Interview: Jeffrey Bowman

This week we launched out latest interactive masthead collaboration with Jeffrey Bowman. We had a chance to chat to the illustrator and designer, who left the UK for a log cabin in the Norwegian country side, to ask him about his new surroundings and how he had to adapt his working process.

Hi Jeffrey, can you tell us a little about where you are these days and what lead you to Norway.

At the moment I’m based in a place called Hemsedal, which is a mountain village about 4 hours north of Oslo. It’s a pretty incredible place, based around an active outdoor lifestyle. In winter it’s Norway’s snowboard capital and in summer it turns into a hive of outdoor activities from climbing, hiking, fishing, camping, downhill mountain biking and so much more. It’s a super chilled place with a really easy pace of life, which is one of the reasons I ended up here.
One of my students from my time at Shillington College lives here, so I came out to visit last summer. I love the mountains and being outdoors, hiking, climbing and snowboarding and the lifestyle that goes with it, so when I came to visit for 3 weeks I fell in love with the place. I was really sad to leave after my trip, it was like I’d found my second home, so I decided that it was a lifestyle I wanted, so packed up and moved here in January.
Everything is possible here, in summer the 19 hours of sunlight means you can do so much with each day, we call them ‘double days’. I go to the studio do 5-6 hours of work and then head out to explore. Winter is different the daylight is around 5-6 hours and its down to -25 for a lot of the time so you spend your time between boarding and working.
And if I’m honest I really got wore down by the city and the 8-6 everyday, I never felt like I had a life, it got tipped way out of balance, juggling a full-time teaching job and freelance. Plus dealing with the daily encounters of Manchester. I loved my time there and the people I met, but city life can be tough and ugly, so I opted out. I still have dreams or ‘nightmares’ of being back in a city and not being able to get back to Norway haha. At the moment I do feel like I’ll be sticking here for a few years, it’s the right lifestyle for me. I’ve swapped sirens for the sweet bird sounds and the chavs for mountains.

What’s your new work space like?

I work in a log cabin called ‘Igloo’. It’s in the village centre, set up as a shared studio space by Anki Grothe (photographer) and Mari Soderholm (graphic design and former student of mine). It’s a really cool space, it’s as authentic as you can get! I love working down here, I think anyone freelancing needs a space to work, and for me it’s the dream I’ve always had, a cabin tucked away in the mountains.
The creative community here is really strong so people come by to work from here a lot, and we have regular exhibitions from local creatives. There is a good sense of community and it’s building stronger as we go. 

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished the cover of issue 15 of The Albion BMX magazine (it should have been issue 13 but it got put back and added too quite a lot), it’s been quite a ride doing that and I’m super stoked to see it finished. It’s 15 famous BMX spots from around the world made into one crazy ‘dream’ spot! I’m also working on more promo material and branding for Sheffield Uni. Also a range of longboard and decks for a Brazilian skate company and off the back of that I think I’ll be re-branding them too. And I’m also working on a ton of other small branding projects including Sim Warren who is a videographer, working on graphics and branding for his video ’64 Days’ which documents his trip through the national parks of America filming the wildlife and mountains.
And as always I have personal projects I’m working on, one of which i’m currently in talks with to produce a book all being well.

The book deal sounds interesting. If it went through would it showcase your past work or be a stand alone project?

It’s a stand alone project. It combines my love of nature, design, illustration and contemporary culture. I’ve wanted to create a book for many many years but never felt like I was in the right place to do it or have had a strong enough idea. But over the last year or so I’ve been researching, collecting and collating work for this idea, and it seems like it would be a first in the field. So fingers crossed it will go further. If it doesn’t I have a fall back plan to turn it into a seasonal iPad magazine and self publish it. I think that would also be a really interesting direction for it to go too.

How have your new remote location affected your working process and your contact with clients?

Its stayed relatively un-changed, I’ve always worked through email or Skype. Being an hour ahead I can get a bit of a head start on the day. I think the only problem or issue is that I can’t offer in-house freelancing, it’s quite impractical and a lot easier for a company in the UK just to get someone in who can access the server and be brief in on jobs or meet with clients. I guess that feels like one disadvantage, but the majority of my work is commission based so location doesn’t matter to much.

Do you find it more difficult to find new work because your perhaps less likely to meet new people/clients or have always relied on word of mouth to get jobs?

I’ve just picked up a new client here designing a website and maintaing it, it’s for a friend who I snowboard with, theres a lot of work from that and he can recommend me to other people, which is a good way to get into the industry here. But in general my work has always relied on word of mouth, press coverage and the amazing job Jon and Tom do for me at HandsomeFrank.

Coming off the back of teaching for 2 years I have been starting from scratch really. I’m re-building my brand and promoting myself again. It takes time and because I’ve had so much time out of the industry and not promoting myself as much, it is all new again. The industry moves so fast that what I was doing a few years ago to promote myself has changed and I’ve had to adapt my strategy.

Being abroad is tough for getting new work, especially where I am based. I’m a days travels from Oslo and Bergen each way so to get to either city to meet studio’s etc is a lot harder, especially in winter, not because I’m snowboarding all the time (I am) but because of the conditions and the harshness of the weather its easier to stay put.

What would be your next dream project?

I’d really like to work with an independent outdoor/surf/snowboard company who are just starting out, developing their brand image and product graphics, the whole lot really. Something like that would be awesome. I think working on a project like that is a dream because it would combine my passion and lifestyle with my work.

Have you got any tips for someone starting out as a designer/illustrator or working in an agency thinking about going freelance?

I have a few articles on my blog that talk a bit about some of the thoughts I have on being freelance. One of the biggest challenges, for me, is the mental resolve you need to be a freelancer. It’s not an easy ride truthfully, not in the start anyway, and at any time you can be without work and the prospect of no work coming in, and then other times you could have too much work. It’s a funny game.

I’d also say that there are so many good resources out there to read about being freelance that if you’re thinking of going freelance or currently are, then theres plenty of blogs, articles and literature to read and research on it. But I would add that sadly A+B=C is not how this game works. It’s different for every single person, there are common threads of advice that work across the board but you will find that you have to do what works for you and don’t get disappointed, keep on plugging away. One persons experience is not going to always apply to you.

But the rewards of freelance are worth every part of the ‘suffering’. It’s a lifestyle that if you can get it to work for you only makes living and enjoying life all the better making work and being creative on your own terms.

Thanks got taking the time to talk to us Jeffrey!

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