Art and Design Case Studies

Case Study : Alun Davies

Case Studies

Alun Davies

Set Designer and Artistic Director Alun Davies creates worlds of visual inspiration for a variety of media. After starting his career off by working with SHOWstudio.com, it was only a short time before he discovered the world of the 'Fashion Set' and set up his own studio in 2009.

Now contributing to editorials such as, Another, Vogue Italia, British Vogue, Russian and US Vogue, V Man, Fantastic Man, GQ, Metal, I.D and many more. His work includes contrasting styles of dark gothic realism with bold graphics, colourful and fantastical landscapes. His multimedia style, vision and hands on craft approach to Art Direction have been eagerly received by the fashion, music and moving image world equally. Developing a new take on set design through collaborating with sustainable fashion designer Lu Flux for 4 seasons, the process of sourcing and re-using materials in a sustainable and ethical way is constantly being considered.

Alun recently completed a sell out double run of his first contemporary stage Opera with musician Peaches. In 2010 he Art Directed new British Feature film 'Wreckers' staring Benjamin Cumberbatch soon to be showing at Curzon Cinemas. Other impressive clients and collaborative artists include, Adidas, Charlie Le Mindu, Diesel, House of Organza, La Roux, Lady Gaga, Net a Porter, Piers Atkinson, Waddler and Universal Music. Alun also continues pursuing personal projects and exhibiting internationally.

Alun in his own words...

1. What did you study at NPTC and what kind of student were you? Did you always get top grades?

I studied A Levels in Art & Design, Computer Science and Geology. I also took part in an AS in Dance however I never finished the course, although I did quite enjoy it.

I never got any top grades at College – I was a particularly bad student, however I was very present at college. I was on the student Union and took part in organising student support groups, protests, etc. We once built a giant ribbon installation on the front of the College for World Aids day, which got a lot of attention. I attended every day but was more interested in making my own work, photographing my friends and also partying quite a lot. I was a much better student when I went to study Foundation in Swansea Institute, by then I had matured a little more.

2. Who/what inspired you when you were at school/college?

There was a particular group of people around at that time people from all other courses at NPTC, we wanted to do things differently, we were a bit rebellious, we had a celebratory nature and we seemed to come together very naturally and even now we have stayed close friends. Most of us are living in London now and still very close. Outside of that, pop culture and pictures in magazines always kept my mind occupied.

3. When did you decide you wanted to work in this industry and how did you get into it?

I didn’t know what the ‘industry’ was until quite late on. I was watching MTV and MTV Europe, looking at magazines and thinking I liked that visual world, it was a fantasy, something away from what I had. At the time the internet was becoming a real tool, not like what you have now, it was a way to start connecting and seeing things you may not have come across before in Wales.

4. Did you ever need to take a part-time job to support your creative career?

Yes! I come from a modest family in Pontardawe and so I've have had to support myself mainly throughout my career .My family have helped out where they can but I have had part time jobs all the way through, I worked at Topshop and Outfit whilst I was at NPTC, I was even a cleaner whilst I was studying on my foundation year in Swansea, through to Paperchase in London when I did my degree. I assisted other set designers before I set up my own company and still today will assist other people if I have to. I try to see every job as a good learning experience and try to get something from it.

5. How do you usually get work?

My website is very key to getting work (he say's knowing it needs an update very badly) I get a lot of approaches from companies and clients through it. I also do a lot of self-promotion, I send out a newsletter with all my best work every quarter. I have a Facebook page for Alun Davies | Art Direction, I use Twitter, and I try to keep a blog however I am not a natural blogger and so tend to do bursts.

I also get a lot of work through word of mouth, friends and keeping a good reputation, I regularly try and get out to see people and companies and show them my portfolio and what projects I have been working on.

6. How would you describe the style of your work and who/what are your influences?

All my work stems from my background in graphic design so in everything I do people seem to see a graphic nature to it, from Art Direction, Set Design, Prop Making and even the accessories I make. There is also something quite dark and eerie in a lot of the images, a weird nature mixed with science fiction, the landscape of Wales is etched into my mind I'm sure and the darkness of the valleys at night are a contrast to London's Orange glow, I believe all this feeds back into the work.

7. What was your first job with a big name in fashion/music and how did you get this?

My first big job I did on my own was super luck, I was assisting a set designer making the new tour set for a Kylie Concert and I got asked if I could design a set for a shoot with Italian Vogue with Maggie Gyllenhall. It was perfect timing as it started straight after the other job finished. I had done some test shoots and had some graphics work and installations on a website and the producer had seen that. She was someone I had met on a shoot before and was very supportive. The day went well and Maggie Gyllenhall was really nice.

8. What's it like working with big names like Lady GaGa and Naomi Campbell? Do you get to meet them and if so, who is your favourite?

Yes, you generally meet everyone, on a photo shoot you will spend the whole time making the set whilst they're in hair and makeup and then they come along and have to interact with the set. It's your job to make sure they know what they can and can't do in this fake world you just built. Most people are very appreciative of the creativity and ask questions. Kate Moss was fun – she would tell me jokes as I would stand out of frame holding up a wall in case it fell over. La Roux was great too – she was young and no one knew who she was really when we made the Bulletproof video so it was like chatting with a friend.

9. Talk us through the stages involved in an average job (including timescales).

I wish there was an average job but they're all so different. I guess for a 1 day photo shoot, we may have maybe a weeks' notice. The photographer or client will get in touch and give us some starting points, a concept, a theme, or sometimes just the clothes or product to be used. I then go away and research as quickly as possible creating moodboards, reference pictures sketches. I send these off and we may brainstorm further, again more sketches may have to be sent. Then once the design is approved I need to cost it and create a budget, this needs to be agreed and signed off and I try my best to get it advanced but sadly this doesn't always happen. We then start to prep, buy materials, tools, paint etc. whatever is needed to do the job, rent a van if needed. If you are shooting in a studio we may get a build day, beforehand otherwise we have to turn up as early as possible. And build before everyone else arrives. We may have to paint and we may have make props either before or on the shoot day. Once the set is built I can step back and art direct with the photographer how the image should be constructed, the pose with the model, any movements directions (if it's is a film or music video). Once all the pictures are taken we then go into the editing stages, choose the correct pictures and perhaps discuss any post production, sometimes retouching or CGI, sometimes collage, which may involve me.

10. What do you do in your free time and what are your musical tastes?

Well there's not much free time, but I like to escape back to Wales when I can. I also like visiting galleries, the theatre, cinema, absorbing as much inspiration as possible. I love music and go and see bands, gigs and concerts, I do some DJing in London sometimes at some club nights.

My musical tastes are vary varied, my favourite group is the Knife and Fever Ray, but I like Electronic, pop, dance, rock classical, there is something interesting in most music. And of course I love all the people I have worked with Lady GaGa, Kylie, Goldfrapp, La Roux, Skunk Anansie, Peaches, they're all great and I think that I'm so lucky to be able to work with such talented people all the time!