Work Art Life Studio

We chat with Andrew Ashton, Creative Director at Work Art Life studios. Andrew spills all the ins and outs, secrets and tips from his 30 years in design and we love the perspective he brings to the table. We discuss creative consultation, the Aussie design industry and what it means to be more than a Graphic Designer.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your creative path and your studio?

My life in design officially spans 30 years in 2018, I thought it opportune to rewrite a little history.

The happily ever after beginnings.

I had a similar start to many who enter the creative fields in the late 80s. Outside of design no one in the normal world really knew what graphic design was back then, banking seemed a better option. To this day, I still get those blank looks from family when I mention what I do. In this setting I had a real-life Billy Elliot (the movie) moment when it came to getting into design school. However the happily ever after bit is a work in progress. Randwick Design School (now Enmore) had a bonkers three stage entry process; I had to make stuff, there was on site design tests, interviews. I recieved letters in the post with great news, which I failed to keep, a few thousand people applied, 30 places. If you didn't work hard you were out.

My three years at Randwick was a gift. We spent a lot of time making things, and very little time working out why these things mattered. There were so many skills to pick up fast – drawing, animation, photography, packaging... Every project required making mockups, saving work, trashing work. There was a lot of time spent concentrating, nutting stuff out and making accidents. To this day making ideas physical is core to my work. Experiencing how ideas look, feel, be, are written, and reviewed is how I process ideas and their value.

I split my path to this point into three-decade long phases.

Phase one After Randwick – learning how to be a designer. Various jobs and freelancing, being obsessed with craft and serving apprenticeship-like roles with designers Andrew Lam-po-tang, Alan Gallaher, Andrew Gadsby, Graeme Smith and Rick Nelmes. Some roles were jobs; the latter was a design partnership.

The second phase was – being a designer. In that decade I continued to learn the craft and covered off the superficial aspects of being a designer. Doing the work, looking the part, earning money, having the ego, winning awards, living the life, being the business. I had a healthy design partnership, I was active in the design industry I had a lot of ideas that made little sense, I made a lot of work and friends.

The third phase was – discovering a practice. This decade saw a shift from having the answers to asking questions. This decade was not business as usual. As the “Me” parade moved on the big questions unearthed – what it’s all about? Teaching, working with peers, discovering ways of working, writing, making mistakes, making work, parenthood, flabbing out. Projects like Stephen Paper, the Forty-Eight lecture series, 2012 Design Biennale, teaching at Monash, and South Melbourne Market – defined. Discovering design thinking, and reworking design thinking – tested. Working with David Lancashire, 3 Deep, RE Sydney, Round, and Geoff Nees – rewarded. Personal coaching encouraged one to create perspective – working on my blind spots. All these ideas readied one for the next decade – putting a practice into practice.

What advice do you have for recent grads looking for a job?

Work hard. Make mistakes. Be prepared to learn. Be prepared to participate in another’s vision. Don't worry about leading. Make good work, look for good work, make good work happen. Let your work define you. Try Don't be precious. Be prolific. Only worry between 4 pm and 5 pm and never on the weekend.

Discover, understand, nurture and follow your passions for doing what you do. Put yourself in front of the best people you can. Be prepared to go on the journey that life takes you. In my career it has been a constant of – talent creates attention, lucky gets in luck’s way, take the lessons and opportunity when they present.

Design work by Work Art Life Studio The Design Kids interviews Work Art Life Studio work-2

What has been your most exciting/challenging project within the recent years and why?

Staying in design.

Go to any design event in Australia, and there are few trained professionals over 40 years. Everyone is a designer today, and many trained designers are faced with justifying the value of their practice or moving onto new opportunities. Many studio owners have bought themselves a role, while others have moved into management, education, creative services, or retrained.

Being closer to fifty years young and creative who loves making stuff, I feel at times on the outer. At recent events, my peers have disappeared from the scene, and I think the creative sector’s focus on new, now, youth, being on trend (whatever that means) presents an opportunity to create inclusivity of skillsets, gender, and age. Having experience that spans decades is an incredible thing to offer any community or sector.

Being more than a graphic designer.

Given that everyone is designing, opportunities for creative people continue in getting beyond the tools, blogs and trends and owning a creative speciality, a unique expression, or a creative point of view.

In the last decade, I have put a lot of energy into offering a creative point of view as service (incorporate creative inquiry, art direction, strategic communication and collaborations). I know it sounds mad, but I thought if lawyers can offer legal advice, accountants can offer financial advice and marketers can offer marketing – why can’t I offer a creative point of view?

What are you working on now?

I am working on an ISO standard public signing product. I just completed the 40-year anniversary brand system for Circus Oz. I am helping photographer Earl Carter present an amazing work at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Do Good Water - a social enterprise water product out the US is in development. A packaging system for a local butcher is near completion. We are rebooting a local maverick architectural firm. I am thinking over 2019 season identity for Red Stitch Theatre. In between a concept for a 30-year studio monograph/confessional is taking shape, be it slowly. Paul Garbett and I are working on a local design portal called @upover__

Design work by Work Art Life Studio The Design Kids interviews Work Art Life Studio work-4
Design work by Work Art Life Studio The Design Kids interviews Work Art Life Studio work-4

If lawyers can offer legal advice, accountants can offer financial advice and marketers can offer marketing – why can’t I offer a creative point of view?

Which blogs are a must read for you?

Constant listener of ABC Radio National. Wikipedia link trawller. Avid artist/writer/musician/

polymath documentary consumer – post-punk music on the watch list at the moment. I enjoy Kevin’s Designerd blog – the Peter Saville interview is gold. Jack’s Word-From project, In Wild Air and This Long Century, keep giving. Paul Sahre’s Two Dimensional Man was a summer holiday reading treat. I try to not spend too much time in design land, creative thinking takes so many forms well beyond typeface lust and designer chatter.

What’s on the horizon?

My horizon may have a few decades left, so I am focused making things happen across several fronts. Encouraging and enjoying great ideas and expression. Building a connected community. Possibly bumping Australia and creativity out the dark ages, by shifting and sharing our story with a wide and diverse audience – if chefs can shape culture, what's stopping creatives? Ultimately I want find a purity or the truth of what I am up to, and enjoy the the privilege of making ideas for a living, along with hanging out with all the amazing things, not about design and creativity.

Design work by Work Art Life Studio The Design Kids interviews Work Art Life Studio work-6
Design work by Work Art Life Studio The Design Kids interviews Work Art Life Studio work-6

Where to find Work Art Life Studio online.


Instagram: @workartlife

Twitter: @viaWorkArtLife

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