Studio profile: Naughtyfish

Published:  July 11, 2011
Studio profile: Naughtyfish

Words: Andrew Ashton

Naughtyfish, founded by Paul Garbett and partner Danielle de Andrade, is a team of graphic designers residing in Sydney’s inner east. It is Garbett’s first studio and we catch up with him as he evolves his unique and distinctive communication approach.

They say that between 25 and 33 percent of the human brain is devoted to seeing. The appetite of a visual person to consume imagery can only be described as an insatiable hunger, even gluttony. As a glutton, one has spent the odd late night looking at the work of Naughtyfish.

The communication design work from Sydney is typical of work from around the world. It is communication work with a purpose, a brief, a budget, a client, a market and an outcome. Without generalising or being too presumptive, work from Sydney tends to be partial to a white backdrop and a restrained modern aesthetic. Like its people, there are flashes of glamour, beauty, intelligence, function and practicality, with an underlying commercial agenda. Diverse creative movements, projects of the heart and fierce critical debate of creativity are introduced to the city from the memory and experience of its visitors and immigrants, whose education systems and social agendas allow for such folly.

Sydney gives this memory a purpose, a budget and vast international audience. It is no coincidence that Sydney is the centre for contemporary art and advertising. It’s the home of one of the world’s most vibrant arts festivals (the Sydney Biennale), the capital for Australian advertising and the space for a diversity of creatives from Brett Whiteley, Glenn Murcutt, Harry Seidler, Patrick White, Mike Parr, John Olsen, Olive Cotton and Dinosaur Designs to Jenny Kee and Ken Done. Ironically, a significant slice of new creative work from Sydney is inspired by people, places and ideas, born in states and countries from far afield.

Limited edition, hand numbered book created to market a luxury property in one of Sydney's coastal suburbs, 2010

If you shuffle through Naughtyfish’s work, there are several themes at play, operating within a fixed and focused palette. The works are led by type, illustrated, uncomplicated, graphic and dramatic forms, which are free of the fashionable frets and whims of the cultural zeitgeisters. Ideas and narratives are driven by outcomes that are classic, playful, direct, considered and, at times, unashamed homages to fun, smiles and cheer. What catches one by surprise are raw flashes demonstrated in self-initiated works that grate, confront and conflict against the norms established in the commercial works. What strikes one first is the studio’s name: has Garbett married a fish fixation within the period in which the studio was established – the noughties? Is Naughtyfish a Radiohead lyric? Or it just an old-fashioned association with the Naughtyfish of life, rather than the good fish, or rich fish, or the fashion conscious fish?

Garbett’s space in graphic design has come to us from a mostly unfailing conviction to be a creative person, a spirit to make work and the vision to shift locations, learn the ropes, not be the boss, have a go, fall down and then get up again. He started out in South Africa. As a star design graduate in 1994, Garbett put his hopes and future in the hands of hard work and the unknown. In 1998, he switched comfort zones for a new time zone in Sydney and realised his way of work, in an unknown land, within a different cultural context, as an outsider. In 2002, Naughtyfish came to life in a spare bedroom with an overworked computer and imagination. Along the way clients have come, every opportunity has been made of the briefs and a loyal following has been established from the work. The work and quality relationship with the client is the foremost driver of the studio and its future. On a dominant white backdrop, clean, bold uncomplicated typography turns words into prominent shapes. Bold letterforms, generous underlines and exaggerated typographic form draw attention, dissect shapes and counter generous clean spaces.

Global Warning Ideological poster, 2009

Greed is Insatiable Idealogical poster, 2009

Aids in Africa Idealogical Poster, 2006.

The image making is a mix, clean of vector graphics, pushed up against bold colours, large type forms and graphic shape scapes of nature, animals, common symbols and uncomplicated forms. The drawings are classic in design, placement and proportion. Forms are in their right place and images don’t seem to put a foot wrong, be it a typeface for a production house, a type mark for children’s photographer or a confident symbol for a retail health food supplier.

Photographic imagery in Naughtyfish’s works shifts between distinct extremes. Works either respect the photographer or artist’s compositions with elegant type and layouts or, at the other extreme, photo concepts loaded with abstracted twists, bold irony, clean shapes and strong forms follow. Like the clean graphic image making, the photographic outcomes serve the idea and art directed images take on characteristics that appear more like a graphic form, than an image of unlimited colour laced with random and continuous tone.

