The Creative Parents: Alex Kirby, senior designer at Faber and Faber

“I don’t believe designers should have recognisable ‘styles’, but it’s inevitable to have some common traits, of which mine are: accessible, clean, bold and immediate.” Alex Kirby, dad-of-one and senior designer at Faber and Faber on creativity…

Alex Kirby lives in north east London with his wife Nicola and their one-year-old son Evan. He designs book covers for Faber and Faber.

Do you remember your first piece of artwork, as a child?
Probably my final GCSE art piece at school. It depicted a homeless man against a London skyline backdrop, rendered entirely in colouring pencil. I got a ‘B’. According my traditionalist teacher, that would have been an ‘A’ had I used paint, instead…

What inspired creativity in you when you were growing up?
I liked the obvious things like comics but absolutely adored graffiti – in London, you can’t miss it. Alternative dream career would have been as a graffiti artist. There was also a huge crossover with music. I listened to lots of pirate radio stations, so I’d collect and put their flyers, stickers, record sleeves etc on my bedroom wall. Music was important too for maintaining concentration, shutting everything else out and really focusing. It’s something I still do today.

Were your parents artists?
No, but both had a great appreciation for art and my dad was a keen amateur photographer, while his two brothers and father were all designers. My folks also took (sometimes dragged) us to galleries and exhibitions.

What was your childhood home like?
We had posters from Rennie Mackintosh and William Morris dotted about, some photos my dad had taken, plus lots and lots of books. And a dusty record collection featuring the likes of Cream, Janis Joplin, The Beatles and John Lee Hooker. We also had a piano that now resides in our lounge…

Did school nurture you, artistically?
Yes, but I naturally lent so much towards design that I didn’t require much encouragement. Simply put, I never really wanted to do anything else. As I entered my final school year, I was desperate to just finish and begin my National Diploma. Naturally my parents were anxious about the narrow path I was taking, trying (and failing) to get me to opt for a broader range of A Level subjects.

What piece of artwork do you remember feeling particularly proud of as a child/teenager?
As part of a national D&AD student competition, I conceived, photographed and designed a prospective print advert for a clothing line. That won me a place on a course hosted at various London Advertising agencies. I was very proud of that at the time.

Did you go on to study art?
After school, I completed a National Diploma at Epping Forest College, then a Higher National Diploma in Banbury before finally heading to Falmouth to complete a BA (Hons). All in graphic design.

When did you begin focusing on art as a career?
I always knew I wanted to work in the creative industry, but was unsure of the exact field. Following graduation and then placements at various generic online firms, I kind of fell into publishing after landing a junior designer role at Random House. I was there for three years, and now it’s nearly 12 years as senior designer at Faber and Faber.

Can you describe your work?
I don’t believe designers should have recognisable ‘styles’, but it’s inevitable to have some common traits, of which mine are: accessible, clean, bold and immediate.

Is it difficult to make a living as an artist?
Art and design jobs have always generally been at the lower end of the pay scale, but I really, really enjoy my role and that means a great deal. I like to think other creatives would say the same.

When did children come along, and how has this impacted your practice?
Our lovely son Evan arrived just over a year ago, and as you would expect things have completely changed. Nursery drop-offs, bath and bedtime etc mean my working hours are now pretty inflexible. So every spare minute you can gain is vital – and not to be wasted! But maintaining this disciplined approach can be challenging, particularly following a poor night’s sleep.

Where do you look for inspiration now?
I don’t think I ever stop looking – which can drive me nuts – but I routinely scour bookshops, Instagram, Twitter and Amazon charts. I also check sites including It’s Nice That and blogs from the likes of Daniel Gray and Ben Kay. Lastly I have a plethora of photographers sites that I browse each month.

In what ways do you encourage creativity with Evan?
It’s very early days, but I let Evan bash away at our piano whenever possible. He’s also done some very, ahem, ‘abstract’ painting at playgroup.

What is your home like now?
Absolutely full to the brim! Evan’s toys are steadily taking over, but both my wife and I still love to collect and display all manner of things. From the traditional photos and postcards, through to more obscure items such as Indian razor blade packets and Bulgarian biscuit boxes. Plus there’s plenty more stuff in the loft we’ve never got round to sorting…

When do you spend time on your artwork?
Work hours are fairly standard 9-5ish, but for the bigger titles I’ll often mull over cover designs at home and on the Tube. I often whack various visuals on the fridge and squint at them whilst feeding Evan…

Can you describe your workspace?
Obsessively tidy. I’m a firm believer of clear space = clear mind. At the end of each day, I spend a few minutes cleaning my desk – it means I’m all set to go the next morning. On the surrounding walls I have an ever changing collection of book covers…

Future goals/dreams?
To consistently produce excellent book covers that attract and impress readers. Maybe win a design prize or too! Oh, and I’ve also given lectures and tutorials to students, so I’d love to do more of that.

Alex Kirby