Answers to a few in-frequently asked questions about me & my work.
1Are you a designer or an illustrator?
Both. Illustration and graphic design co-exist within my visual communication practice. Sometimes I find it easier to describe myself as a designer-illustrator, so let's roll with that.
2We have a new project & would love to bring you on board. Now what?
Great! Please drop me an email with info about your project and what you are after.
If the project is A: exciting, and B: aims to create positive change for people and planet, then I'm sure we will be a good fit. I will reply with a game plan and we can take it from there.
3Who are your biggest influences?
My three brothers, hands down. One furniture maker, one digital designer and one printmaker. Each of their crafts are so different, yet their design thinking and meticulous attention to detail are what unites the Harrison brothers approach. Growing up as kids we would fill sketchbooks and scrapbooks, share ideas, and generally encourage one another on our creative projects. I'm grateful to say this still continues to this day.
From a young age, our parents loved to share their interest in the natural world with us. They come from scientific backgrounds (both doctors, dedicating their life careers to the NHS) so our house was always full of scientific books, old medical instruments and tools, and shelves stacked with nature journals and those iconic bright yellow National Geographics. Today, mum continues to inspire me through her oil paintings and sculptures, whilst dad shares with me his knowledge and appreciation of gardening, cooking, songbirds and general appreciation of nature and slowing down.
And then there is my girlfriend and creative partner in crime, Julia Bethan. Whether we're sitting in a coffee shop or travelling in our van, she can usually be found painting, writing, drawing, or embroidering something beautiful. Her storytelling ability through words and pictures never fails to amaze or delight. We approach illustration in such different ways. Hers is expressive, tactile, wobbly, human. Mine is flat, minimal, geometric, straight. But we always know when our work is truly true to our personal style, and we find great satisfaction in helping to gently guide one another along our own artistic paths.
Some of my favourite influential artists and designers include Charley Harper, Thomas Eckersley, Jason Munn, Oliver Jeffers and Noma Bar. Their work is timeless. I spent too many hours in my art school library pouring over books of their work and I urge you to do the same.
4How did you find your style?
It’s been a long journey and I'm still figuring it out. I've always been drawn to minimal realism, even in the early days before a computer became my main tool for drawing. My ultimate aim is to capture the essence of a subject in as few shapes as possible.
My biggest advice on style - don't force it, don't copy it. If you feel like you've figured it out quickly, you probably haven't figured it out. There are no shortcuts. Finding your artistic voice takes time. It comes from years of drawing, borrowing, stealing (but never too much), exploring, crying, and eventually - smiling. If you focus on the process and not the style you will eventually arrive at something that begins to feel like you. Something that reflects the way your brain thinks and your eyeballs see the world. Your style is unique and ever-evolving, a creative fingerprint that morphs and swirls with time.
5What's the hardest thing to draw?
Animals = easy. People = hard.
6What is your favourite animal?
I grew up by the sea with a deep love for marine life. Some of my favourite species include wide eyed seals, kelp-wrapped otters, seabirds such as pelicans, puffins, and the wandering albatross. Also humpback whales - I was lucky enough to glimpse these gentle ocean giants breaching whilst surfing on the coast of Vancouver Island. This was one of the most memorable moments of all time.
Moving to land, there are mountain hares, especially when white in the Winter. And the conic ecosystem engineer of Britain, the beaver. I've had a fascination with insects since I was a child - particularly stag beetles, shield bugs, and moths (did you know only 3 of the 2,500 moth species in the UK eat your clothes?). I have a soft spot for the swooping swallows that arrive at my parent's barn each year from South Africa. Kingfishers and herons - upon spotting these two birds, Julia and I always see it as a sign of good luck.
7What is your favourite font?
Typography is the heart of great design. Over the years I have narrowed down a handful of go-to typefaces. Here goes...
Sans-serif fonts include Apercu, Avenir, Brown, Brandon, DIN, Effra, Futura, Gill Sans, GT Walsheim, and Sofia Pro.
Serif fonts include Adobe Caslon Pro, Didot, Droid Serif, Garamond Pro, Georgia, Playfair Display, and Tiempos.
If you are in need of some font advice and inspiration I'd recommend you checkout Typewolf. For a nice selection of free high-quality typefaces go and explore Google Fonts. And don't forget, typography should never, ever, be taken too seriously.
8What fills you with outrage & despair?
Trawling. Shark finning. Poaching. An ocean of plastic. Coral bleaching. Industrial use of pesticides. Indigenous people driven from indigenous lands. Politics. Greenwashing. Magical tech thinking (technology alone isn't going to get us out of this mess - we need to rethink and rebuild our fundamental values as a species). White supremacy. Microplastics. The Social Dilemma. The destruction of the Amazon for agriculture (which, in the words of E. O. Wilson, "...is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal” ). Insect extinction. Illegal wildlife trade.
9What fills you with optimism & hope?
