Friday, October 5, 2012

The "Lord of the Logos"

Interview with Cristophe Szpajdel

Born in Belgium in 1970, Cristophe Szpajdel, logo designer, lived there until 2000, before moving to Exeter in the UK. Currently working as a retail assistant, he continues to create hand drawn designs for bands, photography firms, people and even dogs. Making an entry through the black metal scene in the 80s, his work has become somewhat iconic. He has agreed to speak with us here:


Stick Men Creation: Did you start out making logos for death metal bands or black metal bands?

Cristophe Szpajdel: Both. I started doing logos for bands in 1989. Well, the first ones were death metal. There was one called Morbid Death, and there was Disgrace from Finland. I did a logo for a compilation tape as well, called Noise. I was also writing a fanzine called Septicore in Belgium that dealt mostly with death metal and grindcore. I did artwork for it too, and started coming in contact with bands, little by little creating relationships in the underground. I was also helping Thierry, the main editor, with interviews, reviews and correspondence.

SMC: There where other artistic things you did at the time. In that respect, where you mainly focused on illustration?

CS: Yes, I did do illustrations, but I was feeling much better and getting better results in logos. A lot of people said "You're excellent with logos, you should drop illustrations instead of spending your energy there because you're just not getting it right."

SMC: So, did you prefer illustrations or logos?

CS: I have always had a preference for logos, typography, lettering... Back in 91 I started to get fascinated by black metal bands, because I found that, at that time, death metal bands where becoming redundant. There started to be too many of them.
Basically, the first wave of black metal started in 81 with bands like Venom, Hellhammer or Bathory. The second wave started in the late 90s with Samael, Beherit, Mayhem and Darkthrone.
Emperor's logo (above) was one I did in 91, and was an example of epic, iconic simplicity. I was in contact with Samoth and Mortiis in 91. The correspondence was very scarce because shortly after that the whole Norwegian black metal mafia was active, and they got under police custody. I had to be very careful.

SMC: How do you work with clients?

CS: It's the same as customer service. I use what I call HEART. (Hello - Eye contact - Attention - Respond - Thank). I have been doing that for twenty five years. Because I work as a customer service assistant, I am in contact with the public. It's very important to build a relationship with the client.

SMC: Do you make a profit off of your work?

CS: Unfortunately, I'm not making much profit. However, I do charge. Any band that wants a logo from me has to pay a deposit of 25$ (about 15£ or 20€) as well as a very detailed and clear briefing.

SMC: What process do you go through when working on a logo?

CS: Once the briefing is done, I send them sketches which show how their music and what they said came across to me. Then, after the sketch has been approved I finalize it. I usually reserve time for it. A good logo is never made in one day. It's anticipated. For example, I have to submit quite a few sketches until they choose. There is a very big competition. A good one is achieved through experience, diversity and quality.

SMC: About how many times do you have to rework a logo after you send it to the band?


CS: I shall give you an example. I just reworked the logo of Shadowless two times, and I'm going to submit a third. They want some changes, like to make certain lines thinner, thicker or to interconnect. I have to rework everything from scratch. When a band wants changes in a logo, the guy I'm working with uses Photoshop and does it in thirty seconds. So, when he sends me the photoshopped image I just redraw it exactly as it is. The whole concept of a logo is to work from a sketch, through all the changes and narrow it down until you get it. For the majority of clients it's not possible to get them the first time. Some people get really fussy and hire a very cheap artist that does something clinical, computerized.... The fact that my logos are handmade is actually the trademark of my work.

SMC: What do you think of solely using Photoshop?

CS: I think it's not good. This is shocking, because Photoshop is a tool. Very good when it comes to making corrections, but not making a whole piece of work from scratch. It is not art. I like to bring graphic design, and fine arts closer.

SMC: What inspires you when it comes to fine arts?

CS: Art Deco, Art Nouveau. I have actually explored futurism.

SMC: Are you planning on branching out into different domains of design?

CS: Yes. Definitely as much as possible. I've done logos for the Wacken Open Air and explored the graffiti style with a band called We Step Like Giants.

We Step Like Giants


SMC: What are your future projects?

CS: I was looking to exhibit in the Royal Arts Museum in Exeter. I've already done logos for random people, and a few businesses (photography and one for guitar pedal manufacturers). I've done one for "Spud" the pug as well.

SMC: Would you ever consider doing a logo for yourself?

CS: I have done a few. I actually got someone from the Art Deco Society, Stephan to do my official logo.

SMC: What do you like in Art Deco?

CS: The magnificence. I love the fact that the lines are elegant, the forms are geometrical...the perfection,  the symmetry, the presence of round and sharp. Second to that is Art Nouveau which has organic floral motifs in a very stylized way. My favorite Art Deco artist is Timothy Flegel who designed a great deal of San Francisco. He gave it a face. Bruce Goff triggered the whole depressive-modern style with the Boston avenue Methodist church. This is the whole starting point of depressive-modern which is very tall, sinister, menacing, but also epic and beautifully decaying.

       -   Art Deco and Art Nouveau are very eclectic.

Yes, and I must say I am also very eclectic in my choices, with the clients I'm working with.  Especially for music.

SMC: Do you usually listen to music while you work?

CS: Music is very important, and I listen to a lot of different styles. First of all, I listen to the bands I'm working for to get the idea. Sometimes I need to listen to something a lot of times before I get an idea of the band. I'm very inspired by Georgian chants, this culture has been a very important source of inspiration for me.

SMC: You used to work as a forestry engineer. Are you really in touch with nature?

CS: The only problem is that being a forestry engineer brought me no future. It did bring me inspiration, but no suitable job.

SMC: What would you say to freelancers living solely off their logos?

CS: I think it's very risky because there is a massive competition, and it's very difficult to "survive". Have all your eggs in different baskets.

SMC: In your younger years, did you obtain a college degree or just go straight towards your art?

CS: I actually had a degree in forestry engineering where I could have my studies, and do logos on the side. But, when I found a job in the UK I could really spend time on the diversity of my work. I wanted to explore as many styles as possible. Back then, I was just finishing the designs instead of doing sketches, and had bands saying it was good, but not what they where looking for. The quality of communication is an essential tool to creating good art.

SMC: Lastly, what do you think of the combination of art and science?

It's very close because, you know, when you work in forestry you do your work on the site. You go and measure trees, you're surrounded by a certain environment. That is a place were you can get ideas. I've drawn quite a few logos in forests. I take a lot of photos and observe insects in the parc, which is the reason why I work outside in the daylight. Those are things I use a lot for my work.


Catch Cristophe on:

For those of you in LA, he is currently exhibiting in the Hammer Museum.

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