Before the lock down – I had the delight of interviewing Newcastle based artist and graphic designer Velcrobelly. I’ve admired David McClure for years and his studio, which is based within The Biscuit Factory’s studios was always a must visit for me during Open Studios. David’s studio is always bright, colourful and full of his lush prints – The Cuckoo series and the re-imagined Jaws poster cemented my love for David’s work.
You might also recognise his graphic design work too – he designed the Northern Stage’s Hound of the Baskerville theatre show graphics, a few New Writing North project designs and The Town Mouse Ale House in Newcastle logo! You can view his other projects here – super talented!
Velcrobelly’s online shop is currently closed in terms of posting prints and things out for obvious reasons – but you can still commission David for graphic design projects. Here over to his website for more info!
Now onto our Culture Vulture interview with the man himself – Velcrobelly!
New Writing North Project – Young Writers – Velcrobelly
Hiyer, please introduce yourself to my readers and fellow Culture Vultures!
Hello! I’m David McClure. I run a solo graphic design studio called Velcrobelly. That’s my fanciful way of saying that I’m a freelance creative designer who sticks together ideas, images, and text to engage with people.
When I’m not designing for clients, I make illustrations and sell them. My artwork is inspired by movies, pop-culture, skulls, birds; or some hellish-colourful amalgamation of all those things.
Well I’m in love with your work– Need Comic Soup skull in my house immediately post lock down! Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?
Art has always been a driving force in my life, even though as a teenager I had no comprehension of what an art career looked like. I grew up in rural Northern Ireland, where art wasn’t something people did as a job. It wasn’t frowned upon or discouraged but I didn’t have a basis for comparison.
Velcrobelly – Comic Soup
There weren’t many opportunities to visit galleries, museums or creative spaces to see what an artist did. I had the notion that all artists worked in dingy spaces and were like characters from Withnail & I or The Young Ones.
What I did understand was that all the cool things I cherished were illustrated and designed somewhere: movie posters, comics, game boxes, albums, book covers – people were creating these things and getting paid to do it. I wanted in on that.
Graphic design was a way to combine my love of making images with an actual job.
In 1997, The Troubles were still part of life in Northern Ireland. My family was fortunate to be unaffected by the ongoing conflict, but my Dad suggested I consider studying in England rather than Belfast.
I’ve never been great with geography. England’s green and pleasant land might as well have been the surface of Mars. I have a vague memory of flipping through the UCAS prospectus and picking universities at random…
One of those places turned out to be Newcastle. I applied to study on the Graphic Design degree course at Northumbria University – then known by the less catchy moniker of The University of Northumbria at Newcastle.
My degree course provided a choice between graphic design and illustration modules; and I found myself specialising in the latter. I’ve always loved making images – whether they’re drawn, painted or assemblages – while purely typographic ‘Swiss’ graphic design eluded me.
After graduation, with student loans to repay, I was lucky to get a part-time job as junior designer at a small agency in Newcastle – where I would create flyers for bars and nightclubs like Tuxedo Princess and Planet Earth (ask your parents, kids).
As an illustrator working that job, I had such imposter syndrome… waiting for someone to call me out on my sh*tty typography. Personal hang-ups aside, it was a great place to cut my teeth. I had to learn how to create interesting visuals from the most meagre of design briefs – to conceptualise an idea and execute on it quickly. The pace of work was pretty frantic but there was opportunity to experiment and develop as a creative.
Velcrobelly – Northern Stage
With practice, even typography became less of a mystery. I grew to understand the importance of information hierarchy (‘make the £1 Vodka Redbull headline BIGGER!!!’). With time and experience, my imposter syndrome diminished – although I’m still sheepish around designers who specialise in more ‘graphic’ fields like branding, editorial and typography.
Alongside my day job at the agency, I was working on my illustration portfolio and getting small commissions in magazines. One of my illustrations in The Crack caught the eye of a consultant who was starting an audience development project for Tyneside Cinema. The goal of that project was to engage a young, contemporary audience through their shared love of art, culture, movies and events.
That project led to working with Tyneside Cinema on their print design – a relationship that spanned 15 years – and allowed me to become a sole trader full time. I set up a home studio and started trading as Velcrobelly.
The TL;DR version of my career is referrals, referrals, referrals. The North East has a close-knit creative community. If you produce quality work reliably and are a decent – if occasionally moody – human; clients are happy to recommend you to their peers.
Now THAT is a great journey into the creative industries story – and I remember the Tuxedo Princess – being 14/15 on the revolving dance floor! Can you tell us about any recent projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Northern Stage on key art for a few of their recent and forthcoming productions, like The Hound of The Baskervilles, The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff, Red Ellen, and The Invisible Man.
