‘Hey’ is a new series where we catch up with interesting people from Plymouth and the surrounding area. We discover what they are about and what they are up to.
Next up in the series is Pete Clayton, Illustrator, Animator & Graphic Designer.
Pete’s style is combined with clever plays on words and themes to create a unique style that is instantly recognisable. After a background in creative agencies, Pete decided to go freelance and is now working for clients such as Disney Pixar, Nudge Community Builders, and Brand Biscuit. Pete is an active member of the Plymouth design community and is based in Alma Yard, Plymouth.
How are you?
I’m all right. I have good days and bad days.
It reminds me of a question Steven Bartlett asked Jordan Peterson and he said “fantastically awful”, something like that. I have struggles I’ve got lots to be thankful for, and I think if I keep that kind of thing in mind, I’m alright.
I shared a story on Instagram of Sir Ian McKellen recently. He said, if you go to Manchester, get in a taxi, the taxi driver says, “where are you going love?”. A grown man asks another grown man where he’s going and says ‘love’. It was a whole story about why don’t we just call everyone ‘love’. It’s just really nice stuff. Anyway that kind of broke me. I’m alright, but then something will catch me, and then I’ll be in tears and I wonder, am I okay?
Heath Ledger said people always ask, how are you doing? Or how’s work? But no one asks, are you happy? Or something to that effect. There’s a lot to be said about men and how we are. There’s a lot of things for men, and we really need to speak up and f****** talk. When we were kids, it was like, man up. Be a man, and I think there is an element of that, to try and be strong, but actually, I think you have to recognise the strength of recognising your emotions and it’s okay to get upset. I could watch an episode of the Simpsons and it would get me. Music gets me more than illustration. If you get the right song, the wrong day or whatever, or the right day. It just kind of awakened something in me. Fade to Black by Metallica, off Ride The Lightning? The lyrics and everything. Sometimes with music it’s like hearing someone knowing what you’re going through.
I went off on a right tangent – I’m alright. It’s important though, mental health.
How did you start out in design and illustration?
The drive and the passion and that excitement came from when I was a kid. Cartoons, mimicking cartoons, caricatures, little satirical political cartoons in the newspaper. My dad was an artistic guy, and had the creative bone as well, so it was really established then, that’s my background.
I wasn’t really good at anything else at school, I was pretty sh*t at Maths and English, and wasn’t very book smart and I’m still not. I kind of picked things up as I went along. I was always interested in art, and that’s where it all comes from.
Even things like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That excitement, just that joy. And I still get that excitement now, whether it’s design or illustration or animation, it’s just that nice, gooey feeling inside me that’s still there from when I was a kid. I just happened to end up going to University but it started as a boy. Me and my brother used to watch a lot of Arnie films. We had this character called Mr Muscle, like Muscle Man, and he had big muscles and a pair of pants. That’s where that need to create came from, really. Just there.
Predator is my favourite Arnie film, for sure. I watched Commando again a couple of years ago, and that scene on the beach where he’s getting all his gear on and there’s some smoke in the background. Where the f*** does the smoke come from? It’s fantastic.
Are you from Plymouth?
No. If you’re from Plymouth, like a proper Janner, you’re born in Freedom Fields. Just like if you’re a proper Cockney, you were born between the Bow Bells in London. But no, I’m from Essex. My family are from Romford. We ended up moving down here when I was six and I grew up in Plympton. I think we’re quite lucky here because we have the art College in Plymouth.
Going back, I had this creative yearning when I was younger, because it was the only thing I was good at. I also enjoyed it and those feelings that come together. Originally I studied Fine Art in foundation, but then my parents were like, well, you could do graphic design, and I was like, yeah, it’s like just a different canvas, isn’t it, really? So I just got into it that way. I went away and lived abroad for a bit and studied in Cardiff as well, then I found a job with Bluestone360 and my parents are still here, so just gravitated back.
I grew up here when it was all blue jeans, white trainers, Ben Sherman shirt, going to Millennium and Dance Academy. I see it in a different way now. But I don’t think it’s a massive chav culture anymore. It’s like a big student vibe, more hipster with spaces like Alma Yard and Royal William Yard and the Barbican is still thriving, which is good. Union Street is dead at the moment, in terms of like the nightlife, but what Nudge doing down there with Dave Tetley, they are just breathing new life into it compared to what I knew it as, as a kid, if you go down there, you’d have to keep your wits about you. But what Nudge is doing is so good. I’ve just done some work with them recently. Those little things, Nudge and Plymouth Design Forum are breathing life into the city. Plymouth has changed, a hell of a lot.
