The British designer turned outdoorsman discusses finding inspiration in nature, woodworking, and more
- Photography by Miscellaneous Adventures
Andrew Groves is a UK-based illustrator and designer. And a damn good one at that. He’s worked with everyone from Cartoon Network and The New York Times to Google, The New Yorker and even our pals at Poler. But he’s also an avid outdoorsman, and self-taught wood carver. The first bit is what lead us to Andrew. And the latter is what lead him here, onto The Field. You see, a few years back Andrew started a little hobby project called Miscellaneous Adventures, bringing all aforementioned interests together in an effort to rely more on his hands than a stylus and keyboard, and perhaps more importantly, encourage fellow computer-based creatives to get outside and experience the great inspiration hub that nature can be.
As momentum has grown—thanks in part to MA’s inclusion in the 2014 publication The Outsiders—so has the product line. Andrew’s talented wife Emma Hughes has since joined too, bringing with her the skill set required to introduce soft goods like packs and org pouches.
To learn more about the beginning inspirations of Miscellaneous Adventures, what’s new in 2016, and just how one goes about turning sticks into utensils and much more, we recently caught up with Andrew Groves. Below is the resulting interview, complete with exclusive illustration, done just for you out there in internet land :)
How has your background as an illustrator influenced Miscellaneous Adventures?
I think it’s informed every aspect of what we do at MA. It was originally intended to be a side project to my regular illustration work—somewhere for me to create products and artwork related to my interest in outdoor activities—so that really kickstarted the whole thing. Since then, the way the products look and the graphics on the tees and patches etc are obviously directly influenced by my background, but so is the whole approach. We’re always looking for a creative angle to projects and the way we do things. Going even further, many of the people who come on the workshops are illustrators, designers, or involved in other creative industries, as well as being outdoor enthusiasts, so it’s pretty central to our whole ethos.
Have you always explored nature motifs in your illustration work?
Yes, for sure. The outdoors and nature have been a constant source of inspiration for me and I’ve always looked to the natural world for ideas for shapes, patterns and color combinations. The way natural features get simplified for maps and signage is particularly interesting—like how everyone recognizes a triangle as a mountain or a tree—so I do this a lot in my work. I enjoy the way nature is intertwined with folklore too, so nature often features in the underlying stories of my personal work. It’s pretty hard to beat nature as a source of visual stimulation in general. There’s some crazy and beautiful stuff happening out there and it’s such a huge field of interest that there is always something new to learn from and be influenced by.
We’re not naïve enough to think making a few wooden cups is going to save the planet, but you’ve got to try something and start somewhere.
We’ve read a trip to Sweden inspired you to start working with wood. Can you tell us more about this?
Back in 2011 we participated in the Fjällräven Classic, which is a multi day trek near the arctic circle in Sweden. I’ve been doing outdoor activities all my life but it was the first time we’d done anything like that before, and was our first visit to Scandinavia. We were exposed to outdoor enthusiasts and hiking cultures from all over the world, which was really fascinating. One of the things that struck me was that many of the Swedish and Norwegian hikers we met were carrying little wooden cups and wore traditional style knives on their belts with birch bark and reindeer antler handles alongside their regular modern gear. I loved the aesthetic which seemed to fit perfectly with the environment we were traveling in. It made me think a lot about material possessions, camping gear in particular, and how great it would be to have a few special items that you would take on every hike, trip or adventure—things that reflected the landscape or that grew in sentimental value the more you used them instead of just throwaway crap, like the half melted plastic spork I had in my pack at the time.
I had already done a little carving and knew how to use an axe, but seeing these beautiful yet functional objects being used in a wilderness environment inspired me to start taking [wood carving] a little more seriously when I got back. I was lucky in that around the same time I had moved into a little barn in the woods so had plenty of raw material to experiment with. I did a little research on Swedish and Japanese woodcarving but I pretty much just went out there and taught myself through trial and error, and luckily still have all my digits.
You recently revamped the product range and redesigned the MA site. 2016 is looking fresh already.
