Traditional signwriting may be a dying craft, but don’t fear, Brett Piva is here. Brett directs Pocket Design, a small creative studio with a focus on hand made aesthetics and creative collaborations. He is madly passionate about traditional signwriting and runs workshops from his studio in Newcastle, the town booming with creative opportunities. Brett has been designing/ lettering since he was 15 and has been contracted to work on brands such as Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Disney, Kodak and Virgin Moblie to name a few. WOW. And just when you thought this interview couldn’t get any better, the workshops are going on tour, so watch this space. Fellow type lovers, read on, this guy knows what he’s talking about!
So what is Pocket Design all about?
The name Pocket Design was created in 2006 when I needed a business name before heading to London for 2 years of design practices in advertising agencies and design studios. It didn’t really kick into gear until I chose to completely change my career path in late 2011. I was becoming very bored of agency lifestyle and the projects that were being produced. So I devised a business plan that was more tailored to my creative needs and Pocket Design was reborn. I now house a complete design and branding studio with a strong focus for a hand made aesthetic. Every week has a completely different scope of work for me now and I couldn’t be happier.
Pocket Design is directed by myself, but I collaborate with a range of Photographers, Illustrators and Animators. I have a strong belief that creative collaboration makes for more interesting and diverse work. Having the ability to match different creative styles with a certain client and their project gives us a unique difference and always keeps me interested in any project that we take on.
We’re a small creative studio with big ideas that shape new experiences through creative collaboration. We focus on a hand made aesthetic through Identity & Branding, Website Design, Print Design & Advertising, Packaging Design and Animation. We create unique hand drawn lettering and bespoke hand painted signs and murals that evoke more emotion for any audience. Practicing Design, Typography, Lettering, Creative Arts and Traditional methods of Signwriting from the age of 15, I have the ability to create identities and brands that harnesses a hand made aesthetic through using many different types of media. My toolset has changed very much from a pen and computer to using a vast tool set that includes and is not limited to a variety of pencils, pens, markers, inks, acrylic and 1shot enamel paints and about 30 or so signwriting brushes. Then there’s all the other equipment like craftsmen tools, ladders, rulers, levels etc.
Traditional Sign Painting & Lettering Workshops! Please tell us more.
I’m very passionate about sharing the knowledge of Traditional Signwriting as I witnessed the craft slowly die during my apprenticeship and was forced to take a different career path which was Graphic and Digital Design. I teach traditional Sign Painting workshops in the studio to bring awareness to the art form. These workshops are exciting and friendly, and are conducted in an intimate and hands on setting. They are suitable for anyone who wishes to gain an insight into Traditional Signwriting. Participants will have the ability to practice what they have learned through the instructions and demonstrations provided. The workshops are designed to improve your knowledge and creativity by practicing traditional methods using a brush and sign paint, while creating engaging and artistic hand painted letterforms. You can view a video for the workshops here.
Who have been your favourite clients/ projects and why?
As I’m involved in quite a mixed bag of work I’ll just focus on the hand made aspect of my work. Most recently I have been creating an identity and brand for one of Newcastle’s newest bars and restaurants named ‘The Edwards’. They needed a concept created for a lettering mural for their Coin-Op laundry. The project was completely hand drawn and hand painted on site. No digital or electrical elements were used. I love these kind of projects. They challenge your mind, your patience and feed your soul. Once they saw what was produced they gave me the challenge of creating a unique identity for the restaurant and bar. Once again I hand drew the main elements of their logo, then hand painted it on two of their windows using traditional methods of signwriting. 90% of their signage inside the restaurant is now hand painted using some inventive ideas to create something unique for them. Even their opening hours on their doors and licensing information is hand painted. It’s great to see Newcastle is really appreciating this style of work and thinking of more creative approaches to their business needs.
Another was Maudie Mac’s Travelling Teahouse. I was approached to direct the visual identity of a caravan that was converted into a mobile cafe that serves delicate high teas. I designed and hand painted the logo directly onto the van. This appeared in two different layouts to fit within different heights and widths of the vans exterior. The entire van was also covered in cream polka dots and a picket fence running around it. These were entirely hand painted using brushes. This was an incredible challenge from start to finish and once again, Newcastle clients appreciating a more creative approach.
In early 2013 I was commissioned to help bring new life to The Regal Cinema which was being rebuilt as a community project. They wanted their old sign which was peeling away and cracking in a lot of places to be re-made. I took on the project with a very big smile. The original sign was so cool and I felt honoured to be part of such a loving community project and to be handed this unique opportunity. The client was so excited and thankful that I was doing this they let us film the processes of the project which made the job so much more fun. Over two days my film buddy Luke Amann and I both directed the film while I bought new life back to a once perfect hand painted sign. This was a great weekends work. You can view the video here
What was 4WALLS all about?
4WALLS was an exhibition showcasing portraits of Newcastle’s suburban houses with works featured by Alana Tomlin, Alexandra Robinson, Brandon Biddle, Brett Piva, Carl Morgan, Coco Meacham, Graham Wilson, James Combridge, Liz Anelli, Mitch Lee, Mitch Storck, Peter Lankas, Sally Bourke and Trevor Dickinson. We asked an exceptional group of local creatives to represent a house in a Newcastle suburb of their choice using their chosen medium. Each artist has a different style and process of working which fit quite well with the diversity of Newcastle suburban houses. I wanted to involve experienced artists and a few promising young creatives also.
