Interview: 12 Orchards
Meet Aaron Munday, the artist known as 12 Orchards. He designs everything from artist logos and event posters to graffiti art books. He made killer designs for the likes of Black Butter Records and their artists Gorgon City, Woz, Sam Sure and Solomon Grey. From his home in London, he talks to us about making the visuals for shows, the process of making an artist’s insignia and record artwork, and his love for Sonic the Hedgehog.
“I like to take on work where the project extends into other things. That’s why I love working on music labels and event posters—they’re almost always part of a bigger project that you can really give a personality to.”
What got you into the art scene?
I liked drawing when I was a kid but didn’t think anything of it. At school, I was kind of a dropout and failed nearly all my subjects. I didn’t really know what I was doing with my life. I was fortunate to be friendly with a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Bevan, who took me under her wing and got me back into art. She practically filled out my art college application herself!
I really found myself at art college. When my year there was up, I decided to keep studying art, which eventually led to an MA in graphic design, followed by an internship at the design studio Stylorouge in London—where I was eventually given a job. I started to think about going freelance in 2010, when I had a fateful meeting with the actor Robert Whitelock. He had an idea for a book showing work from graffiti artists (he is one himself), and I was looking for a project to start a freelance portfolio with, so the timing was perfect. The book was called Monokrome. We’ve done a couple more books since.
While we were making Monokrome, Rob introduced me to Paul Arnold at the Fat Club. He needed someone to do flyers and music labels for likes of Foamo, Wolf Cub and Maribou State. Paul helped to spread my name around, which led to working on some projects with Black Butter Records, who I’ve had a really good relationship with.
That’s how you got started making art for the music world?
Yeah, I always wanted to work in music. I played guitar in a few bands when I was a teenager and, at the time, really wanted to go down that road and be an amazing guitarist like Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. This didn't work out, but through Radiohead I discovered the artist Stanley Donwood, a longtime collaborator with the band. His work seems to have a continuity and life of its own, and I was a little bit obsessed by it.
I like to take on work where the project extends into other things. That’s why I love working on music labels and event posters—they’re almost always part of a bigger project that you can really give a personality to. I work freelance, and it’s how I earn my living, so I can’t be too choosy with the work I take on. Having said that, I do prefer to work on stuff where I can apply my usual style. I love color, texture and distressing things. Also, I love glitches—the broken computer look. I’d love to apply my style to something really unsuitable as well, like a really funky wine label or something!
Tell us a bit about your show posters. What’s it like making the visuals behind an event?
I find show posters quite hard sometimes. Unlike designing for music, where you have songs to draw from, for a show, you’re trying to create a look for something that hasn’t happened yet. One thing I like to do is come up with a graphical element or device that people can associate with the event—only a subtle thing; maybe it’s all about circles or a certain pattern. And then that bleeds out to all the associated artwork—the flyers and banners and stuff—so I get to build the look of the night up, which is really important. Sometimes the shapes and patterns I’ve made are then projected on the walls on the night, which is really exciting.
I try not to make the artwork too complex; it does need to be legible and clear to properly sell the event. I work hard, I always provide options, and I’m very open to feedback. If it’s not working, I’ll do something else. I don’t want to be some sort of diva if somebody wants to change something.
You create better work by being open to feedback and taking on other people’s comments. I very rarely get it right the first time, so it’s important to have an open mind.
Aside from the music, what else inspires your style?
I love pattern, symmetry—but also breaking the symmetry—geometry, color, cartoons, broken bits of machinery, Joan Miró, the solar system. The graffiti influence is very important, which is weird because I wasn’t really into it until I met Rob Whitelock. I had this crude impression of it, which of course was completely wrong! Rob introduced me to work by artists like Remi Rough and Augustine Kofie that really blew my mind. There’s also a Brazilian artist called Nick Alive, whose work I really, really love.
What I like about graffiti is that the most important thing is to make a piece of art that looks as amazing as possible. It’s not a conceptual culture, as opposed to street art. I’m not interested in conceptual art, either. I much prefer something that simply looks good.
Your pieces have a sort of digital look as well. Why that choice?
I played a lot of computer games when I was a kid; it was the glory days of 8- and 16-bit. In particular, I spent a lot of time playing Sonic the Hedgehog and R-Type. I still play them now on my iPad—the graphics and colors are amazing! Often they are a little bit wrong and awkward in places, but this only makes them better. R-Type especially is quite dark and moody, but then with these ultra-vivid colors mixed in. It’s ugly and jarring but beautiful, all at the same time.
