An interview with Tom Lane

By Ed Vinicombe on Jul 2nd, 2013

Hi Tom, for those who are unaware would you care to introduce yourself?

I'm Tom Lane, more commonly known as Ginger Monkey and I'm a designer, illustrator and letterer based in Bristol (UK).

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I'm a big fan of the work your doing at How has the design for this brand evolved over the last two years and what are your plans taking it forward?

It's definitely developed a lot from when I first started thinking about it around 3 years ago now. What started off as an idea to create limited edition t-shirts developed into something that feels more substantial. It really helped me understand my principles and beliefs and eventually the look and feel of the brand reflected them. I'm not entirely sure where it's going to go next in all honesty. I'm fine with that at the moment. I'm currently trying to find a balance with my work because I'm being asked to do some very exciting projects through Ginger Monkey and often the demands are pretty high. Running another venture on the side is proving tricky. Gone are the days where I could work all sorts of hours and not feel it. So now that we're in the new year I'm gong to take a look and see what plans I can put together.

Your work with Hook & Irons is awesome, the concept seems a perfect fit for your style of work! How did this project come about & if you could, what would you do to improve upon anything?

Firstly, thank you. I'm glad you like it so much. It's definitely proving successful. George and Brian, the gents behind the brand, keep me well informed and they're always selling out of the products. They're over the moon so it feels like mission accomplished for me.
I was found through dribble, the guys had been looking to launch their own label dedicated to the thousands of fire-fighters in the states and to explore the history of the service and it's people. They tell me that when they found my work it was felt they had found someone who's approach would match the expectations they had for the brand. I was hooked, sorry, from the start. Firstly, they're awesome people and that came through their emails straight away. Plus, the idea, the name, the material they were showing me, it all just fit and I was excited!
Doing it again, hard to say. You always see little niggles and bit's that could probably be improved on but it's all so subjective. What could improve it in my mind could ruin it in others. The project had time to breath and be explored and the guys are happy, I'm proud of it, so I tend to try and leave it at that. Otherwise I'd probably go nuts.

Do you ever get designers block? What do you do to not only keep motivated but constantly have fresh ideas and focus for a new project?

I wouldn't necessarily say I have block but I definitely get designers frustration. I find there is a balancing act I'm constantly aware of. Using old tricks is the killer to motivation and not a good place to be with a project. Time and pressure are the main culprits here. Clients asking for quick turn arounds or maybe you've simply taken on too much work. I find I'm not wholly happy with a project if I haven't had to draw on some new learning or developed a new approach to how I made the image. I need that fluttering feeling I can get at the pit of stomach when I'm surprising myself. Otherwise it just feels like treading water and after too long of that, you eventually sink.
It's the need to push ideas into new territory so it's exciting and fresh, balanced with the need to draw on past experiences to be efficient and productive.

How much of your technique & process was taught to you through your time at UWE? Would you recommend to an aspiring designer to study an Arts degree to really further their own development?

University was great for providing with me with time without too many other pressures. It was 3 years that I had to really explore my creativity, have access to great facilities, meet lots of enthusiastic and eager folks, and some not so much. However, I would say the vast majority of what I do and how I do it has been learnt since leaving college and University. As much as I respect the tutors I had who were wise, passionate, and supportive, I really felt a lack of practical training on my course and I would hesitate to advice a degree as the way to fully develop design skills. Although a lot may have changed since I was studying. There is simply a wealth of knowledge at your finger tips these days and in most good book shops for fractions of the price. When I need or want to learn something that's where I start. There is a lot to be said by learning by synthesis too. In that I mean learning by doing, if you want to be a designed, design stuff and keep asking questions along the way. So in short, I simply don't think that 'going to uni' is as common a starting point for your career trajectory as it was maybe 5 –10 years ago. Degrees don't carry the weight they use to and we're very luck to be in a position where our portfolio do a lot of the talking for us anyway.

It seems there is a rapidly growing design scene in Bristol. What is is like working/living there?

Bristol is so hot right now... But seriously, it's great, I do love it here and the city and its people are definitely embracing it's creativity. I've been here 11 years and it's always had a good vibe. The street art, the music scene, etc. But in the last few years especially, it's felt on the ball and it's reputation is growing. More and more talent are heading to the West Country too and that should help keep things going. The city big wigs seem to being a good job in nurturing the vibe and creating access to the arts as well. Events such as See No Evil and the many little festivals, exhibitions, and community building projects are definitely a step in the right direction. Long may it continue!

Designers that have inspired you recently?

There is just so much talent out there it's hard to be too specific. I recently got the Taschen books, A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles. It's comprised of many old type specimens books from the 1600's up to 1900's. What the designers were doing back then, wow. It's a wealth of inspiration for me.

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