Studio Visit

Shannon Morton

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
4th of May 2012
Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Adrian Briscoe
Donna Hay Magazine spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Ben Dearnley
Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Damian Russell
Donna Hay Magazine cover - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Con Poulos
Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Damian Russell
Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Damian Russell

What a week it's been re-living our recent whirlwind tour of Newcastle!  Massive thanks for all your kind words, comments and encouragement - it's been ace to show you a snapshot of this very special town through TDF's rose-tinted spectacles :)  Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Today I am SUPER pumped to finish the week with one seriously inspiring Newcastle creative!  After singing the praises of Renew Newcastle and sharing the work of so many emerging creatives on the Guest Blog all week, I thought it would be perfect to finish up with someone sitting at opposite end of the spectrum - a respected, established creative with one seriously impressive CV, who has recently chosen Newcastle as her base after years spent living in Sydney and the UK.

In my mind, Shannon Morton is basically the poster girl for a Newcastle sea-change!  As a magazine art director and creative director, Shannon has worked for some of the best titles in the business, including Donna Hay Magazine in Sydney and Livingetc in London, before deciding last year to make the move to Newcastle with her young family. After many years juggling her rewarding but very demanding creative career in the big smoke, Shannon is loving her new lifestyle - it's afforded her the opportunity to spend a little more time with her husband and daughter, and a little time away from the rat race has given her the courage and clarity of mind to launch her own design business!

Shannon has been so generous with her responses below - if you've ever dreamed of working at a beautiful design magazine, it's an incredible story to read.   It's amazing to hear how two years of perseverance finally resulted in Shannon landing her dream job at UK's Livingetc!  It's also so lovely to learn that as an experienced independent creative, with focus, hard work, and a bit of momentum, it is possible to base yourself outside of Sydney and Melbourne!  (In fact, last week's interviewee supports this theory too!)

Massive thanks to Shannon for sharing her story with us today!  Do make time to check out more of her beautiful work on her website, and she also has an excellent blog!

Tell us a little about your career background – What path led you to graphic design and art direction originally, then onto working with prestigious titles such as Donna Hay Magazine in Sydney and Livingetc in the UK?

I studied graphic design at uni and when I left I really wanted to get a job in animation, which I did for about a year or so. I found it to be very techy and not really my thing, so applied for a magazine junior designer role and got it. This began my love affair with magazines! I have been very fortunate to have had some amazing jobs during my career. My first art director role was as the promotions art director of Marie Claire magazine.

After that, I did some travelling and lived and worked in the UK for a few years, freelancing on a variety of different magazines. I then returned to Australia and was lucky enough to become the art director of Donna Hay Magazine. This was a fantastic job and Donna Hay is an incredibly inspiring person to work with. A few years later I moved back to the UK and eventually became the creative director of Livingetc magazine, which again, was a wonderful job.

How did your move to the UK come about, and how did you get your foot in the door at Livingetc?

I have spent the last 10 years basically moving back and forth between Australia and the UK. My husband is English, so we were kind of trying to work out where we wanted to settle down. When we moved to the UK the last time I really wanted to work on Livingetc and contacted the editor when we first arrived. I had to wait two years for the job to come up with Livingetc, and when it eventually did, I finally got it! I definitely think it is worth going after what you want – you just never know unless you try.

Livingetc cover - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Jake Curtis

Many people probably don’t understand the role of a magazine art director – Can you give us a little insight into what this role entails, from story concept to shoot to layout, and your involvement along the way? It does vary slightly depending on the magazine, but the art director is basically in charge of overseeing the look of the magazine as a whole and making sure that it is visually the best it can be. They are involved in pretty much every step of the process, including decisions concerning the magazine's overall colour palette, photographic elements, design and typography.

The first stage is the planning meetings, where section editors will present their ideas on what stories they think should be published in a particular issue. The art director will be involved in the decision making process, as well as putting forth any story ideas they may have. The next stage is the lovely part where the art director will work with the style director and editor to decide how the shoots will look, choose photographers and stylists, and look at any props or products that will be included. Then there is the actual shoot. In an ideal world the art director would go to all of the shoots, but unfortunately magazine art departments are quite small and this is not always possible.

