In addition to his impressive portfolio of distinctive graphic design and illustration work, Neal also runs the brilliant Present & Correct online store (one of my newest site sponsors!). Now I know you guys are more than a little stationery-obsessed… so if you haven’t checked it out yet you REALLY, seriously need to. P&C is packed with such an amazing collection of retro-inspired stationery gold, and what’s more, every single photograph on the site is styled to perfection by Neal himself! This is a man with a eye for detail!
So although the extent of my relationship with Neal is pretty much a total 6 emails back and forth over the last 2 weeks, he has won some serious Design Files brownie points in that time for the following reasons -
1) He sponsored my site! (Thanks Neal!!)
2) He re-sized all the images for this interview to exactly the correct size for my layout.
3) Every single email from him has been ridiculously polite and sweet and accommodating.
4) He dreams of brilliant, simple creative goals like illustrating a cook book, and doing up an airstream caravan.
5) His favourite things are food and notebooks.
6) He is really cute. (see below).
Awww, such a ‘lovely young lad’. If you read the interview below, you too, with become an instant Neal Whittington groupie! I guarantee it!
Neal is coming to Melbourne next month for a little holiday en-route to NZ with his Kiwi-born partner, and I am going to force him to have a coffee with me. Please support my ‘coffee with Lucy’ campaign by visiting Present & Correct (you won’t regret it!), and by leaving lots of comments here saying how cool he is and stuff :)
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you are doing now?
It was a well trodden path really. When I was little I loved to make and draw. I collected, cut up and generally made a mess. I ended up studying graphic design and then I moved to London to find work. I had two full time jobs, both great but very different. They taught me a lot; be nice, work hard and don’t drink too much.
The P&C acorn was sown in my final year at college when my main project was a wrapping paper concept store, called Present&Correct. I kept the name and bought the domain, some of the ideas for the store were a bit wayward so they got ditched.
The pay for my first job in London was shocking, I had to make fake bus passes (the crafting came in handy) because my rent was what I was earning and I couldn’t afford them. So I started making things to sell in shops-envelopes, badges, other bits. That was the rebirth of P&C!
You’re a graphic designer and illustrator by trade, and spent time working at highly respected design/branding consultancy Winkreative before creating Present & Correct. What have been some of your favourite jobs / clients as a designer / illustrator?
My time at Wink was dominated by my work for Porter, the Canadian airline. It was a long time coming, and I worked on it from the very first pitch –I designed the logo, plane graphics, lunchboxes, water bottles, pretty much everything! And the raccoon of course which lives on now in their advertising. As projects go it was a lot of fun, the client gave us free reign and were really open to daft ideas. That’s quite rare, especially for something as traditionally dry as a business airline.
Recently I’ve done some illustration for the Remake it:home book and for a great company in London called Someone. Also a Jamie Oliver booklet which came about because they saw the store, that was a lovely surprise and a nice little project.
What do you think it is about cute stationery that gets people so excited! (me included!). As a designer, what was it that initially drew you to stationery?
For me its like some weird genetic thing! In the UK we have a shop called WHSmiths, which is a bog standard high street stationery store – it’s rubbish now but in the 80′s it was heaven. When I was small a 5 pound voucher would go a long way. I would buy notepaper and rubbers in cases that had that true 80′s smell. I rarely used them, too precious. My stash would be laid out, rearranged and then moved aside for the next lot. Every summer holiday we would get a few quid pocket money, and it would always go on a writing set.
Now I think that good stationery Is about reminiscing, back to when it wasn’t all about the computer. Also, for most designers, anything with an interesting print finish, colour, binding technique has a fetishistic appeal.
Stationery has a real sensory quality, that satisfying feeling of a block of paper or a fresh pencil. Computer, phones don’t have that so much, nor are they quite so instant.
P&C has been described as ‘paper porn’ and also ‘the weirdest site I have ever seen’ – so I guess not everyone likes to celebrate bulldog clips in the same way!
What has been one of your favourite Present & Correct products?
It’s always the current one that we have just had made, so the giant button card and our stamp planner. The alphabet poster is still our biggest seller, and it was what really kicked off the store, so I guess that’s a long term favourite.
