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Interview · Stuart Geddes of Chase & Galley

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 31st August 2012

Stuart Geddes of Chase & Galley.  Photo – Sean Fennessy

Dumbo Feather layouts by Chase & Galley.  Photo – Sean Fennessy

Forty-Six Square Metres of Land by Stuart Harrison, published by Thames & Hudson, designed by Chase & Galley.

Forty-Six Square Metres of Land by Stuart Harrison, published by Thames & Hudson, layouts by Chase & Galley.

Books designed by Chase & Galley, displayed in Stuart’s office.  Photo – Sean Fennessy

Well, it’s been a very wonderful MAN WEEK, thankyou for joining us on this little detour from regular programming :)  We’re ending the manly festivities with a profile on one of Melbourne’s quiet achievers, a man who is much respected within his field, and whose projects you will no doubt have admired, without perhaps knowing their origin.  He’s a serial collaborator, and has many creative friends and admirers… perhaps today he’ll make a few more!

Stuart Geddes is a thoughtful, intellectual designer, and a little bit ‘old school’ at heart.  He is a man of many talents and a great number of creative side projects.  Mainly, he runs Melbourne design studio Chase & Galley, which has built an impressive reputation for unique book and print design.  Some of the beautiful publications Stuart has designed in recent years include The Melbourne Design Guide, the re-design of Dumbo Feather magazine last year, and Forty-Six Square Metres of Land by Stuart Harrison, which has 280 PAGES.

Can you seriously imagine the mind-bending work involved in designing a 280 page book from start to finish?!   Forty-Six Square Metres of Land was a particularly special project, also demanding the creation of a brand new typeface, Newman, developed by Chase & Galley.   The book documents small homes, and the creative use of space.  Chase & Galley took this inspiration literally in their design response – using every page to the fullest, leaving no blank space, and starting the first project on the front cover, a decision which ultimately led to the book’s unique title.  The results of this painstaking approach really speak for themselves, and highlight Stuart’s incredible attention to detail and instinctive way of intertwining written content and design.

Prior to Chase & Galley, Stuart co-founded design practice Studio Anybody, spent two years as art director of Monument magazine, and was one of the talented team who co-founded Is Not Magazine, which won a Premier’s Design Award in 2006.  Aside from all these ridiculoulsly impressive and longwinded accolades, Stuart has lectured at both RMIT and Monash University, is on the board of West Space gallery, and spent two years as a councillor for AGDA Victoria.

ALSO.  Side projects.  Stuart has a well documented passion for MOTORBIKES, and last year, with his pal Luke Wood, combined this boyish interest with his design skillz, to create Head Full of Snakes, a self published magazine which explores the crossover between motorcycling, art, design and music.  Funnily enough, the title itself is about having ‘too many unruly thoughts or interests’!   The first issue was 108 dense pages – written, designed, printed, bound and distributed entirely by Stuart and Luke, with a handful friends and contributors.  Stuart actually printed the whole thing on his own Risograph machine. There is something a bit MAD about this isn’t there?  It’s kind of endearingly insane.

Massive thanks to Stuart for sharing his work and story with us today.  I feel this man has a mini cult following in Melbourne… so I really hope we have done him justice!

Stuart Geddes of Chase & Galley inadvertently channels a little Wes Anderson… Photo – Sean Fennessy
Tell us a little about your career background – what led you to graphic design originally, and to starting your own studio Chase & Galley?

I finished school not really knowing what graphic design was. I had been good at English and Art, but not really much else, and it took a little while to figure out that: English + Art = Words + Pictures (sort of) = graphic design (sort of). It still took a while to figure out that I liked it though, and what corner of it I could happily occupy.

In terms of my career so far, I started a studio (called Studio Anybody) straight out of uni with a few friends, which went for about 5 years. Towards the end of that I started (again with some friends) Is Not Magazine while I was at the end of a research masters. This overlapped with being the art director for Monument for a couple of years, after which I started Chase & Galley in 2007. Chase & Galley was originally started with Jeremy Wortsman, however he left pretty soon after on account of the growing Jacky Winter empire. A little after that we set up the first Compound Interest: centre for the applied arts, Jeremy, John McLennan (of the Golden Grouse) and I. A couple of years later we moved and expanded the Compound, finding a bunch of talented and nice friends to fill the bigger space.

