Creative Lives — Multitalented creative Joe Prytherch on making art for music, from London to rural Sweden
While at university, Joe Prytherch (known as Mason London) built up a portfolio by designing artwork and posters for friends’ music projects. Although his professional life after graduating began with a lot of commercial work for big corporate companies, his portfolio of self-initiated, music-related work finally landed him a series of commissions from Stones Throw Records, including a t-shirt design for Madlib. The experience propelled him into the design sector of the music industry and ultimately led him to take on the role of art director with Boiler Room. Now freelancing from his base near Uppsala in Sweden, Joe is regularly commissioned by clients in the music industry to create album artwork and music videos. He talks to us about the transition from busy London to tranquil Sweden, and tells us how his motivation to do self-initiated projects helped him to get his dream job.
Freelance Designer, Illustrator and Animator (May 2017–present)
Stones Throw Records, RBMA, Sony Music, Adidas, Rhythm Section, Esquire Magazine
Art Director, Boiler Room (2014–2017)
Senior Designer and Mid-weight Designer, LBi (2011–2014)
Junior Designer, Public Creative (2007–2011)
Media Practice and Theory, Sussex University (2004–2007)
How would you describe what you do?
I do design, illustration and animation work, predominantly for clients in the music industry but also for sports brands, magazines and small companies. Typical projects include animated music videos, album and single artwork, social content for sneaker releases and editorial images to sit alongside articles. I also occasionally do branding work for small companies.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I like to wake up early at around 6am – I got into this habit when I had a full-time job and wanted to do freelance projects before I went into work and now am just a gross, fully-committed morning person.
My working hours are loosely 7am–6pm but this allows for a lot of flexibility in the pace and intensity that I work at. I’ll rarely work solidly through those hours – I take breaks to do research, go for a run, or just procrastinate watch Youtube videos. Procrastination can sometimes really help my work process as lots of my ideas will pop into my head after the brainstorming phase when I’m messing about doing other stuff.
When I lived in London I lived in Dalston and had a desk in a studio space that I'd go and work in, but now I live in Sweden in a more rural area I work from home.
Work for JD. Reid
How collaborative is your work?
Right now my work isn’t very collaborative. I’ll chat to the client in depth about what they want from a project then basically just go away and do it myself, giving regular progress updates. This could be a few day’s work if I’m doing album artwork, or six weeks work if I’m doing a music video.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? Does it allow for a good work/life balance?
These days, a lot of the projects I work on are for things that I find personally interesting – like the music industry. When I worked in larger companies I’d often be working for clients like banks or other companies that I’d have little personal investment in or knowledge about. I guess it’s obvious but I much prefer working on something that I have an interest in.
I really love the design process and how a lot of the time I have to rely on my gut instinct. Firstly, searching around for a response to a brief until I find one that feels right, then working out the best execution for that idea, then finessing it at the end of the process until it looks just right.
“A lot of the time I have to rely on my gut instinct.”
It feels like constructing a house of cards where all the parts at each stage have to be perfectly balanced to make the project successful, and it’s very rewarding when at the end it doesn’t all collapse.
I wouldn’t say that I have a particularly healthy work/life balance as I do work long hours and often think about work when I’m not working, but I do really enjoy what I do so I’m very lucky in that respect.
Work for Touching Bass on NTS Radio; below: Cover artwork for Kiefer and Stefflon Don, Wiley, Sean Paul and Idris Elba’s ‘Boasty’
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The work I did recently for Kiefer, who is signed to Stones Throw Records, is my favourite thing I’ve done for a while. I was asked to make these little looping animations to promo tracks off his new EP [cover artwork above] and I loved filling them with little details that you only catch on repeat viewings - plus I love his music and the label. Also the cover I did for Wiley’s last single Boasty featuring Stefflon Don, Sean Paul and Idris Elba [also shown above] was very exciting as Wiley is someone whose music I’ve loved ever since I was a teen.
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
Enjoying what I do and working hard are probably the main two, although I don’t know if you’d call the first one a skill. I wouldn’t be doing the freelance work I do now if I hadn’t worked hard on extracurricular projects, and I wouldn’t have been motivated to do those if I didn’t enjoy doing them.
What do you like about working in Sweden? What prompted the move, and what has your experience been so far?
The move was prompted by my girlfriend being offered a job out here and I’ve always wanted to live in a different country for a bit so we decided to go for it.
Although I work from Sweden, I still work with clients all over the world, so really my work hasn’t changed much from when I lived in the UK. I do like working somewhere quieter though – in the UK when I worked from home I was working on Kingsland road in the heart of East London with all the distractions that brought with it. Here my house is beside a lake and it feels much easier to be organised when everything else around you is moving at a slower pace.
“It’s through personal projects that I carry on learning.”
