My Media Day: Steven Bonner, freelance designer, illustrator and lettering artist

STEVEN Bonner is a freelance designer, illustrator and lettering artist who works from his home studio just outside Stirling. Clients include Nike, Cadbury, Tennents, Audi, Renault, Penguin Books, and William Hill, among others.

He submitted this on Wednesday, May 8.

What exactly is it that you do?

I draw pictures and letters for lots of different people who use them to promote or sell things.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

I started the day with my usual half-hour trek around the internet, checking emails, saying ‘Good morning’ on Twitter, and checking in on a collective I’m part of called The Mighty Pencil.

Once that was done, and after a couple of emails replied to, I started work on sketches for the title lettering for TV chef, Rachel Khoo’s new book. I did the lettering for the last one and they asked me back for the follow up, which is always nice – it means you did a reasonable job the first time around.

The sketches normally take me around an hour to an hour-and-a-half each, as I like to explore several options within each one, from layout to lettering styles, until I have something I’m happy with. They’re never too finished-looking at this point, but are tight enough to give an idea of where my thinking is.

Once those were done and sent to the client at Penguin, I updated my portfolio online with a new project that was just released for Tamdhu Single Malt Whisky. I’d been approached last year by Good Creative to draw some custom script lettering, as well as a monogram, and also a wallpaper pattern that could be use for the bottle’s neck closure/wrap. I had the promotional packshot images on Friday, but it had been a busy day and I didn’t have time to update my site with the work yet, so it rolled over till now. It’s a nice project and I hope it goes one be the success Tamdhu are hoping for.

Once this was done, I resumed work on some typographic leaflets I’d been designing for another client of mine, a recruitment company. The guy who owns the company is one of those really genuine people, and wants to change the perceptions of the industry through honesty and total transparency in how he runs his company, and I find that really refreshing.

He’s a great guy to work with and is very design-minded, so the presentation of his marketing materials is very different to other recruitment companies, mirroring his own thinking, with a really simple, honest feel.

I work from home and this took me up to around about finishing-up time, so I checked my emails again, wrote a few replies, and called it a day before heading off to my local boxing gym for a couple of hours.

How different or similar was it to your average working day?

My days are always different, due to the nature of what I do. The way I work always stays the same as I have a defined process I like to stick with. Pencil sketches, more pencil sketches, then start working up final visuals, before drawing final artwork. This applies to everything, but the work changes with each project so it never feels like Groundhog Day. One day I might be doing development pencils for a chocolate brand campaign, the next it might be illustrations for car advertising, or maybe a magazine cover. It changes all the time.

How different or similar is your average working day to when you started in design?

Very different. My first job was as a junior designer at the local newspaper and all I was expected to do was create those little adverts you see in the Services section for plumbers and handymen. Really, really boring stuff, but it did teach me to work quickly and trust my instincts, which has served me well. Once I moved into design agencies, the days began to resemble what I do now a little more, but obviously, with a more traditionally graphic design-led slant.

The main difference I suppose is that when I worked for other people, I never had to worry about where the next job came from. There was always someone there to pass a project to me. Now I need to factor in time to do some self-promotion, and make new contacts to help set up new work in advance. It’s a part of the job I actually enjoy, and I never thought I would, as I like meeting new people and building relationships with them. Most of my clients end up coming back for more, which hopefully means I’m doing something right.

How do you see the job evolving?

In all honestly, I’m not sure. I did think for a while that I’d need to move with the times and learn 3D software to start producing more of that type of imagery, but now I’m more focussed on collaborating with the right people for each project, if need be. We all have our own skills, and I think that, to an extent, we can’t go too far wrong if we concentrate on being even better at what we already do, so long as we think there’s a market for it.

Although lettering is going through a bit of a boom period, once the fad is over, people will still need guys like me. It’s the basis of how we communicate and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

I think the industry in general is more focussed on collaboration now. There’s less emphasis on hiring staff, and more on hiring freelancers and specialists. It might be a knock-on effect from the recession, but in the long term this makes sense to me.

What gives you most job satisfaction?

It sounds cliché but there’s no better feeling than seeing your work out in the public domain. I felt that way when I first started out, and still get that proud feeling when I see something in the wild now. It’s the kid in me; I still like to show my mum what I’ve been doing and see if she likes it, or sometimes, if she even gets it! I suppose it’s a basic need for approval, but I don’t think there’s anything too wrong with that.