by Sara Khan
Graphic artist and print maker Anthony Burrill is known for his persuasive, up-beat communication. Words and language are central to Burrill’s output and he has developed a distinctive voice, sought after not only by collectors of his prints, but also by clients including The British Council, the Design Museum and Wallpaper* magazine. Anthony’s ‘Work Hard and Be Nice to People’ has become a mantra across the design community and beyond.
We caught up with Anthony to discuss his career, letterpress, and the inspirational messages in his work.
What inspired you to become an artist?
In general, I find inspiration from other artists, music, landscape, and the everyday experience of being alive.
I’ve been fascinated by typography for as long as I can remember. As a youngster at school I would copy the logos of my favourite bands into the back of my exercise books. My approach to work has always been very ‘graphic’, using solid shapes and bold colours. I experimented with collage at art school, using letterforms as abstract shapes to make my work. Gradually the words and their meaning became more important to me and became the main focus of the work.
What draws you to and interests you about typefaces?
I like words and how they communicate in a direct way. I like the way words are playful and engaging, how you can say two things at the same time, and playing with expectations.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of making your work?
I spend all my time thinking about my work, and it’s who I am as a person. I’m always looking out for new inspiration, and finding new ways of applying my approach to different situations. I love what I do and feel fortunate that I can work in such a free way exploring my personal ideas whilst working commercially for a variety of clients.
My working methods are informed by the simple production methods I learnt at college such as screenprint, letterpress, photocopying and hand lettering. I developed a way of working using letterpress to produce my work, I like the limitations of the process and the impact it has on the design and layout of the posters. I use a limited selection of typefaces, I don’t want the design of the posters to be too distracting from the words. My aim is to communicate the message as simply as possible using the minimum visual means.
What brands have you worked with and what do you think has been the secret to your success?
I have worked with clients including Apple, Google, Hermés, the British Council, London Underground and the Design Museum.
My favourite collaborations have been with Hermés as their approach to creating luxury goods is driven by a love for craft and artistry. I was given complete artistic control over the projects I worked on, I think the best collaborations come out of a shared vision to make something new and unique.
Can you tell us more about how you created the slogan for the Crafts Council’s Education Manifesto?
I worked on the Our Future is in the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making that calls for change to support secure the future of craft education. It was great to be involved with something so worthwhile. Creativity is key to personal development, and something that isn’t always easy to quantify. The phrase Our Future is in the Making was something that we all agreed was a good rallying cry, a direct message that could be quickly understood, but was also playful and engaging.
In what way do you think technology is having an impact on the creation of typefaces?
It’s had a huge impact, but it’s something I rarely explore. My roots are in the pre-digital era and I have an analogue brain. My working methods are informed by the simple production methods I learnt at college. I’ve designed my own typefaces, but I think historic wood type examples are difficult to improve on. They have a humanity and warmth that I like and fits well with the messages I communicate.
During the digital revolution we went through a strange period in typography. Type became illegible, layered, textured and impossible to read. I never responded to that aesthetic, it seemed to go against basic communication, making design useless. Over the past ten years we seem to have returned to a simpler form of communication. There is still endless experimentation and a huge range of visual styles and approaches, but the aim now is to communicate.
What have been some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome these?
I’ve ploughed my own furrow, not given up, carried on, and stuck at it. Persistence is the key. Keep doing what it is you do and eventually everybody else will catch up. I’ve always had a singular vision of what I wanted to do - to make work without compromise that communicates a positive message and offers an optimistic view of the world. I’ve always seen rejection as a challenge to be overcome, I’m relentlessly up-beat, if something doesn’t work out how I planned it I’m happy to try again and always hope to succeed.
Do you live by the messages you use in your work?
Yes, I do and the messages have all come out of my life experiences so I try to make them as truthful as possible. They all relate to the result of some sort of conversation, an event or a personal observation. I avoid using quotes from other people as I feel they don’t have the personal connection that I look for in my work. I believe in what I do, that it has a positive message that other might find useful.
What are you working on at the moment?
I will be holding my solo exhibition WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE at Jealous Gallery from 28 March – 22 April 2018 at their Crouch End Gallery space in London.
I’m putting the finishing touches to my new book, LOOK & SEE which explores my collection of found ephemera and graphic oddities. That will be out in the Autumn this year.
What advice would you give others looking to follow a similar career?
Make work you believe in.