“The most profound youth revolution I’ve seen in the last 10 years has been a graphical one,” says multihyphenate creative Fred Deakin in the opening of Made You Look, the new documentary by designer, and now auteur, Anthony Peters. “It says, ‘I don’t need to go get a job. I’m going to make my own stuff. I’m going to use my own talents. I’m going to support myself, and screw you, system.’”
Deakin is half of the electronic music duo Lemonjelly and founder of the groundbreaking design studio Airside. That Airside existed for 15 years before closing in 2012 makes Deakin especially well-suited to introduce Made You Look; the company bracketed Peters’ so-called “DIY graphic arts story,” one that emerged around the turn of the millennium with “pre-smartphone creatives” like illustrator Adrian Johnson and the guys behind the Emmy award-winning illustration and animation studio Peepshow. Those artists saw the importance of self-initiated projects and used digital media early on to project their personal voice and gauge the reaction of their audience—an important tool for potential clients. “There was the urge to not sit around and wait for a client to commission something exciting,” says Deakin, “to make something and throw it out there in the world.”
The revolution intensified with a wave of more entrepreneurial artists emerging around 2007—“something of a magical year” for graphic art, says Peter. Around that time, social media became popular with artists seeking to circulate their work in a fast and cheap method—and printing, at least as a way of disseminating information, came to a dead stop (not that print is dead, of course, just that its role has changed). As Sam Arthur, co-founder of Nobrow press, puts it, “Now it’s all about publishing something that people want to keep.”
In the film, Peters and his collaborator, technical director and editor Paul O’Connor, visit the studios of nearly 20 game-changing creatives to watch them work (styluses whisk around screens and scalpels slice laboriously into paper) and learn more about what inspires their practice. It’s rather sweet to hear how illustrator Ian Stevenson is influenced by improvisational jazz, or that Sophie Dauvois, cofounder of Okido magazine, is driven by the desire to give 21st-century children something tactile and collectible.
Yet it’s the focus on creative process that proves to be most illuminating: the first-wave revolutionaries flirting with technology and the second-wave flirting with analogue. On one hand, you’ve got cartoonist and model-maker Pete Fowler eulogizing the pencil. “Remove that from the creative process,” he says, “and I haven’t got a creative process.” In the same camp, designer Anthony Burrill waxes nostalgic on 100-year-old woodblock type and Kate Moross recalls her love of knitting.
At a recent screening of the doc, Peters, who’s been down the Made You Look rabbit hole for nigh on two years, admits he simply can’t keep up with the new trends and new group of emerging artists. “It’s a bewildering task knowing where to start now,” he says. He does, however, contend that the revolutionary age he tapped in his film has reached its denouement. “The industry moves quickly,” he says. “There’s little chance now for new creatives to occupy the kind of space that some of the turn-of-the-century creatives sit in.”