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Jake Beddow on the ups and downs of being freelance and discovering what he truly enjoys

13.02.20

Jake Beddow is a freelance illustrator, graphic designer and printmaker based in Manchester, UK. He works across the cultural and creative industry, designing for print and digital, whilst also running Press Print Shop, an online store that sells limited edition products, prints and hand crafted stationery. We caught up with Jake to talk about his journey so far.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer and illustrator?
As a kid I drew a lot and said I wanted to illustrate books like Tony Ross or Quentin Blake, but in secondary school I lost all confidence and was drawn to music as a personal outlet. I studied Art, Design, Maths and Physics at sixth form thinking I would become an architect but was so awful at maths and physics I knew it was something I shouldn’t pursue. I took a year out with my band then went onto study Design and Art Direction at MMU, by then I was confident that I wanted to work in the creative industry just in any way I could fit myself in. 

What do you love most about what you do?
I get satisfaction from pleasing the client; presenting something I have spent time on perhaps providing ideas that haven’t been considered feels good. Discovering new techniques to help me realise what’s in my head and generally always trying to improve, not being complacent.

Creating personal work feels more existential and like soul searching, more difficult to justify ideas and I am hugely self-critical so seeing things through can be tough, but managing to breaking through this barrier is freeing and ultimately why I do what I do.

Where do you find inspiration?
I have a general style that I aspire to sit with – Counter-culture iconography, early 90’s MTV, the punk rock DIY aesthetic, I spent a few years really involved in the Riso printing community which is diverse and beautiful, I love traditional sign-writing typography, abstract character art and anything that feels truly authentic and original. 

How have you found working for yourself and being freelance?
Initially I found it very difficult. Although I am confident in my ability I am introverted, networking and gaining new business was something I wasn’t prepared for. I was naive in thinking I would just be designing all day every day which isn’t the case. I like being able to break my day up, although I will often work more hours than a regular work day it doesn’t feel like it. 

Having multiple clients means I can keep my workload varied and engaging. I worked for an agency for 6 years where particular jobs became monotonous and it felt like I wasn’t progressing at my craft. Although it can feel uncomfortable, being freelance allows me to challenge myself regularly.

Tell us more about some of the projects you’ve worked on
I worked at a popular art materials shop in Manchester for four years where I did all graphic design, Riso printing and created and collaborated on own-brand products. A Block Printing Kit was a project that involved creating a screen printed illustrative sleeve design as well as some tricky cardboard engineering to house separate elements within the box so it was an interesting balance of creative and technical design. This was something we manufactured in-house with a laser-cutter and involved a lot of trial and error. Using this same method of laser-cutting nets to build 3d shapes out of card I designed a mini make-your-own Riso printer, which has been sent out all over the world and is featured in a Riso museum in America and is in the CEO of Riso Corporation Japan’s office, which was a huge honour. These projects were a significant springboard into what I do and how I work today.

Talk us through your process
I tend to begin with pencil sketches whether it is for an illustration or design layout, usually very basic scribbles that help me form my idea. I find trying to break through the initial mental static the hardest part, all the different directions and possibilities are daunting, deciding to run with a single idea can feel like a compromise. I then work predominantly on Illustrator and procreate; my art-board and the area around it quickly become a total mess of reference images and random workings. I then save generations of the file, refining and cleaning up as I go along, I usually get up to 7/8 generations before I have to tell myself to stop. 

How do you balance working on your shop with your design and illustration work?
Press Print Shop at the moment is still very much a passion project. I love the design and production aspects but I could be a lot better at marketing and promoting the brand in general. I managed to successfully crowd fund one of my products and I post to instagram occasionally but other than that I don’t peddle Press Print Shop and that is reflected in it’s commercial success, I honestly don’t mind because I do it for myself, I get an internal drive to see a product through because it feels like it has to exist. Balancing with client work is ok as I tend to work really hard on Press Print Shop when I get occasional downtime, which allows a bit of time for ideas to percolate for a while before I act on them.

What prompted you to launch Press Print Shop? How did your company get started?
My experience at the art shop gave me an understanding of not only graphic/product design but handling the materials and production aspect. Knowing what went into making something from start to finish was key to gaining confidence to start Press Print Shop. There are lots of places you can order mass-produced cheap products ready to sell but my vision was to curate primarily handmade items using interesting print techniques like Screen/Riso printing and traditional bookbinding methods to produce high quality, thoughtful items that I hope feel special to people who use them.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own company?
Embrace the mundane aspects of running a company, initially I tried to avoid spreadsheets and other organisational aspects for months but there is no escaping them, when it comes round to actually sorting out admin it feels great and allows you to take a step back and take a more objective look at where you stand.

With regard to freelancing take time to work on your own ‘ideal’ projects, set yourself challenging briefs using brands you want to work with, or even just a completely self-directed project. It might feel indulgent if you aren’t getting paid work but projecting an image of work you aspire to do speaks to the kind of client you want to work with.

What are you looking forward to this year?
I hope to develop my skills in product design, the latest Press Print Shop project involved working closely with a wood turner and I would love to continue developing relationships with local specialist makers to help realise new products, and evolve a catalogue of diverse items and materials.

I also tentatively want to learn animation so I can bring some of my static illustrations and layouts to life, I find on social media I am more and more attracted to designs that include dynamic elements and I feel this is definitely something all designers will need to factor in as a skill they can offer.

If you weren’t a designer and illustrator, what would you be doing?
I’m in a band @clawthetineice and would probably dedicate more time to making a living from music and songwriting.

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