Creative Lives — Wales-based typographer and illustrator Adam Hayes on early mistakes and experimenting with process
Adam Hayes’ practice is a focused but flexible one. While illustration is soundly at the core of his job, this often expands to animation, graphic design and typography. His work includes both small-scale commissions and larger campaigns – from drawing themed tropical islands for the Apple App Store, to cover illustrations for The Washington Post or social media visuals for American banks. But while his skill set may vary, his process is almost always the same, with every project starting life as a hand-drawn sketch, albeit with fairly modern tools; his iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are current weapons of choice. Though Adam admits that working from the Welsh town of Abergavenny doesn’t place him at the heart of a buzzing creative community, the surrounding mountains do offer an antidote to work stress, and valuable time with family. We caught up with him as he talks early mistakes, graduating with a ‘shoddy’ portfolio and how projects can instigate a shift in your style.
Freelance Typographer and Illustrator
Freelance Illustrator and Designer (2006–present)
In-house Designer and Illustrator, Fallon London (2004)
MA Communication Art and Design, Royal College of Art (2004–2006)
BA Graphic Design, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University (2000–2003)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m an illustrator; sometimes that involves also being a graphic designer, an animator, and a typographer but I’m really just an illustrator.
I draw all of my work by hand, usually starting a project with pencil sketches, then progressing to a digitally hand drawn finished artwork once I have my concept.
Recent projects have included designing and drawing a tropical video-game-themed island for the Apple App Store, animated typographic social media posts for a bank in the USA, a series of animated GIFs about European economies for Politico, a typographic poster design for a show at the Soho Rep Theatre in New York, and a school-themed cover illustration for The Washington Post Magazine.
What does a typical working day look like?
I’ve always tried to get to my studio early, as I tend to work best in the mornings. I work on any number of projects through the day, prioritising the ones with the closest deadlines. If no project is too urgent, I split my time into working on several briefs, usually for an hour at a time – returning to them later in the day with fresh eyes.
In recent years my work has had to adjust a lot. I have two small kids and my working hours have become much more flexible. I used to work fixed hours – creating stuff in the studio even if I have no jobs on the go. But having a family has changed that, and time has become very precious. If work is quiet then I’m almost definitely not in the studio.
What do you like about working in Wales?
Living in a small town in Wales is not great for work-related reasons; there’s not much of a cutting-edge visual culture here, and only a small community of freelancers, plus lunch options could be a bit better. But I don’t find this stuff as important as it used to be.
It’s a beautiful here, and a very friendly place that’s really great for the kids. And when work becomes too stressful I can easily be up in the mountains, away from everything.
How does your freelance work usually come about?
I receive the majority of my work through being represented by Bernstein & Andriulli. I’ve worked with their New York office for many years and I have a great relationship with the agents there.
Other work enquiries find me via my website, and through other projects I’ve completed in the past. It’s always nice when someone has kept my work in mind for years, and finally gets in touch with a brief they would love me to work on.
How collaborative is your work?
Not very. There’s always back and forth with the art director, and even the client, but often this is as far as the collaboration goes. Most projects I undertake have a very specific brief, and it’s up to me to respond creatively to that problem.
I do enjoy the occasional collaborative project, and it does take me out of my comfort zone a little (which is a good thing). But to be honest, collaborating has never been my greatest skill, and I do prefer working solo.
“Living in a small town in Wales is not great for work-related reasons, [but] it’s a beautiful here, and when work becomes too stressful I can easily be up in the mountains, away from everything.”
Work for Politico
Work for The Washington Post Magazine
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Time management is the most challenging thing. Work usually has a way of finding me all at the same time, so I’m either dead quiet or ridiculously busy – rarely in-between. A good work-life balance is my long-term goal.
The most enjoyable part is creating new ideas for a brief. Sometimes this can be a real challenge, but it feels great when I finally crack it.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I really loved a climate change project for Good magazine from last summer. They asked me to create a digital article to respond to Michael Bloomberg’s book, Climate of Hope; extracting insights and expanding on them visually. It was a real challenge, but I had a lot of creative control over the project and felt a strong ownership over it all.
Having more freedom meant I could use a more ‘informal’ visual style. For years I’ve been trying to get better by having neater lines, cleaner edges and more a more refined style, but I’ve really been trying to work against this. This project really helped me work out how to execute that.
What skills are essential to your job?
Creativity (especially when under pressure), time management, money management, knowing Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
What tools do you use most for your work?
Up until a year or so ago I would have said an A4 sketchbook, Faber-Castell pencils, Adobe Photoshop, illustrator and a Wacom Intuos graphics tablet. But now I use my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil most of the time. Also, Xero accountancy software.
“To be honest, collaborating has never been my greatest skill, and I do prefer working solo.”
Work for Soho Rep Theatre, New York
Work for the National Career’s Service
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
What influence has your upbringing had on your choice of career?
My mum and dad always encouraged me to keep drawing, other than that I’m not sure.
Was the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Yes, I studied graphic design, and it was useful in teaching me how to act on an idea and how to create a working process. This was largely learning via repeated mistakes and failures.
What were your first jobs?
I had loads of part-time jobs throughout my teens, but I never did an internship during university (or after). I worked at [advertising agency] Fallon as an in-house illustrator and graphic designer for a summer after university, but I left to do a postgraduate course.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
I’ve been lucky to have received help from some brilliant people from the start. Straight after leaving university in 2003, Marion Deuchars put me in touch with Alan Fletcher, who gave me my first ever commission. That was a very quick learning curve for a graduate with a shoddy portfolio!
Around 2004, Susie Morley and Sarah Kavanagh [art buyers at Fallon] trusted me with some incredible opportunities at Fallon London, which gave me greater confidence in my own work. Ian Gabb at the RCA taught me everything I needed (and didn’t need to know) about typography. Then once I became officially freelance in 2006, Joby Barnard was very generous in sending some great projects my way, as was [MagCulture founder] Jeremy Leslie.
“Extremely fast turn-arounds definitely helped me develop a working methodology, which I still use today.”
Sketches for Good magazine
Climate Change illustrations for Good magazine
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Early on as a freelancer, I did a few illustrations for The Guardian. These are often extremely fast turn-arounds definitely helped me develop a working methodology, which I still use today.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
I’m much better on the phone to clients than I used to be!
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I really have to study the text in a brief, as I’ve made loads of mistakes by not doing so. I think it’s due to being dyslexic – I have a bad habit of making small, silly mistakes that all stem from reading something wrong. I once designed a whole series of TV ident concepts using the wrong name after reading it incorrectly.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I think so. I’ve always known I wanted to be drawing and thinking up new ideas, and that’s what I’m doing.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Right now, I reckon I’m almost completely unemployable as anything else. I’ve worked myself into a creative cul-de-sac! Career progression for me is landing the next big job and getting effortlessly paid for it
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become an illustrator and typographer?
Avoid working from home if you can, and don’t look at other people’s work online too much!
Also, develop an adaptable working process that you can apply to every project you do. That way, when work is quiet you can experiment with the process and create new things. When work becomes really busy, you can fall back on your tried-and-tested process and find security in your working method, making the barrage of projects feel a bit more manageable.