The standout works, however, are those that bump off the well-beaten path of client expectations and move into areas that err, quirk and create tension.

The poster work for EyeSaw 2009 draws the viewer in with a collection of awkward shapes and bold texture, galleys of type and overlapping oversize letterforms that nudge each other. There is something about this poster that is exotic and compelling. Delivered in two rounds, poster one communicates soundly in red, while poster two (a black overprint of poster one) creates new possibility for shapes, messages and language. The light, brittle-like paper caps off the poster experience and, as time yellows the folds and clean spaces, the poster’s presence on the studio wall for three years makes makes one wish they had framed it, rather than let time take its toll.

Eyesaw Catalogue Eyesaw Exhibition, 2009. 8.3m gatefold book containing a photographed panorama of the entire exhibition.

Eyesaw Poster and Call for Entries Eyesaw Exhibition 2009. The one colour poster acted as a call for entries, then was overprinted with black to serve as the promotional poster for the event.

Another selection of political posters that are worth highlighting includes Aids in Africa and Greed is Insatiable. Created in response to poster competitions, these images are a flash of Garbett’s raw ideas. Ugly, crude and somewhat disturbing, these images waste no time in grabbing the viewer by the eyeballs and ramming home the urgency of the AIDS crisis in South Africa and the insidious nature of greed, on slabs of bold black, white and grey with flashes of red.

At the other extreme is the ongoing brief from entertainment client Moonlight Cinema. Across four years, the work for Moonlight has traversed a clean graphic moonlight series, to fractured fairy tales lost in the woods and finally, in 2010/11, to a series of graphics that spell out ideas with quirky and odd images that abstract, jump out and sell. Something unique has been allowed to happen over the years, and a synergy has conspired between the client and the studio, allowing the print work, point of sale, uniforms and signing to improve as each season passed. To understand Naughtyfish’s work is to realise that the text written about the organisation is designed to blend into the fit of responsible, commercial, creative studios. One has to shift around the edges and understand the clues, Garbett’s influences – his upbringing, the time in which he started out in design, his passions, the peers with whom he works, the community he fosters and the city in which he makes his work.

Moonlight Cinema Season Identity 2009/10. Season Posters (Set of 4). A series of illustrations was created and used across the identity, exploring a dark fairytale world.

Opening night invitation

The desire to make work that is uplifting and possessing a sense of happiness may come from an upbringing that has had its share of up and down moments. The clear and direct ideas found in all of the studio’s work may have come from narratives and icons delivered in his grandfather’s stamp collection. The colours, exotic shapes and flashes of raw energy may be the sights, smells and sounds of his homeland – South Africa. What makes the work of Naughtyfish is the narrative with which it is in tune.

Accompanying these pages is body of work that is on the move, where a range of ideas and approaches are at play. The work hasn’t settled nor found a prominent style, nor bedded down to business. There is the will to explore ideas and review process, there is a conviction to satisfy the brief and engage with people. There is the desire to craft, experiment, make mistakes and discover triumphs, and then move on to the next project. Like many of Sydney’s new citizens, Naughtyfish is on a journey to make unique work that is of Sydney. Work not unlike Sydney’s landmarks and sights – work that is exotic, alluring, present and purposeful. All that is left for the studio to do at this point is to be taken by its process, the work, leave work at a reasonable hour whenever possible, and go for a swim.

'Summertime'. Moonlight Cinema Season Identity 2010/11. Season Posters (Set of 4). Each illustration reveals a message, creating interaction with the Moonlight audience.

'Green Screen'

Season postcards. Set of 9, combine to spell out 'Moonlight'

Postcard stand

Desktop magazine's June 2011 cover

All images copyright Naughtyfish.

From desktop magazine.

One Response

  1. Paul Henriques

    Beautifully written story. It not often I feel compelled to read an article or bit of copy that for our day and age is on the long side . But I thank you. I that you took the time, carefully chose and crafted your words and described with great care a truly great mans work. He is the measure by which we could all learn to live and create. A true master of his craft and a man who lives by his values and is driven by truth. Thank for your time, the work and for this great story you have told of a great designer and man. May Naughtyfish forever live on – so that the heart of design don’t die.

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