5 Mins, Creative 3 years ago

Gavin Strange on working for Aardman, being a Dad, and money.

Blending illustration, animation, photography, digital design and film isn't easy, and there aren't many people who can do it.

We spoke to Gavin Strange to find out how a multi-disciplined creative like him gets inspired, finds time to do his own design projects when not working for one of the most famous animation houses on the planet (Aardman Animations), oh yeah and being a Dad.

Here’s what he said…

Why did you choose design? What excites you about it?

EVERYTHING about design excites me!

All I have to do is take a peak in a book or scroll through my folder of favourite images and my brain is at 1,000mph and I’m struggling to keep up!

It can just take a single still image to start off a chain reaction of ideas and thoughts and emotions. That’s what I love about design. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s exhilarating!

I chose design because that’s what I gravitated towards when I was young. 

At school I didn’t know what a graphic designer was, but I knew that someone was responsible for the design of album covers, cereal boxes and packaging, so it made me start paying attention to those details.

Then it was down the rabbit hole really and discovered that all these different disciplines are all connected; art, design, illustration, typography, photography, filmmaking, storytelling. And with each of those there’s a whole myriad of exciting pieces of work and people that have the power to energise you and make you want to make stuff.

It’s a never-ending always-evolving cycle of inspiration!

Gavin Strange Bahhbersheep Aardman Animation

Bahhbersheep hand paintwork.

What was the first design project that you worked on? And what did you learn from it?

I have a terrible memory, so it’s a little hazy. But my time in my first ever job really sticks out in my mind.

I was 17 years old and had just joined a local design agency in my hometown of Leicester. As a junior graphic designer, which then turned into being a junior web designer.

I was fresh out of a 2-year BTEC in design and never worked in the industry before, so everything was totally new to me.

One of the first big jobs I was given was doing an interactive CD (showing my age here!) for a gas company. It held all the data for all the products and was given to every engineer so on the move they could load the CD on their laptops.

Creating physical design…

I’d never had such responsibility. I remember feeling really empowered and proud that I’d be given such a task. It was a lot of work and a lot of data entry, as we handled everything, from the design and content entry, even sourcing the CD mastering & printing too!

It was also the first time i’d felt pressure. Especially with these things being pressed on to a disc, it had to be right!

There were a few all-nighters too, which was also my first experience of that expectation. I loved it though, it meant i was given the opportunity to prove myself. And that is really exciting!

What I learnt from the whole project was that if someone gives you the chance to prove yourself, you have to go all out and do your absolute best, whatever it is.

Sure, data tables for a gas company isn’t glamorous, but that was irrelevant. I was being paid to make something, from nothing, for someone else.

As a young lad, that was so exciting and I like to think i’ve never lost that feeling.

How do you go about getting new work?

I try not to get any! Haha! In my own time, my side-projects tend to be self-initiated!

Ok, well, that’s not totally true, I do work with people a lot, like the OFFF titles film for example. But there’s very rarely a budget involved, which I love (and is also the reason I don’t have any money).

The way I see it, the second you involve money into the passion project / side project equation, it becomes a job. And this is the distinction between a project and a job.

I think the financial side puts a stopper on things and gives it limitations. 

That’s totally fair of course, as when someone is paying you, it needs to be right, but when something is totally yours, when a project can and will spiral out of control and grow in scale – well there’s where the good stuff is!

I’m always on the look outs for new projects. But over time I’ve become more confident in believing in my own ideas, however silly or unachievable they are, and just going for it.

At least putting that first foot forwards and seeing where it might go. 

It’s really easy to feel like you need to wait until all the pieces of the puzzle are there before you begin… I say forget that, grab an armful of the pieces and just try to put it together as you run.

Sure you’ll drop pieces and the end result won’t look a damn thing like the picture on the box, but that’s what makes it so fun!

Gavin Strange Design OFFF

OFFF titles

We noticed you recently became a Dad, which is awesome! Do you think that’s changed the way you think about the work you do?

It is awesome, I love being a Dad! It’s definitely changed the way I think about work.

Straight away it had an effect on when I thought about my work, as I used to crack on with my passion projects in the evenings, after my day job at Aardman Animations. But now I want to spend it with my family.

Gavin STRANGE Product Range Crazy Animal Face

I still wanted to be as productive as I was. I had to make a choice on what to sacrifice. So I sacrificed sleep! I get up in the mornings, before my boy wakes up and before I go to Aardman!

It’s really important that Sullivan, my son, sees me loving what I do and coming home happy.

I’m so fortunate to have a career I absolutely love, and I want him to see me doing that and giving it my all, but not at the expense of spending time with him.

That’s what fatherhood has changed for me, an ever-shifting game of balance to be the best Dad, the best husband and best creative that I can be!

Gromit Aardman Animation Gavin Strange Crazy Animal Face

Giant Gromit for Aardman Animation

Gavin Strange Aardman Animation Gromit Crazy Animal Face

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in the industry?

The piece of advice I’d give is to just begin. Start making stuff. 

You’ll make terrible stuff. You’ll hate it, but you need to get it out of your system. 

Make work, make more work, and then when your done, make even more.

It’s like a workout regime, you need to train to get stronger, right? Creative arts is no different, apart from we don’t get buff, we stay pasty and thin, but we make beautiful pieces of eye candy. So, y’know, it is virtually the same.

Don’t let your inner brain tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t compare yourself to others because there lies madness. There will ALWAYS be someone better than you, quicker than you, smarter than you, doing things you can only dream of.

That never goes away, at any level, so use that as a catalyst, a beacon of inspiration – a place in the distance to aim for.

Oh, and having no plan is also, technically, a plan. So don’t worry about what happens next, just continue to DO things.

Your portfolio won’t shine with ideas you never executed or theories. It needs to be full of things you’ve done.

So, go out there, be bold, be brave and be bonkers!



Follow Gavin on twitter for all his latest escapades.



I'm co-founder of Crazy Animal Face, host of the CAF Podcast, and compere of our CAF events. My views are my own.

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