Starting out in 2004, Toronto Ontario based Doublenaut Design have been at the forefront of the gig poster, screenprint and textural illustration game for the best part of a fifteen years. We talked to founder Matt McCracken to find how they got there and what keeps them going.
How did you guys start out?
Matt and Andrew McCracken started the studio in 2004. We specialized mainly in music related artwork, band merchandise and gig posters. After several years we began diversifying our work and clients, focusing more on branding and illustration outside of the music world. In 2012 Andrew opened his other company, Town Moto, and shifted his attention there. In 2015 Ross Proulx joined on as a partner. Matt and Ross produce all of the work that has come out of Doublenaut since then.
I first discovered your screen printed gig posters around 2006 and was instantly sold on your minimalist vector style, use of texture and restricted color palette. What kind of impact has screenprinting and the gig poster scene had on your work?
It had quite a big impact on our work. It was the first design medium that we were passionate about and really focused on. We learned the ability to design simply with minimal colour palettes in order to make the printing process easier and more affordable. We also made a lot of connections and gained recognition from attending the API Flatstock festivals for a few years. Eventually our poster style influenced our illustration and other design work and attracted new kinds of clients. One of our main clients, Bellwoods Brewery, really liked our posters and wanted the same aesthetic applied to their labels.
"WE ALSO STARTED USING TEXTURE HEAVILY WHEN FIRST LEARNED HOW TO SCREEN PRINT. WE WEREN’T VERY GOOD AT IT AND THE SCREENS WE HAD ACCESS TO WERE PRETTY BEAT UP. SOME HAD HOLES AND GHOST SPOTS FROM PREVIOUS JOBS. ADDING TEXTURES TO OUR POSTERS WOULD HELP HIDE THE IMPERFECTIONS AND MISTAKES".
What drew you to start using texture in your work? Was it there from day one or has your use of texture evolved over time?
We always loved the look of textured design and illustration. In our early days we did a lot of design for punk, metal, and other heavy music. Texture worked well for those styles of music. We also started using texture heavily when first learned how to screen print. We weren’t very good at it and the screens we had access to were pretty beat up. Some had holes and ghost spots from previous jobs. Adding textures to our posters would help hide the imperfections and mistakes.
How did you learn to use texture in your work? Was it through deliberate experimentation or happy accidents?
Mostly through experimentation. The filters and brushes that existed back then weren’t very good so we made our own textures using various techniques. We played with xerox machines, rubbed paper on dirty floors, found old distressed surfaces, etc. Then we would scan and adjust them to our liking in Photoshop. Doing it this way felt more authentic and we were happier with the results.
Even though Doublenaut work as a team, your work maintains a fairly consistent studio aesthetic. Is this something you need to consciously work on or does it come naturally?
It mostly comes naturally. It’s not something we really intended on but it helps our business for sure. Clients know what to expect regardless of which designer is working on their project. It also comes in handy when we’re working on a large project or a series of illustrations. We can both work on the same project and complete it quicker than one person.
You boast an enviable list of clients ranging from global shoe brands to small craft-breweries. How important were personal projects and low budget yet interesting briefs to the development of your careers?
They were very important in the beginning because that was all we had at the time. The advantage to personal and low budget projects is that they often come with a good amount of creative freedom. We were able to show off our ideas and skills through this kind of work and develop a style that helped define us. We still feel this kind of work is important to do when possible. Our ‘small budget’ work tends to be received better by our followers and attracts attention from larger clients. We’ve landed some of our largest clients with work we did for some of our smallest clients.
Who’s work inspired you early on and who or what inspires you to keep going now?
Early on our biggest influences were studios specializing in gig posters like Invisible Creature, Aesthetic Apparatus, and The Patent Pending, along with the mid-century design greats like Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, and Charley Harper. These days we tend to be inspired by studios/illustrators that straddle the line between the design and art world. Studios/designers like LAND, Struggle Inc., Tim Lahan to name a few.
TAKE ON JOBS THAT ALLOW CREATIVE FREEDOM EVEN IF THEY DON’T PAY THAT WELL. YOU’LL BE ABLE TO BUILD A STRONG PORTFOLIO AND DO THE KIND OF WORK YOU ENJOY DOING.
Do you have any tips or lightbulb moments about working with texture that you’d like to share?
Experiment and figure out what works best for you. Brushes are great and easy to use, but it can also be fun to make unique textures yourself.
Any advice for young designers and illustrators starting out?
Take on jobs that allow creative freedom even if they don’t pay that well. You’ll be able to build a strong portfolio and do the kind of work you enjoy doing. Also, try new things when you have the chance and aim to develop a unique style. Don’t focus on imitating your favourite designers and doing what’s already been done by others.
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