I love to work on projects where the client is creatively invested and open to collaboration. They’re fun because I can explore different image-making techniques. Johnny Longstaff was a digital collage using archive materials. Red Ellen was an illustration inspired by socialist propaganda posters. The Invisible Man leaned heavily into photomontage and movie poster design techniques to create a foreboding atmosphere.
Velcrobelly – Northern Stage
Last year, I had the opportunity to venture out of my solo comfort zone and work with Flo-Culture as part of a small creative team on Alston Explorer – a mobile app which supports growth of the tourism economy in the Alston area of North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty. The app is designed for active families; encouraging participants to stay longer, explore further and discover more about Alston during their visit.
I was responsible for the app’s art direction: designing screen layouts, characters and icons, while chipping in my tuppence worth on user experience, gamification and story. It was fun to explore the nooks and crannies of Alston. To create an aesthetic and narrative inspired by the area – and then to apply that design to a product people can use to discover the town for themselves.
Alston Explorer – Velcrobelly
I love Vulture projects that take me out of my comfort zone too and the ones where people allow me to really flex my creative muscles – so I hear you there! So you’re based in The Biscuit Factory, in their studios spaces – when did you move in there?
My first studio at The Biscuit Factory was a shared space with Sean Elliott Photography. Sean’s a terrific photographer – he shot my wedding – and a long-term Biscuit Factory resident.
In late 2012, he had his eye on a large studio space and wanted to co-habit with someone to reduce overhead costs. He’d remembered that I worked from home and asked if I’d be interested in sharing space at The Biscuit Factory.
After a few years I was fortunate enough to transition to my own studio space – one with windows!
I do love your studio – visitor during Open Studios and lurker looking in the windows when heading to Ernest! Tell me about your studio experience?
A workspace away from home was a possibility I’d debated the merits of for years. I’m not the sort of person to down tools at 5pm when there’s work to do, so I was always ‘at work’. An external studio was an opportunity to separate Church and State – to establish some boundaries between life and work.
That separation didn’t quite work as intended. I still spend far too much time in my studio. I’ve realised that I’m happy being ‘at work’; on my own, pottering away at projects, talking to myself…
On the plus side, I don’t take work home with me. When I close my studio door for the night, I’m done. No checking emails… No chipping away at projects. So, it wasn’t a total failure.
Having a studio space has affected my creative practice. When I first moved into The Biscuit Factory, I was working exclusively on graphic design projects for clients. Personal projects were something I toyed with but never finished.
Events like Ouseburn Open Studios and The Late Shows – where the public can visit artist spaces – encouraged me to work on self-initiated illustrative projects. That work is a great way to explore illustration techniques, and making images brings me a lot of pleasure. My studio acts as a gallery space and make-shift shop.
It is a lovely space – before this COVID-19 craziness, I was in the process of signing on to space to try to and gain some work life balance. Any advice to others thinking about taking a studio/creative office space?
I enjoy working from a studio. It focuses my attention in a way that I never truly achieved working from home. I find that I’m more regimented. There’s less time wasted disappearing down internet rabbit holes; and if my concentration starts to slip, I go for a walk into town to clear my head.
With hindsight, while I did work hard from my home office, there were always easy distractions. Dishes don’t clean themselves, and don’t get me started on the temptation of a Playstation when things are quiet…
Cost is a big factor. Renting a studio space adds extra pressure to earn, but I’ve received feedback from some clients that they felt confident engaging my services based on my studio address and their personal awareness of The Biscuit Factory.
I appear more professional by virtue of location. Personally, I think that’s flawed logic but it’s understandable. Having a presentable, private space to meet with clients doesn’t hurt either.
Velcrobelly – Northern Stage
I always look at graphics from the audience perspective when working on a project – I feel like I have a good sense of the following question from that perspective and why it justifies the investment. In your opinion, what is “good graphic design” and why is it important?
Wow! That’s a broad question… How a design achieves success depends on context and intent.
For me, ‘good’ graphic design connects your audience with visual information contextualised for them to acknowledge, to understand, to engage with, and to act upon.
The visual form those elements might take depends on the project. ‘Good’ design is important because it enables us to decode information appropriately – as intended.
Traffic signs are designed to be clear, consistent, and highly legible at distance and speed. They’re functional and informative. You don’t need to feel emotionally engaged by signage at Junction 48 on the M1.
A ‘good’ book cover design grabs your attention from its place on the book shop shelf. It’s attractive, intriguing and emotionally resonant. The design intent is to catch your eye (to acknowledge), to encourage you to pick it up (to engage), and finally to buy (to act). The book’s title and author credit – whether beautifully integrated into the design or as overlaid text – are there for the reader to easily recognise (to understand).
On the inner pages of that same book, ‘good’ graphic design should go unnoticed by the reader. The design intent is facilitating a fluid reading experience, where the reader progresses seamlessly from word to word, page to page. If you find yourself confused by a book because of the design rather than the author’s own words, then something’s gone horribly wrong.
