Handmade day at Shillington is one of the most exciting days of the course. Combining their newly found computer skills with more traditional processes, students conceptualise and create a piece of work which can often show that extra bit of personality in their portfolio.
Who better to ask for advice than Kyle Bean? With a client list featuring Google, Emirates, Kinfolk and Wallpaper he’s a true genius of 3D illustration. We invited him in for a guest lecture at Shillington London and followed up with a few questions. Read further to hear about Kyle’s favourite materials to work with and advice on embarking on a similar career!
How do you typically approach a new brief?
For editorial work for example, I tend to be given a story to read that I have to illustrate. Usually it’s a few pages of text about a particular subject. My approach tends to be quite conceptual, but with a playful edge. I like to look for connections in the story or clever visual metaphors that I could draw upon. When given an article about the devastating threat of bird-flu I thought it would be interesting to create an image that literally brings together two key aspects of the story. I constructed a small sculptural piece of an atom bomb made from feathers which was then photographed and that became the image that accompanied the article. Similarly, when I was given a story about farmers dividing up their land for their family, I thought it would be nice to create a model slice of land. This represented the notion of the farmers’ family each ‘having a piece of the pie’.
Our course includes a Handmade brief which is often met with such excitement from the students as they get to combine their computer skills with a more traditional hands-on approach. Is there any tips you’d give to our students when working on this brief?
I think whatever techniques you end up using it’s always a good idea to document your process and make sure you have a good way of presenting your finished piece. If you plan to make something 3D for example then it’s worth thinking early on about how you’re going to photograph or video it so you can present it as a 2D image as well. It’s one of the most valuable things I learnt when I was studying illustration and wanted to make physical pieces.
Your projects contain a wide range of materials all carefully considered to suit the brief in question. From project to project, are there any common resources you use? Or any particularly challenging objects/materials you’d perhaps choose not to use again?
Generally speaking I enjoy using materials that are versatile and relatively easy to manipulate and shape without the need of specialist expensive tools or processes. The reason for this isn’t just a practical one. In terms of image making, I think using everyday materials that we come into contact with on a regular basis makes us relate to them more. Aside from the fact that it’s so readily available, one of the key reasons I love working with paper so much is because it is so very relatable. Everyone comes into contact with it regularly so we all have a good understanding of its properties.
I particularly like working with materials where I have a lot of control.
Occasionally I have worked with materials that are far less predicable than paper, like eggshells, toothpaste or glass. It’s always fun learning new methods and challenging what seems possible, but I will certainly think twice about using some of these materials again for future projects! Although, I like to take an approach where the concept informs the material, so I never quite know what material I’m going to work with next!
All of your work is so meticulously considered and beautifully executed. Do you find that you often have a clear image of what you want to produce at the beginning and then it’s a case of working towards it, or do you tend to let the materials dictate the form?
For commissioned work, I tend to have to plan pretty thoroughly to avoid things going wrong at a later stage. Once I have an idea about what I want to show in the image, I then have a pretty good idea about how I would go about making it and what materials I would use. Generally speaking, the more time I have for a project, the more risks I am likely to take in terms of materials and processes I use as well as how I go about approaching the photography aspect. If I only have, say a week to produce something from sketches right through to finished image then I am more likely to stick to a way of working that is tried and tested. On longer projects there is more room for experimentation.
What’s been your favourite project to date and can you tell us about any upcoming pieces in the works?
My favourite commissioned project was probably when I was asked to design 5 window installations for Selfridges. I felt very out of my depth but somehow with a lot of hard work and working closely with their in-house team we pulled it all together. It was a very open brief and so it was truly one of those rare and lovely situations for client work where I basically got to do what ever I wanted to. I’m currently working on a range of projects from editorial to commercial and even some more exciting installation work. I cant go into much detail, but needless to say it’s quite varied work!
A lot of our students sight you as one of their design heroes, especially when working on their handmade project. What advice would you give to a student who wanted to pursue a similar path to you after graduating?
Having good making skills is only half of what is really necessary when it comes to this kind of work. You also need to be good at communicating your ideas and carefully planning your projects. I still sketch ideas out all the time to explain to clients what I intend to do and that is a really important stage of the process in my work. In terms of actually making physical things then I recommend you start with some basic materials and techniques.
Have a go at making something out of paper, experiment with a few types of glues and it’s fine if you make mistakes.
I’m still learning new techniques with almost every project that I do, and only through your own investigations will you really learn what works, especially if like me you end up using things like eggshells as a material!
We’re very grateful to Kyle for taking the time to share his advice. Head over to Kyle’s website to see more of his captivating work—make sure you check out some of his work in progress shots too!
If you’d like to find out more about Handmade Day at Shillington, visit our student work gallery which features lots of examples of what can be achieved during the brief or take a look at our report of Handmade Day in progress at Shillington New York.