The idea came about from the persuasion of Coco Meacham who is an incredible young artist who was producing works for an upcoming show in Darwin. We wanted to preview her work here in Newcastle but that got put on hold as we could’t keep the studio open for the hours we wanted. So we came up with a second plan and decided a group show was the next best thing. It was a great night with a packed studio and many artists work being sold. Two students were also invited to exhibit and they both sold their work which was really great.
We keep hearing about the growing creative scene in Newcastle. Can you tell us about it? Where can like minded creatives meet?
Newcastle is such an energetic city to be in right now. There are so many artists, and craftsman producing unique and original projects that help keep this city alive. We have new exhibitions, new performances, new creative events and creative markets appearing here every month. Anyone from designers, illustrators, painters, photographers, leather smiths, stonemasons, dress makers and any other form of artist are becoming more recognised here and consumers are starting to value their work more than the generic form we have witnessed in abundance over the past 10-20 years. Their is a strong respect for a human made object over something you can find in every commercial shopping mall.
The best thing about Newcastle is that there are opportunities to share your work. If your a young artist or designer, you can exhibit in many of the shows that are held throughout the year. These shows then provide any creative with a new audience and pushes them to create more. 6 years ago I would never have thought I’d be in the creative position I am in now. I produce work that I love and take pride in along with many more artists. Creatives have gotten off their asses and realised there are better creative opportunities if they take a risk and just give it a go. People like the good guys at ZooKraft who created Hit the Bricks street art festival and the awesome dudes at The Roost Creative are bringing something unique to this city that just screams out to the world ‘Hey, look at what we can do!’ Then there are the more established galleries like Curve who are combining new ideas and experienced artists to showcase different opportunities to the community.
Along with all our efforts there’s one group that have been at the forefront of all of this and that’s Renew Newcastle. I am forever thankful for the opportunities they have given creatives in this city. They are the original spark that has kept this city ablaze with colour and energy. With their efforts, I have met so many unique creatives throughout the roots of Renew Newcastle and have become close friends with many of them to continue on collaborating and exhibiting along side them.
Newcastle has for a long time been perceived as a battler city but right now we’re all working our butts off, producing great work and are the forefront of a creative movement that I’m very proud to be a part of.
Which blogs are a must read for you?
Designspiration and I Love Typography are my go to sites most mornings for a quick look. Then that’s usually followed by a few sign painting blogs like Traditional Sign Maker magazine. Then I might browse through the pure awesomeness that’s housed within sites like Mosaic and Lost at E-Minor if I have a mind blank and some free time. But overall I’m constantly inspired by following my hero creatives on Instagram and Tumbler. It’s really nice to see work in progress shots from creatives I admire. Other than these, it’s really hard to find time to search endlessly for good design online. I prefer more tactile things like magazines and books. I collect a lot of Lettering and Traditional Signwriting books that I reference close to every day in the studio.
Who are the top 5 creative people in the Australian design scene who inspire you?
At the moment I closely follow a lot of Designers, Letterers and Sign Painters in the United States, England and Australia. Top 5 in Australia is really hard. There’a a whole bunch of different creative styles I love so much and to pin point only 5 people is really tricky. I guess Luke Lucas and Gemma O’Brien would be my first pick. I’ve followed their work for a long time now. They just produce beautiful work through many experimental typography and lettering pursuits and nail it every time. I’m a bit of a nostalgist. I love traditional forms of design in the new age. The Hungry Workshop are so good at this. I’ve seen their work in a few exhibitions here in Newcastle and they use new ideas with old methods so harmoniously to produce beautiful pieces of work. Though they are not one person, I’m a big fan of the work We Buy Your Kids are creating. Once again using hand made techniques to produce great works through colour, shape and texture. Again, not just one person, Toby & Pete are producing some real insane motion and still projects that help you escape into another reality. Being a flexible collective they have an invaluable resource of creatives and have the same belief that creative collaboration makes for more interesting and diverse work.
What’s on the horizon for Pocket Design?
More and more lettering projects which I am very happy about. If I can use a pencil and paint brush for most of my working week then I am truly happy. I’m currently working on a new series of workshops that will house a more in depth practice of signwriting and lettering. Basically a stage 2 and 3 that follow the beginners workshop. I’m hoping to also team up with a typographer here that will bring another unique difference to teaching the craft through workshop tailored for both of our styles and methods. I’m also working on ways to bring the beginners workshop to Melbourne for a weekend (Editors note: For more info on TDK workshops available see here) . If all goes to plan I’ll soon be touring them to a few major cities and sharing my knowledge of the craft to many people who have taken an interest. I’m diving into the realm of Murals also. I’ll hopefully be painting a few large lettering projects in Newcastle soon. I have plans to produce a small book of lettering at the end of the year also but need to find some time to fit this little guy in.
Photography Credits. Big Thanks to:
Lettering wall – Hannah Rose Robinson
Regal Cinema – Christopher Saunders
Maudie Mac’s Travelling Teahouse – Mitch Lee
Sudsmith Lettering Mural – Mitch Lee