Creative Lives — Craig Black on crafting live lettering and innovative installations from his hometown of Gourock
100 yards away from the water in the snug town of Gourock, Scotland, sits Craig Black’s home studio. Blasting house music to get into the zone, it’s here that Craig creates his bespoke lettering for clients like AIGA and Wacom. Having graduated from Glasgow Clyde College in 2013, he was convinced that all the best jobs were based in London, which ultimately led him to send out over 50 job applications. After enduring constant rejections, he was then hired by Red Bee Media – later working at Gregory Bonner Hale and Thirst Craft before breaking out on his own. Now, Craig creates everything from live lettering installations at OFFF festivals to the branding for a Glasgow-based Mexican restaurant, citing a journey of hard graft as the reason for his current success.
Independent Designer, Lettering Artist and Typographer
AIGA, OFFF, Knotel, United Nations, Wacom
Thirst Craft (2017)
Gregory Bonner Hale (2015)
Red Bee Media (2013–2015)
BA Visual Communication, Glasgow Clyde College/University West of Scotland (2010–2013)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m an independent designer, lettering artist and typographer. I’m known for my bespoke and innovative lettering, visual identities, packaging, murals, installations and everything in between. My main strength lies in my ability to cross disciplines without the restriction of a fixed personal style.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I work from my home studio which is based in a beautiful little coastal town called Gourock on the West coast of Scotland.
My days can consist of crafting a new lettering design, creating or finessing a brand wordmark, building an installation from various materials or throwing paint everywhere. That’s the fun part, however it also tends to be mixed with the business side of life through meetings, calls and emails. No two days are ever the same.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable aspect of my job is being given creative freedom to push the boundaries of my lettering and typographic work, then being in the zone to bring it to life. I literally shut off from the world and all I focus on is the project at hand; usually there’s some house music blasting in the background to keep me going, but it’s in these beautiful moments that I feel incredible.
However, running a business isn’t all singing and dancing – you also have to deal with the more mundane, business side of life. Dealing with figures and accounts is probably the least enjoyable part of my job as it can be repetitive, slightly confusing and very time consuming. Luckily I have an accountant who helps me out with it, as I’m not very good at that sort of thing – my talents seem to lie elsewhere.
“The human interaction and engagement with the installation being created in front of their eyes was truly incredible.”
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The brand activation project in collaboration with OFFF x Moritz at the OFFF Design Festival in Barcelona. I created a live lettering installation while customising the iconic SEAT 600 car model – it showcased Moritz values and modern senses mixed with OFFF’s endless creative vibes.
This was an incredible project to work on – I was doing a talk at OFFF on the first day and the response I got from the audience was so positive that it opened up so much dialogue between the audience and myself, and they came to see me bring this lettering installation to life. The human interaction and engagement with the installation being created in front of their eyes was truly incredible, and I got to meet so many amazing people. Seeing the installation bring a smile to people’s faces was truly special and due to its wide engagement across social media, it ended up being a landmark for tourists in Barcelona to get pictures and ‘selfies’ with, which was just amazing to be a part of.
AGDA Tour commission
What do you like about working in Gourock? What made you want to move there from London?
Gourock is a hidden gem. My home studio is literally 100 yards from the water. We have this huge promenade that’s amazing for walks at any time of the day – I do always make sure I wrap up as it is Scottish weather, after all!
The culture and lifestyle here is incredible; people enjoy socialising and helping one another, it’s a really friendly place. The high street consists of independent stores from different creative sectors, which is wonderful. In honesty, it’s always been a dream of mine to set up a studio back in Gourock. I always had a belief that I could create world-class work with world-class clients from my hometown, and I’m doing that right now.
Are you currently working on any personal projects? If so, how do you manage your time alongside other work?
Personal projects are very important to my business, as they allow me to experiment and try new things. I am currently working on a new installation with an acrylic fusion style that I’ve created. I’m aiming to push the boundaries with this one, in terms of scale and texture.
