Lord Whitney by Liam Henry.
Lord Whitney are not your average design team: within the space of just a few years, this unique partnership between trained graphic designers Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney has carved out an eye-catching niche within the worlds of set design, art direction and prop making – all from their base – an old mill in Leeds. They have just relaunched their website and are busy preparing for an exhibition created with the help of illustrator Jack Hudson: an entire back catalogue of LP covers designed to promote the sounds of fictitious musical artists. ‘The exhibition will launch you into a sonic time warp where only the best bits from an era rich in music and visuals are permitted. Doves will cry. Hair will spontaneously perm.’ I decided to find out more…
Lord Whitney. Studio photography by Liam Henry.
How did you two meet and decide to work together, and what creative (and other) parameters did you decide on when you created Lord Whitney?
We met at University studying Graphic Art and Design in Leeds where the first project we ever worked on together was creating a giant 3D theatre set, combining our skills in photography and illustration. As well as a distinctive style we shared a sense of humour, a vision of what we wanted to do and big dance moves! It was the first time that either of us had worked in this way and we never looked back.
In 2009, Lord Whitney was formed with the enjoyment of creating, working for ourselves and constant curiosity in mind as key elements. We consider the last 4 years to be the biggest adventure of our lives, it has taken us to some weird and wonderful places and we have had some great experiences.
Your work encompasses illustration, photography and set design: how do you balance the various elements, especially when responding to a brief from a client?
Essentially when we work on a commission basis, the brief generally dictates the most suitable response, so the balance can vary a lot. It’s nice on a day-to-day basis to have that variation as we never do the same thing twice. For our own briefs it’s much more about playing around, being instinctive and having fun with creating work. It’s a very natural process that’s usually determined by what we get most excited about that day.
What narrative or symbolic elements keep reappearing in your work and why?
Our work often involves elements of our childhoods – whether conscious or subconscious. We enjoy the escapism, child-like-ness, playful and enjoyable elements, which is part of us not taking life too seriously! Other themes do seem to creep into our work regularly – fairytales, nonsense, magic, the surreal. We’re always keen to take people outside of their normal world.
Do you have other people working with you full time or do you bring various creatives in to work with you on different challenges? What kind of things do you look for from a team member?
Over the years we’ve worked with a lot of different people, generally something just clicks with certain people, which is why we enjoying collaborating. We’re surrounded by so many skilled people, including other artists and studios, which really enriches the quality of all our work.
We recently have had two additions to our little team. A project manager and assistant are with us part time who support the everyday running of the studio, allowing us to focus on the creative side of our work. We also have a good relationship and contacts with students and graduates, as the support and experience we can offer them (as well as vice versa) is something we feel strongly about. Leaving University as an artist is a daunting prospect.
You have recently collaborated with illustrator Jack Hudson, how did that come about and where can people see the results?
Jack has been a friend of ours for a while and we have always admired his work. So when he suggested a new challenge we jumped at the chance. Jack came up to our studio last October for four fun, paint-fuelled days, which was so great just to get stuck into something of our own. I think it really fired something up in us both. Jack has just come up again to work on a new project with us, ‘Mock ‘n’ Roll‘. Together we have created an entire back catalogue of LP cover designs for a series of fictitious musical artists. This will be exhibited at the Leeds Gallery from 27th April – 7th May. This exhibition will launch you into a sonic time warp where only the best bits from an era rich in music and visuals are permitted.
Can you describe your studio set up?
We are surrounded by collections of weird and wonderful objects, paint palettes, old junk, props we’ve made, and always with a cup of tea at hand.
In 2011 we were lucky to find and take over the top floor of an old leather mill just out of Leeds city centre. Partly due to financial and practical reasons, but mainly from our own curiosity, we searched empty buildings high and low before falling in love with the place we now call home. This year we are hoping to open the studio to more events, exhibitions and getting other artists into the space, which is something we’re really excited about. We also intend to complete our vision of turning part of our studio into a real life tree-house!
