Stuart Patterson is a hybrid, fascinating, multicolored figure just like his work, which moves perfectly at ease in the contemporary creative universe. His vocational training and his working experiences demonstrate what is perhaps his true distinctive trait, transversality.
After a period of freelance work, Stuart started collaborating with major brands such as BMW and Custo Barcelona where he dealt with all the brand management to end up in Wallpaper, the design, fashion, travel and entertainment magazine founded in 1996 by Tyler Brûlé, today at the head of the Monocle multiform media project.
In the meantime, in addition to dealing with the graphic section of some records of Naked Music label, in 2000 he also found time to launch his creative studio project called Colorola Studio which he decided to move to Los Angeles, California in 2004.
His work perfectly reflects his hybrid approach, constantly oscillating between the 1970s vintage style to contemporary minimalist solutions, all accompanied by an almost maniacal attention to typographical aspects, and a love for lettering that emerges in every work.
We contacted Stuart wondering if he would be available for us and he immediately agreed to answer some questions about his work and some other stories.
One aspect of your work that struck me is the extreme heterogeneity, your ability to jump from one style to another without ever losing consistency and managing to keep your style visible. What 3 artists would you say, if any, have had an important weight in your vocational training? Do you think they have helped to shape what is now your style?
I’ve never been able to remain fully fixed to an unequivocal design or illustration approach– which can be a bit problematic when clients come to me for a specific look. And though I realize there are perhaps inescapable traits to my work, I’ve always attempted to delve into something different– whether it be a typographic approach or a color way. Often, I wind up embracing what I initially disdain, and visa versa. In design school, in San Francisco, I was greatly inspired by the work of Emigre, 23 Envelope, and particularly, local designer Tom Bonauro, who’s rather post modern appropriation of vintage forms and visual tropes I found a refreshing respite to the overly corporate structure of the design curricula at the Academy. But years later I found myself gravitating to the mid-century masters I had disdained inschool. The rational methodologies of Otl Aicher, Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli that were anathema to me as a student are now inspiring, and help to mitigate my tendency towards self indulgence. I’m finding a balance.
As i said, in 2004 you decided to move from Spain where you’ve always lived and worked to Los Angeles, a completely different and new reality that I imagine has given you more inspiration but at the same is more competitive. Could you describe what this step meant for Colorola’s work and for Stuart Patterson as a man and family father?
Barcelona, where I lived for 8 years, was a perfect place to live la vida loca, which I think had an influence on the general tone of my work. I had become an illustrator rather by accident, and the parties, the Mediterranean culture, the proximity to so much fashion, made its way, at least figuratively, into my work. But you’re right, there was very little to inspire me competitively. I had a niche, and I was perfectly content to wake up at noon, create some Bacchanalian illustration for a booze company, then head out for to Ibiza for the weekend. In 2003, I had a near fatal moto accident in Ibiza, and decided I had better get my shit together. That year I had a gallery show in LA, and traveled here for the opening. I stayed at the Standard downtown, and fell in love with the dilapidated terrain of the old part of the city.
It felt like Angkor Wat, like some lost civilization. I moved here on New Years Day, 2004, and determined to use my work to help my community. I began pursuing jobs with arts organizations and nonprofit institutions, like the LA Theatre Center and a local park foundation. I feel like design can be an important catalyst for positive change, but it’s a bit of a struggle to work altruistically and still make a living. I’m working on that…
In view of your valuable experience within magazines like Wallpaper, I would like to ask you for an opinion about the revival of the publishing industry. Starting from the new world of magazines that, though once with a short life, now are developing quicky to stay. How do you imagine the future?
Technology, and particularly the ability to print more efficiently, has certainly altered the publishing landscape. There are so many beautiful publications now, that it’s hard for magazines to have a loyal readership. It’s kinda like finding a penny on the ground. If I see a penny on the sidewalk, I’m inclined to pick it up. It’s shiny and unique, and potentially the harbinger of good luck. But if I see a bunch of pennies spilled out, I walk on by. Also, people’s attention span has become so truncated, that not only books, but periodicals, for some, require too much heed. I think we’re at a point where consumer society, worldwide, is weary of any kind of saturation. Even vinyl discs have become so pervasive that people say ‘fuck it, I wanna live the minimalist lifestyle, so I’ll just stick with Spotify.’ On the other hand, whenever there’s a glut, something is bound to rise above the clamor. So designers, publishers, writers, etc. are always having to try harder to come up with something substantial. And some do: ‘Process Journal’ for example or‘Baseline’ have managed to keep up its game consistently since 1979.
Another important collaboration in your career is that with Naked Music, an American record label. Could you tell me the story of how this relation was born and what the role of music on your everyday life?
