Voices

Voices // An evening with Jack Renwick & John Mawby

by Katie Cadwallader

A few weeks ago, we were thrilled to welcome Jack Renwick to Bristol. She spoke of the highlights (and low lights) of her incidental journey to Creative Director – peppered with insights and wisdom she collected along the way. We also began our new initiative, WEDF Warm Up. Our ‘warm-up’ acts are rising creatives based in the West of England, sharing what they do for 15 minutes before the headline speaker.

Kicking off our inaugural #WEDFWarmUp was the humble but super talented John Mawby. John is a lettercutter (which doesn’t mean he works at the sorting office). He works just like most of the greats who have graced the WEDF stage before him – starting with a pencil & paper. Working to scale, John draws his incredible intricate alphabets by eye, straight on to whatever substrate the project has determined. Be that wood or slate, the letterforms seen in his work are all from memory. As for the flourishes? “I usually drink a can of red bull and let the madness take over. I’ll often laugh out loud at the shapes I create”. Truly setting in stone (sorry) the level of craftsmen John is. Once this phase is done, instead of swapping to a mouse, Johns next tool of choice is a chisel. This is where the magic truly happens. We were very lucky to gain insight into his work at the beginning of his career, and will certainly watch the remainder with great anticipation.

Next up, Jack Renwick burst on to the stage to explain her mantra “Blood, sweat & tea”, written in neon as a leaving present from her epic thirteen year stint at The Partners – to sum up her attitude towards her work. Jack only hires people who give a f**k. And in return? They’re promised great work and an unlimited supply of Tunnocks & Buckfast*.

We began the evening with a glimpse into Jack’s early life; haircuts, space boots and all. It originated in the careers office – “You should do Graphic Design because you cannae draw”. With that advice, Jack spent a tumultuous few years in shoe shops and workshops hunting for the elusive career she was destined for. A chance encounter with a student at Duncan of Jordanstone was the key – he advised Jack to get a really big, flat suitcase with some work in and the rest is history. Using her D&AD Pencil win as a springboard, Jack propelled straight into the heart of the industry with a job at the Partners. 13 years later, Jack found herself resigning with no plan but to ‘Make it different. Make a difference’.

This is one of many mantra backbones of the aptly named Jack Renwick Studio (so called because of aforementioned lack of plan). Some of the others are:

1. Keep it simple. The simple truth of the problem is always the starting point in the studio. Visual wit plays a big part in the studio's work, the age old 1 + 1 = 3.

2. Get under the skin. Particularly in the brilliant Carpenter’s Wharf project, we got a glimpse into the amount of research that goes on behind the scenes. Even if that means hanging about in the pubs near the client. It’s all about authenticity.

3. Say yes – then style it out. Jack gave us some examples of those big scary projects that were out of her usual depth (and probably wouldn’t be that funny or jazzy).

4. Don’t be precious. You can fight something to the death if you believe in it, but there will always be those projects that run away and never have chance to see the light of day. So long as they still have a wee logo idea though, just so you can sleep at night.

5. Making a difference. We saw the great work the team had done for SATO – a sanitation system that had to cross the language and poverty barriers. See opportunity in everything. Go at each project as if it’s going to be killer.

6. And the final piece of advice for those young guns looking up at Jack’s enviable career to date?

Moisturise.

*Not confirmed but strongly implied

Photo credit: Faye Hedges