With his bold reimaginings of Disney films, pulp fiction covers and literary classics, Rowan’s work cleverly combines bold graphical cues to his subject matter – a hand grenade-turned birdcage for Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, a wardrobe and trees effortlessly forming a lion’s face for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (have a look at his portfolio here) – within a strikingly elegant illustrative treatment.
Make no mistake, this is clever stuff, presented with a deft touch, and a draftsman’s eye for simplicity.
“I’ve been drawing since I was very young. My mother is very artistic, as was her father before her, and they both encouraged and inspired me to draw, paint and sculpt from an early age. Illustration has always been my favourite art medium though,” says Rowan.
But it’s his graphic design nous that sets his illustrations apart – his ability to use form, shape and colour to convey a narrative. A visual language. It’s a trick not every graphic designer can master quite so convincingly.
And, this year, his stories set the internet alight, when some of his speculative treatments for Disney films found their viral way around the design blogs of the world.
“I love darker material, such as the work of Tim Burton and Alfred Hitchcock, but I enjoy the challenge of giving otherwise light hearted films and books a darker twist. So it was a natural choice for me to create a series of posters for Disney films, especially as many of them originate from much darker fairytales in the first place,” Rowan says of the project that was no more than an exercise for his portfolio.
“As a favour to a friend I allowed use of the Disney inspired designs for his film and music blog, and from then the images went viral; they were shared on other blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and were featured in the Huffington Post, the Observer and Elle magazine,” he recalls of this summer’s internet sensation.
“I wasn’t expecting such a great response at all, before then I had been struggling to find work and as a result any confidence in my ability was beginning to wane, then suddenly I was getting more job offers than I could take on, and seeing my work in places I could never have dreamed of.”
One such offer was, perhaps, the most surprising of all. Rowan received a call from the Magic Kingdom itself.
“I’m currently producing designs for clothing for the Walt Disney company. They had seen my work online and loved it, and as I’d wanted to create graphic tees for a while, I jumped at the opportunity! I feel I’ve come full circle, from putting together Disney designs in my bedroom, to working for Disney themselves. The past few months have been a whirlwind, at times stressful, but always rewarding!”
For Rowan, the call from Disney is, so far, the highlight of his career (which has also seen him create the design identity for this year’s Royal Exchange Christmas show in Manchester, Carol Ann Duffy’s dark reworking of classic fairy stories, Rats Tales) but a man can still have ambitions…
“Working for Disney is a dream job itself and I’d be more than happy if that was the pinnacle of my design career, but I’d say that my dream commission would be to design a film poster or book cover for Tim Burton. Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice are two of my favourite films.”
While his eye for composition and narrative reveal the marks of a top-drawer graphic designer, illustration still informs everything he does. Asked for advice for budding designers, Rowan’s clear, forget about your tools, concentrate on your own creativity.
“I have a great affection for illustration and it will always be equally if not more important to me. Above everything though I would say that ideas are the most important thing to have. As more and more people become adept at using Photoshop and other design software, it is the imagination of designers and artists that will set them apart from their peers, though obviously a good eye for design and artistic skill is still vital.”
“What I love about Liverpool now is what I’ve always loved about it; the people, culture, art and the architecture. Being exposed to such creative hubs like Tate and the Bluecoat it isn’t a surprise that Liverpool is still home to many artists that are seen as being world class. It’s great that our local artists have helped many youngsters realise that success doesn’t necessarily have to come with academia.”
Describe yourself in seven words:
imaginative, upbeat, frivolous, creative, humble, friendly and ambitious.
For details on how to buy Rowan’s work, visit his Tumblr