Creative Lives — Graphic designer and DR.ME co-founder Mark Edwards on the struggles of setting up a studio and making ends meet

Posted 18 April 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

When it comes to finding work, “sometimes,” muses designer Mark Edwards, “it can feel like the planets have simply aligned.” In Mark’s case, the same can be said for finding work partners. After serendipitously being paired with now co-founder Ryan Doyle on their first day at university, the duo went on to found creative studio DR.ME in 2010, which they run out of The Engine House in Manchester. The self-confessed music fans have since worked for a plethora of record labels and recently published their own book on contemporary collage with Thames & Hudson. Mark talks to us about the struggles involved in setting up a studio, working on projects while figuring out how to pay rent and why illustrator Mike Perry threatened to send them back to Manchester while interning in New York.

Mark Edwards

Job Title

Graphic Designer and Co-founder and Director of DR.ME Studio

Location

Manchester

Clients

Bloomberg Businessweek, Umbro, Thames & Hudson, Sony, Manchester International Festival, Recorder Magazine, Soup Kitchen, Monacelli Press, Vevo, Young Turks Records, Tri Angle Records, Budweiser, Midi Festival, Cactus Magazine, Cloudwater Brew Co

Previous Employment

Internship, Mike Perry Studio, New York (2010)

Education

BA Design & Art Direction, (now called Graphic Design) Manchester School of Art & Design (2007–2010)

Website
Social Media

Mark

Inside The Engine House, Manchester

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Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
I co-run DR.ME along with Ryan Doyle. We were paired together on the very first day of studying at Manchester School of Art & Design. The tutors devised a ‘get to know each other brief’ where you were paired with someone else in the year group and asked to create a piece of work about the other person. As our names were next to each other in the register we were assigned to work together. Ryan’s accent was much stronger then (he’s from Perth in Scotland) and I really struggled to understand what he was saying. Having overcome this, however, we became friends and started collaborating on projects. After university we scored an internship in New York with Mike Perry for a couple of months before returning back home and founding a studio of our own.

As a freelancer, what kinds of clients do you work for?
A lot of the work we find ourselves doing is for the music industry, but we are starting to diversify. People have seen record sleeves we have done and said “Hey, could you make something for the cover of a book or a beer bottle label or a magazine” which is really exciting. We’re big music fans so it’s always a massive honour to translate someones music visually, but it’s also really exciting to get an email or a phone call asking to create something that we don’t know how to do.

What does a typical working day look like? 
Ryan has just moved back from living in the south of France so we don’t actually share a studio. When he moved away, having shared a studio for four to five years, I didn’t know whether we would make it work. But I think our newly found independent ways of working have strengthened our joint output. 

The bare bones of a typical working day would be: get in at 10am, drink coffee, chat with Ry over Slack about the project we’re working on and then work on it until lunch. I have an outrageously low attention span so sharing a studio with friends helps. Throughout the day I’ll probably work on between one and four things – whether that’s admin like sending (and chasing) invoices, packaging print orders or working on a client project.

I work pretty much until 6pm. When we were first starting out there was a weird ‘badge of honour’ thing to pulling all nighters on projects. Did it ever make the work any better? Nope. Being smart with your time is super-important I think.

What tools do you use most for your work?
Mac Desktop; Slack to share ideas throughout the day; Olympus Mju-II camera; Swan Morton graphic scalpel; Jakar steel ruler and an A1 Fred Aldous cutting mat.

“We’re big music fans so it’s always a massive honour to translate someones music visually, but it’s also really exciting to get an email or a phone call asking to create something that we don’t know how to do.”

Artwork for ‘Elegiac’ by Cubenx

Work for Recorder Magazine

Work for Recorder Magazine

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How does your work usually come about?  
The majority of the time we don’t really know exactly where new clients come from. An educated guess would be through seeing our work on Instagram or reading an article about a recent project. My favourite way, however, is when people get in touch with us after being shown our work by a mutual friend or acquaintance. At other times it can feel like the planets have simply aligned. 

Where does the majority of your work take place? 
On my desk. I spend a lot of time cutting things out. The mat is directly in front of my mac so I guess I’m in front of my mac all day, but more often than not it’s used as a finishing tool rather than something with which to create work.

How collaborative is your work? 
Obviously DR.ME is built on a collaboration between Ryan and myself, but outside of this I find it a massive help to be surrounded by a great group of friends who will give honest and fair critique on new work. DR.ME also act as remote consultants to Next Exit who are based in LA.

