The former cotton mill in Manchester where we have our AJOTO design studio and workshop is also the home of a number of renowned artists, designers and creatives. One of these people is the highly talented and renowned illustrator Alex Sylt and his screen printing company CrookedCartoon.
We first met Alex seven years ago after moving our studio from London and have admired his disciplined, imaginative and detailed artwork ever since. His practice of combining both traditional and modern methods to produce his work and the high level of skill and craft is inspirational. So, when it came to selecting an artist to work with to create our 10 year poster we didn’t need to look very far and we think you’ll agree that the finished work speaks for itself.
We recently sat down with Alex to talk about his practice and understand more about his journey so far. We hope you enjoy the conversation...
AJOTO: Tell us about you and how did you start your career?
Alex: I started illustrating in my teens on paper and in photoshop but never considered it a career at any stage until I was out of university. It was usually just me drawing or designing bits and bobs for the bands I was in at the time. I was constantly buying band merchandise- specifically, record release promo posters and from there I stumbled onto the screen printed gig poster community. After this I purchased a Melvins gig poster by Aaron Horkey off eBay- from there on I was incredibly interested in the plethora of illustrated art prints surrounding gigs. I instantly thought about getting into screen printing myself thinking it would be a doddle - “how hard can it be?” I thought- very quickly realising it was a hugely steep learning curve. Even to this day, I’m still learning things from every print job.
AJ: When was the moment did you decide to start Crooked Cartoon?
A: I started a business with a couple of my best friends in 2011 which was to be a joint recording studio/record label/merchandise printer. We got a bunch of second-hand printing gear so I could start learning and run the merchandise printing side of the business. I didn't even know the difference between a garment carousel and a flatbed graphic press back then so just assumed one machine would print all. This business sadly fell apart (it's tough being in business with friends) and from the end of that in 2013 I started Crooked Cartoon myself to carry on learning screen printing and also to start illustration and design- it wasn't till 2016 that I started illustrating and printing my own work, for the first few years I was simply looking for print/design jobs to pay the rent.
AJ: How do your start to develop your projects?
A: I generally start looking for inspiration- usually from other illustrators- I have a folder on my desktop aptly named 'inspiration' which is just thousands of images/photos I like that I have saved over the years or I tend to use Instagram where I mainly follow other illustrators. From there I usually get ideas or a concept of what I want to draw and then I think out the process depending on the image and usage (fully digital, pen/paper or paint). Depending on what I'm doing and what it will be used for usually dictates what methods I use to make the piece. Then it's just a case of going step by step- I use a lot of lists as I’m going to make sure I keep track of any ideas or changes I want to make as I like to do things a logical way (line work first, then colouring, then detail etc) this tends to stop me getting ahead of myself.
AJ: Who or what or where do you turn to for inspiration? Do you have any particular 'design heroes'?
A: I have plenty of illustrators I admire, a lot of them related to screen printing in one way or another, either their work is predominantly screen printed or they print themselves.
Some that I have always liked the work of include Killian Eng, Aaron Horkey, Ryan Duggan, Anne Benjamin, Peter Diamond etc.
I also take a lot from illustrators of old such as Aubrey Beardsley, JC Leyendecker and the American masters (Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish etc), Moebius, Kay Neilsen.
AJ: What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about the work you do, as well as the industry as a whole?
A: By far the most challenging is starting something new and overcoming the roadblocks along the way. (how do I shade this, how do I draw that etc) There have been plenty of times when I have spent days trying to draw a single part of an image and constantly rubbing it out. The most rewarding by far is the finishing straight, wrapping up a piece or adding the final touches is always the most rewarding, and as most images are always illustrated for screen printing I enjoy digitally changing the ink colours when the piece is complete and seeing how that affects the feel of the image as a whole. In terms of the industry I think as a screen printer it's simply about accurate reproduction, nothing more so as long as you nail the registration and colour mixing it's good from there- it's a very friendly community especially with the hugely talented printers in the US such as Vahalla, VG Kids and Lady Lazarus. With illustration the challenges are the same as most creative industries which mainly is getting seen in a saturated market- this tends to require PR or representation which is expensive.
AJ: What sort of projects do you want to do more of?
A: I'd definitely like to simply do more of my own work, print it and sell it and hold an exhibition, I enjoy client work- especially a project as fun as this where I can really sink myself into it but I'm always working towards getting all my work off the table so I can get back to working on my own exhibition pieces with the goal of printing and selling them myself, this way I can experiment more with the end goal always being a screen print edition.
Click the link below to see the AJOTO 10 year poster and get yourself a limited edition copy.