George Sharp, 28 from Portsmouth moved over to Brighton to study graphic design in 2008. “It was the dream place to go and the dream course to do when I was growing up.” Determined that he’d be accepted, George made the risky decision to not apply to any other universities. I can’t imagine his relief when he found out he got in. “It was optimistic. The arrogance of youth.”
A mere 2 weeks after graduation, George found himself in the right place at the right time securing himself a job at an award winning international clothing design studio, based in Winchester that has worked with big name brands such as Marks & Spencer’s, GAP, Nike and MOMA.
His life being based in Brighton, George has ended up commuting 5 hours a day to and from Winchester for the past 5 years and counting.
And in the last 3 months, has brought to life his own local design business Sharp Studio, a growing success, working with a variety of different Brighton based businesses.
What inspired you to go in to graphic design?
“Well, art was the only thing i was any good at as a kid. I got in trouble for spending all my time at school drawing. I was always doodling away, drawing monsters on my homework and things like that. And the only reason I decided to study graphic design is because I realised quite early on that it’s the only way that you can really make any kind of money, which sounds awful!
“Everyone I’ve met has always called graphic design ‘whores art’, as in you’re whoring yourself out. Because you could become an artist and really express yourself and all that kind of crap but I thought it would be cleverer to try and make some money.”
How long was your course at Brighton university?
“It was 3 years but because everyone wanted to go to Brighton university, a couple hundred people applied and there were only 30 odd places available, you had to do a pre-degree course. So I did a year back in the Portsmouth area before coming to Brighton to start the 3 year graphic design course.”
How easy was it to find a job after graduating?
“Well, this is a bit of a funny one… Basically, design careers are like the most horrific things in the world because a lot of places won’t take you on unless you have two years experience but HOW are you supposed to get two years experience if no-one takes you on. So a lot of people do unpaid internships. I believe it’s getting better now, there was a bit of an uproar, and now people are at least getting the minimum wage.
“So when I came out of uni, a lot of people in my course, who were TONES better than I was at graphic design, worked for years, pretty much for peanuts. And a lot of opportunities for design careers are in London. So imagine, not earning any money and having to live in London in order to stay in your line of work.
“I have this horrible feeling that graphic design is this kind of middle class kids game where you get your parents to support you through it.”
How did get your job at the international design company?
“Well, after I graduated, I went back to my parents house to write up my CV’s, trying to make it stand out amongst the hundreds and hundreds of CV’s from people coming out of uni and applying for jobs.
“I did a four colour, hand pulled screen print for my CV, it was this crazy long process. I would never have the time or energy to do that any more but when you’re a student, you need to do everything you can.
“So I was screen printing my CV in some studio, in the middle of nowhere. I’d been there for 3 days in a row, I had only gone home to sleep and I hadn’t showered so I was stinking the whole place out and then this bearded man comes in and asks me what I’m doing. I told him I was printing CV’s so he asked me where I was going to apply? And the first place I said was a local business and he was like ‘Oh, I’m the creative director there, if you give me one of those now, you can pop in next week and we’ll see what we can do.’
“I was just in the right place at the right time.
“And so went and ended up covering a maternity leave and they ended up liking my work and keeping me on.”
Where did the idea for Sharp Studio come from?
“The time spent commuting on the train 5 hours a day to get to work in Winchester, for the first 4 years was time I spent sleeping, reading or playing computer games on my laptop. I started feeling like I really could be making better use of my time. So then I decided to start up a free lance project called Sharp Studio, treating it totally as something on the side and just approach local potential clients in a really quirky way.
“As I said, when I was a kid I used to love doodling and I still do. On a Sunday when we’re hanging after a night out and ordering some kind of horrific Deliveroo over priced crap, I’ll still be just drawing the whole time. So it is a habit more than anything else. So I thought I’d try and see what could happen if I used the time I spent commuting and other spare time to doodle and design to start my own business.
How did you go about building Sharp Studio?
“It started with an idea a friend of mine had, who happens to be an excellent website coder, he’s like a wizard. So his idea was to create an image based website, with a portfolio of all the work I’ve done. Working at the international design company, a lot of my designs end up on a variety of merchandise which I can obviously go buy. So I’ve got this store room of stuff that I’ve gone and bought to take photos of and display on the Sharp Studio website.”
How have you grown your client base?
“The way that I chose to approach potential clients was actually to be drunk. Which sounds really weird and is perhaps quite unorthodox. I don’t always do it this way, but it has happened a few times.
“For example I’ve been working with the Hobgoblin recently and that was just from being out, a bit wasted and chatting to the Head Chef there, giving over my card and telling him that if he ever needed some design work done, he could check out the website and get in touch. And that’s pretty much the way I’ve ended up working with all of my clients.
“I just really wanted to make it as fun as possible. Not a job.
“And it’s been going really well. It’s almost getting to the point now where I might have to take off days from my day job.”
What is the most fun you’ve had with a project?
“In the very short time it’s been around, probably when I worked with Arundel brewery a couple of towns down from Brighton to design beer cans. I mean, beer is fucking delicious and beer is cool and it was just reeeally sweet to have my designs on beer.
“Now that we’ve done that work together, we have plans to design more beers in the future, which is even more cool. So yeah!
“Something else I’ve had a lot of fun with, is designing an identity for Doughbo’ which is the food served in the garden of the Hobgoblin. So we’ve just been talking about these crazy ideas to give them an identity, as right now they’re kind of stuck, hidden within the Hobgoblin. So the boxes are going to be this insane sci fi themed design and we’re going to involve robotic sea gulls and stuff like that.”
What do you hope the future has in stall for you?
“I really enjoy working the international design company, there are so many interesting things that come along with the job. For example, I was in Australia earlier in the year and in April I’m going out to New York, San Francisco then L.A. and you get free food, which is great!
“At the same time, with Sharp Studio, in regards to how I was saying earlier that the industry is so hard to get in to. I’d like to be in a position where I could hire people straight out of uni, be able to pay them well and give them good projects to start building up their portfolio. People don’t want to stay in the same company forever so it’s all about the contents of that portfolio.
“Obviously it’s a win win situation because Sharp Studio would be gaining fresh talent and new ideas.
“That would be a real dream, to be in that position.
What is your message to all the graphic design younglings?
“Don’t forget if you are doing illustration or a graphic design degree, at the end of the day, you will be selling it. Everything you create is made to sell, so that’s not saying be as commercial as possible but just keep in mind that things have to be able to have a purpose. You could draw the most beautiful collection of dicks but you can’t really do much with them. You could have this lovely A3 picture of hundreds of penises, shaded and positioned perfectly and you might sell it as a poster to somewhere… But that’s it.
“Looking back, if I had known how the business side of graphic design worked, I think I could have got off to a quicker start. Perhaps Sharp Studio would have started straight away and not 5 years on.”