Graphic Artist Rachael Cliffe Interview

Here today we expand and delve further into our interview series to bring you the scoop on emerging designer Rachael Cliffe.

Who is Rachael Cliffe?

I don’t think Rachael Cliffe even knows at this moment in time. She’s a little lost it seems. I’m a 23 year old graphic artist, with a penchant for hand drawn type, letterpress, any other printing methods, zines, publications, cards & collaboration. I’ve been born in the wrong era for a start, I should have been born in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s & the 80’s. I adore music… but then what designer doesn’t?! & vintage clothing too. I’m a bit of a hermit, a lonely girl, I like to keep myself to myself, I’m also a bit of a hoarder & tend to keep anything & everything.

What is the creative community like in your local area? Are you involved with any local events or groups?

There is no ‘creative community’ in my area of St Helens, it really is a sham of a town made up of people who apply for Jeremy Kyle.
There are a few creative people who I know from my art foundation course in college, but they’ve moved onto pastures new down south or elsewhere.

My area doesn’t really have an eye for design, or even bother to take the time to look. BUT luckily i’m not far from Liverpool & Manchester which are bursting with creativity! Liverpool’s closest & I’ll always adore the city, there’s lots of things going on, so many of the bars & cafe’s these days have so much else going on apart from serving coffee, the have print & craft fairs vintage events & artist showcases, it’s the same in Manchester too, some of the venues include The Brink, Leaf, The Kazimier, (Lpool) Cord, 2022NQ, Night & Day (Manc).

I’ve been having a little break from designing but I’m always on the look-out for anything creative going down & i hope to attend as many print fairs as I can & get myself to all the creative events that go down, especially within Liverpool. I find twitter a really good resource for finding out what’s going on around!

If there is no creative community in your area what made you want to change things for yourself? why not stay in the small town and take up another career?

I say & quite rightly, that there is no creative community in my area, but there are/were creative people. I met them all via my A-level & art foundation course, but none of us did anything about starting a creative community in St Helens as we all know full well it would be a flop. It’s very hard to explain what a dull, horrid town St Helens is without you seeing it (& this is not something I encourage).

I have never ever felt that I belonged in this town, I didn’t get pregnant by 16, I don’t wear fake tan & I don’t wear skimpy tops as dresses.
I guess I was always deemed to ‘not fit in’ & have to find some creative outlet, you can tell the ‘arty kids’ in St Helens, they’re like me;
we don’t fit in. I wanted to do something different, my mum had this career planned for me to be a Spanish language translator so i’d leave this town & get good money. But I didn’t want to do it. I sort of fell into art & design as I have already said, & I liked it. The other people who did it were really cool & we were our own little outcast gang, wearing our vintage clothes & skinny jeans & I didn’t care that I didn’t fit into ‘St Helens’, I fitted in with art & design.

I will never ever ever stay in this town, there’s nothing here, there’s no opportunities. I would never have taken up another career here, I don’t want to get stuck in a rut, or have my children resent being brought up here the way I have.

What route through education did you take to where you are today?

I have to say it is by a stroke of luck that I am a graphic design graduate. I studied ‘graphic design’ in high school, however it wasn’t graphic design as I know it, it was product design with technical drawing & I used a T square far too much. In my final year at high school I ended up in the art department of my local college on work experience & got the chance to see the difference between real graphic design & what I was studying myself. In the 2 weeks I was at the college on work experience, I was certain I wanted to pursue a graphic design A Level, however the tutors there told me it was unlikely I’d get on the course as I didn’t have an art GCSE, however again, in the 2 weeks I’d built up such a good relationship with the college tutors they told me they’d be able to ‘pull some strings’ for me to get onto the course.

So I began my graphic design A Level. After achieving this & after very many heated debates with my parents including a 2 week silence stint I decided to stay on an extra year at college to complete an art foundation diploma. A 4 day week intensive design course. When it came to UCAS & uni applications, most people on my course applied through route B & I decided to apply to Nottingham Trent, Salford, Manchester Met, Preston & Leeds Met. I had interviews for all 5 & received 5 unconditional offers from them, so I really did have a lot of choice in where to go.

London was on my radar, but financially I just couldn’t afford it. Out of all the universities I visited, something just hit me as soon as I stepped of the train at the station. The city really is unbelievable. The course at Leeds Met is very different to everywhere else in the country in my opinion, it’s broad & free & doesn’t restrain you as a designer at all. There are so many experimental  opportunities & you aren’t bogged down with commercial brief after brief after brief. Something which I found to be perfect for myself. University is a time for finding yourself as a designer, to experiment & get away with whatever you like just because you can & the graphic arts & design course at Leeds Met really does encapsulate this.

What advice would you offer to students aiming to study design at university?

