Neasden Control Centre’s paper-cut graphic icons for Millican symbolise land, sea and urban waste

The illustrator aka Stephen Smith used collage for the graphics, logo and typeface, to convey the mishmash of consumer waste that is recycled to make its Core Collection backpacks.

Date
29 April 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

Illustrator Stephen Smith, aka Neasden Control Centre, spent much of his youth in the northwest of England walking in the lakes with his dad and professes he’s “always been into technical walking gear”. So when he was commissioned by Lake District-based bag brand Millican to develop a brand aesthetic for its Core Collection it was a “dream client” for him. The collection – which includes roll packs, a pencil case, utility pouch and wash bag – are made entirely from recycled consumer waste, an aspect Stephen wanted to convey in his illustrated icons, logo and typeface for the range. So he decided to use paper-cut collage techniques, to visualise the mish-mash of societal detritus that goes into making each one of the brand’s backpacks.

“Jeff [Millican’s creative director] and I discussed how we could incorporate water bottles and other plastic waste into a composition of graphic elements,” Stephen describes of the initial ideation process. He was commissioned to create illustrations, plus a logo and typography, to be used across the range on everything from tags and posters to online. Both designers decided the branding should take a “strong graphic approach,” and so Stephen set about creating the elements.

Now based in the south west, Stephen lives close to the beach and says it’s “heartbreaking to see the amount of plastic waste washing up on our shores every day. I often clean the beach if I’m there, by taking away what’s around me”. By way of an unexpected silver lining, this litter provided some inspiration for Stephen in the Millican project. “The forms I started to create were influenced by the waste I found, and then abstracted to form a visual language,” he says.

Then, he took to cutting out the shapes with scissors, opting for an analogue approach so the final aesthetic wouldn’t seem too clean or digitised. “This opens up the element of chance and allows accidents to happen organically,” Stephen says. Overall he made around 300 paper graphics, which were edited down and assembled into compositions (also IRL) before being scanned and coloured. As a set, the illustrator says he wanted the graphics to “represent the land, sea and urban waste,” which also comes across in the colour schemes chosen, and fit nicely with the collection colours – themselves inspired by “global landscapes”. The typography and logo for the collection were created in the same way, slowly whittling shapes into letterforms. This lends the whole brand a hand-crafted, warm and playful aesthetic.

GalleryNeasden Control Centre: Millican Core Collection graphics (Copyright © Millican, 2021)

Part of Stephen’s visual voice stems from his love of folk and outsider art, which comes across in the designs for Millican, and his formative creative years. He grew up in the early 90s north west “with a general do-it-yourself attitude in the air,” taught by Russell Mills and Ian Walton at foundation level, before studying illustration in Bristol “during the Massive Attack and Roni Size years” under the leadership of Ian McCullough. He then studied MA Illustration under the great George Hardie. Starting out in 2000, Stephen carved his freelance career in the “creative and explosive years of Shoreditch’s development,” and says, at his core, he is “driven by line, drawing, texture, colour and composition”.

Stephen recently published his first children’s book Born Bad by Cicada Books, but has also published two books under his Neasden Control Centre moniker for Gestalten. He has also exhibited internationally at Mini Galerie and Mu in the Netherlands, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in the UK, and The Nam June Paik Centre in South Korea. In 2016 he co-founded design studio Smith and Lewarne, which focuses on art direction and design for site specific installations.

See the full Millican Core Collection range here.

GalleryNeasden Control Centre: Millican Core Collection (Copyright © Millican, 2021)

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Millican

Millican bags are designed for the transition from work to adventure. Made to take you anywhere, our packs are built to last a lifetime, treading lightly as you go. All our responsible packs are made from 100% recycled fabrics.

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Neasden Control Centre: Millican Core Collection (Copyright © Millican, 2021)

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