I am a massive fan of Manhattan based Australian designer, artist and illustrator Craig Redman, but I have to admit, interviewing him did make me a bit nervous. I’m not entirely sure why. Possibly, because he’s just been interviewed so many times, it’s impossible to ask a question he hasn’t already answered a hundred times before. Like, ‘is your famous illustrated character ‘Darcel’ based on yourself?’, (yes).
The other reason for this unfounded anxiety, I believe, is that it’s very easy to assume before meeting him that Craig might be, well, a little cynical. WHY? Well, because, his one-eyed alter ego Darcel has made an art form of witty cynicism, and so it follows that Craig might harbour similar hang ups.
In fact, Craig is totally chilled, friendly, not-at-all-cynical and well, normal. After admiring his work from afar for a long time, we recently met in his Lower East Side studio, and it was refreshing to see that behind the epic talent and insanely impressive client list, Craig is just one guy with a computer, in a modest little studio. The real deal.
Together with his business partner Karl Maier, who is based in London, Craig is one half of Craig & Karl, a design duo who between them have amassed a client list which includes LVMH, Google, Nike, Apple, Vogue and The New York Times.
Craig and Karl collaborate daily, creating distinctive work, always executed with great humour and a unique point of view. Together the pair have worked and exhibited across the world, and individually, Craig’s solo project Darcel has taken him to Paris for numerous collaborations with cult retailer Colette, working on everything from product collaborations (from skateboards to lollies), to pop-up stores with Chanel, to in store exhibitions. PROPER, big, dream career stuff.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to design originally?
My Dad is a weekend painter so I had a pretty early introduction to doing creative stuff. There were always Australian art books lying around that I used to obsessively pore over as a kid. I was really into Albert Tucker in particular, and used to trace his paintings all the time.
I studied a Bachelor of Design Studies at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. Studying design was probably more a pragmatic decision than anything else, because it seemed like a good way to do art and also get a job at the end. I guess it was more so a means to an end than an end in itself, as I’ve kind of come full circle now and do all sorts of projects with many different outcomes.
You work as one half of design duo Craig & Karl with your long time collaborator Karl Maier. How did you two originally meet and what was the business like in the early days? Did you ever anticipate it would grow into a business with clients including Apple, Sephora, Soho House, British Vogue, Eames and New York magazine to name a few?
Karl and I met in the first semester of the first year of university. One of our lecturers paired us together for a project, and we’ve been working together ever since. Pretty much straight out of university we started a collective with three other friends called Rinzen, which we were part of for 10 years.
About four years ago we left and officially started Craig & Karl, so we have been working together for a long time. We understand and compliment each other very well, working as a duo suits our personalities too.
We have never had a plan for the way we work, which I suppose sounds pretty lame, we’ve always been flexible with the kind of projects we’ve taken on, and this has allowed us to evolve and keep our work fresh and new which I think has helped us in the long term. We work hard to constantly produce new work, and we try really hard to develop our own specific visual language, something that reads as ‘Craig & Karl’ straight away, even if it’s a twist on something we’ve been doing for a while.
Originally working alongside together, now Craig & Karl is based internationally with you working from your New York studio and Karl based in London. How do you manage a cross-continental working relationship, and how is your business structured?
We didn’t start Craig & Karl until I’d been living in New York for a couple of years, after we realised that living in different cities, even countries, wasn’t going to affect the way we worked together. And thanks to the wonders of Skype, Line and Dropbox it’s been pretty easy. We’re efficient with our crossover hours, and we often take turns passing artwork between ourselves to speed things along, as well as to get a new perspective. We instinctively get each other which makes operating in different cities across the Atlantic workable.
‘Craig & Karl’ really is just the two of us, me in my studio, Karl in his in London, no-one else. When it comes down to it we are both creatives, neither of us focuses more on the business side of things or production etc., all elements of a project are very much a collaborative process between the two of us.
The best part about working together is having an extra set of eyes, if you work too long on something it’s easy to lose perspective on it, and having someone else’s opinion who you trust implicitly to look over it and give you feedback along the way is super helpful.
What does a typical day at the studio involve for you?