Look around at universities, see where suits you best. Don’t have a ‘style’ that you’re limited to & find a university that specialize in computer graphics for instance. TRY & BE OPEN MINDED!!! You really will find that you like doing a bit of this & a bit of that & ultimately create unusual unique design combining all sorts of processes… isn’t this what we all want?! Don’t go to courses where they’re literally churning ‘designers’ out, producing briefs all exactly the same, this isn’t nice… & how are you supposed to stand out in the crowd?!

Become totally immersed with design. I asked Mark Farrow what piece of advice would he give to young up & coming designers & his reply really does sum it up….

“Take in everything, look at books, blogs & magazines, watch tv, but as a designer, not a couch potato. Look around you when you’re out & about, soak it all up, buildings, colours, nature. Digest it all & then let it come out in your work. Be influenced, but don’t copy. There’s nothing better than seeing a great piece of work & thinking ‘wow, I wish i’d have done that’ & then letting the thought lead you to somewhere even better.”

I think it’s important to eat, live & breathe design & if it’s what you want to do, then start early. I wish I had.

Who were your biggest influences growing up? Is there a particular designer’s work you loved the most?

Everyone in college was obsessed with David Carson & Stefan Sagmeister, I somehow broke the mould in my art foundation class & became utterly obsessed with a book called ‘All Messed Up’ by Anna Gerber. It was my bible, a book dedicated to so many artists creating ‘unpredictable graphics’, design that went wrong & it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was this book that platformed my love for making printing mistakes & seeing what happens when you use ink & paper & pens & photocopiers. It was my hands-on book. I left art foundation & had to pay £65 for a used copy of the book from amazon… I couldn’t not have it! & it’s still so expensive today.

Throughout university & as I became experimental with the letterpress I soon developed an obsession with the Russian constructivists, typographers such as Jan Tschichold & Raoul Hausmann for whom letterpress was their bread & butter. I liked the simplicity & combination of layout, grid systems & woodblock type.

What are your plans for the next few years? Do you have any defined goals you want to achieve?

I have to live at home for the next 2/3 years I’d say… unless some exceptionally paid job comes along, purely for the reason i’m so so so poor & no-one can argue with the rent of living at home. I need to save lots of money up so I can get myself set up properly, in another city, ideally London, but I’d be very happy in Manchester. I’m taking a little break at the mo, I need to recuperate after working so hard in uni, i just need a little time off to get my head together & make an action plan of what to do next! I’ve already got a list of amazing small collaboratives whom i’m going to email asking for placements & internships in the next few months & i’m planning on attending several print fairs around the north west, selling my own personal prints & cards.

I’d absolutely adore to do an MA at the royal college of art, but i know how competitive it is, maybe in a year or so i’ll apply. I know for the future I want to be part of a collective, definitely, I don’t want to work on my own, I revel in collaboration & i’d like some company! Who knows if I’d set one up myself, that would be amazing, but I know it’s a pipe dream at the moment, I’d really have to get myself started, set up, with financial ability to do this & i’d have to be going into it with 1, if not more designers who I completely trusted & felt the same way. After reading Shaughnessy’s book -How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul, (A MUST FOR ALL DESIGN STUDENTS) i know that starting your own business/collective comes with great risk… & rewards.

Looking further ahead what would be a success for you as a designer? Money? Awards? Working for a particular company?

For me personally I’d say success as a designer would be, being recognized for what you do, somebody calling your their influence, that must be exceptional. I also think just being happy with the work & designs you produce is classed as a big success, creating great design, something that moves someone, creating a piece of work that someone wants to keep & put on their wall would be so gratifying & seen as a success in my eyes.

Who are your five favourite people to follow on twitter?

Alexa Chung @alexa_chung, ’cause I adore her & I like to think we’re bff’s.

Professor Green @professorgreen, purely for the banter he gives back.

Adrian Shaughnessy @AJWShaughnessy, he seems really down to earth & a lot of his tweets are interesting & also he tweeted me personally once!

& finally, Arts Jobs, as the name says they tweet about art jobs!

but apart from these top five, I like to follow small independent design collectives (mostly in the north west) or anyone who crops up in my “who to follow” box with an interest in design or tickles my fancy! Also my Leeds Met uni clan (woop woooop) my friends & tutors, I like to see what everyone’s up to & I think it’s important to remain in contact with the people you’ve had such an intense time with.

Outside of working and being a designer what do you to relax?

I’m a bit of a hermit, I really honestly like to keep myself to myself.
I’m a bit of a music head, but isn’t everyone these days?! I love love love love live music, I love love love going to gigs,
I always get a spine tingle whenever I watch a live band.
I’m also a bit of a vintage fanatic & a clothes horse.
I’d say one of my biggest passions is food, I bloody love it. I can eat for Britain, I just love eating!

Follow Rachel Cliffe and her work on her Website, Tumblr and @rachael_cliffe on twitter.