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Rob Draper is an artist and designer based in the UK who specializes in hand-lettering for branding and identity, editorial, large scale works, retail, and apparel. His work range includes worldwide clients such as The Golden Globes, Nike, Gap, and Samsung just to name a few. He also does lectures about the professional practice of art and design for a wide variety of audiences.

Dani: Today we are joined by Rob Draper. A design and an artist based in the UK. You may have seen some of his work with big clients such as Samsung, Nike, Harper & Collins and The Golden Globes. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to interview you. Now to start us off, can you share with us the story of how you were a freelance designer to where you are now.

Rob: Thank you. Well what started this process is i’ve gone through a conventional design background. So I’ve done art college, and then I’ve worked pretty much every single job within the industry. From junior designer, designer to senior designer, magazine designer. The last role I found myself in was an Art Director. I was an art director for a clothing company. It was my absolute sort of dream job. I felt like i have climbed the ladder through my career to finally find what worked for me and it really was everything i wanted it to be. And then one day, our company was bought and it moved to the other end of the UK. As a result of that, i couldn’t move with it. My life was where i was–where my house was and my family. And so i chose to leave the company at that point. This was about 5 years ago now and i thought to myself “Oh god what am i gonna do?” I felt lost. I did not want to start anything again. I felt like i’ve done all these roles and it sort of got me nowhere. So i thought “well i’m gonna try things out”
And so I started just trying to get my work out there. I’d realize that the internet can be a great shop window for what you do. In terms of you can create things, you can put them on the internet and people will see them and hopefully it will connect you with other people and hopefully people will see your work. I’m not living in new york, paris, london or somewhere well-connected. I live somewhere quite out of the way. So that was gonna be my only way to kind of develop things, To make a connection with a client, making connections to get work. I just started to put work out there. Fast forward to now and here we are.

Dani: Can you tell me something about yourself?

Rob: In a work point of view? In my personal point of view?

Dani: From any point of view. Tell us something about yourself. On top of your mind

Rob: Motivated. Absolutely motivated. I think during this whole process I’ve been through some of the biggest struggles. But at the same point in time, I’ve been through some of the biggest highs as well. So yeah, motivated yeah that’s a good thing. Uhm, not wanting to give up

Dani: That’s good, And i feel like you feel that you have come such a long way that it’s good to keep the momentum going.

Rob: I hope so. But with freelancing you don’t know. Sometimes it goes up, it goes down. Freelancing is a rollercoaster no matter what level you’re at. It’s always a tiny bit of feast or famine. You’ve always got 3 jobs on and no time at all, or no jobs on and lots of time. It’s learning to be settled with that. Learning to be complacent with that, and learning to enjoy that as well.

Dani: We saw your work with the golden globes. Tell me more about your creative process going into that?

Rob: They’re great. They pretty much hand you the brief. The way it works with people like that, the way it works with a lot of clients really, is you start having a meeting. You talk about what they are looking for at that particular time. They’ll send me a folder of things so maybe that needs branding or maybe a direction. *mumbled words* From that point on I just play and play and enjoy and kind of come up with different proposals. I think this year we came up with 6 or 7 different proposals that I then edit all those 6 or 7 into different videos. All completely different directions. Send those across, get feedback on those, talk to them further. And they might say “well we like #4 but now we like #7” And it really becomes this nice collaborative process. And then from there, they pretty much sign off a concept. I then go off again and work out that concept the best, we’re best at doing that. Create that piece of work, send it across to them. And then there’s a final sweep through where we talk about exact time, slightly technical things about how it’s meant to appear and then I send those. Then its a huge relief and it broadcasted

Golden Globes 2020. Draper’s initial sketches for his design which would later be animated.

Dani: Do you have a routine whenever you get new work?

Rob: I think quite loose at the start. A lot of different directions, a lot of different concepts. And then you sort of assemble it. It’s very difficult because every customer is different. Some customers really like to be involved in the process and they want a big part of input. Some people don’t want so much. So it’s working out where that customer wants to be. I’m happy with both. So what i try to do is i start quite loose, quite scattered. With a lot of different approaches and send those to the clients and get feedback on that and then they hopefully become a part of the process and we sort of refine that. Sometimes it takes two times of doing that, sometimes 5 or 6 times but we end up with that final piece.

Dani: Is there any distinct style you have discovered so far that you want to share with the world? I mean, I know you specialize in lettering.

