The beastly creative passion of Steve Sellick

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It comes from Stephen Sellick's own fingertips that he is as passionate and fired up as he's ever been. Having started out as a freelance illustrator, Steve has now been in the industry for over 25 years, and he's seen plenty of changes in his own craft – but some passions will just never die.

Steve dreams of an industry that can value itself more. And as COVID forces clients to chop budgets and go for efficiency, he is worried that this will promote mediocrity. Though we are certain that, as long as creative professionals like him remain in the field, this industry can only ever thrive.

For this Member Spotlight, we are learning about the story and unstoppable drive that brought Steve to become the kind of professional he is today.


How did you get into the industry?

I was lucky in that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in the creative industries, although doing what I hadn’t got a clue. I left Hastings' Art Foundation course wanting to be a screen printer / photographer / typographer – in fact pretty much everything, as I had enjoyed it all so much. From there I went on to study Graphic Design BA (Hons) at Bristol achieving a 2.1 pass. On completion I started out as a freelance illustrator.

In those days there was no Internet so I would have to buy a whole swath of magazines and books plus regional editions of The Yellow Pages in order to phone up the publishers to see if they would be good enough to spare time to see me with my book. Through this method I managed to get a whole variety of work, from mortgage magazines to the much more glamorous GQ magazine. I also got myself represented by the illustrators agency Meiklejohn, at the time one of the most prestigious in London. They managed to get me several commissions for the big ad agencies. I can even claim to have illustrated a book cover for a Peter Benchley novel (the author of Jaws).

Two years later and off the back of a commission to illustrate Henry VIII for a local design agency I managed to bag my first full time position as a junior art director. I loved the variety and scope the new role gave me, from directing photography shoots to creating campaign headlines. In the evenings and weekends I continued working on illustration commissions.


Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I live in South Northants, close to the Oxford boarder putting me nice and central with good road and rail links to Milton Keynes, Birmingham, London, Leicester, Leamington and Cheltenham. I also have my own fully equipped studio with super fast broadband – essential during and post lockdown.

As a freelance creative director / art director / copywriter I work for a variety of agencies from the bigger names like McCann and BBH to smaller agencies including Clarity, EBY, Keane, STB, Green Room and Palmer Hargreaves. I’m also constantly looking to make new contacts with other agencies using LinkedIn and Creativepool to help me do this.

If you weren't in your current industry what would you be doing?

This is a question I’ve mused with during lockdown and the uncertainty many of us are facing. As an older creative– no, mature... hmm that doesn’t sound good either. I’m 55 and experienced, there you go, I’ve said it! Many of you reading this may now be thinking that I should have been put out to pasture years ago. But I’m as passionate and fired up as I’ve ever been.

I’m a fanatical cyclist and really into my motorcycles and music - It’s these things that keep me fit and young at heart. So back to the question… I guess if I wasn’t doing this I might be found DJing in Lycra whilst performing a burnout on my Ducati (probably in Mallorca).


Can you explain your creative process?

I like to get under the skin of things and ask lots of questions, as all creatives should. I really analyise the brief and if I’m not familiar with the subject I’ll read up and immerse myself in it. I’m also constantly thinking ‘what if’ and putting myself in the shoes of the target audience / recipient imagining what they would feel/understand. I think that is why words and imagery have always played equal importance in my creative process – the two becoming greater together. That is the thinking behind my company strapline – ‘more than just words and pictures’.

How has technology affected the way you work (if at all?)?

With over 25 years experience I can categorically say that technology has changed beyond recognition from when I first started out. I knew how to operate a darkroom camera, transfer artwork onto film etc; I wouldn’t have a clue how to do this now. The pace in the studio was slower, governed by the tools around us.

Today everything - everywhere is so much quicker and the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the budget. I love this but sometimes I feel that everything looks too finished before an idea has been fully developed. In my mind the one thing that has remained constant and always will is having the skill to come up with great ideas, tell stories that charm, thrill, engage and leave lasting impressions with audiences.


What’s your secret of staying inspired and motivated?

I guess I’m just naturally interested in many things, not just in the design world but outside of it too; history, food, comedy, and current affairs. You name it. They all come into the mix and of course when I’m out on my bike. This is the stuff that inspires and influences my thinking and where hopefully original ideas come from. 

What is the work achievement you are most proud of?

Always a tough one, and probably the same answer as many as I always believe my best is yet to come. However, I’m very proud to have headed up the creative team that won BP as a client. I’m also super happy to have convinced Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles to invest heavily in CGI to bring my London-inspired skyline made up of a loaf of bread, topiary animals, and various tools and machines to life.

The imagery formed part of a year-long campaign to launch a new vehicle. The campaign also included a national tour linked with Travis Perkins, a brand alignment that I instigated and was also the title sponsor on TalkSPORT Radio reaching over a million people. Visually though I’m still pretty happy with Greenpeace’s Save The Arctic Campaign where I’ve conceived the idea, written the copy and illustrated the endangered animals through Photoshop.


How do you recharge away from the office?

I’ve already touched on this – its when I’m out on my bike. I was down to ride a stage of the Tour de France earlier this year but it’s been postponed for obvious reasons. Hopefully I can get back to the mountains in 2021.

What advice would you give other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Take every opportunity, paid or unpaid, don’t worry about the hours you work – live it and breathe it. Knock on doors, write letters (old style), don’t be shy and remember every day is a day of learning even for creative directors.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

The good agencies will always be good. Yes these troubled times will take their toll but I believe it will be more short than long term. The best work still wows me and will continue to do so. However with clients ruthlessly cutting their budgets compromises are being made down the line, time and crafting are being ebbed away little by little. This worries me as this promotes mediocrity; the clients get used to it and can’t tell the difference. It's only way down the line that we notice things are not quite as good as they once were. My hope is I’ve got this wrong.


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I would like to see the industry value itself more. The amount of free work, and intellectual property given away through pitches can be crazy – I’m guilty myself and I’ve been in and heard so many horror stories.

Only last week a great designer friend of mine recounted how he had tried to convince an international prospect over a long Skype call that he was the right guy to develop the client's new brand by putting forward creative strategies for free. My friend was pitching against half a dozen of other brand designers having similar conversations with the same client who had in the room with him a note taker. The outcome was that none of the designers were chosen for the project (these were all experienced and at the top of their game). The client, armed with all the free insights and advice, took the work on in house! 

Creatives always want to impress, please and of course win. It’s our Achilles heel and one that I believe will never change. 


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