Jones and I first met quite a few years ago at the opening of a graffiti exhibition. Since then he has carved out a niche for himself. Readers will no doubt be aware of his work on this magazine in his role as chief designer and art director since it started life in Sheffield in […]

Jones and I first met quite a few years ago at the opening of a graffiti exhibition. Since then he has carved out a niche for himself. Readers will no doubt be aware of his work on this magazine in his role as chief designer and art director since it started life in Sheffield in April 2008, as well as flyer and poster designs for Tinnitus and Sheffield Techno Institute, vinyl artwork for artists in Sheffield and Manchester, a largescale single line drawing at this year’s Uncivilisation Festival, and more recently his Mind Out project, part of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind.

Jones and I exchange emails frequently, talking techno and seeking design advice from the other, but rarely do we meet in person. It seemed fitting to conduct the interview in our usual manner of communicating.

Do you class yourself as a graphic designer, fine artist, illustrator or something else?

I’m not very good at classifications. It depends on what I’m working on, and what it ends up being. Art on product becomes design.

Who or what did you admire when you were starting out?

William Blake. Austin Osman Spare. Mosques and cathedrals. Obviously Escher. Charles Rennie Mackintosh once wrote “everything that leaves my hand should be beautiful.”

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Who or what inspires you currently?

Origami. The Victorians; engineering and architecture. Matthew Shlian; paper engineering. Margaret Wertheim; crochet work coral to mathematical formulae.

Currently your studio is in a metal storage yard, and previously you were based in an old scissor factory. Is location important to the way you work?

It definitely makes a difference. Industrial space puts me in the right headspace for the work I do. It definitely seems to inform the things that end up getting made in the studio. Being around Sheffield history, and in the manufacturing buildings of that history, is massively important to me.

When you took your first steps did you have a clear idea of the sort of work you wanted to take on? Did you always intend to work alone?

When I started, it was firmly DIY or nothing. Now, as the projects get larger and more complicated, other people have to be involved. Photographers, coders and engineers are my favourite people, and are greatly responsible for the success of big installs.

I’ve been restoring methods of making artwork since I started. At the moment that amounts to a giant pile of battered screenprint gear and a Vandercook SP20 proofing press, found rusting in a London squat. The end game is being able to produce as much of my own work as humanly possible.

When I started out, I was trying – sometimes without realising – to do the work I thought other people would like, as opposed to what I wanted to do. Now everything I do is heartfelt. I make pennies in comparison to some more commercial artists and illustrators but I feel much more comfortable with my work and people’s reactions to it.

I asked two people to briefly summarise your work, and one said ‘intensely bleak’. I like this description. Is this the reaction you expect?

It’s one I’m increasingly used to! I don’t attempt to make bleak artwork though. Stark perhaps, but mainly I’m attempting to show something that’s minimal, and often deliberately simple. Colour distracts from careful study of line and form, eliciting a straight emotional reaction from the audience. I’d prefer it if they looked at it properly.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

“When are you going to colour it in?” over the course of the last monochrome installation.

Much of your work has a DIY aesthetic. Is the computer a friend or foe in this process?

It’s an essential tool. Even the most handmade project will involve a computer at some point, even if it’s just throwing around versions to see what things look like before committing with paint.

A lot of your work is based around patterns, rigid structures and linearity. Do you think in such a way, or do you develop ideas in a much more chaotic, intuitive fashion?

Everything is definitely born from chaos. I might have an obsessive way I construct and work, but to offset that I use deliberately messy production methods like spraypaint, print production that errors beautifully – anything I can to strike a balance between order and disorder, and make it obvious that there’s been a human involved.

Are there any routines and rituals in the way you work?

Java/Mocha blend from Pollards. Constant music. Battles with the cat.

Do you ever crave group dynamics, or is the commitment to doing it all yourself stronger and more rewarding?

A lot of my best ideas get refined talking to others, particularly non-visual types. They’ll listen to me rant on about a subject, and reply with something off-key. Often they don’t realise what they’ve sparked in my brain. This is a job though. Hard work needs to get put in to get good results, and I find working in collaboration becomes procrastination rather than product.

Many accomplished artists and designers have no formal training. There is something to admire in the ‘have a go’ attitude which can lead to unexpected and stunning results. As a creative who has not walked the conventional path of studying a degree in a design or arts-based subject, would you agree?

I’m surrounded by people with academic degrees who don’t work in the field they are qualified in. There’s been many times I’ve kicked myself for doing things the long way, but I’m comfortable with where I’ve ended up. With making things it’s not really about the piece of paper you’ve got; it’s about the work you’ve completed. Being the ‘naïve designer’ has always made me push myself to learn what others have been taught, and I plan for this never to stop.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never work for nowt, but if tha do, do it for thasen.

What medium would you love to work in but haven’t had the chance?

I can’t wait to get started with the letterpress properly. Physical print making is an art in itself. But I’d also love to get hold of some big fucking lasers and make huge things out of brass.

What is your dream project?

Some kind of entirely immersive environment – patterns extending over every surface, floor and ceiling. A train station or a place of worship maybe. Denver Airport.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of pursuing a career in art or design?

Work out what you want to do and stick at it. Be prepared to live on toast and noodles on occasion.

Photographers featured: Andy Brown, Nathan Gibson, Theodore Simpson, Ben Randall.

Thanks to: James Folkes, Tom Whiston, Chris Godley, James Griffiths, Sara Hill.

madebyjones.com

Interview by Alex Szabo-Haslam.