Since I started MA as a creative side project it has evolved and expanded and taken us down many paths. Towards the end of 2015 I think both Emma and I decided on what our focus should be with the project and wanted to tidy up our brand image a little to better reflect what we have become, and what we want to be. 2016 is set to be an exciting year for us in many ways and we’re stoked to see where this new path takes us.
Tell us more about your workshops. Why take the time to bring people into the outdoors?
The workshops are a way for us to share knowledge and get people, particularly fellow creative folks, outside and reconnecting with nature and the environment through making things. For us, it was kind of an accident or through a series of serendipitous events that we became so immersed in outdoor life, and we’ve been really fortunate to get involved in activities that would not be considered the norm for illustrators or designers. So we wanted to provide a platform that would give other people like us the opportunity to try their hand at some new skills and to learn to look at nature in more detail in a fun and non-intimidating environment.
We’ve found that people respond very well to spending a day in the woods—making things with their bare hands and taking a break from their computer screens—and tend to go home feeling recharged and inspired. And it’s rewarding to be able to facilitate that. On a grander scale I think it’s important that we become more connected with nature and the outdoors from an environmental and conservation point of view; the more you learn about the complexities of nature and enjoy spending time out of doors the more you come to realize the importance of protecting it. Making things in the woods is a good entry point into spending more time outside and discovering some of the ridiculous things that nature is up to on a daily basis. At least it certainly was for us and we hope it will be for others. We’re not naïve enough to think that making a few wooden cups or whatever outside is going to save the planet, but you’ve got to try something and start somewhere.
Do you make every single product yourselves?
Yep, everything apart from the products on which we collaborate with other makers, like our camp stool for example. I make all the wooden products, many of which are made from wood harvested by myself as part of forestry work I’m involved in, and Emma makes all our fabric items, rucksacks, and pouches. We make everything in very small numbers to keep things exclusive. I do all the design and illustration and most of the photography too, so we’re really very small and independent.
What is your favorite activity to do outside, whether in or out of town?
We kind of live in the middle of nowhere and honestly our favorite outdoor activity is probably drinking beers by the campfire or stove in the woods at home.
It’s pretty hard to beat nature as a source of visual stimulation... there is always something new to learn from and be influenced by.
How did you get involved in Gestalten’s 2014 book "The Outsiders"?
Gestalten contacted me out of the blue inviting me to submit some work. After reading the proposal it sounded like a great thing to be involved with and I was excited that there was a forthcoming publication that celebrated the things I was into. It later transpired that the co-editor was Jeffrey Bowman, who is a fellow illustrator from the UK who’s work I had liked for ages. This further piqued my enthusiasm. Jeff did a great job of spotting the emerging movement that combined outdoor pursuits with design and creativity and I was really honored to be featured alongside such noteworthy brands and projects. Jeff actually ended up coming on one of our workshops after the book was launched and we’re happy to say he’s become a good friend of MA.
The Logbook blog feels like an extension of the workshops, with everything from trail-ready recipes to a campfire how-to. Is this intentional?
Yeah, definitely. We feel like through MA and our outdoor lifestyle we have accumulated a wide range of skills and knowledge and we want to share that with people who are interested in similar things to us. We know that not everyone can afford to come on one of our workshops to learn these things in person or are located close by, so the Logbook gives us a wider and more accessible platform from which to teach and inspire.
We also know that there are lots of clever folks out there who know a lot more about specific elements of outdoor culture, design, wildlife conservation and nature than we ever will, so we have some experts in their respective fields who we’ve met through the project lined up to write guest posts and articles for us about the subjects they are passionate about too.
Anything else you’d like TF readers to know about Miscellaneous Adventures?
We have a ton of projects in the pipeline as ever—how many will come to fruition remains to be seen. We have a trip to Norway planned, which we’re excited about, and I have a book coming out in the spring about surfing. We’ll also be running our workshops throughout the year as usual. We’re always open to collaborations and opportunities so hit us up!
Visit Miscellaneous Adventures for more information