David Shillinglaw: “Make things cheap enough to give away, and too valuable to throw away”

David Shillinglaw is exhibiting You Are Here, a retrospective of his work from the past ten years, focusing on both gallery and street work across a range of media.

We talk to Shillinglaw about his love of comic books, how DIY design has become the norm and why he sometimes craves the nine-to-five.

All studio images by Arlen Figgis
All studio images by Arlen Figgis

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I would refer to myself as an artist, but that spills into design and illustration too. I have always had an interest in visual art. It probably all started with my love of comic books and colouring in. I don’t remember making the decision to become an artist. It was just always what I wanted to do. I spent many years doing many other things to make money… I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to live off the thing I love doing.

What was your first job?

In a comic shop. I was 15. The shop was called Stateside Comics, and then changed its name to Comicana. I spent my time reading/studying Tank Girl and Robert Crumb.


How would you describe what you currently do?

I am currently finishing off a body of work for a solo exhibition opening soon, so I currently paint and build sculptures… Next week I’m painting a mural in NYC… so my job changes on a daily basis. It’s a very difficult thing to pin down what I do; usually by the time people see what I have made I’m already half way into the next project. There’s a lot of plate spinning and hot potato juggling – sometimes I crave that nine-to-five regularity, but in truth I know the best things I create happen at 4am and without much planning.

What has been the biggest change in design since you started?

The Internet and technology has changed everything, especially design. When I was studying graphic design we had no internet at college, no iPhones, one scanner in the library and we still used Microsoft Paint. Most of the work was done by hand and if you made a mistake you had to start all over again. Now everyone is – or can be – a photographer/graphic designer, and the rise of the smart phone has meant that everyone can document, edit and present their own point of view. I think this dilutes certain elements of design and creates immediate, desposible images that get lost in the internet stream. The flip-side is that people are highly aware of visual aesthetics, filters, cropping and even animation, which are quite easy to achieve nowadays. DIY design has become the norm.


What is your favourite project, that you’ve worked on?

I love to travel and make work outside of my own comfort zone so some of the best projects involve me going to far reaching places and working with people who really know very little about contemporary art. I have been to The Gambia several times and painted homes in remote villages, which was very rewarding, and had very little to do with money, exposure or industry. The project is usually as good as the people involved. Last year I was lucky to be chosen to go on The Jaunt, a great project that sends an artist from their home to a foreign location. The artist makes work inspired by the surroundings, then at the end they produce a screen-print, while the sales of the print pay for the trip. It was a wonderful project to be part of and there is now a book published that documents all the artists’ journeys and work made. It was one of my favourite ‘projects’ as it had a very definite beginning and end and was based on a very simple concept.


What was your biggest mistake?

James Joyce: “Mistakes are the portals of discovery”.

What is your greatest ambition?

To maintain a life making art. To not have to worry about money. To be as self-sufficient as possible. To eventually escape the matrix and live in a treehouse.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

My two-year-old niece.


What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?

Make things that you fall in love with. Make things that are cheap enough to give away, and valuable enough that people don’t throw them away.

You Are Here runs from 9-28 April at Scream, 27&28 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DH

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