What: Illustrator, artist and graphic designer
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Website: Alistair Palmer
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Website: Alistair Palmer
Who is this guy…I was born in Cape Town then we moved to Johannesburg for a few years and came back just before I started high school. I went to Rondebosch Boys' High, then Abbotts College and ended up studying graphic design at Ruth Prowse School of Art where I had the chance to work with different media. I was able to do a lot of messing and cutting things up, drawing, painting, printmaking, typography and a little bit of everything. I didn’t know much about graphic design but I heard a lot about all the different agencies and it sounded pretty cool.
After Ruth Prowse, I went to Durban and worked with someone my tutor knew named Neil Roake. Durban was great. I used to surf every morning and just wear board shorts all day. I had the chance to do lots of different things. Neil was quite an entrepreneur and got involved with all sorts of projects. He kind of recruited me, taught me a lot and gave me quite a bit of freedom to just do things I wanted.
After that I went to London for a year or so and did some freelance design work. I was working for a music magazine and I also ended up working in a bar. I stayed in a big house in Putney and set up a studio in my room. It was great because I could just paint in the day and work in the bar in the evening. It was cool. I didn’t come back with all the cash but it was OK. When I came back to Cape Town I worked at TBWA. I thought it would be good to try out advertising, get some experience in that industry and just get to know what people expect. I learnt a lot more about basic art direction there and the way people operate. But I got retrenched a few months ago. My year there was great And life goes on.
Just before I got retrenched, I was commissioned by Earthcote to do this bathroom design at Olympia Café in Kalk Bay. And I’m just picking up other freelance projects along the way. Most of them are quite small but it seems to be working out.
On the side…I'm trying to get into as many group exhibitions as I can and just get my work out there. I've done lots of corporate identity stuff as freelance jobs and am doing lots of illustration now. I had an idea recently. It was a art direction and illustration job. I cut out vinyl and got a friend to photograph it. I enjoy working in a variety of media. Ideas can be made in lots of different ways.
I’ve been drawing a lot more too. I’m just getting back into it because I lost the drawing urge for a while after college. Now that I'm working freelance and am in charge of my own time, it’s nice not to have major time constraints and just do things the way I want to do them.
Nature, nurture…I've always wanted to open a shop or some sort of business one day. There's a bit of an entrepreneur side to me. My grandfather's a carpenter and my dad's got all the tools and he loves woodwork. I've been influenced by him and I think I might go in that more hands-on direction one day. There are lots of opportunities out there. I don't think I would want to just stick to illustration and draw all day. I enjoy playing around with different ideas.
Back in time…I used to enjoy cycling, road racing, mountain biking, BMX-ing, surfing (and I still do)… I learnt a lot from my dad in relation to making things and developing practical skills. I like the practical side of things. Sometimes my work isn't creative enough. I look at things from a problem-solving viewpoint and do things a little too methodically sometimes.
Looking ahead…If I don't go into full-time employment again, I'd like to go into some sort of business. A lot of my friends and family have valuable skills and would be cool to work with. I have a friend who's opened a business called Catchlight Filmedia where there are just three people running it – a creative director, an executive producer and a technical director. They can produce a product from start to finish. I've been working with them on a few things and it's good to see how setting up a business with the right people can work out.
I also started doing a business management course that they're offering for free at AAA School of Advertising for retrenched employees. There've been a lot of retrenchments here. And there's not a lot of freelance work at the moment. It seems like lots of places have had to cut their budgets and illustration/design is one of the big things to go first. I haven't heard any real horror stories though, which is good. And even though it's pretty skimpy, there's still work going around.
Outdoor living…Growing up in Cape Town definitely affected me because I’ve been able to surf and be close to nature. Just going out surfing, riding and skateboarding has had an influence on my work, like I started doing graffiti when I was young.
My life would have been very different if I'd grown up in Jo'burg. Besides the lack of an outdoor culture, there wasn't a very good art class at my school there but in Cape Town I had a great teacher who really prepared us for the art world. He's been a great influence on so many people. Rondebosch Boys' produces some very good designers, illustrators and creative people.
Family blessings…At the end of standard 8 (grade 10), I told my parents that I wanted to drop maths. I hated maths and I didn’t see myself doing anything with maths after school. My dad was quite against it at first but my mum was like 'let him do what he wants to do'. I didn't really see myself going into a career where I would use maths. On my first day back at school, not having to do maths, I was over the moon and I started doing better at all my other subjects. Dropping maths just made school so much more enjoyable and easier. And then going to art college was fine. They've always been very supportive. My mum's family have always been very artistic. When I was young my mum used to paint milk cans multi-colours and she started a little label doing African mugs and clocks. It was quite cool being around that. I got my artistic side from my mum and my practical side from my dad. I've taken the best of both worlds. I can figure out technologies, make things and be be quite artistic.
Teachings of life…I've always been quite humble (you might also say timid or shy) so I've never really pushed my work. Going to work in Durban gave me quite a lot of confidence. I saw people enjoying my work there and I realised that I could make a living from just doing art. I've realised the importance of believing in myself.
Mentor relationships…Working with Neil (Roake) as my boss was good. He was very encouraging and sometimes quite tough but it all pushed me forward. I used to draw for him. And there was another girl I worked with called Crystal Campbell who was very great to be around. We chatted a lot. I can't really say how working with her helped me but the two of them are the sort of people that just go out there and do things. I found them inspiring to work with. They just had ideas and would do them. If the ideas worked, that was great and if they didn't, it wasn't a train smash.
I have another friend called Wayne that I've learned from too. He always listens to what people have to say. He never shoots them down but just takes what he wants out of everything. I think that's quite a nice thing. There's a lot of information out there and it's important to know what you need and what you don't need.
Collections and hobbies…I like being outdoors and I like beer. On the weekends I go for a surf or a walk somewhere. I also like hanging out in my garage and playing around and fixing things. It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something without having to wrack my brain. It's a bit like a workshop with a desk, power tools and other tools. I also collect tins, random objects, bits of junk, little toys and things that I like the look of.
The juices flowing…I find exercise is quite a good thing when I'm stuck for inspiration. I just ride up the road or up the mountain or play a game of squash and just clear my mind and rejuvenate myself. And listening to music gets me back too.
Favourite places and things…I haven't fully figured it out yet. I don't really have a spot that I go to all the time. New things make me feel inspired. I don't like any single place. I would normally choose to be in nature, not somewhere in the city, for inspiration. I'm not really a static person. I like to move around a lot.
I read Fecal Face to look at other people's work and Ted for bigger ideas about the world. I enjoy reading real things mostly like autobiographies.
In the near future…I'm just trying to get better, to draw more and do more frealance work. I would like to get another full-time job. I enjoy the mentor vibe and learning from other people. The freelance is great for now to explore myself but I would like to work in an environment that's more conducive to learning from other people.
Faraway dreams…My dream life… It would be in South Africa, definitely. I don't have a passport for anywhere else. Ha ha. But seriously, I sometimes think about living in the Transkei and setting up something like a studio. But on the other hand, if I were to live in such a beautiful part of the world I would probably just love to live in nature and I wouldn't really want to open a business there. Whatever happens in the future, I want to do something that involves art or design.
Advice…I think you need to have a good work ethic, keep up with what's going on around you and be open to suggestions. Allow yourself to be guided by others. We all want our work and our ideas to be our own and we obviously take pride in what we do but we need to be open to criticism. Not holding yourself too highly is important – you have to believe in yourself but not believe you're the best or be arrogant about your work.