“I believe this dedication to his craft is what separates the wheat from the chaff.”
Not too long ago I had the privilege of speaking with an idol of mine in the lettering and design community, as part of an assignment in a Commercial Design module. This article is, therefore, a little bit different than my usual weekly style, but I found so much value in what Joshua shared with me that I couldn’t not share it with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The following is a summary of our interview as more of a narrative and casual reading experience. If you would like to see the paraphrased Q&A that we had, where this information is deduced from, then you can find it here on my website.
Joshua James Saunders
Joshua Saunders is a UK-based freelance lettering artist and designer. He’s been an inspiration of mine since my early days of Art Instagram, going back to early 2017, when I first came across his work.
His work, of which, has always inspired me, as I’ve been constantly drawn to his organised chaos and his ever-present motto “NEVER NOT WORKING”. This is featured in almost every post of his, where he shares the process around whatever he’s currently working on, or work he’s done in the past.
It was incredibly daunting to speak to him, personally, but he turned out to be a wonderful person to chat to about his development and what inspires him. The British accent didn’t hurt either.
Where It All Started
Joshua started his freelance career while he was still studying, at the University of the West of England. After he graduated, in 2011, he continued his freelance career before he was faced with the option of either doing his Masters, being taught by a highly respected lecturer, Neville Brody, or to enter the in-house industry.
As fortune would have it, he was offered a position with the company that Neville founded, Brody Associates. Most of the employees there had their masters, and while he didn’t, Neville saw potential in him enough to bring him on board anyways. He decided this wasn’t an opportunity to take lightly, and so he dived straight in, successfully; and opted to learn from the industry rather than a potential Masters Degree.
He worked there for about 2 years before deciding that freelance life was more for him. He didn’t burn his bridges, however. In fact, he had an incredible time there where he worked with huge clients across a multitude of projects, and he continues to do work here and there for them today. This obviously being on more of a contract basis. He is still part of their “family,” which he prides himself on, and enjoys working for them still, however occasional.
We also spoke a great deal about some of the clients and projects he works on, and how he manages them all. Sometimes, he works on huge client projects that can span over months, and sometimes he works on smaller local ones that are closer to home. He enjoys this structure, because it keeps him motivated. As any freelancer will tell you, sometimes the drive and enthusiasm fades over the course of a project, just because of time. The smaller and more local projects help him to ignite that passion again, and reminds him of why he’s doing all this in the first place.
He prides himself on the fact that he’s always working and creating for people. This is a theme that you’ll see through many of his posts on social media.
Funnily enough, though, he doesn’t often share final projects. When doing my research, I found that he doesn’t have a website, and only uses social media platforms to share his process. I thought this was interesting as it goes against a lot of what I understand about the need for a website as a creative. He seems to create work so astounding, though, that he makes a living off not having a fully functioning portfolio.
When I spoke to him about this, he said that he believes if you want to see the final project, then go find it. See it in the real world. He enjoys sharing the process behind it, the rough sketches and the messy desk he works at. He likes to share how he works, not so much the final product. This isn’t because he doesn’t enjoy the final product, but rather because he believes the work belongs to who it was made for.
I find this to be an interesting marketing tactic, because his work is so attractive, that it forces you to now go find the final project or product and be a part of the whole reason it was developed in the first place. Marketing, branding and advertising. He promotes the people he works for, regardless of whether they ask him to or not. Indirectly, so. His work always leads there.
I also found this to be an interesting insight, because if you just come across his work for the first time and try to look further, you won’t find much. But, if you stick around and follow his work for awhile, you’ll find he has an immense following base, a vast work portfolio and a style that is almost unmistakable.
A Recipe For Success
His chaos is attractive, and taking one look at his social media presence, you can safely assume that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Yes, nothing is perfect, and after speaking with him, he loves that.
He shares the rough side, mistakes and all, because he believes in the authenticity of raw craft. Of designing by hand and immersing yourself in an environment that promotes this.
This is, essentially, his business model. He creates work, and he shares the rough side, the process. People find him either through social media or through effective word-of-mouth, and he nurtures those relationships. He works with human beings, creating for them in a way that inspires them and contributes to their own success, as any designer should. Stick around his social media long enough, and you’ll notice the depths of his humility, his pride in the work he does for real people, and his love for his family.
He is always talking about how he is “lucky to stay busy,” and to be in an industry that is always evolving. He is humble in his position as a creative, and working for real people nurtures this in him.
He also stays moving within the times. As they evolve, he evolves with them. Recently in the Covid-19 pandemic, he shares his struggles as a freelance creative, and his humility in his work grows evermore because of it. He promotes the WFH lifestyle, as this is how he usually does his daily work. Now that he gets to spend more time with family, he makes the most of it, and continues to share bits and pieces of his life and family behind the scenes, showing that he is in fact a real human being at the end of the day.
As most creatives will tell you, we don’t enjoy sharing our lives or our faces, and when we do it’s almost always to show the world that we are still human. Joshua is no exception to this, which makes it a delight when he does eventually surface and share his British face.
While he doesn’t have much structure in how and what he shares online, he always stays consistent. When we spoke about this, I found that he enjoys the improvisation of it all. Of not knowing what will come next, and being excited by that. This also keeps his audience on their toes, fuelling engagement and keeping potential clients excited about his work prospects.
His NEVER NOT WORKING mantra is something that I believe is his most successful characteristic, followed in a close second by his unwavering humility. I found through my initial research that this came about as a joke at first. He would always duck out of drinks or meet-ups, and his friends would constantly say that he was never not working. It kinda stuck. It became a part of his brand, if not the key holding it all together.
When we spoke, this was whole-fully confirmed, as he enjoys the process of his work and doesn’t like to leave it for too long. While, of course, he doesn’t never take a break, he enjoys using other ways to stay creative and motivated with his work. When he goes for a walk, he’s running through ideas; when he relaxes with family, he gives his brain a chance to work on problems in the background; and when he sits down at his desk, he devotes his full attention to his work.
This is admirable, as I believe this dedication to his craft is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Where most people give up during hard times, he embraces them and makes a plan, as he has done many times in the past. Where other creatives work in small doses here and there, he dives straight into the unknown and emerges with work that everyone is proud of. And where he finds himself challenged, either creatively or physically, he reaches out to the community and shares in struggles so we can all work together.
These are the traits I believe make him not only a successful entrepreneur, but a successful creative professional.
That Neat Bow Feeling
I learnt a great deal from my discussion with Joshua. Not only was I surprised that it was so easy to talk with him, but that I see a lot of myself in his story. More than I had given thought at first.
It was an honour to speak with an idol of so many years, but more-so it was comforting to know that building a brand like his, takes time that can be exciting if you do what you love and you immerse yourself in it. That you can enjoy the process as much as he does, and that evidently, it pays off.