Rob: To be honest there is nothing i would say is my particular distinct style. Hopefully that’s something people can see. There’s a pattern. There’s a lot of things that occur There’s flourishing, i do a lot of flourishing with lettering words. I do a lot of metallics in there and a lot of gold. A lot of stippling and shading. It’s almost like having a bag of things to reach into. I feel like I’m not closed into it, I just do what I do. And if that looks distinctive to other people then great.

Dani: What is next for you? When this whole situation is over, what is next for you?

Rob: It’s a strange situation because 2 months ago i would have had a lot more long-term plans but now that’s completely changed understandably. And my goals are much more short-term. So my goals next for me at the moment is continuing to work on the projects that will come. And filling in those gaps with personal projects to try and stay motivated, certainly to try and stay in which is a strange thing. Staying in and being motivated and distracted by my own work. But hopefully when this does pass, I’ll then move back to london. Well, 2 aspects really. From a design point of view, really connecting with clients and working on cool and creative projects as before. From a personal point of view, I’d like to, at some point, get a show together with a gallery. I have a massive body of work now. It’s a story, a journey to kind of show all that together. So when the right fit comes along for me, that’s something i’d like to look up.

Personal projects are something that really push me, they really motivate me personally. They act as things that clients can see and hopefully can tailor those personal projects to their brand, or you know their projects. There’s never a process wasted in working for yourself. Even if there’s no client, no brief, no money, or anything like that. Those dont really matter. It’s never a waste of process because you develop something by the end of it.

Draper’s work for GAP USA featuring his process of developing the design using pencil.

Dani: What inspires you? What drives you to continue learning?

Rob: Probably what inspires me the most is progress. The more I follow this journey, the more elaborate the work becomes. The more I connect with cool people and take on projects. And that inspires me to keep pushing myself further. I now travel and talk about this process, talk about my situation and what I do. Being able to speak to people and situations which hopefully resonates with them as well. That’s become something I really enjoy. So that again is something that pushes me to try and take this further and further. I’m just interested in where it will go.

Dani: Do you have a particular dream project you wish to achieve?

Rob: Probably just a continuation of the projects i currently get. I’m so honored and grateful for some of the work I’ve got and I would just like to carry on within that rain. You know when i was young, i was really into bmx bikes and i’ve always loved to design bmx bikes. Now I’ve designed a range of bikes. Or Nike, again I was obsessed with hip hop and rap music and breakdancing and all those things. I always wanted to work for Nike too. And now being able to work for them is a dream come true. So again, it’s just being able to connect with people who like what i do, and i like what they do and us collaborating on a cool project. If i can continue to do that, I will be more than grateful.

Roll for the Soul. Draper’s contribution to WWF’s Earth Hour project, “Do The Green Thing”.

Dani: Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those stuck in a creative rut?

Rob: Develop personal work. Designers will often moan about the client, the brief, the money, or the timeframe. But actually, none of those things exist in what you would actually do. For me, when i started this journey and i had absolutely no work on. I had a website but nobody visited, nobody was emailing me. And so, developing personal projects would actually motivate me and keep me busy. It would be something for me to create– so I can hopefully connect with people and clients. And something was developing in the background, it was almost like a muscle memory. I was developing a style, getting better at what I wanted to do. So when the jobs did come, I was efficient.

Dani: It’s like you trained yourself

Rob: Yeah i kind of went through that training during personal projects. And so that’s when it’s become an important thing for me. So what i’d say is you know, whatever you’re doing just try and keep chipping away. There’s a lot of jobs I do, a lot of personal projects I do that don’t work. They’re a mega disaster that I never put online. But i save them and i go back to them because there’s always something to be learned even with the projects that go slightly wrong. Keep it working, is probably the thing that i would say. Even if it feels pointless, even if it feels stupid, its never a waste of time. You’re always heading towards a goal. Wherever the goal is, you’re heading towards it.

Dani: What advice can you give to the aspiring designers who plan to work in this industry?

Rob: Probably the same. Keep working and keep trying things. Work out what your personality is. Work out what you’re trying to say. Just have fun with pushing that process. Learn what your voice is. And be accepting that not every job you do is gonna be an exciting, creative, wonderful venture sitting at the start. So it’s like well actually how do i keep myself creative and fulfilled. And again, its developing creative projects you feel that somehow kind of represent you. And putting those out there.You’ve got these wonderful platforms like instagram, facebook or places like your website. You can get these services for free, or practically free, and you can create a shop window for what you do. And hopefully as i say, by doing that you can connect with clients, connect with people, connect with an audience. Certainly at the start when you’re like “what do i do” well just enjoy that process, try to get as much of your personality as possible.

Dani: What great advice! Thank you. And thank you everyone that was Rob Draper. I’m so thankful that you took the time out of your day to share your story with us.