The hand-drawn, other-worldly aesthetic of Rob Lowe has won him a diverse mix of commissions, from Christmas cards to album covers. Lydia Fulton talks to the graphic artist who works under the alias of Supermundane
In the world of Supermundane, doodles sit alongside bespoke type, animated beasts wrestle with logos and watercolours decorate communities of creatures. The creator of this world is Rob Lowe, who has been working under the alias of Supermundane for ten years. ‘I discovered the name while working at a kettle factory. I used to read the dictionary to pass time and found the word “supermundane”, meaning beyond earthly things, and thought that it summed up everything I do,’ he says.
In 2004, he was called in for the rebrand of Sleaze magazine?(formerly Sleazenation), following which he art directed the free magazine Good For Nothing, creating its hand-drawn typography, then going on to design the entire magazine for its one-year lifespan. Since then, Supermundane’s simple, clean-lined aesthetic has won him a diverse mix of commissions, from department store Liberty’s sale identity to animations for E4 Music, book covers for Penguin and album sleeves for the likes of Juliette and the Licks.
Tamworth-born Lowe found his love for art as a child drawing the countryside around his family home. It wasn’t until he took up work experience at a printing company during secondary school that he heard about graphic design. He then went on to study graphics at Middlesbrough University, where he discovered a catalogue of influences from wildlife to heavy metal to the iconic Paul Rand, which he continues to draw on today. ‘I have a certain approach, a simplicity and a certain aesthetic which you can appropriate for anything,’ he says. ‘I haven’t moved away from any of my past influences, I have just made them my own.’
It is these childhood influences, from miniature figures to owls and melancholic beasts that fuel his current role as creative director of quarterly children’s magazine Anorak. ‘To contribute to Anorak as well as design it is wonderful,’ he reveals. ‘It’s about celebrating creativity and encouraging kids to have fun.’ The layout of Anorak reflects Lowe’s straightforward, handcrafted style using colour to add vibrancy, not to complicate the linear design. His creation of the Anorak character – as a hollow being with no mouth or hands who talks out of his sleeves – is also oddly charming. ‘I think it’s important to take time to make something that is well-designed and well-produced for kids, to tell them they’re as worthy to have this as anyone,’ he explains.
This time-consuming approach is central to all of Supermundane’s output, whether a piece of typography, a two-colour drawing or an album cover, such as the ambiguous watercolour design he completed for Jeff Buckley’s folk albums. ‘I approach all works the same simple way – I don’t include anything that’s not necessary,’ he says. Lowe rarely uses existing typefaces and instead tries to hand-draw titles to create an individual piece of work, which is engaging and deserves to be treasured. From a strong, blocky type to the geometric scenes his blank-faced creatures inhabit, all of Supermundane’s creations offer a sense of comfort that you long to hold on to. The enthusiasm he has for maintaining a human aspect to each piece – ensuring the works are emotive and open to interpretation – is evident in his miniature three-dimensional beasts, which have fingerprints moulded into them, and in his doodles which extend outwards organically until the composition is naturally right. The inclusion of words in some works adds sentiment and an insight into his thoughts. ‘The words come spontaneously while I am doodling,’ Lowe explains. ‘I get down about our world, so I create my own world which is flowing and happy.’ Indeed, the Supermundane world is so upbeat that even his beasts aren’t horrible, but are instead a representation of feelings used to relay emotions through his work.
The current trend for a hand-drawn aesthetic suits Supermundane to a tee. Having recently designed Wallpaper’s Christmas card, the fifth issue of Anorak and murals for two top ad agencies – and requests for more under his belt – the future looks optimistic for Lowe. ‘The trend for hand-drawn design might pass and new styles will come through, but I’ll keep on with my drawings,’ he smiles. ‘I couldn’t be any one thing – not [just] an illustrator or a graphic designer. I love it all.’
The latest issue of Anorak magazine goes on sale this week