Thanks for your Christmas postcard set, which comprised of a variety of photos depicting possible christmas disasters: what inspired this alternative Christmas message?
Creating Christmas cards every year is one of our favourite projects. This years concept came from talking about past Christmas quiz’s (a staple event in both the Lord & Whitney households) and remembering some absurd, but true, facts about christmas accidents. Once we’re in stitches (no pun intended!) it usually means we have the right concept. We figured that if we found it funny and surprising, other people might too. A lot of our work relates to our playful interest in dark humour and how slightly sinister situations can be funny.
You are based in Leeds and are firm advocates for creative talent based in the North – why and how has this become integral to your work?
A lot of it comes down to stubbornness! We really love living in the North and it was a conscious decision to stay here post-Uni. Not a lot would happen here if everybody decided to go to London, which seems to be the natural step/what most graduates veer towards. The art scene in Leeds is really starting to evolve and we love being a part of that. On a practical level it also means there isn’t as much pressure financially, which allows us more freedom creatively and in our decision making.
I hear you have some exciting new plans to launch a new bar called Society of Sorts: can you tell us a bit more about it?
It’s in the early stages at the moment but is something we’re really excited about. The uniqueness of the bar will be down to it being a cooperative run by creatives. The concept focuses on bringing together a group of people with very different backgrounds and talents to work together on a new venture for us all. We love working collaboratively so this is a dream project for us.
Essentially Society of Sorts is a bar where music and arts events are key to push for the bar to become a truly cultural venue; evolving from day to evening, seasonally and through the variety of events. There will be a whole range of things happening – from live music based nights with specialist DJs or bands to talks and screenings. We can hold gatherings and parties but also exhibitions, food based events, secret nights and even bedtime stories. We’re all keen for it to have a sort of secret society vibe offering a very different bar experience, especially from what we are used to in the North. Keep an eye out for some intriguing visuals and symbols popping up all over the city of Leeds and beyond!
Which festivals and events will you be doing this year? Any top tips for those still undecided about what to attend?
Body & Soul in Ireland is one of the best small independent festivals we worked at last year. It’s one of those festivals that’s great if you are looking for something different, which we love. We’re really into those smaller festivals where you feel like you could discover anything, and fits in with our love for experiences out of normal life. Beacons in Yorkshire is a great little festival which is local to us and is growing and becoming more ambitious each year, we’re sure to be there!
You are planning a big exhibition based on Folklore and traditions in the north: why do you find these so intriguing and what is the most outrageous custom we might not know about?
We’re interested in reminiscing on the past, and unfortunately not that many people widely take an interest in history. We think it’s important to know about where you come from, but the topic is also very visually exciting to us (vivid imagery, eccentric British, nonsensical, which we love). Historical aspects and traditions developing as folklore is an intriguing subject to us. Especially when it can include anything from a ‘long sword dance’ to a Yorkshire pudding boat race!
Lord Whitney with Jack Hudson – A Step Into The Third Dimension.
Your new website has just launched: what does it feature?
We’ve had our heads down working hard for over a year, so we thought it was definitely time to showcase our most up to date work. Expect to see Nonsense, giant eyeballs and steps into new dimensions!
Lord Whitney with Jack Hudson – A Step Into The Third Dimension.
What would you say sets Lord Whitney apart from other creatives working in a similar realm?
Location is one thing, as there isn’t really anyone doing the same thing in this region. Also our process of working – collaborative, inclusive, playful, fun, friendly and not taking ourselves too seriously. There’s a big cross-over of different techniques and mediums which means we are not limited to one way of working, making us adaptable to each project rather than specialised in just one field. We’re artists with a studio mentality.
Categories ,3D Design, ,A Step Into The Third Dimension, ,Amy Lord, ,Art Direction, ,Beacons, ,Body & Soul, ,festival, ,Graphic Art and Design, ,interview, ,Jack Hudson, ,leeds, ,Leeds Gallery, ,Liam Henry, ,Lord Whitney, ,Mock ‘n’ Roll, ,Rebekah Whitney, ,Set Design, ,Society of Sorts