Studio Visit

Heath Killen

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
3rd of June 2011
Various fictional movie posters by Heath Killen
'Dreamtime 79' - another fictional film poster by Heath Killen
Re-designed CD cover - Heath Killen's tribute to Australian jazz ensemble The Necks
LOVE THIS ONE!  Another fictional / speculative movie poster by Heath Killen

Last week I went to TEDx Sydney and sat next to the very lovely Siobhan Curran (Newcastle-based multi-tasking Mum, foodie and recent TDF guest blogger!).  She's organising a TEDx in Newcastle in November... and we chatted about her much loved new hometown (she's originally from Sydney).   Shamefully, I've never visited Newcastle myself, but I am convinced there a many great things bubbling up there, because I keep coming across all these incredibly talented creative 'Novocastrians'.  One shining example is Newcastle-based illustrator / designer Heath Killen! (Thanks for the tip-off Siobhan!).

Just have a LOOK at Heath's incredible body of work!  I am in awe.  Such an brilliant, vibrant and varied collection... from graphic posters to web design to iPhone apps and illustration for publishing, advertising and editorial.  He even does a bit of freelance writing!  But Mr Killen is not one to be pigeonholed.  He's not just the film poster guy.  He's not just the Sydney Festival website guy.   He says he's actually keen to expand his repertoire even further - he's got his sights set on environmental graphics, large scale design and interactive design.  WELL WHY NOT?

Heath has a fantastic website here, and a blog here.  AND predictably, like all the bestest illustrators in the land, he is represented by the Jacky Winter Group.

Please read on for an insight into Heath's stunning work and creative influences.  In addition to being a design whizz, he is awfully articulate.  I did not  even have to correct one single spelling mistake.  Not one. Unheard of!  Thanks Heath!

Tell me a little about your background - what path led you to what you’re doing now? My background is long and winding - but I’ve always had a strong interest in art and design.

Strangely enough my path to design really began while I was working at The Wilderness Society. Through that experience I met a group of people who were producing zines and collage art - and something about their work really switched a light on for me. I found the idea of recycling culture and self publishing extremely exciting and I quickly started producing my own work. My ambitions quickly outweighed my technical skills - so I went searching for formal education and ended up in a Sydney art school. Design was actually a very small component of my course, but it was thing that made most sense to me.  I started freelancing at the end of my second year - and have really learnt just about everything I know now from making countless mistakes along the way! Where might we have seen your work? I seem to have a lot of work shared on Tumblr these days - which is lovely. Around my home town of Newcastle my work for Tantrum Theatre over the last two years is probably my most visible. Beyond that I’d say some of the work I’ve been doing with digital design studio The Nest - including my contributions to the Sydney Festival website. Oh and I helped design the Grafik relaunch issue cover.

Grafik relaunch issue cover

You are a very versatile chap aren’t you!?  You produce work for a huge range of clients including music, publishing, advertising and editorial.  ALSO, your work spans graphic design, freelance illustration and freelance writing!  How on earth does all this work.  Don’t you have a favourite?  Which are the projects that really get you out of bed in the morning? I’m actually quite keen to start expanding into new areas! This year I’ve been doing a lot of digital work - including iPhone apps - but I’m quite eager to move into environmental graphics and other large scale design. I’m also keen to get into interactive design and data driven graphics. Ultimately I just love to explore new ideas and techniques. I tend to want to do something quite different to the last thing I did too - so if I’ve just completed a colourful, intricate illustrative piece I’m probably going to want to move onto something quite minimal and typographic.

What genuinely gets me out of bed is the prospect of meeting a new client, or being presented with a new brief. The opportunity to do something even better than the last project.  I do enjoy it when I have a new personal project too. I’ve usually got a few nebulous ideas in the  background, but it’s great when they becomes a fully formed idea that I can work on. What has been a favourite recent commission / client and why? I recently worked on a quick but fun branding project for the Powerhouse Museum. Great bunch of people. Seb Chan in particular is brilliant.

I really enjoyed putting together my Lost Films series a few months ago, which is a collection of hypothetical film posters for directors such as Jean Luc Godard and Dennis Hopper. Sort of an alternate history project. This was completed for Print Process, an online print shop in the UK run by Mark Blamire - also a brilliant individual.

Some of Heath's prints for his Lost Films series, available to buy through Print Process

An ongoing project that began last year that I really love is my work for New Weird Australia. Stu Buchanan (brilliant) commissioned me to design and identity for his FBi radio show, and since then the project (and thus the work) has expanded into a full record label, tour promotions and more. Lots of fun and a great opportunity to collaborate with some amazing Australian musicians.

Quirky artwork for New Weird Australia by Heath Killen
Artwork for New Weird Australia by Heath Killen. I quite love that diamond + tennis ball +  banana combo!

