It's been a big one, both creatively and in terms of logistical challenges - the building was still being constructed as we began work, and we had no power, no light and only a ladder to the first floor mural location. As the most prominent part of a creative space in which the entire BH team have to work, this had to be something inspirational, devoid of cheese or platitudes, timeless and beautiful. We asked the client what they wanted. The answer was 'we leave it totally up to you'. Ah. Gulp, then.
I started by looking at what the company did, and where they did it. Adrian, the Briggs half of the company, travels almost constantly to clients in exotic locations like Dubai, Shanghai, Jordan, Tokyo, Bucharest and Riyadh. He also has a thing for shoes, as well as working for some of the globe's biggest shoe retailers and manufacturers (which becomes relevant later). Here's Adrian and his building. (Note: he isn't mincing, he's demonstrating the height of the eventual cupboards).
I was taken by the twin ideas of the different languages spoken in these countries, and the universal appeal of shopping - particularly in the UAE where I had visions of beautifully-kohl'd women perusing racks of gloriously coloured sparkling garments, shoes and jewellery: the love of retail. I was all for a swirling mass of Arabic and Hindi and jewel-like colours... till a mate reminded me 'yeah, but they work for Screwfix as well'.
Quite. Back to the drawing board then for a more inclusive and down to earth approach, this time focusing on the Briggs Hillier end of things - their creative process.
Adrian and Jenny (the Hillier part of the company) don't do things in the most predictable way. Their new building - although still a shell - was already looking like proof of that. So sketching over architect's drawings of the wall, I settled on a choice of two things:, a famous quote about shopping by Bo Derek (one of several), seen in one of the early sketches below, or one by Dieter Rams. And Dieter won.
The design became a combination of two sketches. I surrounded the Dieter quote with 'starbursts' either side of some of the myriad things BH's clients sell, with, of course, the emphasis on shoes. The whole assembly was punctuated at the bottom with a multitool of the type sold by Black's (another client), re-engineered to represent the many-skilled single weapon of mass creation that is BH. The most important thing for such a massive wall was to give it movement, and energy, and the shape of wall lent it an eye-like feel into which I put a 'pupil', 'iris' and white edges. At either corner, the buildings of BH's conquered cities were to glow white, alongside the word 'shopping' in their respective languages.
Each element of the design was first drawn up on paper in ink, with the centre lockup at A2 size; languages, objects, and buildings too.
Here's the finished illustration mocked up on screen. (Nigel Axon of Axon Architects was kind enough to donate a 2 metre print of the digital mockup, so we could start to see how it was going to look at scale):
The journey from desk to breezeblock took four people nearly two weeks, working 14-hour generator-powered days and nights in dingy conditions, rainstorms, thunder, chill and with way too many chips for sustenance. With Leigh in project management and base prep modes and Graham and Tiffany on painting duty, it took form shape by shape, layer by painful layer (we had no idea breezeblock took three coats - every line of the illustration has been painted three times!) with a painting method more akin to rendering plaster and Polyfilla-ing. We all got extremely comfortable at heights too, with scaffolds and vertiginous ladders becoming our friends very quickly.
In all, it was quite an awesome experience from beginning to exhausted end, along the way discovering new techniques, methods and reserves of grit. And we're all incredibly pleased with the result, especially the clients Adrian and Jenny, to whom we're very grateful for letting us have free creative rein over their huge wall. Thanks must also go to Graham and Tiffany for their heroic efforts beyond any reasonable human endeavour, and the little blue van which trundled us there day after day.
Here are some action shots, starting with a time lapse by Graham. Can you hear the rain? Smell the paint? Feel the height...?
Mum's sausage sandwiches delivered with all condiments and delivered by Dad were most gratefully consumed on a particularly rainy Sunday afternoon: