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Gavin Strange on painting five-foot dogs

.net: Tell us about your most recent project – besides working on your presentation for Generate, of course.

Gavin Strange: I’ve just finished painting a five-foot-tall dog as part of Gromit Unleashed, which is an initiative that sees 80 giant Gromit statues placed around the city of Bristol, customised by different artists. It was the best project I’ve ever, ever been involved in.

.net: Why are side projects so important to you?

Gavin: They open your brain up, whether [to] inspirations, or styles, or something as small as new typefaces: things you don’t get a chance to explore if you’re doing stuff for a client. Side projects open you up as a designer and give you new opportunities.

And if you make something, you get to feel it, you get to hold it; it’s your creation. There’s no greater feeling that that.

I think it’s almost imperative that you have side projects. You don’t just stop being creative when the bell goes at 5.30. You can’t.

.net: But how do you find the time to work on them, on top of a full-time job?

Gavin: I don’t have a family yet, so I have a bit more free time, but I hope that through my life, I’ll just make stuff.

I think the energy comes from not drinking. That’s quite good. I’ve never got a hangover, so Saturday and Sunday aren’t a write-off. I haven’t really got any more energy than anyone else: I just like being productive. Telly’s a bit rubbish, so what else do I fill my time with?

.net: What are your tools of the trade?

Gavin: What I have all the time – and I find it imperative in any studio – is a NERF weapon (opens in new tab). At any point, warfare can break out, so you need to be armed.

But to actually get stuff done? Photoshop, Illustrator, a camera – I like documenting things – and pen and paper. I get inspired looking at how different creatives jot stuff down, and I love Dieter Rams’ designs: he has this uber-simplistic, beautiful style of product design, but all his sketches are quite basic.

I like it when I see someone amazing whose style behind the scenes isn’t that good, because I’m not that good, and it inspires me. When you see someone who’s just so amazing they’re untouchable, you have no idea how you can ever get there. I like seeing the stepping stones: ‘Oh, okay, I just have to keep plugging away to get better.’

.net: What does the future hold?

Gavin: Well, hoverboards. I’m still waiting for those, as I’m sure everyone else is. We’re way overdue on that.

I’d like to continue the way I am, really. I’d love to continue giving talks: I think it’s a massive honour to be able to talk to people about what you love. And more film stuff. More integrated projects: I like doing big projects that have an event attached to them, or a piece of print. But I also like doing the smaller things, the stepping-stone things you need to learn. You can’t just do massive projects all the time, I’ve noticed: it’s just draining and takes over your life. You need a breather.

I’d say the future is more random stuff. Whatever it is, I’m excited.

Gavin Strange is at London's Generate conference on Friday 13 September. His session promises to show you what you can achieve in your design career by simply ‘giving it a go’. Use the discount code GS15 to get 15 per cent off your ticket

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