Peter Clayton; Putting Pencil To Paper
Content and Photos by Joff Alexander-Frye
Illustrations by Peter Clayton
As a creative, there are very few things that energise and inspire me more than spending time with other creatives. Sit me down with painters, musicians, photographers, designers, craftspeople, artisans, songwriters or authors and I’m away. Pop a mug of nice coffee and a slice of cake in front of me too and I’ll be just about the happiest man around. So, when I recently met talented illustrator and designer Peter Clayton for just such a coffee and cake at Visto Lounge in Torquay, I was like a pig in… well, you know. A couple of hours later, I left feeling like I had just hung out with an old school friend catching up about everything from comic book culture to family life with children. It was a genuine pleasure.
Born in Essex, Peter moved to Plymouth at the age of six and has lived there for large chunks of his life. He left Plymouth to study Graphic Design & Communication in Cardiff for four years and, after graduating, started working at McDonalds to bring in a bit of cash. Peter remarked,
“I had seen so many friends and acquaintances of mine leave education, get a manager’s job at somewhere like McDonalds and just stay in that role for ages, not really progressing or going anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, that is fine for some people, but I knew it wasn’t for me so I quit my job at ‘The Golden Arches’ and enrolled in the Leonardo Da Vinci Programme – sister to The Erasmus Program.”
The Leonardo Da Vinci Program is very similar to the Erasmus Program, Peter told me, except that, instead of focusing on studying, it focuses on working. His placement took him to Estonia, where he initially worked for three months. He impressed in his role and ended up being offered a full-time, permanent role there, which he accepted and ended up staying in Estonia for five years. It was during this five-year spell in Estonia that he met a local girl called Liis, got married and they had their first child together. More than he had originally bargained for when her first left the UK for a three-month work placement! Peter expanded,
“Going to Estonia was the best thing that I ever did. I’ve kind of made a habit of intentionally putting myself out of my comfort zone to try new things and new experiences. This one really paid off! After five years over there, we moved back to the UK as a family, to Yeovil of all places and then found a job in Plymouth and relocated back there properly. It felt like ‘coming home’ and was a big move for me personally.”
He has been at that same company, Bluestone360, for seven years now, predominantly working within the disciplines of graphic design, illustration and website design. Peter quipped,
“I’m sort of a ‘Jack of all trades, master of some! I can do a bit of everything really and just love the creative process, particularly turning ideas into a reality.”
I asked Peter about the origins of his creative journey and he animatedly recalled,
“Just like every good superhero, I have an origin story too! I’ve been drawing since I was born and some of my earliest memories are colouring and sketching in my Knight Rider colouring book. Me and my brother came up with a comic book character called ‘MuscleMan’ and used to create our own comics. Also, I remember seeing Bart Simpson from The Simpsons for the first time and feverishly trying to draw him myself for weeks afterwards. I always struggled academically at school but I was the kid who could draw, which I loved.”
I was interested to hear about Peter’s creative process, particularly bearing in mind the transition in creative arts from ‘analogue’ processes to digital ones. Pencils, ink and paper seem to have been replaced increasingly with incredibly sophisticated and advanced suites of creative digital software. Peter commented,
“I guess everything ends up on a computer at some point nowadays. Even a bit of basic colour manipulation or editing. Some of my work stays ‘offline’ but I don’t see the embracing of technology and digital tools as a negative thing. As long as you make them work for you and not the other way around. I like my work to almost always have some natural textures or tones to it, whether that be a brush stroke, an ink splodge or some sketchy pencil elements of the design. I always like to see the human hand at work, even in digital mediums.
“I’m also disciplined in the practice of not jumping straight onto a computer when I first get a design brief. I find it so much more productive and fruitful to put pencil or pen to paper first of all, sketch out some ideas and put them in front of a client to gauge their thoughts. This then makes the digital design element of the process work more smoothly and efficiently. There is something restrictive about digital creativity. Things feel more instant and final and the instinct to edit your work is so much more pressing on a screen.”
As well as working for Bluestone360, he is also a freelance designer, operating under the name Peter Clayton Illustrations. He has agreements in place with his employer to ensure that professional lines aren’t blurred and he was expressly thankful for this being the case. Peter also explained how variety and adaptability are crucial in the world of a modern multimedia designer. He commented,
“One minute I will be working for a bank. The next minute I’ll be working for a hipster coffee bar. I have learned that I need to have as broad and varied a selection of styles and skills under my belt as possible, so that I can switch in to the right creative gears at the right times.
“I’ve found that clients more often than not want to see your journey and your workings as a designer. They don’t just want to arrive at a destination but they want to go along on the journey with you and make decisions together. If you deliver a ‘finished’ product to someone the only place they have to go is to pick holes in it and work out how to improve it, with no real sense of ownership on the idea or concept itself.”
News of Peter’s skills has started to spread too. Through Bluestone360, he was recently commissioned for an exhibition within the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and was also asked recently to design some illustrations to be printed on huge wall decals and installed around the Children’s Ward of Derriford Hospital. The idea behind that particular project was to provide distraction, entertainment and joy in the days of children who are going through difficult health situations and are often in hospital for a long time. Very rewarding work indeed.
Citing inspirations from a variety of corners of modern culture, from Nirvana and Dave Brubeck to Jean Jullien and Nishant Choksi, Peter seeks inspiration from anywhere possible. In his words,
“As long as you have your creative radar turned on, you can be inspired from the most surprising people, places or things. I can think of many times that an object, a word, a colour, a movie, a song or a conversation has sparked a creative thought in my brain which has gone on to be a successful, completed piece of work which I have been really happy with.”
I am a personal fan of Peter’s work and, so, it was a real pleasure to meet him and pick his creative brains. I left our conversation feeling inspired, affirmed and motivated to go and create the most excellent work that I possibly could. And with a very long list of comics, albums and illustrators to go and look up…. Thanks Peter!
Follow Peter Clayton @peteclayton on Twitter and Instagram to see some of his amazing work.