Interview with Fort Rixon, our logo designer

You designed the Stork Press logo. Could you tell our readers about yourself.

My name is Fort Rixon, and my life is a bit of a conundrum. I am an artist, an illustrator, and a raconteur but mostly a cultural stenographer; that is I visualize what I see in culture around me.

I began painting when I was a youngster, and decided to pursue a creative career as a full time vocation. I enrolled onto various short courses at different Colleges, including Ravensbourne College and the Slade School of Art. I then took up my foundation year at Central Saint Martins, specializing in Illustration, before taking up a BA Hons degree in Illustration at Camberwell College of Art & Design. At Camberwell, I began to take an interest in not only making illustration work, but helping produce and creative direct large scale projects. This began with a small collaborative project with (sponsored by them too!) creative/advertising giants Wieden & Kennedy London. A few months after I interned with the beasts of African Illustration AMI Collective in Cape Town (they literally draw non-stop, it’s inspiring) but also forged an amazing relationship with Ricky Lee Gordon at Word of Art in Cape Town, South Africa where I produced a led my first mural project entitled wesharethesamesun. The whole Cape Town experience was pivotal for me as their scene is incredibly inspiring. When I returned to London to complete my final year of studies, I began making more print editions in earnest. I released my first set of prints inspired by my travels in Cape Town, entitled Hosh, of which on the second day of my graduation show, I sold my first piece to Harriet Harman, and have been slowly selling more work and taking on jobs ever since.

How about your work?

If I could give my work a name, I would call it ‘Afro-graphics.’ For now this formula works for me and it follows a simple set of elements; a well-made graphic done by hand, bold, colorful, beautiful with a small piece of Africa in it. I have done work already for various clients, and the challenge is always to both give them something unique whilst trying to hide a piece of myself in there somehow and still giving the client the best return for their investment. I tend to use a lot of colour, texture and simple techniques (drawing/tracing/printing) to try achieve a beautiful result.
I come from a print background originally (relief/screen-printing) so my work always begins with a strong drawing before anything else can be added to it. I have had times where I have made a drawing, scanned it in that was the job complete! I’m inspired a lot by African history (books everywhere!), protest art, and the up & coming street art world. I have been able to meet some of my heroes in the last few years such as Emory Douglas (The man behind the iconic Black Panther artwork) and Faith 47 (Africa’s true queen of Graffiti) has really humbled and inspired me.
My clients/jobs vary; I have done logo design to music flyers and record sleeves and I have even worked on a Wedding invite that was designed a newspaper! I enjoy almost every project I get the chance to work, and in fact the weirder the better. Currently I’m pitching to a German insurance company to design an Easter card as well as creating my ‘room’ at AMI collectives very cool IllVille Project…

What is the process for a logo design? How much research do you need to put into before you start your work?

Logo design, I would say does not have to be a big process, but it is very easy to get wrong. You can always tell if someone is trying to say too much in a logo, and yet sometimes you can the design right on the first sketch. It is always easier if you know what you want, whereby a fair amount of clients don’t know what they want till they see it, which can be really hard work (I once made 50 drawings for a client before they decided)! Research is very important; there is nothing more shoddy than poorly researched creative work. With the stork logo, it was quite important that it was a particular stork that is found in Eastern Europe, as this was culturally more relevant to the ethos of Stork Press; that being translating Eastern European literature into English, so we tried to capture its essence in the line work.

How many design versions would you have before you decide which is the best one?

Ill Ville

Gosh, quite a few. I always felt it better to have more options and edit down, as opposed to making a small amount and trying to work with that. In the end it becomes a sort of amalgamation of five different versions into one strong identity.

What kind of information do you need before you start working on a logo?

First and foremost, what the business/company believes in. If this is not communicated clearly from the start, then it is an uphill battle; a bit like running for a race without knowing where the finish line is. I know when we did this logo, the direction the stork was flying became a strong point, as it was flying from east to west, which as I mentioned above lends itself to the ethos of Stork Press; making Eastern European literature available in western circles.

