Posted Jun 17th 2009 by

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An interview with
Gavin Strangewords by , June 2009

So, what does Gavin Strange do? Perhaps it would be easier to ask what he doesn’t do! With a day job as Senior Online Designer at Aardman, a thriving freelance career under the name of Jam Factory, his own range of Droplet vinyl toys, as well as being part of the Xynthetic art collective, the guy has a lot of cool stuff to his name! He spared us some time to tell us all about it.

Hi Gavin, welcome to Thunder Chunky, how do we find you today?

Bonjour! You find me well and full of salmon (just come back from the canteen).

You’ve had a very wide and varied career so far, but for those who aren’t familiar with your stuff, how would you describe yourself in 3 easy-to-follow steps?

Hmmm, 3 easy-to-follow steps:

  1. I like to make pretty things in all formats – give me a new medium and i’ll give it a shot.
  2. I’m powered by tea & cake. The essential ingredient for all design is a brew.
  3. I’m the luckiest monkey in the world, having a dream job both day & night.

First things first, your current day job is as Senior Online Designer at everyone’s favourite clay-masters, Aardman. How did that come about then?

Well, it was pure magic as far as i’m concerned! Back at the start of 2008 I had an email drop in my inbox one day with the subject of ‘Hello from Aardman’! Turns out it was the Creative Director of the Online department, Dan Efergan (@efergan), asking if I could come in and meet them as they liked my work and thought I’d be suitable for an upcoming project.

Seabass McPugswash from 4mations

That project turned out to be 4mations, an animation website project for Channel 4. I worked on that for nearly six months until the position of Senior Designer came up one day. After much deliberation of ‘was i ready to take the step from freelance to employed?’, I snapped up the opportunity and never looked back! Like i say, I’m a lucky boy!

Aardman Online Department

The Aardman Online Department and a close-up of Gavin’s desk

It must be pretty fun working at an animation powerhouse. What does a normal day at Aardman consist of?

It’s a whole tonne of fun! A normal day consists of…

  1. Cup of tea.
  2. Check work emails.
  3. Fire up Photoshop & Illustrator.
  4. Get cracking on whatever it is I’m working on.
  5. Make another cuppa.
  6. Have a music-based argument.
  7. Make some more pretty things.
  8. Go for lunch in the canteen.
  9. Feel stuff, catch up on my own stuff over lunch.
  10. Back to making pretties.
  11. Have another cuppa, this time with a sugary-based treat.
  12. Do a few swears as I find something to moan about, normally voicing my hatred at something on the news.
  13. More magic pretties.
  14. Fit in another cuppa.
  15. Cycle home.
Aardman canteen and cinema

The Aardman canteen (with bonus Wallace) and cinema

Intersperse that with lots of random things happening throughout the week – sometimes we watch new animations in the in-house cinema and other times we have little model making competitions with plasticine… it really varies day to day, and thats what I love about it!

Your role there is as Online Designer, what sort of projects do you usually get to sink your teeth into?

A huge plethora of projects really! I love to chime in on anything I can, so I get to work as a web designer one morning, then a game designer in the afternoon and then an interface designer the next day!

Aardman projects

W&G Top Bun game and the W&G Invention Suspension game

As well as the different types of work we make nice things for internal properties such as Wallace & Gromit, Morph etc… but also for external clients as well such as BBC, Channel 4 and Cartoon Network!

We’ve always been interested in the wider team of creatives involved in the film industry. Do you work much with other departments at Aardman? How does your department slot into the order of things when a new project kicks off?

Yeah we do, more and more the Online department works with other departments, especially Creatives, Commercials & Broadcast, as well as Rights, Licensing & Features. Aardman understands how important the internet is as a tool to showcase and broadcast the work we do, so somewhere along the line there’ll be a website / game / blog needed!

Depending on what the project is, we can be right at the start of a process or right at the end, whatever works best for the project really. It’s nice as we all get to work closely with lots of different people and make friends, which is always good!

Moving on from your day job though, most people will know you by the pseudonym Jam Factory. How did that all come about and what are the most enjoyable projects you’ve worked on under the name?

JamFactory has been the name I’ve gone under for over 7 years now. It started when I was in my first creative job, working as a Junior for a designer agency in my hometown of Leicester. My boss said I should buy my own domain name to use as an online ‘playground’ and experiment with what I was learning (I started as a junior graphic designer but was offered the chance to learn to be a web designer, which I eagerly agreed to).

I desperately wanted a cool name but alas I couldnt think of anything. In the end I just blurted out two words – “Jam….erm….. Factory!?” and that was that, it stuck!

From there i worked on my own projects in my own time, doing things for the sake of it, just wanting to learn and they lead onto little bits of work – little logos and small websites for people i wanted to work with, luckily that snowballed and grew to a stage where I was ready to pack in my job and go alone, taking the freelance route!

