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 need.
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 is 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 continues to this day.
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 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. Mine is flat, minimal, geometric, straight. Hers is expressive, tactile, wobbly, human. But we both know when our work is true to our style and we help one another along our artistic paths.
Some of my favorite 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 is one of my most memorable moments of all time.
On land, I have a soft spot for the swooping swallows that arrive to my parents barn each year from South Africa. I’ve also had a fascination with insects since I was a child, particularly moths, stag beetles and shield bugs.
7What is your favourite font?
Typography is at the center of great design. Over the years I have narrowed down a handful of go-to typefaces. My favourite sans-serif fonts include Apercu, Avenir, Brandon, DIN, Effra, Futura, Gill Sans, GT Walsheim, and Sofia Pro. My favourite serif fonts include Caslon, Didot, Droid Serif, Garamond, Georgia, Playfair, 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.
8When did you decide to focus your career toward wildlife & conservation?
The natural world has been a theme in my work for as long as I have been able to hold a pencil. Leading up to 2015 a lot of signs were pointing towards the way the world was heading - biodiversity was plummeting around the world. How could I call myself a wildlife artist if all of these magnificent species were becoming extinct? I delved into a discussion with my brother and longtime collaborator James, about how the natural world was in trouble. We felt compelled to bring our crafts together to do something about it and in 2015 Under the Skin was born. This is when the seed was truly planted, and we both started delving into environmental issues and in a big way.
So alongside this creative venture of Under the Skin 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, every project that I took on had to 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.
9What fills you with outrage & despair?
Trawling. Shark finning. Poaching. An ocean filled with plastic. Coral bleaching. Industrial use of pesticides. 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 to make way for farming (which in the words of E. O. Wilson, "...is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal” ). Insect extinction. Illegal wildlife trade.
10What fills you with optimism & hope?
Spring time. Swallows. Bumblebees. The Rewilding movement. Regenerative agriculture. 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 feathers. The magic of composting (food 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.
11Do you sell posters, prints, books or any of your papercut artwork?
12Do you create picture books?
The way to children is through picture books. Sharing meaningful messages with them before. I’ve created a few books in my time (like this and this) but I've never had anything published. It's a slow burn for now as I try to carve out time to develop some of the picture book ideas I have. The beautiful thing about picture books is that the story is told in two parts - words and pictures. I’ve made pictures much longer than I’ve been writing, so as much as I love writing, I don’t think I could ever make a book without them.
13What 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.
14What 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.
15What 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 grounds keepers lodge next door.
Other highlights include having my infographics 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.
16Do 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.
17I 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.
18Where 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."