Peachy Magazine caught up with London-based designer and founder of Collage Crew, Bethan Thomas, to talk about communicating through design, confronting fears and self-doubt, and the mental and emotional benefits of making things with your hands.
Bethan Thomas is a creative thinker; problem solver; and freelance designer based in the big smoke. She brings hand-crafted elements into her work and explores different mediums to answer briefs for the likes of Dazed Media, Colour Hive, Stylus and more. She’s also a collage enthusiast, responsible for bringing together similarly scissor-happy folk to snip and cut their stresses away at monthly collage events at The Doodle Bar in London.
Peachy Magazine: Talk to me about your background and how you came to be a designer.
I’ve always been arty and much preferred staying indoors painting and drawing as a kid, rather than being into sport. As soon as I found out what graphic design was as a teenager, I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I haven’t changed my mind about it since. I remember my biggest early influence was a famous design studio called The Designers Republic. Along with a lot of studios around the late nineties and early noughties, TDR did a lot of self-initiated work – graphic art really.
The layering, typography and detail all captured my imagination, and by the time I got to sixth form all I wanted to do was experiment with image-making in my sketchbook. I was in my element walking round Southampton taking photos of railways, graffiti and buildings then photocopying my images and cutting them up. I’d work into them with pen and pastels and add text I’d typed on my typewriter or newspaper cuttings.
It wasn’t difficult to decide what course to pick when it came to applying to university, but I was amazed when I landed a place at Chelsea College of Art & Design. After graduating it was a matter of doing as many work placements as I could afford to boost my CV and bag that first job. It was one of my first year projects in my portfolio that sealed the deal; I recreated the David Bowie Aladdin Sane album cover by painting the famous lightning bolt on my face and working with the awesome photo studio at the college to get the perfect shot. My boss was a big Bowie fan!
Who or what has the biggest influence on your way of thinking now, and is there anything you’re currently fascinated by that is feeding into your work?
I don’t read as much design press as I used to. I’d say that my circle of friends, conversations, and experiences like seeing art and music as well as my life in London all impacts my thinking. In terms of what’s feeding into my work, I’m really into branding at the moment, and the many different forms it takes. I left a full time position to go freelance last spring and I’ve focused on brand identity work since. There are new challenges with every project and I’m learning so much about people and the notion of designer as communicator.
You’re also the founder of Collage Crew, which hosts monthly collage nights in London. What’s the story behind the group and how has it evolved since the first session?
Collage Crew began in my friend Char’s living room! We share a love of drawing and craft, and thought it’d be fun to do something creative together. Our friends heard about it and wanted to join in, and it went down so well I thought why not make it a bigger thing. I was searching for jobs at the time and wasn’t getting anywhere so it felt great to have a side project that I could put some energy into. I’d been to the Doodle Bar for a couple of creative nights before and thought it was the perfect venue. I contacted them at the end of 2018 and the first workshop was January 2019. The format seemed to really work from the start so it hasn’t evolved that much really, though I do have some ideas for 2020…
Why collage and not another form of visual art?
Collage is so accessible. All you need is a magazine, scissors and a glue stick – and anyone can do it. I like that you’re free from the worry of ‘oh I can’t draw!’ that people can experience at something like a life drawing class.
We’ve heard a lot about the mental and emotional benefits of creating art. Do you believe that art can have such a positive impact on our mental wellbeing?
A huge part of why my friends and I enjoyed our collage nights so much is the relaxation you feel when collaging. You can feel the stress of the day melting away and you get really absorbed in what you’re doing – the time just flies. I wholeheartedly believe that creating art, or making anything with your hands, is beneficial to your mental health and general wellbeing by reducing stress and anxiety, improving confidence, and making connections with others to name a few.
Do you have any advice for people who would like to start collaging?
I’d spend a bit of time gathering materials so that you have a decent variety of colours and textures and imagery to choose from. Charity shops and car boot sales are great places to source old magazines, and I’d recommend making your own textures by painting coloured backgrounds or patterns. Get your favourite playlist on and a nice glass of wine – bliss!
You seem really mindful. Do you have any words or a personal motto you live by?
Not really but I do have a slogan on my website; ‘No rain, no rainbow’. It’s a quote from a book by Rod Judkins called The Art of Creative Thinking that particularly stood out to me because it’s really in line with my way of thinking. It’s about tackling those feelings of doubt and confronting fears as well as working on the thing that you want, and hopefully you’ll get to that place or be the person you want to be.
What’s next for you?
I’m focusing on the now, more than I have done in years, and enjoying freelance life. For a long time I was a hundred miles an hour working on achieving goals but it resulted in exhaustion and anxiety. I’m really content right now and enjoying life, so I want to carry that on and continue working on exciting brand identity projects, and putting on fun collage nights. I have a friend who is a poet and there’s talk of a collaboration with Collage Crew soon, so watch this space…