Spring time. Swallows. Bumblebees. Daytime flying moths. The Rewilding movement. Regenerative agriculture. Indigenous peoples defending indigenous lands. Kelp forests. The sea spray off crashing waves. Pastel colours. Sprouting acorns. The rise in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The magical technological Carbon sucking tools that are trees. Extinction Rebellion. Individuals who dedicate their lives to helping people and the planet. Dogs when they smile. Finding unscathed feathers underfoot. The magic of composting (waste goes in, worm-filled soil comes out). Looking up at the stars on a crisp, clear night. The vegan revolution. Pink sunrises. Burning sunsets. Americas vice-president. Seeing individuals doing plastic pick-ups on the beach. Today's youth taking to the streets in the name of their future planet.
10Do you sell posters, prints, books or any of your papercut artwork?
11Do you create picture books?
The world needs stories. For many adults, the combination of words and pictures in traditional picture books were their first interaction with art and narrative. Picture books transcend age and culture, giving children the opportunity to engage in challenging topics. One of the most meaningful and effective ways to engage children, in my opinion, is undoubtedly the traditional picture book.
The beautiful thing about picture books is that the story brings together words and pictures. And since I’ve focussed much more of my time on the craft of making pictures rather than creative writing, so as much as I love writing (more ad more these days) I could never imagine making a book without the illustration side of things. I’ve created a few books in my time (like this one about a Victorian explorer and naturalist and this one about animal senses) but I've never had anything published. It's a slow burn for now, as I try to carve out the time to develop some of the many picture book ideas I have whilst running both a freelance business and Under the Skin with my brother. But I have created this digital space on my blog where I will be publishing short interactive stories in a scrolling format - watch this space!
12What does your process look like?
Sketchbook, pencil and laptop. These are my three essential tools of the trade. I usually develop my ideas physically in a sketchbook before moving onto the computer.
As soon as a concept is formed I dive into Adobe Illustrator and start creating my Document Of Messy Things (DOMT). This is my digital judgement-free space where I pull together photos of physical sketches, shapes, colour palettes and Google reference images. I drop them all into one working doc and start pulling ideas apart and putting them back together. As things start to take shape I create a new Document of Refinement (DOR) where I begin to develop and refine the strongest ideas. Duplication (copy + paste) of designs is key. I make sure to dupe any ideas I like along the way, just so nothing gets lots in the ether. It's important to not get fixated on one end result too soon, whilst not getting overwhelmed by the amount of variations possible. The thing about design is there is no right or wrong solution to a problem, so there is a delicate balance between squeezing as much potential from an idea and becoming stagnated and overly fixated on one thing. Most of the time I swing from one side to the other. And when it's not working at all I have to take a break, throw my imaginary laptop out of the window, and start all over again. In general, it’s all a big old messy process so don’t be deceived by the clean, crisp outcome of my work. Like the scrawl of my handwriting or clutter on my desk, my artwork is not a direct reflection of the imperfectness of my process.
Interestingly, a similar creative process seems to work for my brothers. A clean set of freshly polished geometric stools are born from the chaos of Dan's dusty wood workshop. A fresh batch of perfectly aligned silkscreens are born from James' print studio. I guess it's just the Harrison brothers approach.
13What does your dream day look like?
I’m going to answer this in the third person because it makes me feel like I’m the lead protagonist in a movie. Here goes...
Ed wakes up early in the van next to his girlfriend and creative partner in crime Julia Bethan. They drive to the beach. They (very briefly) swim in the cold sea followed by hot coffee by a fire on the ocean's edge. Together they review illustrated picture books and share ideas whilst the tide comes in. They go their separate ways to spend some creative time in their own spaces. Hopefully, they will each contribute some small yet meaningful nugget of joy to the world (but they try to never put pressure on that).
Lunch consists of something grainy and colourful (the veg is homegrown in the garden). Ed likes to eat with a book in one hand, coffee mug in the other, with at least one dog by his side. He spends the best part of an hour juggling food and fork, mug and dog, whilst attempting to read a few pages of the book he's been slowly getting through over the past month.
Ed checks the swell forecast on his phone and the waves are on. A few small errands, packing prints to send customers at the post office and then it’s onto the Gower Peninsular. Ed rocks up to one of his favourite surf spots. The waves are perfect and only a handful of other surfers are there. Sunsets, waves and smiles are shared. He returns home tired, yet content. Wetsuit washed. Shower. He eats dinner with Julia whilst they drink peppermint tea and read books by the fire. Time for sleep. He dreams. And hopefully, sometime in the near future, he repeats.
14When did you launch Under the Skin with your brother?
After graduation in 2012, I spent a few years working in the branding industry, working for a range of creative agencies. I’m grateful for this time as it is where I honed my skills in branding, typography, and the visual storytelling process. But very few of my paid projects were themed around nature, so I started a side project (titled Animalia Daily) where I illustrated 100 animals for 100 days to keep myself sane during my early freelance days.
In 2015, I shared Animalia Daily with my brother, James, who had been experimenting with nature-inspired artwork and printmaking processes at the time. We delved into a conversation about something we had both begun to uncover in the research for our personal creative projects - the natural world was in trouble and biodiversity was plummeting at an alarming rate. From this conversation, one critical question arose: How could we ever call ourselves wildlife artists if all of these magnificent species were falling into extinction? We felt compelled to bring our crafts together to take action and protect the natural world we had grown up to love in our home.
