An Interview With Graphic Illustrator and Artist Drew Millward

[Images courtesy of Drew Millward]
Drew Millward is a highly talented graphic illustrator and artist renowned for his other-worldly poster designs. He has created art work for clients as diverse as Bon Iver, Dinosaur Jr and Leeds Beer Festival. TSOTA caught up with him ahead of the launch of his first solo exhibition ‘Dust’ at Colours May Vary on Friday 20th March…

Drew started drawing and creating illustrations 10 years ago, whilst running a record label and putting on gigs around Leeds, “We ended up knowing lots of bands and just needed to advertise the gigs. The record label was called Birdwalk, we only did like five albums, but they’re all really good. We put out two albums by David Thomas Broughton. They’re making a film about him now so we had to go and be interviewed for a documentary the other week- that was pretty cool”. He adds with a laugh, “That was probably the best thing I’ve ever done, releasing David’s music. Worked better than any of the scribbles!”




After spending the past decade in Leeds, Drew is now based in the village of Steeton in the Aire Valley. He was born in Coventry, but grew up in Bolton, before moving to Leeds in 2000. His first solo exhibition, ‘Dust’ takes inspiration from the industrial landscapes of the North, nature and re-imagined histories. It takes the familiar and makes it surreally alien, with buildings morphing into robots and exploding with plant life. He explains, “I think they’re very similar places, where I grew up and where I’m living now. The landscape is pretty much the same, all crumbling mills and nice hills. I think that side of things has always crept into a lot of my work. It’s borne out of a love for that sort of post industrial landscape and illustration and character design”.

He adds, “That’s the kind of balance in a lot of the prints for this show-that merging of nature and flora and fauna, crumbling industrial monoliths. It’s all in there, filtered through me, so it’s all slightly colourful and nice, or I think it is anyway! I really enjoyed making it, I know that much!”

After 10 years creating cult poster designs, Drew sees this exhibition as a fresh start, “I talked with a few people about doing a retrospective show of older stuff up to now. But when I looked back at everything, I didn’t like that much of it. So, it was quite nice to actually draw a line under it and set myself that challenge of making a new collection of work”.




Most commonly known for his colourful use of screen printing, ‘Dust’ showcases Drew’s work in a wide range of different forms, including laser etchings, enamel, letter press and textiles. I asked what inspired him to keep pushing the boundaries with the techniques he uses. Drew smiles, “It’s really fun to try and translate my work into other styles, certainly with the knitted things where the limitations are so strict that it’s basically like building up a pixel grid. My work doesn’t look like it could be knitted so doing it myself shows people that you can actually do it. You never get hired to do something you’ve not done before. Also, I like working on processes with other people that manufacture things”.

Drew has drawn upon the expertise of The Print Project, Prints of Thieves and Duke Studios, all companies local to Leeds and Yorkshire.

He explains, “I think that we’re lucky, it’s quite a diverse scene of people who make things in Leeds and the surrounding areas. The letter press was done by a company over in Shipley, Tommy printed the majority of it over at Prints of Thieves and the laser etching was done upstairs at Duke. It’s also great working with people that I like. Having everyone on your side and knowing people on a personal level makes it a lot easier, because everyone’s pulling in the same direction and everyone’s in it for the right reasons.”

Visitors to Colours May Vary at Munro House may have seen Drew’s work as part of collaborative show ‘My Patch!’ in July last year. Featuring work from Jay Cover, Nick Deakin, Dan Mather, Lucy Ketchin and Peter Mitchell, it allowed artists to showcase what Yorkshire meant to them through different designs.

It transpires that this exhibition was also the catalyst for ‘Dust’, “I decided I wanted to explore a little bit more about the print and the idea behind it, so this whole show is kind of born out of that. I really like working with other people too, especially on joint shows where everyone’s making great work”.
He adds, “Working alone throws up it’s own unique problems, because to everyone else you’ve got the best job in the world, but when there’s someone else there who does the same thing as you, they appreciate the fact that it’s not always a bed of roses. Then we can just sit and talk about pens, because most people are really nerdy about that kind of thing!”




