Illustrator Alice Moloney recently wrote an opinion piece for It’s Nice That about whether illustrators should be treated like designers. Her article was an emphatic yes, as more illustrators are being commissioned as if they were designers, blurring the boundaries between the two disciplines. Barcelona’s Studio Patten are one of many contemporary studios where the pencil and InDesign app are given equal weight; they’re neither wholly graphic designers nor an illustration duo. Instead they use a combination of drawing and typography to communicate ideas.
Studio Patten is made up of Aida Novoa and Carlos Egan, who were drawn to the name “Patten” because it derives from the wooden clogs worn by farmers in northern Spain. The image of a patten felt folkloric and special, evoking fantasy characters and the handmade, and Novoa and Egan loved the way that an object of design could conjure stories—something they wanted to do themselves with their studio.
In terms of the duo’s dynamic, Novoa and Egan both draw and design, swapping the work between each other depending on the project. “Sometimes one of us makes the outline and the other one illustrates it, or one of us makes the drawing and then the other colors it,” says Novoa. “We find that two of us is always better than just one.”
For packaging or branding projects, illustration becomes a way for Studio Patten to add a spark of personality. When working on a hotel’s identity, they included a hand-drawn eye on the Do Not Disturb sign to immediately communicate its message, but in a way that was “polite and pleasant.” When designing for a clothing store called Flapper, a single, hand-drawn plume felt feminine and in sync with the brand’s name. Looking through their artwork, the Studio Patten style is deliberately sketchy, home-made, charming, and blissfully surreal.
When it comes to editorial design, graphic arts have led the way for a long time. One trend that reflects Alice Moloney’s call for illustrators to immerse themselves in areas beyond the production of single images is the increase in illustrated magazines. Editorial illustrator Dan Stafford’s Amuseum and creative agency Human After All’s Weapons of Reason are just two recent examples. Studio Patten’s editorial work for Australia’s new print magazines New Philosopher and Womankind also subtly bridge the disciplines of drawing and magazine-making.
Their design for these magazines is distinctive and unlike traditional editorial work because of its cross-disciplinary and holistic nature. Egan describes their deliberate approach: “Before starting each issue, we carefully analyze the texts so that we can illustrate them, always keeping in mind the amount of space they’ll take up on the page. Once we’ve finished the illustrations, we deal with every double-page as is if was unique.”
In her battle cry to contemporary illustrators, Moloney wrote: “A designer can now do strategy, research, and even dabble in a bit of illustration, all under one comfortable title. Why shouldn’t we do the same? Illustrators, let’s not get left behind.”
Studio Patten is an exciting example of the tables turning: a pair of illustrators who extend their practice into areas beyond the creation of single artworks, and who move comfortably between design and drawing as if one was a natural part of the other.