Once the shots come in it is time to do the layout – my favourite part! While all of this is going on the art department is busily designing the issue, where the art director is overseeing the layouts and managing the day-to-day running of the art department. Each issue involves an enormous amount of attention to detail and consistency is key. It is a very demanding job, but incredibly creative and rewarding.

Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Philip Sinden

You’re now back in Newcastle working on a great variety of freelance design projects (and writing your own gorgeous blog!). What nice projects have you been working on recently?

When we moved back to Australia last year I decided to take the plunge and set up my own graphic design business, Shannon Morton Art Direction & Design. It is still a very new business and really hard work, but I am loving it!  At the moment I am working on some amazing projects including a logo and branding for beautiful Melbourne based-ceramics label The Mod Collective, a website for JustMums recruitment agency, and a new lookbook design for fantastic jewellery label Ruby Olive. I also do regular work for gorgeous fashion label Nearly Nude that I thoroughly enjoy. Plus I have just finished a magazine redesign (it is still a secret squirrel, so can't tell reveal the title just yet!).

New logo and business card designs for Melbourne ceramics design studio The Mod Collective

Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving right now?

I think Australia has so much amazing talent. Right now I am loving Rachel CastlePoppies for GraceKoskelaBonnie and NeilPony RiderNancybird and Clair Wayman. I also adore the work of artists Emma Gale and Miranda Skoczek. The other thing I am completely loving is all of the beautiful online magazines being produced in Australia – such as Paper RunwayTickle the ImaginationFete and Papier Mache – the standard of these publications is incredibly high and I really admire the people who have the vision to produce them on their own without the support of a large publishing company, it's very inspiring.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (i.e. specific websites, magazines, blogs or books) you turn to when in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project?

1. My room full of magazines - I seriously have way too many! 2. Oh Joy! blog – endlessly inspiring. 3. Color Collective blog – I am really inspired by colour combinations and this blog is perfect for that. 4. My tearsheets – collected with love over the years and invaluable to my design process. 5. Etsy

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It really depends on what I am working on, but normally I will spend the first hour or so responding to emails and updating my blog or Facebook page. Then I will spend the rest of the day designing whatever lovely thing it is I have on the go, for instance a logo, website concepts or magazine work. I am pretty much chained to my mac!

Donna Hay Magazine spreads - styling by Donna Hay, photography by Con Poulos, art direction by Shannon Morton

What would be your dream creative project?

My sister and I are working on a range of kids linens, so I would love to see this dream become a reality. If I was dreaming really big, I would love to collaborate on a design project with one of my all time favourite brands, for instance AnthropologieDesigners Guild or Thomas Paul.

What are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to continuing to build my design business and working with lots of inspiring people and brands.

Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Matthew Williams
Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Matthew Williams

Newcastle Questions

What brought you back to Newcastle after many years working in Sydney and London, and what is it you love most about living here?

I guess it is the lifestyle that has brought me back to Newcastle. Now that I work for myself I no longer need to be city-based. I love the fact that we can just pop to the beach for an afternoon stroll and not have to sit in traffic. Our neighbourhood also has a great community feel and just a really nice vibe about it. I also love the art and craft scene happening here in Newcastle at the moment.

Your favourite shops/fossicking spots in Newy for beautiful things for your home?

My favourite shop in Newcastle is Betty Mim. I adore it, it has so many beautiful things! I also love Habitat Living for furniture and Blackbird Corner has lots of lovely little bits and pieces, as well as a fantastic collection of independent magazines. Plus The Olive Tree Market is a treasure trove of local art, craft and design. I can happily spend hours wandering around there.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in your local area?

Sprout Dining for great food, wine and an excellent atmosphere.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

We have a three-year-old daughter so my Saturdays are normally spent either talking to the ducks at Richley Reserve or catching up with family and friends.

Newcastle’s best kept secret?

Our favourite local restaurant – Paul’s Asian Affair – yummy!

Livingetc spread - art direction by Shannon Morton, photography by Emma Lee

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