Good design is all contextual, and all design is subjective.
You’ve hit the nail on the head with that answer and really explains why it is so bliddy important – to me “good” design facilitates audience and relational development, but also at the core is a communication tool – it’s got to say something meaningful, connect and of course, enable the audience to understand what you’re trying to say – so many graphic designers get lots in the conceptual and forget that the importance of call to actions and for a theatre show (for example) how to book….So moving on to your own work – Tell me about your film themed stuff?
Oh, man… I suck at self-promotion and explaining my own work. Information you may have found useful prior to this interview…
I love the language of film (and pop culture more broadly). It’s embedded in our cultural conscious. I make stuff that’s inspired by that visual language and remix it.
Tell me what your fave top three films are? (I’m a huge film nerd!)
Choosing my favourite three films is really tough… I have so many great memories and associations. Not to mention movies that are superb comfort food – endlessly re-watchable with as much attention as you care to invest.
But, for the sake of an actual answer…
I’d wager most people would choose Ridley Scott’s ‘haunted house in space’ as the best instalment in the long-running Alien franchise – if I’m honest, I probably would too – BUT I saw Aliens first, at much too young an age.
Aliens literally had me hiding behind the sofa the first time I saw it – implanting an embryo of strange fascination and obsession with these creatures. I convinced my mum to let me buy the video tape when I was about 12 and I’ve seen that film at least 50 times. Game over, man. Game over.
As a young art kid, the creature design by H.R. Giger was entrancing. His airbrush art was so strange, so beautifully rendered, so adult… Perfectly suited for a teenage boy…
Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut, 1992)
Blade Runner is a film that I was aware of long before I ever saw it. As a geeky kid in the early- to-mid 1990s, I was hugely into computers. I had a Commodore Amiga that I used to play games and make art on.
I was an avid reader of computer magazines. That was where I first encountered Blade Runner. Writers with better access to media and culture than I had were regularly writing about the film; about sci-fi, William Gibson and cyberpunk…
When I finally saw Blade Runner, I was baffled by it. It was beautiful but… slow. I’d created an expectation of the ultimate pew-pew science fiction masterpiece and my teenage-self discovered a detective noir with occasional flying cars?!
Like Aliens, I became a bit obsessed by it. The burden of expectation from years of cultural association diminishes with each re-watch and what’s left is a beautifully realised, iconic world to lose yourself in.
It’s 1994. I’m 15 and living on a dairy farm in rural Northern Ireland. I don’t know sh*t about the world. There are four TV channels. On one of them, a camera pans above a beautifully detailed city. Light blossoms as an animated nuclear explosion engulfs the screen.
Slow drumbeats penetrate the silence as the camera pans slowly up from a blackened crater. My mind is blown by the quality of the background artwork. ‘AKIRA’ fills the screen in massive, bold condensed letters… A biker gang rampage around Neo-Tokyo on motorcycles, streaming coloured light in their wake…
I’d never seen anything like Akira. Before it, animation was Looney Tunes and He-Man. Funny, cartoonish characters in leafy pants. Anime is everywhere now, but back then it was the stuff of playground legend. A chance late night TV encounter that sparked a lifelong interest in Japanese culture. That and the soundtrack is absolutely killer…
I’d struggle with that question even with a gun to my head…. Good answers! Tell me about your work with cultural venues?
I do what I can to help them sell tickets and put bums on seats – or whatever the equivalent transaction is… I help to communicate with their audience. In practical terms that means working with marketing teams to design key art, advertising and promotional materials.
Any other folks you have designed for?
In recent years I’ve worked with The Town Mouse Ale House, Sorella Sorella, and The Owl & Otter – all independent North East businesses that I hope to see flourish once we emerge from our Corona virus caves.
I work with lots of venues and small businesses too – that’s my biggest concern and ambition for the region! What are you doing to future proof your business during this weird time and any advice to others?
Not enough! And that was before a global pandemic locked us all in our homes and kicked seven bells out of the arts industry. (At the time of writing we’re in week one of UK Corona virus lockdown).
I’ve never been particularly strong when it comes business strategy. I tend to focus my energy on delivering a great service at the expense of all else – and that doesn’t leave much in the tank for planning and promotion.
My advice is always to do as I say not as I do!
Anything you want to tell me about Velcrobelly across 2020?
It’s crazy that in the space of a few weeks 2020 has become an unknown quantity.
I want to tell you that we leave our homes as better people who help to build a kinder society. That the art we make and stories we tell in 2020 will be quite unlike any other year.
Until then, in the wise words of Bill & Ted; be excellent to each other.
Thank you Dave – hopefully 2020 will end on a bodacious note for us all. You can check out Velcrobelly over on his website.
Big Culture Vulture love – until next time! More interviews are incoming!