Jam Factory work

A selection of work done under the Jam Factory pseudonym

I continued this for 4 years – working with lots of cool people, making friends and branching out as much as I could. Any opportunity to do something new i’d snap up, desperate to give new mediums / new opportunities a go. Alot of the time the projects were for little or no money but I didnt care, i was just so eager to work with a certain person or be involved in a certain project, and that’s always carried on!

It’s so hard to pick a favorite project but designing my own vinyl toy has got to be top of the list, for sure! Working closely with Apple in terms of my ‘made on a mac’ talks and ‘pro’ profile have been so much fun aswell. I love everything i’ve worked on though, as I figure it’s an absolute honour to be able to colour stuff in for a living!

The Droplet vinyl toys you designed have gone on to be hugely popular and stocked in places like Urban Outfitters. What is it about them do you think that makes people love them so much?

Oh man I don’t know, I guess it’s the simplicity of them, as they’re not too bizzare that only hardcore vinyl fans could like them. They have little cute faces and everyone likes a cute face, kittens are prime examples of this.

Droplet toys

The Droplets out in the wild

Having your own vinyl toy range is a dream that a lot of illustrators have. What would your advice be on how to crack into the market?

Try, try and try some more! I was super lucky in being at the right place at the right time, just firing off that email to Andy @ Crazy Label and him replying to me was a huge stroke of luck! I would say make friends in the vinyl world, show off your customs / ideas and talk to the wealth of vinyl companies out there who would love your work!

You’ve also done designs for skatedecks (another illustrator’s dream)… what’s next on your hitlist of desirable items to illustrate?

Well, I’ve got a big ‘dream’ list of things I’d love to design, some of them are a shoe, snowboard, a book, a music video, a cd cover, some animation & motion graphics – the list goes on and on! Who knows what the future holds…


Just a few of the skatedecks Gavin’s done

Who would you say is your all-time design hero?

Crikey this is a tough one! Do I have to pick just one? Well I guess in my early years, David Carson & Don Pendleton really changed the way I saw design. Obviously Carson was doing his own style in the world of layout & typography and Don Pendleton (designer for Alien Workshop / Habitat skateboards) has this beautiful style which looked like how I dreamed my own graphics could be, so that really spurned me on to see what I could achieve

But in the general business of solid inspiration I could name ISO50, Luis Cook, 123Klan, Mcfaul, Dan Efergan, Futura, The Designers Republic, Ben Drury, Emil Kozak, TADO, Benny gold, Jeff Soto, David Ellis, Mister Cartoon, Estevan Oriel, The Wet Shame crew, Eko, Paris, Sanna Annukka, Will Barras, Waste, Toki Doki, James Jarvis, Pete Fowler, Mike Giant, All of Xynthetic – the list goes on and on!

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve bought recently?

I guess i’d have to say my new bike. It isn’t so much a single item I’ve bought, I stripped the original bike right down and bought lots of new shiney bits to ressurect it as ‘Liberace’ (because it’s flamboyant and over the top!). It’s nice to ride something that I’ve designed and to have people look at it in disgust / confusion / envy.

Liberace the bike

Liberace, the bike

You’d be surprised how many gold parts you can buy for bikes, I was certainly taken aback and consequently had to buy them all!

What sort of things are you liking at the moment? (artists, links, random stuff!)

Nice question! Stuff I’m liking at the minute…

• Gocco prints – just bought one of these beauties from Peskimo.

• Big bad Treesons – I just got sent one of these 8″ beauties as it was one of the artists who designed a ‘bubblefun’ accessory to go in his mouth! (or a Droplets bum, depends how you use it to be honest)

• Cuckoo clocks – Will always be awesome. Fact.

• Lasers – they can engrave pretty much anything and make all those things awesome.

• Gold – I’ve become obsessed with it! I’ve got a gold bike, I’ve designed a gold skateboard with limited gold postcards to accompany it, the next series of Droplets will have a special gold splash on it, I can’t be stopped with my gold madness!

• Wacom Graphics Tablets – After battling against them for years I gave in, gave it 2 weeks and absolutely love it. Wouldn’t want to create without it now!

• Hand Over Fist album – Mike mictlan & Lazerbeak’s pairing makes this one of the best albums i’ve heard in years!

• Bose headphones – make everything sound good.

Finally, what’s the one thing everybody should do today?

Go and put the kettle on, make yourself a brew and give someone a cuddle!

So that’s who Gavin Strange is, but if you’d like to find out more then go check out the Jam Factory site, and he’s a frequent Twitterer (@JamFactory), so check him out there too.


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  • […] There’s a new interview up on Thunder Chunky with Gavin Strange, who’s Senior Online Designer at Aardman and the man behind the popular Droplet vinyl toys (pictured above). Check out the interview over at Thunder Chunky. […]

  • […] 3.Aardman + Jam = Gavin Strange by Thunderchunky […]

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