At Work With: Rob Lowe, Little White Lies
Since its 2005 launch Little White Lies has been a flagbearer for independent publishing. Universally respected (and awarded) for its use of illustration, its equally strong editorial vision has sometimes been overlooked, yet both aspects mark the magazine out as special. Following the departure of its design team, the latest issue is guest art directed by Rob Lowe, who under the name Supermundane is a respected artist, illustrator and editorial designer. Other magazines bearing his name read like a history of independent publishing, and include Sleaze, Good for Nothing, Anorak and Fire & Knives. Here he looks ahead at his week and reflects on designing Little White Lies.
Where are you today?
I’m in Forest Hill, south east London, in the studio of my live/work flat on a mews called Havelock Walk.
What can you see from the window?
My windows are opaque in double fronted doors so when they are closed there is no real view to speak of, just blurry shapes moving about. It’s pretty warm though so I have the door open on to the street. Opposite me is a woodworking workshop and studios with their concertina door open. I normally start the day around 8am with a chat with my neighbours around a large blue bin, which is another thing I can see. The street is a kind of artists' community so there are always plenty of people around to say hello to.
How many emails are waiting in your inbox?
I’m ashamed to say there are 105 unread emails in my inbox. Most are spam and mailing list stuff but in there is a couple of print orders, some project emails and requests for talks.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
I should say Little White Lies, but my subscription of Wire has just come in so I’ll be having a rummage through that a bit later.
And your favourite movie?
I can’t say that it’s my favourite as I haven't watched it yet but I bought a Thai film called ‘Tropical Malady’ from the BFI shop at the weekend. A friend recommended it, I already have another film by the same director so it sounded like something I would enjoy. The director is the amazingly named Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his films are super slow and beautiful and play around with film structure – the film I have seen, called ‘Blissfully Yours’, has a 40 minute intro before the titles appear halfway through the film.
What was the biggest challenge you faced taking on LWL?
There were many challenges. The main one was getting my head around taking on someone else’s magazine and working within their format. This wasn’t a redesign so I had to fit in with the way the magazine already worked, which I have never done before. Once I got past that aspect it became fun to work on. The way it has been designed fits in with my own way of working pretty well, it gave me the chance to design some type and put my own stamp on it whilst it looking very much like Little White Lies. I even did a few portraits (above) which is new for me.
LWL has always adapted its look to the cover movie. Have you continued that tradition?
Taking inspiration from one film has continued with this issue. It’s a nice way to work, taking cues from the visual aspects of a film. In this case the film was ‘Elysium’, directed by ‘District 9’ director Neill Blomkamp. It‘s a Utopia/Dystopia sci-fi movie. I only had the film trailer to work with so this was the main source of influence. I designed a font based up on the markings on the exoskeleton Matt Damon wears, this was used throughout the front section and on the cover. The exoskeleton was a major source of reference with it appearing on the cover and each of the act pages. A visual representation of the utopian and dystopian elements is in the end papers (below). I used marbled paper to suggest the utopian world viewed from above and Indian ink pour in water on paper to look like a decaying world. The marbled paper also hints at traditional endpapers.
Did you enjoy commissioning other illustrator/designers to contribute to the magazine?
Timba (Smits), who did a wonderful job on the cover, was onboard from almost the beginning and was a suggestion from LWL as he was already working on them with the Not For Rental exhibition. We met up and had a chat about cover ideas and came up with the idea of over-printing the exoskeleton in spot UV as most of the detail on Matt Damon was on his back so you wouldn't see it on the cover. This way we could have detail whilst keeping the iconic portrait style that LWL is known for. As for other illustrators, it was the first time that I have commissioned portraits so it was fun using people I haven't had a chance to use when I was commissioning for Anorak or Fire & Knives in the past.
What was the last thing your editor said to you?
The editor was on holiday for the last two weeks so I can't remember what the last thing he said to me was, probably “Bye”. He was very happy that the magazine was in a good place before he left though. This is the first time they have had a guest art director and I think there was a certain amount of uncertainty about how it was going to work out. Hopefully everyone is happy!
What are you most looking forward to this week?
I’ve been working on a project with a friend making a graphic score for improvised music. It been really interesting trying to visualise things that can be interpreted as sound. Over the last few weeks it’s been developing and it's turned into a sort of game with 26 cards that lets you randomly compile scores. I’m hoping to get that all artworked and the instructions written this week and we are also recorded a performance of it and with be asking other people to perform it as well. It's been coming together really well so I’m looking forward to finishing it off.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
I haven’t got anything on the horizon that I’m really not looking forward to this week. I got to give my flat a good clean and that's not the most inviting prospect.
What will you be doing after this chat?
I’ll be checking my emails, hopefully replying to a few, maybe upload a photo to instagram and start to sort out what I want to get done this week.
List making basically.