As Love Creative’s Dave Palmer says, Chris Gray is one of the new generation of designers who have a lot going on outside of work. Design is certainly not limited to the place of employment for Gray. ‘It’s not nine to five for me,’ he says. ‘I’ve always got [design ideas] in the back of my head. I can’t escape it – I can’t sleep because I’m trying to think of stupid ideas that no one really cares about, apart from me.’
That’s not strictly true. One of these ‘stupid’ ideas was born when Gray couldn’t find a T-shirt he liked. Out of frustration he decided to design 30 T-shirts in 30 days during his lunch hours. Despite the ribbing from colleagues, he saw it through, and people certainly liked the results – clothing company Howies printed some and commissioned more, and the original 30 are featured in a fashion book collection from Spanish Vogue fashion editor Marta Rodriguez Hidalgo. And Gray admits, ‘It’s great to have opportunities to do something that’s personal, that I can have free rein with – it keeps what I do fresh.’
At Love Creative, which he joined with friend Gré Hale when they were still at university, Gray works on a range of projects, often drawing on his enthusiasm for illustration. His recent work includes a website for Sonicstreams, a creative collaboration between the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Fact, which allowed visitors to use sound to control navigation.
One of his most challenging projects was designing a truck canvas for the Freitag Design a Lorry competition, which went on tour for five years from August. ‘It was a lot of craft and took a lot of time to get right,’ says Gray. The main problem was converting his design to a large format 50:1 canvas. ‘Things might look correct on screen, but when you print them it really changes the way it looks,’ says Gray.
The Freitag truck has already opened many doors for Gray. He has recently been commissioned for an exhibition in Prague, for example, and other solo shows are in the pipeline for next year, including a three-month stint taking over Common in Manchester from April 2009. Gray particularly enjoys projects that require craft. For example, he is still trying to find a way of turning a 3m poster commission for Nike into a woven tapestry. ‘It’s turned into a personal endeavour now,’ he says.
Although Gray finds it tricky to pinpoint what design means to him, his sensibilities become apparent when he describes those he admires. ‘I’m a massive fan of those people who are floating somewhere between graphic design, art and illustration,’ he says. ‘I love Geoff McFetridge and James Joyce. They seem to be able to produce endless brilliant ideas that are illustrated beautifully. It’s like being an inventor: spotting the obvious that no one else sees.’