Jul 3, 2020
Meet Nige Vallis — a midlands based graphic designer with a passion for all things motorcycling, and, fortunately for us, one of the incredible people responsible for creating our Barbour International season after season. With his original style, Nige creates amazing designs for our collections and in this workshop, he’s going to break down his creative process, taking the old as inspiration and turning into something exciting and new.
As a kid in the 70s I was surrounded by manufacturers of motorbikes. I was fascinated by custom bikes and racing bikes. I loved seeing the blokes heading to the races at the weekend, riding flat out along the A5 near our house. Later down the line, I went with my mates, and that’s when I was really taken by the advertising and graphics around bike culture.
I love the simple approach to garage signs, informational workshop manuals, film posters, screen printing and the culture that surrounds that scene. Things like hand-painted racing clubman jackets and workwear from those types of race events really inspire me. The detail of one and two colour prints or hand-drawn signs and badges is no nonsense, direct and fit for purpose. For me, it makes them stronger visually.
When I design for a collection, I think It’s really important to create newness, to move things on, but it’s also important to create something that will sit well with a brand’s history. After all, there’s no point in designing imagery that has no relevance to the existing business.
I think knowing the end consumer is important too or knowing who you want to target, there’s no better feeling than creating motorcycle-inspired designs and then seeing real bikers wearing them at shows or events.
Here’s how I go about designing something original for a Barbour International collection.
Step 1: Getting Started
My normal process is to go to the studio. I'm usually joined by Margo, our Cocker Poodle Poo, she can listen to my motorcycle vintage ramblings for ages. I’ll make a coffee, put on a record, and sharpen a pencil. This can be at any time day or night. I don’t think you can create stuff to a clock — it‘s not start at 9 and finish at 5.
I’ll work on a theme or a story that holds together the designs and pull out specific aspects or elements from it. That could be based on the Barbour International Archive — whether the theme is celebrating a specific piece, or the photographic archive that comprises truly great action photographs from about five decades of motorcycling events.
The other route can be taking a specific aspect of vintage motorcycle culture and letting that inspiration spark that initial idea for a design. It can come from anywhere, like the way the graphics were produced for signage or old school race ware advertising. Study it, then just go for it! I’ll put down loads of ideas. The trick is to just be free with your ideas.
Step 2: Doodle Away
I’ll get loads of initial ideas down quite quickly, just with a pencil on paper, in notebooks — wherever. At this stage they’re little more than doodles, not even really sketches, and definitely not for public viewing! But out of these will come some great ideas (hopefully) and if you’re drawing something, you’re really into then it can come quite easily.
After a few hours you can normally see that there’s a few ideas coming together that are really going to work within the theme of the season and sit together nicely.
Step 3: Ink It In
Once I’ve got something that I think will work I’ll sharpen it up and then start to get it ‘inked in’ — aka outline the drawing. I like using Sharpies or felt tips for this. You can then start to see whether it's right. At the pencil stage nothing feels final, but once the ink goes down then you’re heading towards a final design.
Of course, it's never too late to alter it, and using Photoshop and Illustrator there’s tons of opportunity to correct bits, but the inky bit still feels old school and a definite statement of intent. I’ll even paint sometimes, if I think a particular design would work with that old sign-written garage/workshop feel.
Step 4: Get it onto the Mac
I work on a Mac, always have, to finalise, tweak, alter and even create artwork in some cases. It's just another great tool in the armoury.
I’ll normally shoot a hi-res snap of the design on my camera or my phone, open it up in Photoshop, and get to work. This is where you can tidy things up, correct or even enhance mistakes — sometimes the best bit of a design can start off as a mistake.
I’ll get rid of pencil lines and flatten the design down to a single colour. This way you can really see what you need and what you don’t. The simplicity is all about what you leave out and knowing when to stop messing with it.
Step 5: The Illustrator Hours
The final stage is to drop the image into Illustrator, this is where I’ll add the colour and the message, slogan and branding for the finished tee. I still want that hand-drawn feel, so when I'm adding in colour, I'm pretty sketchy with it — I definitely don’t stay in the lines like you were taught at school. I think that looseness is really reminiscent of the customised, naive design from motorcycle clubs and bars of bygone eras and by using a couple of colours from a seasonal colour palette, it’ll have a newness and fit with the rest of the range.
Once I'm happy with it all I’ll print out and hold it up to my very knackered vintage A7 Barbour International jacket — if it looks good with that then we’re onto a winner.