Graphic design for the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms

Since 2007, graphic designer Iain Cadby has worked with London gallery the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, creating exhibition identities and books for shows by some of the world’s best known street artists. He has now published a book on the thinking and process behind his designs, including work for Ron English, Adam Neate, Boris Tellegen (DELTA) and José Parlá…

Cover development for book accompanying Boris Tellegen (DELTA) exhibition The New Dutch Master

Since 2007, graphic designer Iain Cadby has worked with London gallery the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, creating exhibition identities and books for shows by some of the world’s best known street artists. He has now published a book on the thinking and process behind his designs, including work for Ron English, Adam Neate, Boris Tellegen (DELTA) and José Parlá…

Graphic Design by Iain Cadby for the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms showcases 14 identities created by Cadby for Elms Lesters. Run by Paul Jones and Fiona McKinnon, Elms Lesters now works exclusively with artist Adam Neate but in the past, has exhibited a range of art styles from Pop Art to Tribal and has focused on street art since 2004 (you can read our feature on the gallery from the February 2009 issue of Creative Review here).

Back and front covers for The New Dutch Master book, plus invitations and badge designs

Cadby began working with Jones and McKinnon after they delivered a piece of work he had purchased from them to his home, but says he had been a regular visitor to the gallery since 2002. In an introduction to the book, he says his fascination with street art stems from his practice as a graphic designer (he previously worked at Why Not Associates and now operates his own practice, Worlds Design).

Introduction pages, early sketch and banner for The New Dutch Master

“Graffiti writing and aspects of design, especially typography, have many connecting threads, although technically and stylistically they are at polar extremes. Graffiti is often viewed as illegible vandalism while graphic design is seen as the embodiment of rational problem solving. However, the finest graffiti, the complex, elaborate and cerebral type-based work, and the politically-charged comment on society placed in precisely the best spot…to have maximum impact…isn’t just meaningless scrawl. It’s been lovingly thought out, designed and then implemented and produced,” he writes.

“Just as some graphic designers create work that communicates on brief for a project but so beautifully that people embrace the work beyond its commissioned context and want to put it on the walls of their homes, so it is that the work of some graffiti artists has transcended the street context where it originated…This is what I find interesting – that place where design and art converge,” he adds.

Flatplan and designs for WK Interact + Anthony Lister at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms

The book is presented in chronological order, with each project also presented in the order in which it was produced. Alongside photographs of the completed identities and exhibitions are early concept sketches, running sheets, print tests and flatplans, offering a look at the development of each design from start to finish. Each project is also introduced by a short text from Cadby, in which he explains the thinking behind his design and notes on the process and images shown.

Early sketches for Ron English show, Lazarus Rising and below, the back and front cover, flatplans and extra designs

Cadby says he first had the idea for the book around three years ago, and was keen to avoid creating a publication limited to photographs of finished pieces.  “I wanted to show the development of each project – the print tests, type development, different paper stocks and the running sheets. Some of them are beautiful in their own right, and they also show how each book was constructed,” says Cadby. “I think it’s more helpful for readers, too – you’re not just showing the finished product, but what it took to get there,” he says.

While many galleries opt for minimal identities and catalogue designs, Cadby says he was always encouraged to experiment in his work for Elms Lesters. Featured projects showcase a range of printing techniques, materials and finishes – from a lavish text celebrating the gallery’s 25th anniversary with an irredescent hardback cover, blind embossed with work by artists who have exhibited there, to an identity and book design for Tellegen’s show The New Dutch Master, which featured an exploding isometric shape based on Tellegen’s artwork. The design was created using a complex printing process of overprinting different tints, mixing opaque white with gold, silver and shades of blue, and each stage of the process is documented in the book.

Designs for José Parlá show, Adaptation/Translation

When designing identities for each show, Cadby says he would look to key themes or recurirng visuals in the artist’s work, resulting in a broad range of designs and finishes. An identity for José Parlá’s Adaptation/Translation, for example, uses earthy tones and serif typeface Versailles – a look Cadby says was designed to reflect the “subtlety and strength” of Parlá‘s work, and the colours used in his paintings – while one for Ron English’s Lazarus Rising uses neon colours and a triangular design, referencing the Occult and the idea of resurrection, as well as propaganda, Pop Art and religion.

“I try to objectively study [an artists’ work] and pick out some key elements or underlying themes which then inspires the design and I always aim to add something – to create something that will resonate with readers, rather than just presenting the artist’s work in a very neutral way,” explains Cadby. This also informs the different finishes and print processes, says Cadby: his first book for the gallery, for Adam Neate and Ron English’s The Adam & Ron Show, featured a cover with 70s style TV  screens in gloss laminate and red debossed glitter type, which Cadby describes as “purposefully beautiful ugly” and “garish and ironic”, while a limited edition publication for Lazarus Rising was printed using then put through a ‘texture mangle’ to add a debossed texture like the feel of an old Occult encyclopedia.

Cover designs for book celebrating 25 years of the Elms Lesters Painting Gallery

Other identities feature a type-based approach, such as Cadby’s work for Neate’s exhibition, A New Understanding. For this, Cadby created a bespoke typeface for the identity based on the house signature commonly used by Neate to sign work at the time. “I created the letterforms using the most reduced geometric shapes to attain something akin to this signature…the typeface is made from vertical, horizontal, 45 degree angles and half circles,” he explains. The book was printed with a blood red cloth cover and metallic foil blocking and Neate’s signature on the reverse.

Banners and designs for Adam Neate’s A New Understanding

Poster by Cadby for Adam Neate at Art Beijing 2013

Print and production images showing Cadby’s work for Adam Neate’s Dimensional Paintings


It’s a diverse collection of work and a detailed insight into both the thinking and process behind Cadby’s designs, and the challenges of designing identities for visual artists. The book is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions and you can order a copy here.

What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

Buy the issue

The Annual 2018

The Creative Review Annual is one of the most
respected and trusted awards for the creative
industry. We celebrate the best creative work from
the past year, those who create it and commission it.

Enter now


South East London - Competitive


London - £35,000 - £40,000


Birmingham - Salary £30-£35k


Leeds, West Yorkshire - £20,000 - 30,000