headshot of David McGrail

David McGrail

What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?

Everything counts, and after all the hurdles it’s simply down to integrity and whether the work is true to your feelings… if not, it’s meaningless.

What is your dream project?

No dream project – sometimes it’s easier to be creative in a frame of mind where there is less risk of disappointment…

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you

Shaun le Tan, illustrator and storyteller – for reminding us how to see the world through the eyes of the child.
Seamus Heaney, poet – for digging words out of the landscape.
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect – for the audacity of Fallingwater, the fusing of the icy perfection of geometry with the wildness of nature.

What do you aim to say with your work?

My work is purely exploratory, blending different skills and meandering in many directions. Much of it would be about finding ways of working around my calligraphic limitations. Problems or disappointments usually demand a change in approach, so when things don’t work out there’s always a possibility there’s something more interesting to follow…

Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?

To share my thoughts on how we can make our work more meaningful and inspired ­– and perhaps simply to encourage a sense of satisfaction from what we do.

Calligraphic collage by David McGrail

Your work has been described as being ‘deeply influenced by Japanese aesthetic traditions’. How do you go about taking inspiration from other cultures and yet staying true to your own?

Design transcends borders and time.

We find inspiration in disparate disciplines and disparate cultures. We draw our inspiration from movements and traditions across the globe.

Whether it’s the elegiac silence of a Cistercian abbey, the stunning simplicity of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, the clean lines of Bauhaus design, the strict typography of the Swiss school or the austere aesthetic of Japanese design – the visual language may be different but the underlying design principles are essentially the same.

I have felt a particular empathy with the unadorned, distilled restraint and simplicity of all the above and hopefully that refined elegance is reflected in some way in my calligraphic work. I feel unencumbered by a specific cultural background, and for me, design is essentially a fluid exchange of ideas – waves that roam across vast oceans and break on many shores.