Studying graphic design at different universities, college friends Chris Gove and Robert Evans kept in touch via the postal service. Sending flyers, gig posters and offering each other advice on their own work, the pair developed a creative partnership thanks to a shared love of music, art and the receiving of mail. Three years ago they set up Telegramme, their design studio in east London. For CR, Kezia Clark met up with Chris and Robert at their place of work, in an old peanut factory…
Telegramme work (and sleep) in an old peanut factory, kept company by two kittens, neighbouring artists and a horde of screen printing equipment (with which they make much of their work).
CR: Going back to the beginning, where did you meet?
Chris Gove: We went to different colleges but had friends that knew each other so met through them. I was set to do Computer Science at University but the week before I was due to start I told my Dad I didn’t want to go. He said what the hell are you going to do, went out, and brought me back an application form for B&Q.
Bobby (Robert) had just started his Foundation degree. I went to visit him, it was a really beautiful sunny day and the whole class was sat in a field drawing with ink. I went up to the course leader and had to convince him there and then that I wanted to join. He let me on and I started the following week. Going to see Bobby that day was a real inspiration.
CR: When did you set up Telegramme?
CG: After university Bobby freelanced with a web design studio and I freelanced with a hideous animation company, doing World Cup title sequences; really horrible stuff that I didn’t want to do.
Robert Evans: We were both trying to do two full time jobs, freelancing all day then staying up all night designing gig posters for people. It was never a conscious decision to set up Telegramme but we realised we had to, to get work. We got a commission for Nokia, so had to register as a Ltd company. It’s a really difficult way to do things. It would have been a lot easier to have spent ten years working in the industry and then decided to set up our own company.
CR: What did the commission for Nokia involve?
CG: We created four inbox graphics for the Nokia Supernova 2008 range. Each one had to relate to the features and colours of the phone. The design with waves turning into leaves then into waves again, represented the phones ability to match the colour of the keypad lights to the wallpaper. The cloud illustration was because the phone screen had a mirrored surface, so the lights and graphics would drift to the front then away again.
We also designed a special edition box for the Prism Collection. Illustrator Fredrique Dubal created the wallpapers and an etched back cover. So, we created a graphic for the box that combined both her style and ours.
CR: What difficulties have been thrown at you, setting up a company early on in your careers?
CG: Tax, accounts, how to pay ourselves, invoicing, registering as a company. All the stuff you don’t learn at university: how to have meetings, sending stuff to print. What is a pitch? How much do you charge people? Do you have a daily rate, what happens if the client doesn’t like it?
RE: Learning all these things is really hard. At university they teach you the process of design but not the process of working as a designer.
CR: 2008 saw a series of Telegramme mugs, tea towels, trays and bed linen in Habitat, how did you get that commission?
CG: Before moving to London we hired a weird print studio in an underground bunker in the New Forest. We screen-printed 30 different posters, some rolls of wallpaper, broke all the screens, used all the ink and ran.
RE: Then we decided to hold an exhibition so sent out screen printed invitations to a wish list of people. Luckily Habitat turned up, grabbed a couple of posters, said they liked our work and that they would be in touch.
CR: Did working with such a big brand mean you were restricted creatively?
CG: Habitat took a risk, they gave us a chance considering we were young designers. I think they were really nervous because they had chosen us over a lot of other people. Clients say do what you want, but really they mean rein back, we had to think about Habitat, about who they are and their audience.
RE: At first they said do what you want. The ideas we had were really surreal, we thought, wow, this is the best job ever. But they came back to us and said; actually we want a dog and some houses.
CR: Your making a name for yourselves via the screen-printing you do. What is that attracts you to this medium?
CG: It’s so hard to make screen-printing look perfect. You’re mixing ink and paint, right next too – well you probably shouldn’t, but we mix next to the final piece, so you get ink on yourself, everything around you. You tear screens, it’s so hard to register stuff, and you’re limited in terms of colour. It’s really experimental.
RE: Every time we do a print we have a pile of rough paper that we practise on, but we never throw it away, we overprint on it and end up with really random mad overlaid imagery, made up of about 70 prints. Sometimes you find a colour works really well over the top of another one, in a way you never could have done on Photoshop.
CR: What equipment do you have in your studio?
CG: We’ve got a screen-printing bed from the Bow Arts Trust, squeegees from eBay, an exposure unit and an old advertising box that a guy who moved into the studio next to us had been trying to give away for years, we use it as a light box. So, we’re getting there.
CR: What have been your favourite projects so far?
RE: Rough Trades art poster’s, I do them once a month. Like all gig posters they don’t pay anything but you get to meet so many good bands. A record label takes over the night each week and I get to do an illustration for each one, everything is two colour, that’s the only boundary I have, but it’s nice to set yourself limitations with colour.
CG: My favourite has been these boxes that we’ve been making, alphabet cubes made out of ply-wood which we screen print on. They were in The Observer a couple of weeks ago because someone saw them in our exhibition, but at the moment they’re really expensive: £200 a box because that’s how much it costs to make and design them. We would love to sell them for £10 a box. We would love everyone to have them.
CR: Is there much of a screen-printing community in the UK?
RE: The music community is really good for screen printing. We are always going to see bands and then end up designing their posters and flyers. There’s a huge community in the US, they have Flatstock, a yearly event where they all put their screen printed posters into a big exhibition, but there’s not much of one in the UK.
CG: This year we are really going to try and get something off the ground. It’s in the very early stages at the moment but we want to organise a small-scale version of Flatstock, get a UK exhibition of illustration and screen printing together.
CR: What are your plans for 2009?
RE: We need to work on applying our random ideas to things that are more practical. We’re aiming towards designing patterns and wallpapers, which visually reflect the seasons, because our previous self-directed work has no context with time. We figured we should do a bunch of winter and summer patterns that we can apply to things. We’ve been approached to work on some wallpaper designs for Canadian company Roll Out. They want to do an artist’s series.
CG: This year we’re going to be more organised and efficient with our approach to things and really focus on making our designs more available because we want to get our ideas about. We want to do a lot more editorial work, getting a regular slot doing an illustration for a newspaper would be brilliant, but the newspapers seem to keep the same kids.
As the interview comes to an end, Robert lets slip his latest personal project; a comic book style zine based on a character that’s half-man, half-owl. “Oh God, don’t let him see anything with a picture of an owl on it,” says Chris…
See more of Telegramme’s work at telegramme.co.uk.