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My Inspirations: The Heads of State

The Heads of State is a three-person studio producing illustration and graphic design. The trio has created the cover illustrations for many editions of SHOP magazine for destinations spanning Frankfurt to Singapore. Their clever, direct and elegant artwork has previously been commissioned by the New York Times, Ogilvy and McKinsey Quarterly. We spoke to them about where they get their inspiration, where they like to shop and what their dream commission would be.

What’s your background in illustration?
We’re designers by trade and wandered into illustration. Our approach to design had always been very image based; it took us a while to realise that just stripping away typography could lead to a compelling illustration style.

Where do the ideas for your illustrations come from?
Most of our inspiration comes from everyday life, from things outside our professional lives. Though we pay attention to contemporary illustration and design, we’re not actively looking for inspiration from our contemporaries. Random scenes from movies, something we see walking down the street, an art project my kids might bring home from preschool are all sources. But more often than not the inspiration might not be visual – a lyrical line from a book or great analogy can be hugely inspirational.

Which materials do you prefer to work with and why? Do you have a favourite pen or paper?
We’re pretty animated about each piece having a hand-done element, we feel it brings a bit of humanism and warmth to the work; something drawn, or block printed, cut from paper or painted, it all brings some life to a piece. That said, we’re not purists: the computer is an indispensable tool that allows us to be versatile and our work to be much more malleable.

What attracted you to where you are based? Do you think your location has influenced your style?
We live in Philadelphia, an ancient city by American standards. It’s a blue-collar town, but with a huge amount of culture and a rich history. It’s hard not to be influenced by the environment, especially in a city whose past has informed so much of America’s path.

You’ve illustrated the cover for SHOP magazine for various cities throughout the past few years; which would you most like to travel to and why?
Working on illustrations for SHOP, doing the research and finding locations to focus on really exposed us to sides of cities we had never known about, or turned us on to cities that we had no previous interest in. I’m a sucker for rich history, and of course there’s no lack of it in Europe, but something really drew me to Copenhagen: unique architecture, the cosmopolitan feeling without it being a boiling metropolis. I think I’d grab a one-way ticket.

Where have you travelled recently? What should SHOP readers not miss when they visit there?
I visit Seattle often, at least once a year. It’s got a handful of my favourite places. It’s renowned for rain and grey skies, but there’s a nice patch in the summer where it’s hot and the sky is blue. You’re an hour from deep wilderness, minutes from beaches – it’s a dream for folks who need a breath of fresh air. There’s an amazing music scene, thriving art galleries … It’s a city of neighbourhoods, and each neighbourhood has its unique quirks and shops that are a must-see.

Where did you start when designing the cover for SHOP Vilnius?
For the Vilnius cover we started with some visual research on the city’s architecture, but also some deeper research on what Vilnius is known for. Its amber industry seemed like the perfect way to frame a city, giving it vibrancy but also a precious feel.

Did it turn out as you expected?
Our illustrations are rooted in simplicity. We approach a piece looking for an economy of visuals. Being simple for an object like amber is not an easy thing to do, but by layering and exploiting the natural imperfections we were able to reduce the image down to its rawest form.

What five items will you never travel without?
A notebook, more for thoughts than drawings; a bike multi-tool, which always comes in handy; Crayola markers for the best lines and colours around; and a couple of books as there’s no better place to plough through pages than deep in a train seat.

And finally, what would be your dream commission?
A national flag: the symbol of a country, of unity, of hope. How many folks get to design a flag?


Want to know more about SHOP magazine's cover art? Click here



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