Dear reader, we are guessing that you fall in one of the following 3 categories:
- You are very familiar with the work of James White, AKA Signalnoise - you've always loved it and are now thinking "Cool!, but I've seen all of his work". Please scroll down because you're in for a pleasant surprise, as James White has shared some of his brand new work and information about his new projects - exclusively for FAIRspot.
- You've seen the work of James White all over the internet but you never knew it was his. You always liked his work and sometimes thought it looked like something you had already seen, but not because it looked like an imitation of someone else's work. The work of James White is like a familiar popular song that you'd hum all day without knowing who wrote it. We hope you're curious to find out more about the craftsman behind the brilliant pieces below and are ready to revisit some of his Greatest Hits as well as discover some of his lesser known, but equally brilliant and wonderful B-Sides.
- You've never seen the work of James White but you're itching to see something inspiring. Well, we have some eye candy for your hungry eyes! You are about to become an instant fan and we feel comfortable saying this without any fear of overhyping what you're about to see.
Regardless of what group you fall into, we are very excited to present you with the fantastic work of James White, whom we recently had the privilege of interviewing. We hope you find his conversation interesting, inspirational, valuable and intriguing. Enjoy!
FAIRspot: Where are you from and where are you living? Have you lived anywhere else?
James White: I grew up in a small town called Truro in Nova Scotia, Canada, and currently live in Halifax. My father was in the Canadian military so my family moved a few times while I was growing up. I lived in Kingston, Ontario for 5 years and spent 2 years in Goose Bay, Labrador.
FS: Did you grow up with a background in art? Ever attend school for art?
JW: I started drawing at the age of 4 and never stopped, even though teachers all through elementary, junior high and high school yelled at me for sketching in class. Being from a small town, art wasn't pushed very hard in the school curriculum which got less and less as I got older. My high school had no music or art classes at all, so I basically just kept drawing on my own time without any formal training until I attended graphic design at a local college. After graduating with honors I attended Interactive Technology and was immediately swept up in the web industry in 1998.
I briefly attended an art school in Halifax, but dropped out soon after I realized it wasn't for me :-)
FS: Where did you derive the name 'signalnoise'? What does it mean?
JW: I look at my art process as a combination of order and chaos. I have a general idea of the concept when beginning, but I embrace the idea of "the happy mistake" as I build the composition. This is why I sometimes use Flash to randomly generate shape combinations to have elements I didn't completely control. Signalnoise is derived from "signal vs. noise", which in audio terms means the pure sound (signal) with other elements such as static picked up while recording (noise). It's the positive and negative, the yin and yang, the light and dark. I don't believe art should be without noise, so I chose a name that encompassed the idea of balance.
FS: What's your studio setup? What tools do you use? (software, hardware, pens, markers, etc...)
JW: My computer set-up is something a lot of people laugh at me for. I currently use a Dell Dimension I purchased 4 years ago with an 18" monitor and a Wacom tablet. I'm in the process of upgrading all of my tools to allow me a more adequate workflow, especially when saving my giant poster files which sometimes takes 10 minutes :-) My system may be old, but it really is a champ when dealing with the processor crunching tasks I put it through. I'm still on the fence deciding if I should stay with PC or leap to the Mac.
FS: What's your average ratio of personal work to client work?
JW: This is a difficult question to answer as I still work as a fulltime designer at a local web company. But on my own time, I take on specific client work on a freelance basis whenever my schedule will allow, while always keeping time free for my Signalnoise work. I am currently running at about 50% personal and 50% freelance, but that tends to shift as new opportunities are presented to me. It's a delicate balance, but I'm very conscious to not let my freelance schedule take over completely as I need time to myself to explore new visual ideas.
FS: Is it difficult to find time to work on personal projects while working full-time at Raised?
JW: Not really. I am very much a person who will drop everything to sit at home until 2am working on a personal idea. To me, relaxing at home is exploring new art, researching creative endeavors and planning the next item I want to tackle. I'm not one to watch television (with the exception of Lost and Heroes) or generally waste time, I love what I do and it really drives me to keep producing new stuff. Josh Davis said in one of his presentations "There are people who talk about work, and there are those who work." I'm a worker and I never stop.
FS: What do you like to do when you're not working?
JW: My spare time away from the computer normally involves watching movies, playing videogames with my pals (Rock Band 2 rivals the lightbulb as the greatest invention ever made), listening to music while sketching, and sifting through my many art books.
FS: Some of your earlier work shows how you were influenced by 1970s broadcast/instructional design works, 1980's propaganda posters, and Marvel-style comic book character illustrations. Today you have clearly developed your own distinct style and we have been noticing other designers emulating your work. How do you feel about your influence on the work of aspiring designers/artists?
JW: It's wonderful. I spent my 20s doing a lot of artwork as I learned my tools and programs, which involved mimicking my own favorite artists and learning from the ground-breaking work they were producing. I am a huge supporter of giving back to the global art scene in any way I can whether it's through tutorials, posting about my own inspirations, helping designers with technical questions, etc. I'm not a believer in hording ideas and keeping them locked away, so if I show people how I do a specific technique or talk about my process for others to learn from it can have nothing but a positive effect on the scene. So when I see others learning from what I have done in an attempt to try new things and improve their personal abilities, that's very positive.
FS: Name some of your influences... People, music, art, whatever inspires you to create!
