Partnership / Arjowiggins Tooled Up

George Hardie on five decades of illustrating and designing by hand


Daniel Stier

To mark the launch of the digital version of Arjowiggins’ Paper Book we have partnered with the creative papers manufacturer for a series of features on designers and the tools that are essential to their practice. From the technical to the unexpected, classic to cutting-edge, their toolkits include everything from French curves and rolling-rulers to 3D printers.

Over the next four weeks we will be sharing the insight into the work of photographer and image-maker Carl Kleiner, renowned graphic designer George Hardie, Prague-based collective Studio Mütanta and Irma Boom, Dutch designer and “Queen of Books”. The project is a celebration of the tools behind diverse approaches to design and photography.

For the second feature, we spoke to George Hardie.

“I find myself holding my breath a lot,” says George Hardie. “You wonder why you’re so tired at the end of a day of drawing and it’s because when you’re concentrating on getting a perfect line, you always hold your breath.”

As an esteemed illustrator and graphic designer with some fifty years of experience behind him, one of the most remarkable aspects of Hardie’s practice is how much of his process is done by hand despite the rise of design software. With a talent for using compelling compositions to communicate his ideas with a certain directness, he is perhaps best known for his work producing hand-drawn cover art for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s debut album in 1969.

“I probably should have learned how to use a computer at some point, but a computer doesn’t actually do the same thing,” he says. “It’s a struggle to make drawings as neat as possible but I’m very keen on the almost comic notion of ligne claire – the perfect line.”

The basis of his technical process, Hardie says, was taking geometry and mechanical drawing classes at school in lieu of Latin lessons. From there he undertook seven years of training as a graphic designer before moving toward illustration. Whether it’s illustrating magazine covers or stamps or his own book on hand-made techniques, working manually means having the right tools is paramount to executing his ideas.

Here, he runs through the essentials and sheds some light on his meticulous, often painstaking process.


Daniel Stier: George Hardie

Ellipse guides:

“About 20 years ago I spent about £200 on every ellipse guide from about ten degrees to 90 degrees, in every size, and I still use them all the time. Up to a certain size, I would draw a circle with circle guide but an ellipse guide allows you to put it in perspective and there are hundreds of them. The biggest one is about six inches across and the smallest one goes down to .3 of a centimetre.”


Daniel Stier: George Hardie


Daniel Stier: George Hardie



“My work is usually accompanied by the radio and I’ve dedicated a couple of books to Radio 4, which gives me a lot of ideas. You hear things and you think, ‘my God I better draw that.’ Once you’ve had the idea and the job becomes a bit more mechanical, it’s a fantastic way of feeding your brain and learning when you’re doing something. I’ve done several drawings inspired by things I’ve heard on the radio.

I was doing a job for a magazine called Empire the year of the twin towers in New York, and I had to do a drawing related to empire in some way. I’d heard a quote on the radio which I’d written in the margin of something years before: ‘Never trust a straight line on a map.’ Most localised wars are caused by telling someone whose lived quite happily on one side of a line that they now can’t live there because a straight line on a map now says it’s another country.”


Daniel Stier: George Hardie



“I’ve got a huge lightbox I use for tracing. I make the best drawing I can and then put it down on the lightbox and make a better one. It’s a very nice system for improving an image but not losing what’s already there.

I learnt it from Quentin Blake who said for him the problem with his work is it is very gestural, and he could do a drawing five times where the hand was right in one and the smile was right in the next, and it was very difficult to go on and on like that. That was difficult for him because his work is so much about how his hand moves, my work depends on hiding how my hand moves.

The actual method of stacking up drawings until you get the perfect one, or taking bits of different drawings and putting them together, is exactly what I use the lightbox for.”


Daniel Stier: George Hardie



“A rolling ruler is perhaps the most important thing. It’s a ruler on wheels and you can use it to draw parallel lines. I use a French curve as well, which is a ruler with a bend in it. If I had to draw some waves for instance, I would find a line on a French curve that represented a certain part of the wave and then draw it, and turn it around and line it up again. I also have a collection of rulers but I don’t use those.”


Daniel Stier: George Hardie


Books, catalogues and encyclopaedias:

“For reference, I often use Google but I’m a bookish person. An awful lot of things like the insects or things found on archeological sites are recorded as drawings rather than photographs. There are huge limitations to how much you can understand about a 3D object from a flat picture. They’re rather stilted illustrations because they show exactly how many feathers a bird has or how many petals on a flower, but it’s thought by a lot of scientists that drawing is the best way to record and classify something.

I can go online to find out roughly what something looks like, but I would rather use someone else’s drawing as my starting point. A lot of my references are other drawings of things. I have a huge collection of catalogues of objects or Victorian patterns, children’s books of seashells, stencilled letters and encyclopaedias.”

The Paper Book is the complete collection of creative papers, developed and manufactured by Arjowiggins, and distributed by Antalis. A single, comprehensive volume, containing every kind of paper for every communication requirement, it is the ultimate offline tool for creatives and graphic designers alike. Arjowiggins have also developed their website to provide a web-based version of the Paper Book. For more information or to use this online tool for yourselves, click here