In San Francisco, while in school in the early 90s, I started creating club flyers for nearly every club and rave in the city– DNA, Sound Factory, DNA, 1015. I was contacted by the owner of the Sound Factory in New York and designed the first look for Twilo, which opened in the same place. Gradually I got gigs doing packaging and merch for dance labels in New York. At that time Jay Denes was producing under the guise, Naked Music NYC, for OM Records. They asked me to do a cover, which featured the figure of a nude female in a seductive pose. The label rejected it as ‘too literal’. A couple of years later, Jay started his own label, Naked Music, with a friend of mine from SF, Bruno Ybarra. They asked me to come up with an identity for the company, and the original illustration was resurrected. I stayed on with them for six or seven years, designing all the packaging, merchandise, and advertising. It was fun while it lasted. But then the whole music industry changed, and packaging and print no longer played an important part in sales. We all put our clothes back on and went our separate ways.
In many Colorola’s works, we feel the typical California’s air made of palm trees, sunshine, beaches and fun. It’s as if you want to convey in your illustrations a lifestyle, a way of being. What do you think are the necessary ingredients, from a graphic point of view, so that a work can express something more than just a stylistic trait, a technical skill, but it also comes to touch other sensorial aspects like breathing what i called “California air”?
Admittedly, we use the ‘Cali-vibe’ as a positioning device for our services. But it’s a bit more than hype. Southern California has a rich history of design that includes architecture and, of course, cinema. These things are influenced partly by the climate and the mix of different cultures that prevail here. Obviously the Eames’, Saul Bass, the work of Alex Steinweiss were very much in tune with the environment.
The entertainment industry, like the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland I suppose, has had an indelible impact on design in Southern California, and we’re indubitably influenced by it.
I am very impressed with your work, with the care in choosing the lettering, the attention you put in inserting typographyinto a variety of graphic contexts. Tell me a little bit about how this love for typography was born and what development did you have in your career?
I was fortunate to have been in design school at a time when typography was paramount. Computer design was just a class, not a whole curriculum. So I had what one might call ‘legacy’ instructors, who had a very strict approach to typographic design. They insisted, more than anything, in the importance of restraint and the grid.
Colorola manages to maintain its own particular identity despite having to deal with the brand in many ways. This ability, perhaps one of the most important in creative work, shows a strong push and research. What is “Creativity” for you, what definition would you give to this word and why?
Thanks. When I was freelancing, I could never get used to ‘creative’ being used as a noun.
(A ‘Creative Director’ is the director of the ‘Creative’ department, he or she’s not a director that just happens to be creative) I believed that it codified, and commodified, the act of creating. Later, I realized that, yes, in fact, that’s what they were doing. That’s why you don’t have the ‘Creativity’ department. ‘Creativity’ is more personal and not always the solution to good design. Yes, there’s a vital part played by intuition, but design, I feel, is necessarily defined by logic as well as instinct. That’s what a ‘creative solution’ entails. It’s interesting that this distinction, as far as I can tell, only happens in the English language…
Describe what your creative process is, what are the steps that lead you from a white page start to the final moment, when you understand that you have come to the result that satisfies you completely.
For client work, I invariably start with a Client Input Brief, which is a good way to get a general lay of the land. Depending on the skope, I generally start sketching on an old Mac Pro that I’ve kept running on an just so I can use MacroMedia Freehand. I find the vector tool to be much less cumbersome than Illustrator. I like to create vector sketches of the job, sometimes incorporating previously drawn elements. Then a dance begins with the client. I enjoy the challenge of interpreting a vision. Of course I do a good deal of research, but most of my inspiration comes from traveling– either around the world, or around the block. I seldom have a ‘eureka moment’ when I know something is done. I just kind of look at it, like Warhol used to do with his work, and say, ‘yes, it’s done’.
Our society has become increasingly aware of the image. We are constantly surrounded by messages, logos, icons and graphics of all kinds. What do you think are some of the trends you notice in the current graphics scene and especially what do you think are some interesting developments in the world of graphic design?
I think that, in many ways, technology has stultified the trajectory of design. Ready-made ‘solutions’ are proven effective with instant analysis that measures consumer response. Also most work is derivative, referencing, consciously or unconsciously, previous epochs. Even ‘ground-breaking’ stuff can usually be traced to an anterior source. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe that modernism, and by extension, modern design, accommodates appropriation, and the focus is on discovering the best solution, rather than some vain attempt at originality.
Living and working in Los Angeles with your own creative studio working with some of the most famous brands in the world may seem like a dream that has become reality, but did you have to pass through some dark moments in your professional life that made you think you wouldn’t make it? Could you tell us how you overcame the difficulties?
I certainly don’t like to complain, but my chief vexation has remained the same from the beginning. I’ve been unable to establish the kind of creative partnership that I think is necessary to truly evolve creatively and financially. I started working for myself while I was still in school, so I missed the opportunity to work in a large art department and foster the kind of professional relationships that so frequently portend a thriving partnership. It’s always been a challenge to go it on my own. I’m either inundated with an enormous work load, or searching for work because I was unable to go out and get it while I was so busy.
I believe that each person in the course of life comes across a proverb, a motto or quote that touches us, and that plays a part in the choices we take in life, or simply helps us in difficult times or our everyday lifes. Which one would you choose and why?
I do have a proverby kind of thing: ‘When you think you’re working too hard, double your efforts’ I used to attribute it to my aunt, Dutchie Page, who was an artist and a very hard worker. But the fact is, she never said anything like that. I made it up myself. And I still live by it.