The past year has seen Drew wrestling with different ideas and even enrolling on a carpentry course to ‘do something more practical’, but like any great artist, out of that struggle he may have found a new creative direction.
“Last year I wasn’t perhaps in the best place and I realised that your work output and your general mental well-being are so intrinsically linked, that once you stop making things, you feel worse. Its just that cycle of trying to get yourself out of that and make things and be positive about stuff”.

TSOTA asks if this will see him carving out a new career as a Woodsman…
Drew laughs, “Well, I bought a sander, so I figured I should put that to use! I like wood and natural materials. 12 months ago I started taking a step back and trying to work out what I wanted to do, playing around with the style I was working in. I’m getting to a point now where I’m happier with the work I’m producing, but also finding that it’s a lot more versatile with the applications it might have; like the laser etchings onto wood and maybe trying to work that into furniture design, or working with the woven stuff and more fabrics. Pattern design is something that I really like, but I’ve never had the chance to explore it a great deal, so it’s nice to think that I’m in a better place to be able to do that sort of thing”.




As a poster artist Drew Millward is intrinsically linked with the Leeds music scene, designing the iconic Brudenell logo of ‘Charli Spaniel’ to mark their centenary in 2013 and alongside his work with international artists like Ben Folds Five and Soundgarden, music forms an important part of Drew’s work, “I love all kinds of music and I’m annoyed at myself on a daily basis that I never got to the point of being a better musician! It always plays a part in the creative process, anything like a lyric, or a mood can be where things spring from. It comes from everywhere, but probably music more than anything.”

He continues, “I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of my favourite bands. It really put extra pressure on me working with Dinosaur JR and Mission of Burma, who are two of my favourite bands ever! To get to do a poster for them and meet them was just amazing. I think a lot of people come to me because they’ve seen the work that I do and I tend to be left to my own devices, which is really nice and it’s nice to have clients that come back quite frequently. I think you need to learn to say no though too, that’s the thing”.

For Drew creating his first solo exhibition has been a chance to revisit a ‘bolder more graphic style’

“It’s strange because some of the first posters I ever did involved robots and I’d totally forgotten about them. And for a long time I was trying to push away from doing slightly more fun, character driven stuff. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’ve gotten to a point now where I really like doing that, so why should I stop?”

He adds, “I think doing it for 10 years from when I started to draw, is like growing up in public, I never drew at University so, usually you’ve got that formative time where no-one sees what you’ve done. I don’t have that, I just look back and go, ‘Oh Christ, people hired me for that! It’s awful!’ I think its human nature to be self critical, but when you can just see it there in black and white, it’s like looking at old passport photos, or teenage fashion choices, that sort of thing”.




Later this year will see Drew reveal the Leeds Beer Festival 2015 poster, re-imagining 2014’s iconic owl into a colourfully psychedelic city-scape. He also makes a return appearance at Tramlines Festival for a poster exhibition at Sheffield Gallery with fellow illustrator, Tom Newell. He is also making forays into the corporate world, working on re-branding characters for a company in Norway, “They’re going to be animated and put on walls, cars and cups, all kinds of nonsense. It’s interesting to see these things go off into the world knowing that you had a bit of a part in it, but you can’t claim that its your own, it’s a weird one”.

Designing his exhibition, ‘Dust’ with the aim of ‘creating an implied narrative and a slight feeling of unease, without it being too creepy’, Drew seems to gain a real sense of joy from his work, “At the moment I’m pretty happy with everything. I think because I made it in such a short space of time, I’d not really been looking back, so I went to pick things up from Tommy it was like seeing someone else’s work. For so long I was busy labouring and being precious over things. I think was great just being able to work faster and looser and not worry about things too much”.

I’ve enjoyed making it more than I have done anything for a long time, so it’ll be interesting to see what people think of everything. I think that it’s changed how I work and in that respect it’s been a success already. We’ll see, hopefully people will enjoy it”.

Kate Parkin


‘Dust’ will be showing at Colours May Vary from 20th March to 4th May 2015. The launch party of Friday 20th of March runs from 6pm-9pm with drinks provided by Northern Monk Brew Co.

Several of the prints featured in ‘Dust’ have been printed onto birch plywood, with funds raised from their sale going to local charity Sensory Leeds,

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Filed under: Art & Photography