo and meaning my wife can have a full day at her offices with her team – She runs an artist management agency called Grand Matter, which I’m also part of, so she has a lot on her plate as well!
But typically I like to have quite a structured day, heading into the studio for 9.30am and finishing around 5.30pm so I can be home for bath rime. I’ve also recently taken on a new Studio Manager, so when she’s in we’ll do a morning meeting, going through our plan for the week and have a look at the work we have on and what needs doing and if any assistants need to be booked in.
Although having a baby has definitely stirred things up I’m enjoying having a better work-life balance as things definitely used to be a lot more sided towards work, which wasn’t good for my health, relationships or social life!
Photos by Jon Aaron Green: jonaarongreen.com
For inspiration I like to look outside of my design bubble, and will find that my best ideas come up when I’m on a walk, cycling, playing the drums or at a gig – times when I’m away from the screen and have a chance for my thoughts to settle. I read once that social media is the death of creativity, as people no longer give themselves the downtime needed for people’s ideas to form. That really resonated with me, so even though I find it hard to step away from the screen I do try to go elsewhere for my inspiration as much as I can.
Photo by Owen Richards: owenrichards.co.uk
I was recently on the panel of judges for the D&AD New Blood Side Hustle Award – A category awarding those who create amazing ideas, projects, and products alongside their work or studies. One project we looked at was by a group of Norwegian students who were trying to claim back their town which had been taken over by corporations after being named ‘Cold Hawaii’ due to its amazing surfing conditions.
The students were angry with the way it had been labelled, with expensive branded clothing and products appearing all over town, such as wine made in Italy being stamped with the Cold Hawaii name. So they fought back, renaming it Cold Bali and making their own clothing from up-cycled 2nd hand clothes, as well as beer made from locally caught jellyfish that I really need to try sometime! It really was a punk rock design at its purest.
Jellyfish beer: facebook.com/watch/?v=674897656050089
There's a few pieces that spring to mind. The first is a poster I did last year for the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco. I wanted to create a design that reflected the diversity of music featured at the festival, so created a bold typographic design using a different style for each letter. All the elements were handcrafted out of paper, using a range of layers to add interesting visual depth, and then photographed in my studio, edited and artworked together to create the final poster design.
I was really happy with the final product and the print went down really well, selling out over the weekend. I later also saw it pop up on the walls during a scene in the show Silicon Valley – That was super surreal!
I’m also really proud of a personal film I recently worked on with sound design studio Mount Audio and photographer Stephen Lenthall. It came off the back of a personal series we worked on with Stephen titled Shadow Spaces, where I created a series of miniature architectural paper spaces, using light as a map to shape each form. The structures were built with simple white paper, and shot with super hard lighting, giving the nice contrasting light and dark.
After we’d completed the series we were contacted by Mount Audio to see if we’d like to contribute to their ‘Forms’ series, where they were asking artists to create short exploratory films that they would then score. Stephen and I saw this as a chance to develop on the Shadow Spaces series, include some nice subtle pans and zooms to give a fuller feel for the spaces we created. That led to Forms I – My first live-action motion piece: vimeo.com/237749921
With my hands-on approach time is always an issue. There’s a lot of different processes in making one of my artworks, starting with rough pencil sketches to get down my initial ideas. Then once a route is chosen I’ll draw the design up digitally, refining the forms and adding in colours – I tend to do a couple of rounds of amends at this stage, giving the client a chance to input on the design and make amends before I begin making.
Then once the digital mockup is approved I’ll use the drawing as a template for the paper cut artwork, cutting out all the individual elements and piecing them together using foam board, card and white-tac to add depth. The final artwork is then photographed in my studio using natural light and the images are edited and retouched in Photoshop ready for final delivery. So as you can see it’s a lot of work to create a single image, but it’s a process I enjoy and over the years I’ve worked out a few tricks that help save time.
There’s a few tips that I always share with young and up-and-coming designers:
Photos by Owen Richards: owenrichards.co.uk
Alongside my design work I also play in a band called Modern Technology with my design pal Chris Clarke. We’re a London-based two-piece playing noisy punk music, tackling themes of political injustice, social anxiety, austerity and inequality – A great chance to vent, especially with all the political mess currently going on in the UK.
We recently released our debut EP and in an attempt to try to help those affected by the current political climate we decided to donate all profits to mental-health charity Mind and homeless charity Shelter – Two amazing charities who are really helping those who need it most.
Off the back of all of this we’ve started to put on some charity gigs under the name ‘Human Worth’, bringing together friends and other noisy bands we’ve met through the music, with all proceeds going to charity. The next one is on 6th December at New River Studios in London – Check out the event page for more info. The last show raised over £500 for charity and we’re hoping to beat that this time, so if anyone reading this happens to be in London that night please do come along and have some beers with us and help out a good cause!