What have been some favourite design projects for you in recent years?

It’s been a pretty prolific couple of years in the studio, between Meanjin, Dumbo Feather and Architecture Australia on top of quite a lot of books. It’s actually pretty difficult to choose, so much of it has been so satisfying. We do a lot of work in and around architecture, so just for a change of pace I’d have to say that a couple of books we’ve done for a raggedy bunch of surfers down the coast including Captain Goodvibes and To the Four Corners of the World have been pretty special.

Captain Goodvibes surf journal, designed by Chase & Galley.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Captain Goodvibes layouts by Chase & Galley.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.
Chase & Galley specialises in print publication design – what is it you love about designing books? Surely it is the most labour intensive project a designer could ever undertake!?

It is incredibly labour intensive, but I guess there are a couple of key things that draw me to this kind of work. Firstly it’s how publications are so completely about the relationship between the reader and the content, in a kind of anti-design way. Let me try to elaborate on that… generally, with the amount of content you’re dealing with on projects like these, you can’t shoe-horn the content into an ill-fitting container. So the design has to come from the content and match the idiosyncrasies of it. I’m generally very interested in idiosyncrasy and contradiction, so the attempt (and inevitable failure) to make a perfect book is quite appealing to me. There’s that great Beckett quote: “All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I like that very much.

The second thing is that, as pretentious as I know this sounds… hang on… I just quoted Beckett, this can’t be more pretentious than that! Anyway, I’m just really in love with the importance of books. Historically as well as in their current predicament. There’s that weight and permanence to them that’s quite humbling, like I feel some extra responsibility to them.

You are a man of many extracurricular interests! In addition to running your design studio, you have a passion for motorbikes. Last year you self published a unique motorbike journal called Head Full of Snakes – tell us about this project, how it came about and when we can expect a follow up edition?

Yes I started Head Full of Snakes with my friend Luke Wood, a Kiwi I did my masters with and who also makes a fantastic design journal called The National Grid. The title is about having too many unruly thoughts or interests, which suits us both pretty well in terms of our work and our approach to motorcycling. For us a lot of the appeal of doing it was in doing everything on it – the editing, some writing, designing, printing, binding and distribution. We had contributors of course, and the marvellous Penny Modra (of ThreeThousand) copy editing, but everything else was us. Being interested in the manual labour involved in customising and maintaining motorbikes, to us this seemed the only way to approach the magazine. Unfortunately we both got stupidly busy this year and haven’t been able to get the second issue out yet, but we’re hoping to have it out by the end of the year.

Head Full of Snakes – Stuart’s self published motorcycle magazine.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Head Full of Snakes – Stuart’s self published motorcycle magazine.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Chase & Galley? How is your studio structured, do you employ others or outsource specific tasks?

There are just two of us, myself and the unflappable Tristan Main…

Does that make you…

Yes, quite flappable.

The internal workings of the studio in recent years has become quite unstructured, an outcome of being too busy I think, but also an outcome of understanding better and being more articulate about the way we work perhaps. We talk about things a lot, and swap projects constantly, pass them back and forth. I think the thing that works is that we can surprise one another. Ideally we’d like things to be a little less busy in order to reflect more on what we’ve made.

Tristan is looking into doing a masters next year, and I’ve always got thoughts of further education floating around in the back of my head… these things are good to do as a form of self-enforced questioning and renewal.

Stuart shows us his Risograph machine (he holds a Riso ink cartridge – very 90’s!).  Stuart used this treasured old school printing machine to publish A Head Full of Snakes, and other indie titles.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Stuart’s cluttered desk  (Sorry Stuart!).  Photo – Sean Fennessy.
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?

There are a lot of great people around doing great things. Perhaps I shall limit this to three people who are men, this being Man Week and all!

In the context of Man Week you couldn’t really go past Max Olijnyk. His Note to Self jeans (and pants, and dog coats) are just the best, plus he can skate, write, and take pictures like a boss.

An artist I can’t stop thinking about at the moment is Toby Pola. He seems like an outsider bargain basement Ricky Swallow or Ron Mueck, and I mean that as a great compliment.

And although I haven’t spent nearly enough time down there this year, Christian downstairs from me at the Modern Motor Cycle Company. This is one of my favourite places in all of Melbourne, to spend time doing things but also to see what Christian is making.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (i.e. specific websites, magazines, blogs, books, TV or other media) you tune in to regularly?