I live in Greenwich Village and my studio is in the Lower East Side which is about a 20 minute walk. I try to work from about 10am until 7pm. Because of the time difference I’ll usually chat with Karl when I get in about new stuff we have on the go.
Every project we work on starts as a conversation between the two of us, where we kick around ideas until we feel like we have something that can be developed further. Generally we can get a pretty specific idea of what we want to do just by talking it through. Usually one of us will then start working on something tangible, which we’ll then kick around some more during the day, working out the kinks until we’ve got something we’re happy with. We take turns passing artwork back and forth via our shared Dropbox. We message each other all day, back and forthing ideas and making quick decisions about things so we can keep moving forward.
You work across multiple mediums spanning commercial and editorial illustration, graphic and product design, and even installation and sculptural work. Do you have a favourite among these and why?
We get bored easily, which is why we work in a variety of mediums and take on lots of different kinds of projects.
We use a pretty wide spectrum of techniques to get to an end product, a rough sketch usually helps to get things started, and this eventually evolves into digital artwork, but first and foremost it’s about having a good idea, then the best medium for the final outcome will reveal itself.
You’re also the creator of much-loved illustrated character Darcel Disappoints, who now has a cult following of his own! How did this character come about – and is he based on you? Darcel has met a lot of famous people, but who do you think he would most like to cross paths with?
When I first moved, back in 2007, I had all the usual observations people have when they move to New York, really banal stuff like: ‘It’s so dirty’ and ‘Why do I have to climb six flights of stairs to get to my apartment?’ My family was also asking me relentless questions about the city and what it was like, so I thought I’d start a blog so everyone could catch up on what I was doing.
I thought it may as well be an illustrated blog since that’s what I do, and I realised I needed a protagonist to represent me – hence Darcel was born. I put him together and bought the .com all in one afternoon, I really wanted him to be as simple as possible so I could draw him quickly and not stress myself out. He’s basically an egg with spaghetti arms and legs which makes him super easy to draw in different positions and scenarios. The blog essentially chronicles my/his life in New York, focusing on all the banal everyday stuff.
I think part of what makes him appealing is that though he looks colourful and fantastical his actions are very much based in reality; he lines up for coffee and gets lonely rather than dreaming of rainbows and butterflies.
Sarah Andelman, the owner of Colette in Paris discovered the blog early on, and has been a great supporter. Because of her I got to meet Karl Lagerfeld, which was pretty cool. I’d really like to meet Raf Simons too, his work is consistently amazing year after year which is damn hard to pull off.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
I am a fan of Rhys Lee, he is a genius painter and perennial favourite. I also just saw
Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri’s show here at Salon 94, it was so good.
Can you list for us any top resources that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
2. The Whitney: The new location in the Meatpacking District is great and a rad new building by Renzo Piano makes all the difference.
3. Lower East Side Galleries: The Whitney gives you an overview of modern American art, whereas the LES galleries are where the super contemporary stuff is happening; artists who’ll probably end up in the Whitney eventually. Since I’m lazy and my studio is in the area, these are the galleries I visit the most.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
Probably my second solo show at Colette, Paris. It was called 150/15 and involved me doing 150 portraits of my favourite artists, designers and musicians.
What would be your dream creative project?
Any project that allows me to do whatever I want, ha. That sounds pretty selfish but I love what I do and am lucky enough to get to work on a whole bunch of very different projects, so as long as there is a good idea I’m up for pretty much anything. There’s definitely something exciting about wading into new or unfamiliar territory, it’s a good way to shake things up, and try and think about the essence of what I’m trying to do.
What are you looking forward to?
Finally dragging myself up to MoMA to see the Picasso sculpture show.
NEW YORK QUESTIONS
Your favourite New York neighbourhood and why?
Greenwich Village, just because that’s where I live and am usually too lazy to leave!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in New York?
I went to KiKi’s in the Lower East Side on Friday, it’s always great but perpetually crowded as per everywhere in New York.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Do people do stuff on Saturday morning? I’m always in bed.
New York’s best kept secret?
The massive Picasso sculpture hidden in the amazing I. M. Pei ‘Silver Towers’ buildings just above Soho.