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
I’ve always worked on personal projects throughout my life. I think they're really important for personal development, as these are the projects where you can explore new ideas and push yourself a bit more. If a client commissions me to do work, they’ll be asking for something similar to what I’ve done in the past, so it’s through personal projects that I carry on learning.
Work for Thread
What tools do you use most for your work?
Hardware-wise I use a MacBook Pro with a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. Software-wise I use Illustrator and Photoshop to illustrate and design and After Effects and Adobe Animate for animation and video work.
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
There is one book in particular that helped me an enormous amount – Stefan Sagmeister’s Made You Look. He is a hero of mine and I read this book after having worked for several years in big companies doing quite dispiriting repetitive design work for corporate clients. It’s essentially his autobiography, told through the different projects he worked on but filled with amazing pictures and stories about each project. It reminded me that design could be funny, exciting and imaginative, and it completely reinvigorated my love of design.
Work for Terrace Martin x Smino x Adidas
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to be in the future – I just threw myself into what I enjoyed and the path kind of worked itself out.
Did your upbringing influence your choice of career?
I think it did a lot. Until I got to secondary school, I wasn’t allowed to watch more than half an hour of TV a day (which I was absolutely raging about) and instead was encouraged to draw. I used to make comics that ran onto several hundred pages of old printer paper from my dad’s office. I think this really helped develop my imagination and love of drawing. Also, when I was about 15, I was given a computer one Christmas and that was probably the single biggest factor in leading me to the career I have now. I used to spend hours every day redesigning artwork for my favourite albums on it, learning to build websites and teaching myself how to animate in Flash and uploading those results to a site called Newgrounds to have them torn apart by other users.
Work for Oscar Worldpeace
How useful have your studies been in your career?
Taking media studies at school was very influential for me I think. We had a very well-equipped department and a teacher that took it seriously. I think that seeing her and my school in general treat it with the same level of importance as traditional subjects convinced me it was a worthwhile endeavour. By the time I got to university, I had done so much self-initiated work that the actual teaching was less useful, but having three years to experiment and meet other creative people was invaluable.
What were your initial steps into your professional career?
While at university I continued to spend several evenings every week experimenting on my computer – particularly in the second and third years. Because of this, friends would ask me to design posters and websites for their bands and so this meant by the time I left uni, I could put together a portfolio of work from (admittedly poorly) paying clients. I think this made me stand out among other applicants who were applying to agencies with portfolios full of university work. I managed to get a job at the second agency I interviewed at – a small web design agency of about five people called Public Creative.
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break?
I experience lucky breaks all the time! But I think hard work helps to both create lucky breaks and allows you to exploit them when they present themselves.
As an example – for a long time in my career I was working in agencies that did web design work for big, commercial clients. I really wanted to be doing work for record labels instead but because my portfolio was full of work for banks and beer brands no record label would hire me. So I started doing self-initiated illustration work and once I had a small portfolio that I was happy with, I contacted dozens and dozens of record labels with these new examples of work. 99% of the time I didn’t get an email back but eventually I got a reply from the art director at Stones Throw Records in LA, one of my favourite labels. He commissioned a few bits of work – some of them didn’t pan out – but one that did was a tour t-shirt for Madlib.
Then four years later, when I applied for a job at Boiler Room, the interviewer had been working as an intern at Stones Throw when I did the Madlib project and remembered it. I think it was this chance personal connection that ultimately got me a nose ahead of the other applicants the job.
“Don’t wait to fall into your dream career path – you need to take proactive steps into it.”
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
Being stuck in corporate design companies and not being able to see a path towards doing the sort of design and illustration work I wanted to be doing was a big challenge.
On the process side, one thing I’ve got better at is not starting design or illustration work until I have a fully thought out idea. When I was younger, I used to be so enthusiastic that I’d just throw myself into projects without thinking through my response to a brief and the final result would fall short of the mark. Spending time up front thinking through your idea will save you time in the long run and result in something that better answers the brief.
Work for Mr Jukes
What are your future goals?
In the short term, I like variation in my work, so really I’d just like something to be a little different in each project I do. In the long term, I’d love to do a mixed media exhibition one day. I’d also like to do work for charities and causes I believe in, not just commercial clients.
Could you do this job forever?
I think so, yes.
Work for Larry Heard
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Creative director Kate Moross wrote a book about her career called Make Your Own Luck and I think that’s the best advice you can have when you’re starting out in the creative industries. Don’t wait to fall into your dream career path – you need to take proactive steps into it. You need to make a portfolio filled with work you want to do more of, and if needs be, build this portfolio by doing freelance or self-initiated work outside your main working hours. To make a pivot in your career path takes a lot of work but it can also be exhilarating as new projects start coming in and is entirely worth it if you get to work on things you enjoy.