Do you sketch first or work on a computer?

Always pen and paper. I always have to bear in mind that creative software suites such as Photoshop have only been in full use and circulation for just over two decades, whilst ink and paper have been used since the dawn of time. I’m not the biggest fan of computer graphics, I prefer to use my hands because I get more control on whatever I’m doing, before we have to digitize it. Like traditional sign writing, it always looks better when done by hand.

How much time do you usually spend designing a logo?

I like to put in a lot of effort into it, however budget does dictate a lot. It is a mixture between as long as it takes and as quick as possible. Creativity is energy, and speed is necessary to keep the project fresh without getting boring, however time is money. Sometimes though you can make 100 average ideas before you get your golden idea, and that is not time wasted.

What is the most challenging parts of your job and the most rewarding?

My mind is ram-packed with images, stories, dates and times, and this is both beautiful and horrible all at once. For this reason, I have this need to get things out of my mind, as a way of organizing my mind, and I guess the challenge is always starting again and to keep going. In every brief that I get, I try and hide a piece of myself in it, regardless of whether it is client based or personal this normally manifests itself in the form of a diamond. I think most artists would agree, that starting a new piece of work is almost as hard every time as when you first start drawing. I guess its only difficult because you are trying to make something exist convincingly by the taming of a line or pigment, and to also do better than your work yesterday. It is actually a huge emotional and confidence issue so to speak. However, what is rewarding is that people can see and experience a part of your mind that you might not be able to articulate in any other way, and personally that is therapeutic for me as I have an innate need of mind release. Being able to spill my mind onto a piece of paper into something coherent is something of a blessing.

What influences you the most when you work on a logo?

The audience and the ethos; the goal is trying to make something accessible and believable to people we might never meet.

How important is the relationship with a client before you start your work?

Very important. I think you have to be able to work together, without too much friction happening. Creatives are a strange bunch of people and we’re very opinionated about working methods, but clients don’t normally work like their designers so it is a bit of give and take. In the famous words of the advertising legend David Ogilvy, when dealing with clients, one must ‘Be candid and encourage candor…’, and that is gold for sure. However there are dynamics on both sides that aren’t that great either. There is the maverick designer who does what he/she wants, or the client who knows your job better than you (that logo should only take you an hour to do is not unheard of), and of course these must be handled with some tact.

What kind of work do you enjoy most?

I really enjoy working/producing large-scale projects. This can range from painting murals to producing shows. I was travelling in December time back in my hometown of Zimbabwe, and we found an old and abandoned car on the roadside in the middle of the bush, which reminded me of a tragic story my mother told me years back of a friend of hers she lost in a car accident with no survivors. I really wanted to paint it, so within two days I had arranged a friend to come and film it, and I had found some paint and brushes. We got up at four in the morning and I painted whilst the most beautiful sunrise came up, in the background, and it was just a golden two hours. The film will be out soon, as well as a photo print series of the small mural. I want to be able to do more of these types of projects.

Do you get creative blocks?

Oh yes! Again I think there is a perception that artists just ooze with ideas, but this is not true. Generally, I have many average/stupid ideas within a day; but incredible ideas I have within a week I could count on one hand. So I would consider a creative block, more a question of are strong ideas coming out, or are they really average and weak? And that is the determining factor.

Logo design is only part of what you do. Tell us about your plans and how do you see your work evolving in the future.

Well the future has many plans, but I guess my goal is to simply keep making as much new work as possible, and doing my best to share with anyone willing to view it. I will be making more films in the future and more ambitious projects, and I am really trying to make the ideas bigger and better. In the short term there are plans for a solo show in the pipeline, some new print editions, some short films and perhaps a studio space to set up a small agency, time will tell all, but until then, I must get back to reading and drawing…

Thank you!

Visit Fort Rixon online.