Aside from our own work there is always a new find that I’m totally in love with and want a million of them. Even if it’s just a paper bag.
What does a typical day at work involve for you? How do you divide your time between Present & Correct and freelance design work?
P&C takes up the majority of the time now, which is great because I love it. If I have freelance work to do then I try to dedicate a morning to it, so the afternoon can be spent on my stuff. It’s easier to say that than practice it!
The day starts around 8.30, the office is our spare room so the commute is small. I check emails and then I go through a list of favourite blogs to catch up on (repeated mid afternoon for the US blogs). Generally the day is working on new ideas or updating the shop, and packing orders of course. It’s not too routine, which is important because I work a lot.
Top days are those spent hunting. An early start to go to an antique or flea market. With a flask and a notebook for lists on the way!
Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends, magazines, books or the web etc?
All of the above! And also time out, not the magazine, but a bit of a rest from it all. A day off, or more, works wonders because you can take a step back and see things differently. It also makes you miss it, so getting back to work can feel like a fresh start.
The web is the most insane source of stuff, never ending, new, constantly updated. It’s amazing but also sometimes a bit too much! I like books more but the web is there in front of me every day. Weirdly the work in old design books seems more original and I do love retro graphics.
Travelling time is good for thinking about new ideas, especially long haul flights! And being away in a new place, picking bits up for the shop, is so addictive. We went to Shanghai last year and found so many cool things (and ate amazing stuff). We’re lucky in Europe because a weekend away to Germany or France is fairly cheap, so we can go to markets and see what shops are selling. And I love that things vary so much within such a small distance, cross a border and it’s a whole new lot of stationery!
What would be your dream creative project?
A real life shop! Made from bricks and full of the things I love. Constantly changing, fun windows and a nice bright door. There is a new bookmarks folder slowly filling up with ideas for a store and I hope one day soon it will happen.
Other dream projects include illustrating a cookbook, building a new home, doing up an airstream caravan, a beach hut and a cool b&b.
What are you looking forward to?
More of this, more P&C products and getting a cat which we will call Yvonne. And summer!
Your favourite neighbourhood in London and why?
The east end is my most visited of areas I suppose. It has a really good mix of shops and cafes, it’s been gentrified a lot but is still grimey enough to have lower rent so that small, cool businesses can move in. It feels very old London, and it’s fun and not too homogenised like the centre.
The parks are also particularly special in London and Clerkenwell is brill too-wouldn’t mind a house there!
Your top 3 favourite London shops and why?
Arthur Beale, on Shaftesbury Avenue, is an amazing shop for all things maritime. It’s full of ropes in all different colours, stripey tops, bells, hooks and shackles. That kind of hardware is very satisfying.
D&A Binders, Holloway road. Less a shop and more a cavernous internal junk yard of old shop fittings. Stunningly restored cabinets, drawers, wire framed stands, lamps and desks. They have another store in Marylebone (a posher area) and the prices here are a lot friendlier!
Dover Street Market, by Comme des Garcons. The only things I have ever bought from here are tea and cake from the smart café on the top floor, where you get a lovely view of the rooftops around Mayfair. The store itself is 4 floors of crazy, fun design. Small concessions from big and small fashion designers-as well as vintage books, sunglasses etc. London needed a cool concept store like this, its’ great for a mosey you can lose a good few hours in here.
Plus any food shop and any stationery shop.
What/where was the last great meal you ate in London?
We eat A LOT! There is always somewhere we want to try. Last week we had a really good cheapy chinese (xinjiang region) in Camberwell. It was hearty and very tasty. On Saturday we had a good breakfast, and super coffee, in Caravan, Clerkenwell. The last great posh, treat dinner was at The Petersham Nurseries. A dining room in a greenhouse in a big Victorian nursery, with Australian chef Skye Gyngell. Not cheap but good for an occasion. And Galvin on Baker st was also delicious, sorry there are loads! I like food and notebooks.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Reading the supplements in the kitchen, with a coffee, having been to the post office.
London’s best kept secret?
If you get on a bendy bus at the back then generally you can travel for free.