I hope in the same way that Nudge have got JFKs and Millennium, I hope they get the Palace Theatre as well and do something nice because they’re doing f****** fantastic job at the moment. I’ve done a bit of work down there, as well, spray painting electrical boxes and stuff like that. Those kinds of colourful, artist-based initiatives that are really good for Plymouth and Plymouth Artists Together (PAT), they do a lot of stuff locally, they’ve just done a big mural in Green Bank that looks great.
Going away and coming back to Plymouth, and being a designer and a creative, I can see that there has been a lot of change culturally as well. It’s just come on leaps and bounds. I think it’s a really cool city. Even if you don’t like the city, it doesn’t matter because you’ve got the moors, you’ve got beaches and the woods and we’re so close to everything. I’m not going to move.
Any advice to designers/Illustrators getting into the industry?
I think when you’re at Uni, get some real-world experience. And I think that goes for any designer or whatever. It’s a completely different world.
I haven’t been inside the educational system for a long time, but they’re very good at getting you to think creatively and conceptually and all that kind of stuff, but you need to get that real-world experience, whether it’s in a studio or designing for your friends, or illustrating for your friends. If you’re not getting that real world experience, maybe just contact your heroes, they’re people as well. I’ve had people come in and ask me questions and it’s just nice and I’m happy to help because I was you once. You got a hero? You’re into book cover illustrations? Find your favourite book cover illustrator and just contact them. I guarantee they would be more than willing to just give you advice, you make connections, and you get some really valuable information.
If you’re not getting those commissions to do stuff, just be a self-starter. I wanted to do animation but I didn’t get any animation commissions. So I just learned it, posted it out and then I got commissions. I’m not saying that’s going to work every time, but you’ve got to be a self-starter, get real world commissions, get somebody to look at your portfolio and things like that. Just get out beyond the university, because you’re in a bubble.
Favourite thing about your job?
I get to draw pictures for a living.
Yeah, I think that is probably the best thing. Whether that picture is a website, or whether that picture is a bit of packaging, or whether that picture is an illustration or a logo, I get to draw shit and goes back to that feeling I had as a kid, creating Muscle Man or a comic or just creating a character or doing a caricature. It’s just that feeling. I get to just keep having that feeling all the time. It’s as simple as that.
The best thing about my job is I just get to draw, it’s happy days.
One thing you recommend everyone to try?
Just try taking time a little bit more rather than going full guns blazing. That’s more of a personal development in my personality. Because I can be like, everything’s fantastic, let’s go, blah, blah, blah. But then sometimes you’ll hit a wall when the dust settles. Sometimes I think that it comes from being a Leo, I’ve got my heart on my sleeve and everything’s out there. I’m just jumping in with both feet. But sometimes, try to take your time a little bit, breathe.
What piece of your work are you most proud of?
I don’t know, it’s so tricky because every job is, really, really, cool, and then I’m like, what’s next?
A music producer said to Johnny Cash in that film, Walk The Line, “There’s one last song, you’re out there lying on the road and you’re dying and you want the world to hear your last words, like that song” – Let me play Folsom Prison Blues.
I’ve done branding for an airport. That was f****** cool. That’s up there. Probably just say check out my Instagram if you want to see what I’m about. If you want to see how I think, how I feel, how I play, and really like a visual representation of me and to understand me a little bit better – go on my gram.
So how do you maintain a work/life balance?
Going freelance. Absolutely going freelance. I can still do school runs and I can still spend quality time with the kids. Being freelance gives you more free time to plan stuff which is really good because you can just keep an eye on the Google Calendar and block out time. You also find that you can have a whole day booked on a job and then you do it in like half a day and you’re like, I’m going to go to the museum, I’m going to get my hair cut. Sometimes that work life balance doesn’t necessarily happen as planned, it just kind of evolves throughout the day.
I’ve been so overwhelmed in the past. But I know I’ve got a list. A job came through the other day and I was like, I can’t do this, and I was like, right, I need to take a breath.
What are your future plans for yourself and your business?
I’d like to buy a house.
That’s what I’m really working for. Give my kids their own bedrooms, just having my own home and my own space. I’ve got a space at home for working but it’s in my bedroom and it’s not really a creative space. That’s really why I’m working really hard, because it’d be so nice for the kids.
Playlist or Podcast?
It’s not massively grungy or heavy.
If I’m on my own, I’d probably listen to something more obscure, maybe put Tom Waits on, or some noisy Velvet Underground. I just love music. I’ve got this tunes playlist and I’ll just chuck everything on there from Slipknot to Robert Palmer and Nirvana on there. Anything weird, really catchy. I could have Elton John and Marilyn Manson on there, well maybe not Marilyn Manson. And that’s usually my stomping music. It could be absolutely anything. If you’re on a mission, maybe some Black Flag or something like that.
Check out Pete’s work:
Website > https://www.peteclayton.com/
Instagram > https://www.instagram.com/peteclayton/
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