I love my ongoing collaborations with Tantrum Theatre too - yet more brilliant people. I have been working with them for two seasons, and just completed the 2011 season artwork and identity earlier this year. That job provides just the right amount of fun and challenge, and I get to work on both illustration and design. It's a rewarding job because they're completely independent, the staff is so dedicated and they provide such a great service to the community.

Bold posters for Tantrum Theatre

What does a typical day at work involve for you? It really varies day to day, week to week. Being a freelancer some days are just taken up with trying to hunt down new jobs. My schedule can be sporadic, and tends to bleed into nights, weekends and holidays -  but over the last six months or so I’ve been trying to separate my work and home life more, and stick to a 9-5 type schedule. Of course I’m still prone to getting ideas in the middle of the night and working on them there and then.

My process is pretty typical I suppose - starting off lots of coffee, reading blogs and Twitter, and daydreaming - but when I get into it I am very focused. I do lots of research, sketching and thinking. I tend to spend a lot of time agonising over very small and seemingly inconsequential details. Music plays a big part in my process. I always have something on in the background.

Another piece by Heath Killen for New Weird Australia

Which other designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by? There are too many to mention. Julian House. Kim Hiorthoy. Mark Farrow. Neil Kellerhouse. Ben Drury. Isidro Ferrer. TDR. M/M Paris. Tomato. And that’s just a few names off the top of my head. Adrian Shaughnessy is a huge source of inspiration too.

I also love Australian design and illustration . I think we have an amazing industry. So many inspiring studios and people. Kate Banazi. W$YK. Racket. Zawada. The list goes on and on.

More recently I’ve been drawing inspiration from other fields. Ferran Adria’s crazy molecular gastronomy. I’ve been getting into architecture too. But mostly I’ve been focusing less on visual inspiration and drawing from ideas. Philosophy. Nature. History. Folkore. Anything unusual or interesting. Where do you look for inspiration when first tackling a new brief – books, magazines, blogs… art, travel, nature? All those things. Definitely. It depends on how long I have to spend on a project. Blogs are great because they’re so immediate and accessible. I tend to spend a fair bit of time in second hand bookshops, and like most designers I have a fairly stacked bookshelf. Inspiration is everywhere - a short walk down the street can provide it, even if it’s just to clear your head.

These days I try and look as deeply as possible at the information in front of me. The solution should be in the brief - but external sources can definitely help coax it out.

What are you most proud of professionally? Simply having made it this far. It’s been a bumpy road, and I’ve threatened to throw in the towel many times - but I’m proud that I haven’t... yet!

I’m also proud of my progression. I still have a long way to go till I’m where I want to be, but I’ve come a long way from where I started.

Re-designed CD cover - Heath Killen's tribute to Australian jazz ensemble The Necks

What would be your dream creative project? I have many. I’d love to design a Criterion Collection set - or something similar. As I mentioned before I’d love to do some environmental graphics. I think I’d like to design a range of products of some kind too.

There are lots of clients I'd like to work for - most of them seem to be music related. If I could do a cover for an artist on a label Warp Records, Smalltown Supersound or ECM - I'd be very happy. I’d also like to do some more work for cultural groups, environmental groups and non-profits. Anyone with a strong, positive message that deserves to be heard.

What are you looking forward to ?

Moving. And travelling.

Newcastle Questions

You live in Newcastle!  I must admit I don’t know enough about Newcastle.  Tell us your favourite Newcastle neighbourhood and why. I don’t know if I have one. Like anywhere there are surprises to be found all over, but if I had to pick one I’d probably say Cooks Hill - where I used to live. It’s right near the city and great for a walk. Beautiful old houses and trees. Close to cafes and shops. Lots of very amusing cats around the place too. What and where was the last great meal you ate in Newcastle? There are a few places that I enjoy eating in Newcastle, but I have to say the very best in recent memory has been at East End Enoteca. They do a seasonal menu, and everything is always absolutely delicious. I can’t even recall everything we ate last time. Polpette. Arancini. Duck breast with brussel sporuts, hazelnuts, bacon and radicchio. Sourdough with roasted garlic and the world’s most amazing olive oil. All washed down with some Italian red wine. Lovely staff and atmosphere too. Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning? It’s quite possibly that I’ll still be in bed - but if I’m up I’ll most likely be having breakfast with my wife somewhere - drinking coffee, talking and watching the world go by.

Newcastle’s best kept secret? Maybe East End Enoteca? There’s also a brilliant Asian grocer on King St. It looks so tiny and non-descript on the outside that you’d just walk past if you didn’t know it was there - but it’s massive inside and they stock just about everything you can imagine.

For me Newcastle is all about the time of day and year you go somewhere. I like to pop down to Newcastle baths at around 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Over autumn you get the most amazing panoramas. Pink skies and steely blue ocean meeting at an endless horizon.

Fictional movie poster for The Jacky Winter Group!  (It totally fooled me!)

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