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You’ve probably heard about Google’s 20% time (it almost seems like old news now). Well, my studio has its own humble version of ‘20% time’, we call it ‘A-level projects time’ Bit of a weird name, especially as none of us at Harrison & Co are 17 or sitting A-levels.

The name was inspired by the artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, who famously completed an art A-level a few years ago. This was long after they were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003 and already very established artists in their own right. I love that kind of backwards thinking. I can’t find any links to this story on the interwebs, so you’re just going to have to trust me.

Our ‘A-level projects’ aren’t meant to be perfect, or good-looking, or trendy, or cool, or ground-breaking, or award-winning, or hipster-blog-friendly. We do them for fun. There are no rules about style, medium or what subject we choose – the only (very loose) rule is that you have at least one A-level project on the go, and if it’s a bit quiet in the studio, it’s something you can turn to for a bit of fun. A bit of no-strings-attached creativity.

Thought I’d share a few of our A-level projects that are on the boil in the studio at the moment. This first one is all about found typography, usually spotted in the street. This is the progress so far. Shaping up nicely, might use it in a project soon. Again, not meant to be stylish, hip, cool and certainly not done to impress anyone – just the pure pleasure of finding and looking.

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Letters found in the street, snapped on an iPhone and made into a bitmap

This next one is a bit weird. If you live in Brighton you’re almost certainly familiar with Iydea, the veggie cafe on Kensington Gardens. Last year I decided it was time to start getting fit and eating better. I discovered Idyea and started to go pretty much every lunchtime. Their food is amazing – wholesome and colourful. I kept looking down at the empty tray after I’d finished and would see these amazing colours and textures. Then the inevitable happened: I started to photograph them on my iPhone. I bought some coloured paper and started religiously shooting each empty tray after I’d finished. The owner of Idyea found the images I’d been making on Facebook and asked if he could frame one for the cafe.

25 empty Idyea takeaway food trays

25 empty Idyea takeaway food trays

Next is a lovely little illustration project that one of my designers, Scott, has been tinkering with: kind of illuminated letters intricately illustrated with quirky motifs. The lovely thing about this is the hidden message that lies within each piece, if you are eagle-eyed enough to spot it.

A-Z by Scott with added hidden message

A-Z by Scott with added hidden message

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Scott’s little dalliance with illuminated letters went on to become our Christmas gift to our clients in 2012. Scott illustrated a globe with the words ‘Peace on Earth’ intertwined into the image. We made a short run of 50 signed giclée prints and sent them out to our clients. The response was great, with several clients framing the prints for their homes and offices.

'Peace on Earth' our limited edition giclée print that we gave to our clients for Christmas 2012

‘Peace on Earth’ our limited edition giclée print that we gave to our clients for Christmas 2012

My next A-level project is all about gaffer tape. I love the stuff and it’s a return to something that I’ve already played with before. The possibilities are endless. For me this next piece of work will lead up to an Open House exhibition in May which is part of Brighton Festival. Pop down and say hello if you are free.

Gaffer tape, the possibilities are endless!

Gaffer tape, the possibilities are endless!

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Back in December, Laura Snoad asked me to write a piece for Digital Arts magazine on ‘failure’. Here it is…

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Failure. How to fail better. It’s always confused me to be honest, this statement. I’m sure Samuel Beckett meant well when he had this flash of inspiration, but I bet quite a few people (me included) have scratched their heads and thought… “eh?! why would anyone want to fail, let along ‘fail better’?” So, have I ever failed before? Yes. Have I ‘failed better’ since? Not consciously.

For me, failure is less about the end result and more about the very beginnings of a project. Sometimes, I’ll try and set myself up for failure at the start of a project. What do I mean by that? For me it means being OK with following an idea, even though I can’t really see the end result in my minds eye. Potentially an idea that might meet with failure, after days of work. When you have a paying client waiting for a result, that’s quite a hard thing to stick to. No one wants to fail on a paying job – so sometimes we ease back into the comfort of ideas that we know will work in the end – rather than indulging in ideas that might end up in the long grass.

How do I navigate away from the comfort of an idea that I know will succeed and pursue an idea that could fail? I just keep scratching. When I think about creativity I think of it as an itch that always needs a scratch. I think you have to keep moving towards the ideas that might not work, and keep scratching unlit they start to yield something interesting. So, you could also look at that another way – taking the long road. The comfort of ideas that we know will work don’t take that long to come to fruition. The other approach takes time, and that isn’t a luxury we can all enjoy.

So, to sum up – failure is about:
– setting yourself up for failure at first in order to succeed in the end
– resisting the comfort of an idea that ‘you know will work’ and getting cosy with ‘an idea that might come to naught’
– creating the time and space that it takes to ‘fail’, which means buckling in and knowing that this might be a long ride
– knowing the difference between a project that ‘deserves a bit of failure’ and one that ‘just needs to succeed’