How would you describe what you do?
I’m a graphic designer working on brands, print, web, 3D spaces and everything in between. I also do a lot of illustration and I’m still figuring out whether this makes me an illustrator or a designer who draws.
What does your typical working week look like?
I work full time at Instruct Studio, working on projects with all kinds of clients, often in the cultural, media and architectural sectors. It’s really fun to have so much variety in the work I do – I can be wireframing websites, doing illustration, storyboarding animation and developing a new brand identity system all in the same day. We’re quite a small team so I get to be involved in every step of the project and be really hands on whether that’s managing production or helping to install signage. Outside of the studio, I do a lot of personal work exploring illustration, typography and narrative. And I usually have at least one unfinished comic in the works at all times.
How does print feature in your work?
Designing for print was definitely my first love and I still sometimes feel that a project isn’t really ‘real’ until there’s a physical object I can hold in my hands. I love working with different print processes and finding ways to make print an affordable and sustainable part of the work I make, whether that’s risograph printing or specifying fancy paper stocks for embossing.
“I love working with different print processes and finding ways to make print an affordable and sustainable part of the work I make.”Ellie Thomas
You work mostly using digital tools but you clearly have the manual skills of an illustrator. In an increasingly digital world, how important and relevant are hands-on skills such as drawing, collage, note-taking etc. to your professional and personal work?
Almost everything I do starts out with a list and a thumbnail sketch. The sketches rarely make sense to anyone but me and often don’t look anything like the finished thing but starting on paper feels a lot more grounded than staring at a blank Illustrator artboard. I love exploring texture and movement through mark making and I try to make sure everything I do has some element of ‘hands on’ work involved. Sometimes I have to specifically make time for this, especially in client work, but I think apps like Adobe Capture have actually made it quicker and easier than ever to incorporate traditional techniques into digital work.
Is there a particular project or career highlight that has had a meaningful impact on your career?
Not long after I graduated I got to work on the campaign visuals for the Womanchester Statue Project which eventually resulted in the Emmeline Pankhurst statue, the first statue of a (non-Royal) woman in Manchester. A lot of my university work explored the space between design and activism and it was really gratifying to be able to continue this in my “proper job” around our commercial work. It also indirectly brought me to Women in Print and I got to produce a piece about Louise Da-Cocodia, one of the women from the original statue shortlist, for the first exhibition.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, designing for Frankie Boyle’s TV show New World Order has been an amazing (and surreal) experience. When your work is on television it’s much easier to explain to your family what you actually do.
If you could collaborate with another creative, dead or alive, who would it be and why and what would you make?
Chris Ware. I’m sure his graphic novels have taught me more about layout, grids and format than my graphic design training. My favourite book of his is called Building Stories and it’s not actually a book; it’s a giant box full of lots of different publications, hardback books, little pamphlets, newspapers… there’s no set order to read them in but by the time you finish them you can piece together the larger story. I have no idea what we would make together but I’d love to find out.
We’d like to ask you to recommend a ‘woman in print’ to us…
I love Tara Collette’s work. Her banners are amazing and we have a print of her “There’s more to life than risograph and G.F. Smith” piece in our studio.