For graphic design student Ciaran Birch, finding his feet as a “visual communicator” took a little time. Originally from Didcot, a small town fifteen miles south of Oxford, Ciaran “didn’t really have an introduction to art and design from an early age; my dad is a firefighter and my mum works in admin," he tells It’s Nice That. As a result, his explanation for his chosen career path is simple: "I think it all began through looking.”
Before there was looking, there was running. Growing up in the Oxfordshire countryside, Ciaran and his dad would often go out exploring and the designer supposes that, “constantly being outside helped inform my practice in that I was constantly observing and being aware, from looking at the typographic language adorning running vests to the shape of the land on landmarks such as White Horse Hill." These influences funnelled into a practice during Ciaran’s foundation year, a time where designers are introduced to a wealth of work head on.
His first visit to a gallery came during that year, and this new and exciting world “translated into the work I made,” says the designer. “Collages, animations, photo books crammed with hundreds of new styles and techniques I was discovering. It was all a bit of a mess really.”
He went on to gain a place at the University of Brighton, where he’s about to head into his third year. He describes the start of his time at the school was, “very rocky,” noting that when faced with the work of both influential practitioners and inspirational peers, he found himself “in the studio with a blank notepad in front of me.” That was until a type design module began.
“I became obsessed,” Ciaran admits. “I just remember hundreds of sheets of grid paper dotted around my room and sitting at my desk for hours meticulously sketching curves.”
The precise and particular practice of type design either instills fear in designers or gets their hearts racing. For Ciaran, it was evidently the latter and the process has since inspired his entire practice. “From then on my work ethic changed significantly and this obsessive practice fed into other areas such as photography and printing,” he explains. “I found it amazing that I could craft meaning through language.”
Ciaran’s creative inspiration came full circle at this point too. Still going running in his spare time he began jotting down everything he saw once back at his desk, sketching ideas and developing aspects. “I remember running up the Downs and observing the shape of the land just as I did as a kid,” he describes. “All of this filtered down into my type design in some aspect.”
This developed into projects such as Kinetic Manifesto, fully created while on the move as the designer took chalk with him while out on his bike, mark making while riding and creating sculptures. This awareness of influences is now key to Ciaran’s practice, and while he’s still learning and experimenting at university, this is only a good thing. He may have started his creative career by running, but the inklings of a brilliant portfolio from Ciaran sees him finally finding a comfortable stride.
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