1. I’m quite dependent on the trinity of American Public Radio: This American Life, Radiolab and The Moth.

2. Mythbusters. Can’t do without Mythbusters.

3. For the last ten years or so I’ve been reading a journal called Dot Dot Dot, which has recently morphed into something called Bulletins of The Serving Library.

4. I think what Gather & Fold are doing is really good and really interesting.

5. Motto Melbourne opened up downstairs from me a couple of months ago, and my library seems to be expanding at an alarming rate.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

That’s a bit hard to say, as it kind of depends on what we’re working on at the time. If I were to average out this year I would say I went into the studio at 8am and left at 10pm, 7 days a week. In between I drank too much coffee and ate poorly, all the while making pages. (Just look at the state of my desk!).

Stuart’s coffee habit.  (We didn’t touch this desk – pure documentation!) Photo – Sean Fennessy
What would be your dream creative project?

I would dearly love to redesign The Age, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen, given its current predicament.

What are you looking forward to?

Riding my bike(s) and making another issue of Head Full of Snakes.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

Collingwood. I’ve been here for a long time and I still love it – still good and weird. Sometimes I don’t get out enough, my house, studio and Cibi being on the same block, and the Gem being one block over.

Which suppliers do you frequent in Melbourne for the tools or materials of your trade?

Part of what we do is having a wide range of suppliers we can call on, but as for a couple of favourites:

We do a lot of our printing with a company called Print Graphics, the guy we deal with there, the irrepressible Nigel Quirk, is the most committed print rep I’ve dealt with. And when it comes to paper we’ve also got a great relationship with KW Doggett. They’re all the good things about small companies and large companies.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

My friend Kane came over to our house and made a killer macaroni and cheese a week or two back. That was great.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Most often Cibi. Or the Laundromat on Elgin Street.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Going to a press checks in the far eastern suburbs. If you can wrangle your way onto one, there’s nothing like going to a big cold factory, smelling that ink, and seeing the huge printing presses do their thing.

Stuart flicks through his back catalogue of work.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 31st August 2012

16 comments

  • Jo 2 years ago

    What is it with Melbourne men and beards and glasses. They’re very talented n’all but they look the same.

  • Georgia Perry 2 years ago

    I’m going to miss Man Week! I love all these beautiful beardy creative men!

  • Rachel 2 years ago

    Great interview! Have loved and admired much of Stuart’s work, and enjoyed a couple of lectures I’ve attended. This guy totally has a cult following!

    Shame Jo is so disturbed by facial hair, such an irrelevant comment!

  • Catherine 2 years ago

    Great interview. Nice beard, super yellow jacket!

  • Barbara 2 years ago

    I am in love. Your interveiw was so indepth,I lost myself in his wonderful world of creativity.

  • Leigh 2 years ago

    Lovely to hear about a printed book designer … doing the same thing as I do. Designing books is, as Stuart says, words and pictures coming together in perfect harmony. There’s nothing quite like it! A very intense, satisfying, though perhaps quickly dying, part of the design world. Help us in our survival… Buy more books!! And get smarter : )

  • rachael 2 years ago

    i think a once a week man day is in order!!
    viva la books…

  • Paula 2 years ago

    All these style cat bearded men are making me itchy :-)

  • Nikki W. 2 years ago

    My, what a lovely yellow (leather?) jacket. Stuart is one hot bearded unicorn! I want to be his lover. : )

  • Raymond 2 years ago

    What a hunk!

  • Lauren 2 years ago

    Do love a bespectacled bearded graphic designer!

  • Michelle 2 years ago

    Nigel from Print Graphics really is amazing! One of the loveliest print reps I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

  • Amanda 2 years ago

    I recently visited Melbourne for the first time and was impressed with it’s creative, friendly vibe. I did use TDF as a reference for what I packed into my 2 days, but I hardly scratched the surface, and articles like this make me want to return again soon to see more fabulousness! The architecture is fantastic and Melbourne hair is wicked:)

  • Jac 2 years ago

    Great blog Soph and Bruce love the interview with Stuart.

  • Mike 2 years ago

    Very cool blog grooves.

  • Lucy 2 years ago

    someone get that guy a reusable coffee cup

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