Supermundane is the pseudonym of designer Rob Lowe, whose signature mesmerising illustrations have been exhibited worldwide. We were lucky enough to work with Rob to launch MOO Flyers, and we absolutely love his ‘compliment’ style! We invited him into MOO HQ to sign his Flyers – and have a little chat.
How did you get into design?
Well, I was good at art, and not good at anything else! Or maybe ‘not interested’ is a better way of putting it. These days, you can do a GCSE in graphic design, but if you were creative and unfocused in the ‘80s, they didn’t really know what to do with you. I went to the career counsellor and they said I could be a milliner or a hairdresser, but at that point I didn’t even know what a milliner was. So I did work experience at a printer, and that’s where I discovered type.
I don’t have a clue what I would have done if I hadn’t done this. My main other interest is music. I have instruments but I’m not sure that makes me a musician, so I’d probably just have a rubbish job somewhere. And be miserable.
Tell me about how Supermundane came about
In the early ‘90s I was working for Mathmos, who, if you’ve ever been to university, you’ll recognise as the nice people who made your lava lamp! They’d just started on their inexorable rise in the niche world of student lighting, but after a while I was made redundant – I guess there’s really only so many lava lamps you can sell before you saturate the market.
I went to work at Ministry of Sound, and in my spare time I was doing all my own work under the name Supermundane, which is a real word that means ‘beyond earthly things’. I first came across it when I was working in a kettle factory – my first job in the Midlands, which was mundane as hell.
You wear many creative hats – designer, writer, artist, typographer and illustrator. How does that work?
A few years ago I felt like I had so many elements to my career, that I tried to separate them because I didn’t know whether people would take me seriously in any one single discipline if they thought I was doing too many. I didn’t want them to think, “Can he really be good at all of them to a high level?”.
So I separated them and all that happened was I got confused, particularly with so many email addresses. And in the end I just collated it all again. The thing is, I really just love the variety. One day I’m drawing, the next I’m designing a logo, and the next I’m at MOO signing 1200 flyers!
What is your creative process – how do you start a project?
It’s pretty fluid. I don’t think about it too much and I certainly haven’t analysed it much! I don’t do a lot of research; I’m better with instinctive responses to a brief. Unless there’s something really specific of course, and then it’s about finding something within that research that maybe someone else wouldn’t have noticed, without getting too obscure.
I also really like going to galleries and listening to music. I used to love listening to Sheets of Easter by Oneida before getting started on a project. It’s a 15 minute long noise rock track which starts “You’ve got to look into the…” and then screams “light light light light light!” over and over and over – it’s pretty intense and hypnotic.
What work are you most – and least! – proud of?
I’m very proud of Anorak, a kids magazine I was Art Director of which has been going for 8 years. It’s a unisex magazine for creative kids, and it was being produced at a time where there really wasn’t anything like it. We worked with top illustrators from all over the world, and it was a lovely, pure thing to be involved in, a creative product that treated kids with respect by using really high production values and talent.
I also did a mural for kids at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, for an exhibition about secrets in 2012 called Psst! My piece was called Speak Secrets Hear Secrets – it was a massive freestanding wall, 4 meters by 8 meters, and double sided. The wall had tubes running through so people could speak into one side and the mouths of monsters would tell their secret on the other. It took 70 hours to build, but the reason I was so pleased with it was that I went with there with a scrappy sketch, pencil in hand, and a hangover, expecting a tiny child size wall.
As far as least proud goes, I don’t miss the hundreds of Happy Hardcore compilation album covers I did at Ministry of Sound – and I don’t miss listening to the tracks either!
What was your inspiration for the collaboration with MOO?
I have phrases that I like to use as Supermundane. The most enduring one is ‘I think you’re wonderful’ which started a few years ago as a badge - people would send me a stamped envelope adreessed to someone else, and I’d send it on with a ‘I think you’re wonderful badge’ inside, and make someone feel good. I recreated it as a postcard and then a print. And now, a version of it on MOO Flyers! I originally chose ‘wonderful’ because I wanted something that could be said to anyone and didn’t refer to anything physical about them.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever given – and received?
The best one I’ve ever given… well, isn’t my work speaking for itself?! I like one I came up with a while ago – ‘You might be the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen’. I haven’t put it on anything yet though. I don’t really give compliments to people, I just write them down and sell them so others can.
And as far as receiving compliments goes, a friend of mine recently told me that I make her feel like she’s drunk even when she hasn’t been drinking. I think it’s because she laughs a lot and feels giddy around me. At least, that’s what I told myself it meant…
We’re sure it was! Finally…. how many times a day do you have to fend off annoying jokes about your name?
I don’t fend them off – I accept my lot in life and it could be worse. But the reason Supermundane exists as a pseudonym is because of it. Some people never get sick of saying “Not THAT Rob Lowe?”. I wish I could tell you someone once did it so well I’ve remembered it always, but they’re sadly all the same. “Oh. I was expecting the other Rob Lowe”. Sorry I disappointed you! It’s only taken me 40 years but I’ve come to terms with it.
I did a talk last year at a UX (User Experience) conference, and I did use a Rob Lowe gag to break the ice – I used a picture of him topless and put my head on it. I’ve still got that somewhere. My iPhone doesn’t care either way though. It still calls me Ron on a regular basis.
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