James suggested he could screenprint the anatomy of each species (an evolution of my Animal Senses university project) and so we began making plans to craft an ongoing catalogue of endangered species screenprints, each one finished with a powerful interactive message behind it. The seed of a powerful idea had been planted. Under the Skin was born.
James and I continued to delve into environmental issues around species extinction in a big way. Humanity had caused the loss of 83% of wild mammals and the endangered species list had doubled in the past decade. The facts were quite staggering, and yet noone appeared to be talking about this in the mainstream media (this was a few years before the rise of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion). We turned fully vegan and threw ourselves into the creative collaboration - this was our own way of dealing with an immense feeling of loss and helplessness around the environmental crisis. But the positive impact of our work kept us motivated to continue, and what started as a small side project between us brothers gradually grew into our small business and life venture. Fast forward to today, and we ship our limited edition screenprints to customers around the world and have formed exclusive partnerships with global leaders in conservation such as Sea Shepherd, Ol Pejeta and RSPB. It's been a humbling, eye-opening yet rewarding journey and I feel grateful to have shared these experiences with my brother.
15When did you focus your career toward wildlife conservation?
Alongside launching our creative venture of Under the Skin in 2015 (see the above question) I made the decision to dedicate all of my freelance work toward environmental projects and campaigns. In my eyes, all other issues are secondary if we don't have a healthy planet to live on. So I created a new folder on my laptop titled '100% for the planet'. I told myself that from that moment onwards, I had to try my best to land projects that would sit within that folder. Many of them were unpaid. Many of them never got finished. But after several years of chipping away I gradually got to the point where I was receiving as many work enquiries in the realms of conservation as I had been in the commercial brand and startup world. I feel very fortunate to be in this position and genuinely wouldn't want to do anything else. I love what I do and try to remind myself of this, everyday.
16What are your career highlights?
There have been so many, but one has to be exhibiting Under the Skin at the Natural History Museum of Oxford with my brother James. We had open access to the museum and got to spend the evenings exploring the cabinets of curiosities whilst staying in the groundskeeper's lodge next door.
Other highlights include having an infographic shared by Leonardo Di Caprio. Being shortlisted for the 2019 World Illustration Awards. Speaking at Wildscreen 2020 festival (virtually from my van) amongst a lineup of world leaders in conservation such as Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall and Greta Thunberg.
But as grateful as I am for all of these achievements, there is one important thing I have observed. As soon as the next day comes, when reality kicks in and I'm back in the studio, the buzz of achievement quickly fades. It's head down and onto the next piece of work. So of course it's nice to win accolades and awards, but the age-old saying is true - there is no final destination, it’s just about learning to enjoy the journey. It's about showing up. Remaining humble. Being generous. That sort of thing. I'm trying to remind myself of this more and more each day.
17Do you give talks & presentations?
Absolutely! I've presented to design students and ran sustainable design workshops in universities and colleges. I love sharing ideas around sustainability, responsible design ethos, and passing on knowledge from what I’ve learnt so far in my career to the next generation of designers. I've given presentations at environmental organisations such as Wildscreen and corporate businesses such as Procter & Gamble on Earth Day.
18I noticed you spent some time living in Canada. What was it like?
I did indeed! This was between 2016 - 2018. It was a pretty wild and special chapter of my life where I lived pretty minimally, putting adventures in the great outdoors first and my creative work second.
After a few years of spending too much time behind a computer screen, I packed up my bags and relocated to British Columbia, lured by the mountain ranges and wildlife (and its offer of world-class skiing, rock climbing and surfing). I spent the best part of 2 years living in my truck (I called her Grey Goose) whilst working remotely between coffee shops or anywhere else I could find a power socket. I moved with the seasons. I travelled to small mountain towns like Squamish and Revelstoke, skiing in winter and rock climbing in summer. I also spent a big chunk of time reconnecting with my surfing roots on the wild coastline of Vancouver Island. The wildlife I experienced on my travels, from redwoods to wolves, eagles to grizzlies, were a great source of inspiration for my work.
I created this short film to document and remember some of the people, places and wildlife I experienced along the way. I returned to the U.K. a new person, grateful for this special chapter of my life, with a strong desire to protect the natural world through my creative work.
19Where do you find inspiration?
I generally like to turn to the old and unexpected when in search of inspiration. I make an effort to turn away from Instagram, Pinterest, blogs etc. when in search of new ideas. Usually, this exists outside of the realms of art and design.
Places I find inspiration include the natural history museum (you will find me browsing the insect collections) and of course books - pouring over maps and cartography, those iconic bright yellow National Geographics, reading folklore tales. Long walks and creative chats by the sea with JB.
And of course nature (after all, there is no better designer). Exploring coastlines with shells, seaweed, seabirds and seaspray. Walking through woodlands with oak trees, fungi, songbirds and lichen. Tear open a rotten branch and witness the hosts in the form of beetles, worms and various other mini-beasts. I often carry a camera when exploring these habitats - I love observing the macro world when looking through a lens.
And on those days where I'm feeling totally uninspired with nowhere to go, I'll watch this TED talk as a gentle reminder that "the universe has already written the poem that I was planning on writing."
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