“When we were first starting out there was a weird ‘badge of honour’ thing to pulling all nighters. Did it ever make the work any better? Nope. Being smart with your time is super-important I think.”

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
Chasing invoices, I feel like in another life I could’ve been a debt collector; I’ve got a beautiful text message history with the manager of a band where I’m chasing a pretty small amount of money for nine months every day – it’d make an amazing book. The most enjoyable is the simple stuff – like when you make something that you love, knowing that client loves it too.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
Publishing our first book with Thames & Hudson, Cut That Out — Contemporary Collage in Graphic Design (available in all good book shops, and some bad ones) has been the most exciting. Working with the great Andrew Sanigar contributions editor at Thames & Hudson, we wrote, designed and promoted the book. It was a totally new experience, but I don’t know if there could have been a bigger swell of pride than getting sent the physical copy last August! 

What skills are essential to your job? 
Cutting things out, knowing which end of a scalpel to use, sticking things down, layout, type, hustle, friendliness, precociousness, a knowledge of Creative Suite and how to switch a mac on. 

Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance? 
I think it does. My girlfriend may think that I work too much, but I very rarely feel stressed. I feel really, really lucky to be able to do what I like at work everyday.

‘Cut That Out – Contemporary Collage in Graphic Design’ published by Thames & Hudson

‘Cut That Out – Contemporary Collage in Graphic Design’ published by Thames & Hudson

‘Cut That Out – Contemporary Collage in Graphic Design’ published by Thames & Hudson

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
My mum is an artist and always tried to steer me away from working in the art world, knowing how tough it is. I was a cellist and bassist in orchestras and bands growing up, although the only thing of real note (oi oi) I did was playing cello on a b-side for a Wild Beasts album Through the Iron Gate. But after leaving home, I realised the thing I really loved was making the CD covers and posters for gigs, which led to me studying Design and Art Direction at Manchester School of Art.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role? 
Super useful. I had a tutor called John Walsh who introduced me to so many great ways of working. When I told him that I’d finished a particular piece of work, he told me to go and find two fax machines and send the piece from one to the other and record the sound the fax machine made. This kind of explorative experimentation is still something I strive for when creating new work.

What were your first jobs? 
Ryan and I worked for the illustrator Mike Perry in his studio in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Mike was a king; each day was an adventure in learning, drawing, eating, drinking, listening and conversation. He taught us everything we know about running a studio and more. During the internship he had to go away for a week to do a lecture in Philadelphia, but before leaving he told us that if we didn’t get our website built and launched (we only had a blogspot at the time) before he got back he’d send us back to Manchester. This kind of encouragement was exactly what we needed.

“Just making a living is the biggest challenge – especially at first. We had to work out how to pay studio rent and how to eat.”

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development? 
Since founding the studio, we’ve made the artwork for four albums by the band Dutch Uncles. We created a pattern that played with collaged elements for the first record, Cadenza. The band were happy with this as a digital piece, but the label Memphis Industries asked us to do it physically to push the aesthetic further. It was a much more laborious process but was a lightbulb moment in the early life of the studio.

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
In a way, I still feel really unskilled. Pretty much everyone at The Engine House is highly skilled and I definitely have moments of feeling like a fraud!

What’s been your biggest challenge?  
Just making a living is the biggest challenge – especially at first. We had to work out how to pay studio rent and how to eat. When we got our first studio with Steve Hockett there wasn’t anything around the studio apart from a pie shop (and man cannot live on pie alone) so we used to get cheap packet noodles and fancy them up with miso paste, chillies, pak choi and spring onions. I swear we ate that every day for at least two years. 

I also don’t think we should have set up as a limited company when we started. It meant we were hit by pretty big accountant fees every year. We should have gone straight on PAYE; after two years we got a relatively huge tax bill. It would probably have meant curtains if our parents hadn’t loaned us the money.

Is your job what you thought it would be?
It totally is. I wanted a career where I could go to work each day, make interesting and exciting things, and have people commission us because of how we make work, rather than what it looks like.

Artwork for Freerotation

Artwork for Freerotation

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Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? 
Keep working on projects that are challenging and that push the practice forward. It’s always exciting when someone emails with a project that is maybe a little outside of our remit.

Could you do this job forever? 
There is literally nothing else I’d rather do, so yes.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to found their own studio and become a designer?
Make loads of great work, don’t feel downhearted by money (when you’re dead no one will ever ask how much you earned), be original, work really hard and never stop learning!


This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on The Engine House.

Posted 18 April 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Publishing, Design
Mentions: Mark Edwards, The Engine House, Thames & Hudson, Mike Perry
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