Featured Illustrator

Steven Rhodes

November 2018

We chat with retro illustrator Steven Rhodes about re-working your folio, his time as an in-house designer (where the boss is essentially the client 😬), and how his distinctive style has impacted his client relationships.

Did you have a plan for graduation and what actually happened?

Well I’m honestly not the most strategic person so I didn’t have a huge masterplan. I studied Graphic Design at Shillington College and when I finished I sent around my folio to a bunch of companies, as I’m sure hundreds of other people did too.

It took me a little while to realise that my strengths were more favoured to the illustration side of things. I eventually re-worked my folio to showcase less corporate stuff and more creative illustration work.

It’s important to figure out what your point of difference is as a designer and how to play to your strengths so you’re not lost in the crowd.

What's the worst design job you’ve ever had and how does that make you a better designer?

Well my first proper role after graduating was an apparel/accessories designer for a fashion retailer. It was by no means a bad job; definitely not the worst, but one of the frustrating things about working as an in-house designer is your boss is essentially the client. (Aaahhhggg!)

In this scenario there’s no sense arguing about “good design theory” or a “balanced colour palette” - if the boss wants something, then you just have to deliver.

It taught me some important lessons about being a commercial artist.

You need to be able to seperate your own artistic instincts to see what is right for the market. Sometimes with something so creative, it’s hard to be objective and not take things personally. I’m getting better at it.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

I’m an illustrator who takes my passion for 70s/80s nostalgia and subversive horror themes, mixed them all up in a big witches cauldron and creates darkly humorous retro designs. (Though if I was actually in an elevator I would keep deadly quiet and stare at the ground)

My ideal business model is to create a body of work and then license them to companies that specialise in different products.

I like to focus as much as possible on creating artwork and let someone else worry about the production/shipping/logistics etc.

"

It’s important to figure out what your point of difference is as a designer and how to play to your strengths so you’re not lost in the crowd.

"

Who are your top five design crushes right now?

I mainly get my design inspo from Instagram these days so here’s my current favourite accounts. This is a bit of a mix of designers, illustrators and artists (& very hard to narrow down to 5!)

  1. Matt Gordon @mattgordon_paintings
  2. Lucky Horse Press @luckyhorsepress
  3. Super7 @super7
  4. Sveta Shubina @sveta_has
  5. Timba Smits @timbasmits

What do you look for in a great client?

I’m lucky enough now to have a distinctive style that clients approach me for specifically. This is a HUGE help because right away, they have a pretty good idea about what the end result will look like.

A great client is passionate about your work and excited to be working on something together as a team. They have a clear, focused idea of what they want but they’re also happy to hand over creative freedom to let you make your best work. (that’s why they hired you after all :) )

How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?

I’m a huge fan of mid-century modernism (our apartment is all decked out 60’s style) and then more recently 70s and 80s stuff has been my obsession. I started to play with the curved borders, typography and general style of that era - primarily for my own enjoyment. I really enjoyed making the pieces and people connected with them so it snowballed from there.

So I guess my advice is be authentic and let your passions and hobbies spill over into your design work. Try not to be too influenced by what the current “trends of the month” are.

Website: stevenrhodes.threadless.com

Instagram: stevenrhodesart

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