The 16-bit aesthetic was really amazing, and the people who grew up with that stuff are now the ones who are making the music and putting on the shows, so maybe there is something resonating there? I also think a lot of my digital skills come from playing computer games.
I like how experimental you can be with computers. I don’t think a lot of people see digital art as an experimental medium, but I do. The complexity of computers means you’ll inevitably make mistakes, or you’ll press the wrong button, and the program will do its best to work out what you are trying to achieve. It’ll show you this image as if to say, “Is this what you mean?”; and it probably isn’t, but it’ll look great.
So, you were a big fan of Sonic?
Yes! Right back to when I was seven and first played Sonic on my Master System. The background music in that game was wonderful; I remember recording it on tape and listening to it all the time on my Walkman. My favorite level music was Bridge Zone. I think Janet Jackson once sampled it.
Yeah, I think she did in that song “Together Again”!
That’s right! Aside from the amazing music I get to hear for work, I’m also a huge fan of Radiohead, New Order, Ladytron. Right now I really love Austra, but I love the “oldies” too, like Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, OMD and Kraftwerk. There’s an album of Kraftwerk covers by 8-Bit Operators that are all played on 8-bit synthesizers and old sound chips that I really, really love. I guess I still haven’t gotten my head out of the ’90s.
How about for record labels and artists? Can you tell us about those relationships?
I’ve worked for a few record labels, but the most regular work comes from Black Butter.
I love working with Black Butter. When I was studying my MA, I had Vaughan Oliver as one of my tutors. He’s of course famous for being a big part of the look for 4AD’s output. I found the idea of working closely with a record label quite romantic, and it was something I really wanted to do.
I did my first job for Black Butter in 2012; it was a logo for a duo that was coming together between RackNRuin (Matt Robson-Scott) and Foamo (Kye Gibbon), who I’d done some stuff for previously at the Fat Club. The brief was to come up with a design that was modern, but with a nod to ancient Greek mythology, which the guys were really into. At first, I came up with a few rough options based on ouroboros and Medusa heads, but after that some ideas inspired by the symbols in the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. This eventually came together to form Gorgon City’s first logo. I was really happy with it. I really felt like I’d nailed it! I think it was from the success of this that Black Butter started giving me more work.
One of my favorite pieces for BB is the artwork for “Hunger” by Sam Sure. When they came to me about this, Sam had already done some really nice artwork for it, but the team were worried it didn’t quite reflect his sound. I listened to the track over and over again to try and get a feeling for the sound. It’s a beautiful piece of music; there’s something quite “landscapey” about it. I thought about rolling hills and tried to come up with an experimental way of showing this.
When you do the artwork for a record, what do you try to draw from the music to make your piece?
I’m really lucky that I get to listen to new music all the time, and it really influences the work.
I like to try and work out what the mood or tone of the music is, rather than picking up on a specific lyric, or a play on the title, or anything like that. I try to think of really basic things, like what color would best represent the song, is it jagged or smooth… that kind of thing.
Occasionally, it comes back to the 16-bit influence as well. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that reminds me of the music from one of those games, and I’ll think of the graphics from that. Maybe I’ll hear something that reminds me of the music from the Labyrinth Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog, and I might start thinking of waterfalls or green emeralds or something!
It seems like the music industry has been a really cool place to be an artist for you.
Extremely. I’m really grateful to the people who I’ve worked with for recommending me to others. The music industry does seem to me like a big family, so word gets around fast, and it has gotten me a lot of work out of the blue. It was around summer 2013 when I first got an email from Carly Wilford. She had tracked me down by emailing Black Butter, asking who was doing their graphics. Ever since, she has very kindly recommended me to lots of her contacts. I’ve done logos for her personal projects as well. When she asked me to design the Carly Wilford logo, she sent me some amazing references of symbols for alchemy, unity and balance and something called a transmutation circle, which were all really cool and came together to inspire what I think is a very strong logo. Shortly after that, I did the I Am Music Records logo for free, as a kind of birthday/thank-you present for being so supportive.
What's next for you? New projects? Styles?
I’m looking forward to working on more projects with Black Butter and hopefully getting my name spread around the music industry a little more! I’d really love to do some graphics for a computer game as well one day.
I also have another very large project on the horizon: My partner and I are expecting a baby in May, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this will mix things up a bit!
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