James White Interview

My name is James and I like video games, heavy metal, comics and cartoons. I’m a visual artist living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and have been working as a professional designer for the past 11 years. I’ve been drawing my entire life and decided to take a graphic design course at a local community college after high school, followed by 2 years of interactive technology. Immediately after graduation I was hired by a website design firm here in Halifax and have been working in the field ever since. Outside of my day job is where I run Signalnoise.com, my personal art and inspiration blog where I showcase my own visual explorations. This is where I also run my online store and sell my posters to people all over the world.


Where do you look for sources of inspiration?

I find inspiration everywhere so it’s difficult to really narrow it down. My childhood, definitely. I’m a really nostalgic guy cursed with a really clear memory of my childhood, so I remember all of the toys, movies, cartoons . . . basically everything I was into back in the day. Being a child of the late 70s and 80s I’m convinced we had all the best stuff back then, so when I search for inspiration online it’s typically retro design that I look for. I look at toy packages, movie titles, album covers, television network IDs, etc. I also do a lot of research into design history, looking at the works of people like Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Josef Muller-Brockmann, Roger Dean, Drew Struzan, etc. I enjoy taking the fun and ridiculous items from my childhood mixed with the guys who made the design industry what it is today. But when it comes to searching online, I start everyday with a cup of coffee and Ffffound.com, Flickr, the Canadian Design Resource, Abduzeedo and many other great websites who keep the inspiration flowing.


What is your favourite aspect of graphic design?

Having fun, man. That’s what it’s all about. A design that simply obeys the rules will be a good piece, no question, but I like it when people put some life and love into their work. You can really notice when people are excited about what they do because it resonates in what they create. I guess my favorite aspect is the journey. When it comes to art and design you have to work with the knowledge that there’s no destination, you have to work so there is no end.


What are your top 5 favourite websites?

Oh man, so many. I’ll try to narrow it down for you.
Ffffound.com – As I said earlier, nothing tops this awesomely curated stream of art and design inspiration. It’s relentless.
Flickr – Nothing tops the artistic network that Flickr has built. It’s a portfolio, inspirational stream, and fantastic way to keep in touch with like-minded creative types.
ISO50.com – Scott Hansen’s blog is a beast. The work he creates is wonderful, the inspiration he posts is top shelf, and the informational content he offers up is second to none.
Abduzeedo.com – Fabio Sasso has built a monster, and it’s stunning how much content he and his team release everyday. He’s an important part of the online design community, for sure.
Canadian Design Resource – The name says it all. Great design content from home, that’s what it’s all about.

Who do you look up to in your field?

Joshua Davis (joshuadavis.com) – The dude has been a hero of mine for over a decade. I started watching his work way back in the Praystation days when I was still in school, and his personal body of work kept inspiring me to do more. Hell of a nice guy, too.
Scott Hansen (iso50.com) – Aside from his design work, Scott’s ambition as an artist is enough to inspire anyone. He’s an artist, musician, blogger, etc. He really opened my eyes to looking into the past for inspiration.
Milton Glaser (miltonglaser.com) – The soft-spoken design master. Here’s a guy I would love to sit down and have a coffee with.
Chuck Anderson (nopattern.com) – Sharp as hell. I’ve been a fan of Chuck’s work for a couple of years now and it’s wonderful watching his personal progression.
I also very much enjoy the works of Mike Orduna (fatoe.com), Robert Hodgin (flight404.com), Shepard Fairey (obeygiant.com), Roger Dean (rogerdean.com) and the mighty Drew Struzan (drewstruzan.com).

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

I think I’m most proud of my Network poster (http://blog.signalnoise.com/?p=725). The majority of my works tend to be very straightforward in their idea and execution, with bright colors and clear typography. However the Network piece is 100% sarcasm, and is based on the 1976 film of the same name. The idea behind this poster was how television always shows the perfect world, and spoon feeds the audience messages . . . if they buy this kind of toothpaste or that brand of stereo their life will be much better. It really is madness, so I created the poster with that idea in mind.


What advice would you give to someone starting out in the design field?

Never stop. If you have a 9 to 5 design job, don’t stop creating once the clock hits 5pm. You can be Clark Kent during the day because the Daily Planet is paying you to be, but when you’re off it’s time to be Superman. Start exploring, start experimenting, start researching. Play around with the tools you know to master them, and start playing with other tools you know nothing about. The more work you do the more powerful you will become, and the larger and more diverse your portfolio will be. You don’t need a client in order to create something, do it for yourself.


What Social Media tool have you found to be most beneficial to you, as a designer?

Twitter, no question. Being able to reach so many people in one shot has been a godsend. But it’s not only a great tool for announcing news and things, it’s been an excellent way of connecting with other artists, and getting some dialogue going about projects, collaborations, etc. I also love hearing about what my favorite artists are up to, whether it’s new work, what movie they liked, or what music they are currently spinning.

Being from Halifax Nova Scotia Canada, do you feel that not being in a big metropolitan city holds you back at all in your freelance career?

In terms of freelance, not really. The power of the internet is that we are all an email away which won’t hold anyone back. Now, other artists in Halifax might disagree with me on that note, but I scoff at it. If you are excited about what you do and make an effort to get yourself out there using the proper channels, there are no limits. I didn’t leave Halifax yet have worked with Toyota, MTV, VH1 Latin America, Wired Magazine, Google and was recently contacted by Nike.
The only area I feel a little left out of are art shows. I would love to have access to the caliber of shows a place like NYC or San Francisco would have, or even Toronto. I read about so many stellar shows where I say “Damn, there is nowhere on earth I would rather be then at THAT.”


Is there any specific music you’re listening to right now?

I’m really digging the new release by Baroness, ‘Blue Record’. Being a big fan of Metalocalypse, I’m really into the newest Dethklok album as well. Outside of those highlights, I’m always spinning bands like At the Gates, Mastodon, Iron Maiden, Converge, Isis, Goblin Cock, Emperor, Judas Priest, Opeth, Queens of the Stone Age, The Sword. I recently got into Motley Crue, so who knows where this new-found love of 80s hair metal might lead.


What would a dream job for you be?

Aside from the unofficial poster I created, it would be amazing to design an official poster for the upcoming Tron Legacy movie. I simply love the aesthetics they are shooting for with the black gloss and neon lighting. Outside of that, I would love to somehow work with some of my favorite bands, such as Mastodon or Iron Maiden.


What does the name “Signal Noise” mean to you?

Signalnoise is all about duality. Dark vs. light, good vs. evil, signal vs. noise. I chose the name because I start each project with a general idea of what I want to achieve, but tend to stray from the path as I experiment with different elements, techniques, effects, etc. So the idea is the signal, and the happy mistakes are the noise. I like embracing both sides of the process as I work on a design, yielding results I didn’t initially intend.

Would you ever one day open your own design studio, or go freelance full time?

That is yet to be seen. I currently work 9 to 5 at a website firm here in Halifax, which allows me to be selective about what I work on after hours. If I were working Signalnoise fulltime, I think the worry of ‘finding work’ would factor into the creative process, which I see as a delicate balance. So right now I have time to work on my personal art projects without worry, which is ideal. When freelance comes up, I can be pick which ones I would like to be part of rather then taking on everything to make profit. Y’dig?

Want more James?