Experiments at work: creative conversations with Anthony Burrill
You’ll likely know of the poster with large letters proclaiming ‘Work Hard & Be Nice To People’. Perhaps you’ve seen it on the wall of a local coffee shop or it’s popped up on Instagram. Anthony Burrill is the graphic artist behind this highly popular message; just one of many artworks from his stable with their distinctive typographical style.
I’m fascinated by other people’s work habits and what fuels their creativity, so earlier this week I jumped aboard the high-speed train to Kent to spend the day with him.
As I arrive at his striking home in the Kent countryside a van is being loaded up with 500 copies of his iconic ‘Work Hard & Be Nice To People’ print. They’re about to make their way to a design store in Portland, Oregon. It’s a 5,000 mile journey from this small village where the artist and designer has his home and garden studio.
I meet Emma, his wife, and their black spaniel Pip. Emma is a ceramic artist and garden designer, and also works alongside her husband in the graphic design business.
“This is where the work gets done,” Anthony tells me as he shows me around their garden studio: an attractive timber longhouse topped with a corrugated roof with large windows. The couple sit side by side at desks facing a huge picture window which overlooks a lush meadow. Set into a plain white wall, the window makes the view appear like a large piece of art on display in a gallery.
In a world where we can work anywhere — and in a home environment that provides Anthony with lots of other options — I’m curious to know his daily routine. Does he sometimes mix things up and work elsewhere?
“We’re quite habity,” says Anthony, explaining that he keeps regular 9–5 hours, five days a week, in this studio. “It’s what we have always done,” he says. “It’s such a privilege to have this space. I love it so much, I would feel guilty not coming in.”
My own working life involves operating from many different spaces. I shift from home office to coffee shop, from coworking space to hotel lobby. I thrive on moving around to spark my creativity. Stay too long in the same space and I feel tied down.
Anthony’s working practices couldn’t be more different. Here it’s about rocking up at his studio at the same time every day and doing the work that matters. The consistency in the hours and the space — these are some of the factors that drive his creativity and productivity.
For Anthony, the studio is the perfect space to “pursue the things I am into.”
Birdsong and blank space
The garden studio is a very quiet, calm space, just a few paces from his back door. The only sound is birdsong. Inside the studio it’s all white walls and wood floors under high ceilings. What’s particularly notable is there is absolutely no clutter. He tells me he needs clarity to work, hence the minimalism.
At the centre of the building is a large opening providing an aperture between the studio and a separate library — with a deck that extends out into the meadow. On the deck is an unfussy set of a yellow table and chairs. Birds nest in the eves.
As we walk into the library I notice the acoustics change. Seated on the sofa facing the bookshelves, it’s like being in a bird-watching hide. The narrow slit window delivers a widescreen view of the large meadow at the back of the garden. Another window brings a vertical slice of greenery into this white space.
Practising what they preach
After lunch in the nearby historic town of Rye, Anthony takes me to Adams, a long established general store in the high street. Tucked away at the rear of the store is a letterpress print works.
That Anthony moved near a traditional letterpress was pure serendipity. He only discovered Adams after relocating to the area from London. The first job printed on the press was the Work Hard & Be Nice to People poster. Since then, Anthony gets all his graphic prints typeset and printed here.
In a world where so much happens digitally it was wonderful, as I wandered around Adams, to glean a sense of industry and also history. It’s a printworks that’s been active since 1854. With its heavy machinery, desks strewn with boxes and piles of paper, and greasy rags on the floor it makes for a strong juxtaposition with the clean walls and surfaces of the studio where the design work is done.
My trip to Kent and East Sussex has been wonderful. I’m grateful to have had an insight into the Burrills’ creative lives and their working processes and practices. Anthony and Emma are lovely company, a warm and welcoming couple who are clearly living their own mantra: both working hard and being nice to people.