JW: I find influences and inspiration everywhere and I'm constantly on the lookout for new discoveries in the art and design world. Here is a compacted list of my favorite artists, designers and bands who really keep the inspiration coming:
- - Joshua Davis
- - Scott Hansen
- - Mike Orduna
- - Chuck Anderson
- - Robert Hodgin
- - Shepard Fairey
- - Josef Müller-Brockmann
- - Saul Bass
- - Paul Rand
- - Queens of the Stone Age
- - Tool
- - Mastodon
FS: What would you consider to be a "dream project"?
JW: My interpretation of a dream project is collaborating with other like-minded artists to focus our abilities on something great and unique, outside of something that feels like a 'client job'. Along with many designers, I would love to work with the likes of Daft Punk or Justice because of how visually-minded both groups are. They are willing to take risks and explore new territory, especially Daft Punk with releases like their Electroma film, so creating artwork to be used in a musical medium and really pushing the boundaries would be amazing. I would also love to work with Kid Robot on a line of Signalnoise toys.
FS: Have you ever considered doing any other type of work or going into another field of design?
JW: I spent my 20s doing all kinds of different design projects, including painting, 3D, animation, film, sculpting, etc. I always try to remain open to exploring new mediums and forms of expression but I've found where I am most happy, which is drawing and digital creation. However, if I were to go back to school it would be to study Symbology at the university level, something I can use and translate into my art.
FS: What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
JW: The happy mistakes. I start every piece of art with a general idea of what I want to achieve, and it inevitably takes turns that I didn't intend through the process of experimentation. The unexpected results are what builds a lot of my works and I always try to work in an organic way to allow different methods to bounce off one another. It's a strange way to work, but there is nothing better than trying something new, yielding an unexpected and pleasant result. It's like finding the Arc of the Covenant (but on a much smaller scale).
FS: How self-critical are you? What percentage of your work makes it to the pages of your accounts on Flickr and Behance?
JW: When it comes to my own work I'm a bit of a bully. I very rarely give up on a piece I'm working on, so I will spend hours beating it into shape until it's at a point I'm happy with. When it comes to what lands online, I'm very transparent about my works, and my progress. I treat Signalnoise.com and Flickr as if it were a conversation about what I'm doing, so I tend to post almost everything I produce and talk about why or how I created it (with a few exceptions, of course). If I post my work I tend to look at it more often and might get new ideas for additions or revisions, instead of having the file buried within my hard drive. Posting works in progress is also a great way to get valuable feedback from like-minded creative types.
FS: We love your Daft Punk and Justice posters. Do you listen to music while working? What other bands/musicians fuel or augment your creativity?
JW: I listen to music constantly while working, however (even though I really enjoy them) Daft Punk and Justice aren't really in my regular rotation of music. I'm a metalhead, and enjoy bands like Mastodon, Isis, Tool, Boris, At the Gates, Iron Maiden, Baroness, Queens of the Stone Age, The Sword, Judas Priest, Converge, etc. I'm also not without my classics such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, etc.
FS: When can we expect the release of Vol 2 of the Signalnoise book?
JW: I published my first book through Blurb, the online vendor, and even though I was more than happy with the quality they produced I am looking into having a real publisher create Vol 2. I have an over-abundance of artwork staking up over the past year and I want my second book to be bigger and better than the first, utilizing some more creative methods of printing and packaging. My only hurdle is finding a publisher willing to take on the job and work with me in creating the book. I'm very much hoping this will become a reality this year.
FS: How do you measure success?
JW: When I started my blog in 2007 it was just me creating and talking about my art with no real knowledge of anyone finding or reading my website. As I kept creating new artwork and posting it, the number of visitors to my website started to climb and the same names kept popping up in my comments contributing valuable thoughts, links and feedback to what I was doing. All of a sudden it wasn't just me, but a group of like-minded creatives exchanging information and dialogue. I've met countless awesome and talented designers from all over the world through the online community, which to me, is the most successful aspect of my endeavors so far.
FS: Can you give the readers an inside peek into what's coming up for you in 2009?
JW: I have a few big projects planned for 2009, one of which is The Art of Signalnoise: Vol 2 book that we spoke of earlier. While I will be continuing to keep my online poster store up to speed I want to add apparel to my selection at some point, so a Signalnoise clothing line might be in the works.
It has been a dream of mine since I was 7 years old to create a line of toys, and this interest was re-ignited in the early 2000's with the rising designer toy movement. I very much wanted to design some toys that would hold their own today, yet be very reminiscent of toys I had in the early to mid 1980s. Being influenced by toylines such as He-man, the Ninja Turtles, GI-Joe, Voltron and the Transformers I set about designing a Signalnoise line of figures I entitled The Orbinauts. I have been writing about my entire creative process on my blog about designing the toys, which started around 2 years ago and is now reaching the final conceptual stages. What you see here is a 3D render of Hydro, created by my pal Jonathan Mitchell over at Delicate Machines. Taking my 2D conceptuals and moving them to 3D, Jonny really breathed life and excitement into the project. More to come on this project as it develops :)
FS: You have 5 minutes to pack your bags. What are taking?
- - The wooden toy car my grandfather made me when I was 7 years old.
- - 'History of the Poster' book by Josef Muller Brockmann.
- - My Green Lantern action figure from the Superpowers line (1984).
- - A bunch of CDs by Opeth, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, etc.
- - A towel.
- - My sketchbook, pencil case and pens.
- - The Preacher series of trade paperbacks.
- - iPod, an essential.
- - My favorite leather jacket.
Like what you see?
All works above are produced by and copyrighted by James White (Signalnoise). To view more of James' work, please visit his online portfolio at Signalnoise.com.
Want more? Here you go:
Signalnoise on Flickr
Signalnoise on Behance
Signalnoise Online Store
James White's book "Signalnoise: The art of James White"
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