I first thought, I don't know why, that Spencer's work was for Petting Zoo Keeper Design, that was not that easy to find on the web. As far as I was concerned, I only managed to find Fisher Price Little People Petting Zoo Keeper Sonya which was really cute indeed but quite far from rock poster art. Hopefully for everybody, and especially for me (as I am a huge fan) Spencer answered my interview and I hope this will help other art lovers to discover him. Later on he wrote me to say that indeed it was Petting Zoo Prints & Collectables. Lazy as I am I kept this text as an introduction.
Hey Benoit ...today its been too quiet - yesterday I had been skidding about doing chores, paying bills, posting things out and trying to restore a bit of order to the workspace which, after a strange and hectic October has become a twisted witch's nest. To keep me buzzing along I had Charles Bradley & The Bullets (amazing) and other bopalong Daptone / Stones Throw stuff on the Mp3
...When I got in from the cold, it was Darker My Love followed by something I can't remember, some old faves from The Telescopes, then finally just as I cued up some filthy crunchy stuff by The Hunches and thought about rewarding myself with a beer, my old and unhappy amp started cutting out. *grrr*
Well me, Spencer, I'm a slightly disastrous, happy go lucky goof from the middle of the UK's southcoast (Portsmouth and Brighton are both considered home towns), amongst other things I run Petting Zoo Prints & Collectables and with friends I design and handprint posters, prints, toys and objet d'crap - cute stuff, fun stuff, sometimes slightly warped stuff. Mikey is a man of few words and Emily ...well actually I haven't seen Emily for weeks now.
This is our/my first interview (so weird - in a good way of course) and I feel compelled to apologise in case I've made a meal of it. I always find it tricky writing bios and what have you, I'll edit and reread and re-edit because, as my friends would unanimously confirm, I'm prone to taking the longest route before arriving at a point... most of the time they don't mind, but I worry a bit - I guess that despite my enthusiasm I'm not as happy go lucky as I'd like to be - My use of 'slightly' may have been misplaced by one word back there. (My amp really is old and and unhappy though - I'm not making this up).
I have memories of some drawings of mine, portraits of relatives, neighbours and 'Mac' my dad's workmate, I think from age 3 - they were squiggly felt-tip-pen drawings that I swear had really astounding life and character observation - I recall finding them when I was 10 or 11 in a scrapbook my mum had kept and how I was spellbound, baffled, even a little troubled by them ...it was a shock to imagine they were by me, they were way better than what I'd been doing at school, conditioned by other kids and teachers etc - I'm proud of the 10 year old me for noting that... though my formal education then proceeded to take a nosedive.
Did you follow any course or did you improve by drawing in the margins of your schoolbooks?
Today are you living from your art, or do you do something else for a living ?
Yes I am - just about! I was a late starter at actually really working hard to claim the life I wanted, after a long time just not believing it was possible, but after making the switch and a few strategic sacrifices it has all actually started to gel, its great! ...its exclusively other people who hate me now.
Are you collaborating with magazines/fanzines, regularly?
No... but I've written a (very) short book that I'm illustrating, printing and binding, plus one of my best buddies has given me a brilliant piece of prose that John Le Carre awarded him a £5K prize for - I can do with it what I like, so another little bound book is in order methinks. Entitled "A Doctrine To Children" or "Never Boob Another Man's Rubber", it is like an ant-farm view into a slice of his funny little brain.
Where does your influence come from? Is there any artists/graphists you particularly like, what are your influences?
Allsorts, papel picado to Pixar, Laurel &Hardy, Luke &Drew (Drozd & Millward)... there was an old (I think) Czech cartoon about a mole with a squeaky voice who used to wet himself and cry a lot...
Mikey and I have lots of varied influences for all the different stuff we do, but things that have definitely shaped the Petting Zoo's output would be vintage mens mag layouts, candy cigarette packs and 50s 60s fabric design. Also stocking wrappers, lifestyle/fashion ads and just about anything else printed that I tore free and smuggled home from Middle Europe when I went inter-railing. Oh and nature, I nearly always forget to credit the feathered and furry for their endless, screeching, rutting riot of inspiration.
Artist-wise, there really are too many to mention, but amongst our favourite gigposter giants (Guy Burwell, Patent Pending & The Little Friends Of Printmaking) is a spectrum of styles we admire by folks like Ethan Dercole, Lisa Czech, Jake Kelly, Jorge Alderete and We Buy Your Kids and that really is naming too few. (Yes, we are aware that nearly all of those are transAtlantic)
Kettle on, stereo on, kicks on - go!
The principal goal is to have fun and to make people smile.
Do you do everything by hand or on computer?
