It is hard not to be impressed by the gleaming portfolio of London based graphic designer, James Kirkup. Chock-full of bold, graphic posters and a minimalist colour palette, he clearly has an eye for balance and has quickly racked up an impressive client list to boot. With big music names like Metronomy, Bloc Party and Ellie Goulding clammoring for his expertise, we’d forgive him for resting on his laurels a teeny bit. Not a chance. As well as holding down a full time design job and freelancing in the evenings, James launched Fragment Magazine in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for music and he is currently in the process of marketing his latest venture, Twin Apparel, a clothing company set up by himself and Mike Oman. Not bad going for the Brighton lad who dropped out of university but has proven that a degree is not always a prerequisite if you have the right amount of talent, energy and some serious determination.
I caught up with James to hear more about his next projects, the music that inspires his work and what it’s like working with those picky musicians!…
You have a full time graphic design job but still seem to make time for tons of exciting freelance projects. What are the perks of freelancing work, compared to working in-house ?
Although I don’t work as a freelancer full time, my main trigger for doing work on top of studio time is getting the chance to work with like-minded people who give you a ton of creative freedom with room to experiment with new ideas – things I can’t always get away with for our studio clients. For instance, for the last year or so I’ve been working with Double Denim Records. I get a real kick out of working for those guys, simply because their standards are so high. We’re always working to get a really top-end product and there’s a strong feeling of pride when they release something new. I get an immense satisfaction from looking back and saying – I worked on that. Unbeatable.
You seem to have your fingers in a great number of pies. How do you fit it all in?
Enjoying it helps. I find being busy on lot’s of different things is just really exciting and that constantly keeps me motivated to work longer, and harder. Being busy in the ‘9-5’ is perfect because it just get’s me fuelled to get working on the other things outside the office – and vice versa.
There are some very famous names in your portfolio, how did you come about these commissions?
When I first moved to London a lot of my friends and new people I met here were doing music or bits for club nights or record labels – getting involved with them, doing work for free (or for beer) was a good way of getting my name pushed about. The first project I worked on was the Off Modern series. Those posters probably still stand out as some of my most ‘recognised’ work. I think a fair few jobs came from working on those.
I also sent a lot of annoying emails to record labels!
And were the musicians involved much in the design process?
The artists I’ve worked for more recently definitely have a huge input, whether it be their preference for using a particular photographer or image direction, or the message they want to convey. But it does vary. Some want complete control, others give you way more trust.
Does music generally influence your personal work? If so, how and who?
If I haven’t listened to some sort of music in a single day, something’s going to be wrong with me. I’m constantly listening to music whenever I can. I’m no music quiz master but I like to think I have a pretty wide/eclectic taste in which everything influences me in different ways. I’m a big New Order/Joy Division nut, yet I never stop listening to bands like Fugazi, Face to Face and Fucked Up. I’m really into my dance and hip hop too so it’d be wrong to to say I’m influenced, or my work is influenced by one genre – more ‘the music’ in general.
So what’s next for you?
I’m currently really busy setting up Twin, working on designs for Abeano, Juno Plus, The Libertines and the usual Fragment load. Within the studio we’re launching some huge projects come Autumn that I’m really excited to shout about – although it’s all a little hush hush right now. I’m also in the process of organising an exhibition around December of some poster work with some other great London designers. Then there’s also the thought wheel turning of opening my own studio at some point – but I might need a little bit more time for that one!
James’ posters are available to buy online here.