Craig Oldham – A Creative Awakening

We gathered on a cold and rainy November evening for our last talk of the year. What better way to wrap things up than with two incredible speakers who filled the Arnolfini auditorium to the brim with wit, charisma and brilliance.

First to the stage was our talented warm-up act and all-round lovely guy, Robbie Cathro. A Bristol-based illustrator and storyteller, Robbie candidly shared his career journey with us, covering everything from the quiet days of uncertainty to the grand payoff for not giving up and relentlessly believing in his ability.

A proud UWE graduate, Robbie’s love for illustration developed early in his childhood, inspired by the whimsical world of Studio Ghibli, Disney’s Aristocats and the peculiar style of Brett Helquist. Visual references from those early years clearly shaped his unique taste and style in the work he later went on to create for clients such as Anorak and AQUILA magazines. 

He was happy to reveal that he no longer has to work part-time in a supermarket; today he has an agent and works for leading brands such as O2, Air BnB and The National History Museum. It was clear that Robbie’s passion for learning forms a big part of his approach, and is one of the things he values most within the process. He takes immense pleasure in stumbling across and learning about compelling stories that have positive impact on the world, and translating them into charming visual expressions. 

I think I speak for everyone when I say that Robbie helped reignite our imaginations by serving up a slice of childhood memories – a sublime contrast to the adult and political nature of Craig’s talk.

Robbie Cathro

Next up was mastermind and founder of The Office of Craig and Creative Director of Rough Trade Books, Craig Oldham. He joined WEDF for the second time to share a recent passion project born out of a nerdy love for cult movies and meticulous attention to detail.

We knew we were in for a straight-talking, sharp-witted, jaw-dropping talk the moment Craig stepped on the stage wearing a perfect copy of the Apollo 11 jumper from The Shining. His disclaimer slide projected at the start said it all – we were in for a few hours of pure uncensored Oldham, and we couldn’t have been more excited! 

The story behind the outfit soon became clear as Craig unashamedly admitted his addiction to really s*** cheesy B movie sci-fi and horror films’. Fascinated with the unique nature of these films, he described them as a convergence point for all creative disciplines and a vehicle for sharing important societal and political messages inspiring by old references. From this passion came the idea of creating a collection of books that would celebrate the role and power of printed artefacts as catalysts and key turning points in a story – think Beetlejuice, The Shining, Mandy, and of course, John Carpenter’s They Live’.

Craig Oldham

Own your ideas

— Craig Oldham

For Craig, They Live’ represents the perfect example of a creative intersection. The film sets out to subvert the status quo of the time; the anti-consumerist and anti-régime attitude is boldly expressed through a visual style inspired by the rebellious public works of art created by artists of that era. Similarly, the make-up in the film represents a creative gesture intended to convey the decaying nature of the human condition when taken over by greed and selfishness.

Creating the book was a journey in itself for Craig. Designed as a perfect replica from the film’s iconic magazine stand, Craig describes it as a tapas’ of content’ – a mix of contributions from people in different creative disciplines, visual references from the film, and heaps of design gestures throughout that make it an excellent sensorial experience for every creative and film nerd.

As we were coming to the end of his talk, Craig left us with one final thought – own your ideas’. For him the book was not a vanity project, but a creative expression of what he believes in, celebrates and seeks to reappraise for the benefit of all. He urged us to create something that people will care about – to invest in the content as much as the aesthetics, to go straight to the source when doing our research and to sweat the small ideas.

Craig Oldham is certainly one of a kind in terms of thinking, attitude and vibe. Watching him this evening, his unapologetic creativity felt like a breath of fresh air. Unlike other talks that can often cast a wide net across the design industry, Craig’s was a unique inspection of one particular topic, a deep dive into layers of meaning from the perspective of a designer.

For us it was an eye-opening experience that made us aware of the true value of being present, perceptive and invested in something in order to become more creatively astute.

Photography by Ben McCluskey