Nearly everything eventually goes through the computer, some of it even starts there, as a preliminary sketch 'cut' on the tablet.
A short while ago though, for instance, I did a few very quick paste-up projects for my kid sister's club night and exposed screens with just collaged card, old torn acetates and a fat scratchy paintbrush... that was really fun and despite a few compositional headaches (corrected with folds, snips and 2 reshot screens) I was very surprised at how cool the results were - I think that's what I'd like to inject a little bit more into future Petting Zoo work, experimentation and surprises.
Usually pretty darn fast, nearly Scrojo fast, the style we've gone for is tight-deadline-friendly, it's also economical and fun to do.
You have a very distinctive style, are you doing only what you feel like or if tomorrow somebody asks you an oil painting with horses running out of water with a sunset backdrop, is it a problem or are you up for it ?
Personally, I only do what I feel like doing, that's what the past 5 or 6 years have been all about for me.
I do take on commissions and without a doubt I enjoy the constraints of a brief - they give you a barrier to immediately run along and can take you to new creative territories. But, be it a Petting Zoo deal or a job I've been earmarked for as a result of my other work, I have to be excited about the project, the client themselves or whatever it is they're promoting with my time, my effort and yes, I will type it, my style.
...some people in the gigposter biz think that is snobbish - I think those people are funny. Funny little peasants. *giggle*
Its just a case of different strokes for different folks... next question.
Of course I didn't have to write "next question" we all know it was already there on the screen in front of me - I wrote it to be cool.
Petting Zoo posters are made for bands that you would hear playing in the print studio. Often obscure, always diverse and usually escaping the British music press radar. We'd like to plug/shout out to talented friends in Little Barrie, The Duke Spirit, Becky Blitz's Death Pop projects and The Demons (You're Smiling Now...) but I'd also like to publicly praise some lads from Atlanta Georgia called Gringo Star (think modern day, instrument swapping Kinks). Those boys have undertaken numerous tours of the UK and Europe, all self booked, funded, managed etc. Even if knackered with the flu, they never fail to deliver a belting show with infectious enthusiasm, be it a quiet, lacklustre, provincial venue or a difficult crowd of spoiled, slick city kids. I absolutely love their gigs.
Lilys jump immediately to mind, yep, really wanna poster them... The Dead Trees, Stepkids, Jamie Lidell and my 'too cool for school' friends The Dark Horses. Also, we've done work for Heavy Trash, but I'd love to twist Jon Spencer's arm into letting us loose on a Blues Explosion poster. Hot Damn!
Do you choose the artists yourself?
Yeah, with only occasional exceptions. I'd imagine that for a little while to come, most Brits will reply the same way.
What is the most difficult part in designing a poster ?
Well once, during a powercut, three or four hours work on a particularly tricky design was lost and, frustrated beyond words I rolled, seething, wrapped in a black cloud to the pub down the hill... the next alarm-spoilt morning, I fired up the machine with a hangover and a sense of dread, but found (happily) I was able to do the previous night's work in considerably less than half the time as I knew exactly where and how I wanted each and every element to sit - it occurred to me then that most of the time spent designing was decision making. Making decisions about layout and composition... you know, nudge nudge, squint, click - zoom out, mutter in low tones - undo
...I think that answers your question.
I really enjoyed reading some of the other artists 'difficult part' replies by the way - fascinating and quite revealing
Clay Hayes is a great guy, he's really helped a lot of studios' work get exposure around the world - I was extremely chuffed when he invited the Zoo to participate in that book - its a great publication and we're nestled amongst some great contemporaries.
Do you think you are part of a "Graphic Scene", if so who else ?
Ugh, I've editted and re-editted this response 4 times now - I like the sound of being part of a scene, and yes, very loosely I guess I am... but I'm steering clear of collectives however, for fear of fragile egos (believe it or not, mine apparently is a bowling ball).
Petting Zoo is not a scene or a collective, nor is it a groovy happening - it is a zoo... mind your fingers.
online : easypz.co.uk (a very poorly neglected blog) or at gigposters.com
or in real life at stockists (we're looking for more in North UK) : Bonzo, Boy Parker (from next Spring), Custard, Flo & Stan's, Handmade, Little Rotter, Pussy (also next Spring), Sixtyseven, Teatray in the sky, The Fortune Of War, or our market stall on the sunny Brighton beach.
The best praise you received lately?
"Ive framed my cat print, it now hangth above my bed" a repeat visitor to our stall this summer with a cute lisp and a heartstopping Louise Brooks vibe. *meow*
We wish you every success sir, Mikey has opted for an affordable back specialist in his future vicinity.
Thanks for answering my questions and see you soon on the website !!
Thanks for asking us to participate.