My personal projects are what actually launched my career as an independent designer. I was of the belief that I should be creating the type of work I would like clients to hire me for, and that is exactly what I have been doing. In the beginning, when working in a full-time job, I used to dedicate one hour each evening after work to a personal project. These hours add up over the weeks and months and, with time, I was able to complete and showcase personal projects that I am proud of to this day. This tactic actually made my productivity levels much higher.
Work for AIGA
What made you want to leave agency work and go freelance?
Since the day I graduated, I knew I wanted to become an independent designer specialising in typography and lettering. So when I was working full-time, I started to practise every evening and weekend, churning out one personal project after another. After about two years, I started to get some freelance projects (my first being a window mural which I had no idea how to do, but I loved it!). From that point onwards, I started to get more and more projects and after six months at Gregory Bonner Hale, I was effectively working two full-time jobs, which was crazy.
The pivotal moment in this transition for me, was when I worked on a branding and mural design project for a Mexican restaurant in Glasgow. I flew to Glasgow every weekend for six weekends straight to finish this project as I didn’t have any holidays to use – therefore, when it was finally complete, I was both physically and mentally broken. I was completely burnt out. However, rather than treating this as a negative moment, I turned it into a positive and it made me reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life. From that moment, I decided I wanted to start my own business – which was the best decision I ever made!
Another reason I decided to go out as an independent designer was because I started to think about the future. The ultimate dream for me is to have a family, and I want to have a flexible lifestyle that allows me to take my children to school, take holidays when I want and not be dictated by someone else’s business model. To make this come to fruition, I had to jump into the unknown and work my way to the top.
OFF lettering installation
How I Got Here
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My family were so supportive of me in anything I wanted to do and gave me the freedom to explore. Football played a massive part in my upbringing – I was fascinated with the design around the beautiful game, such as colourful football shirts, team badges, football boots, TV commercials and programmes. This all contributed to my curiosity in design and made me wonder how things like that were made, which ultimately led me to this career.
After graduating, what were your initial jobs or steps?
I was of the mindset that I had to move to London if I wanted to improve. I must have applied to over 50 jobs in the capital and across the world – I got constant rejection from every application. However, I continued to persevere and it wasn’t until five months after graduating that I eventually got an opportunity at Red Bee Media, a London-based broadcast design agency.
At the time they were the in-house team to the BBC and the work was predominantly motion design, which took everyone by surprise when I took a job – I come from a print-based background and had never opened After Effects in my life. I saw this as an opportunity to get my foot in the door and show them what I was capable of. I learnt so much during my time there and managed to work on some amazing projects. There was a great support base and given that I was learning After Effects from scratch, they were all extremely patient with me.
Craig creating a mural for the Scottish Government and Whitespace
What would you like to do next?
I’ve recently joined forces with two incredible human beings, Louise and Andrew, to co-found a social enterprise called Creative Inverclyde. It’s a social enterprise aimed at utilising the creative sector to be the nucleus for positive social change across Inverclyde and Scotland. I’m hugely passionate about helping others and contributing to my local community. Creative Inverclyde is working on some really amazing projects that are going to make a huge difference within Scotland (and hopefully further afield) so this is an area that I am going to continue to work on.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Practice, practice, practice. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. I worked continuously on personal projects for at least two years before anyone took notice. I was playing the long game and devoted myself to the craft of getting better at typography and lettering. Also, you don’t need any fancy tools – pencil and paper are all you need, just start drawing.
Once you start to get more comfortable with your craft, reach out to family, friends and local businesses to see if they need help with any branding, packaging, interiors, or anything that you can contribute to that can allow you to use your craft.
Start engaging with your local community, go to meet-ups, talks and networking events. Get out of your comfort zone, say hello to people and be known as that amazing creative. When that time comes, when people need help with their businesses, you want to be at the top of their mind and the only way to do that is to get out into the big bad world.