Henries Design Awards Finalists: Bewilderbeest

Last updated: February 7th, 2024 Published on: September 21, 2022

At Funky Pigeon, we love showing off our amazingly talented independent designers, so today we’re doing just that! Come with us as we get to know another of the friendly faces behind the indie cards that bring a new creative flare to the Funky Pigeon site. In this Q&A with our Henries awards finalists, we’re excited to indulge in the proudly absurd designs of Iain at Bewilderbeest.

Iain Hamilton, Bewilderbeest

Drawing inspiration from British heritage, Iain is the illustrator behind Bewilderbeest’s unique greeting card style. From Bewilderbeest’s creative studio in Suffolk along with Maddy and Colonel Mustang (their cat!), Iain’s designs centre around the absurd and ridiculous, channelling that energy into a brilliantly creative series of birthday cards and greeting cards for every occasion. Don’t forget to check out some of Bewilderbeest’s designs at the end of this article!

Congratulations on your awards news! With over 14,000 entries, how did you feel when you heard the news that your work is in the Finals?

Pleased as punch! I knew that all my ‘colouring in’ practice I did would pay off eventually. Not to mention the £5 notes I slipped in the cards for the judges…

Was this your first award nomination?

I was a Henries finalist last year too, but my main claim to fame is that I won the Farmer’s Weekly magazine colouring in competition when I was 8 years old. I won a toy combine harvester and tractor, so it was a pretty big deal.

I also came third (out of three) in my local village art competition. I lost out to an oil painting of Princess Diana and a collage of a chair!

Tell us a bit about your Henries nominated range…

I’m up for Most Promising Young Designer so it’s not one range as such. Basically, my approach is
Is the idea funny, but not too obvious?
Could I send it to my gran – cheeky but not rude…
Can I fit it on a card?

Most of the time, I focus on creating ideas that I think are funny and haven’t already been massively overdone by others in the card industry. This does mean that not all my cards fit into clear categories like birthdays, Mother’s Day, and so on, but it’s worked really well for me so far. Sometimes an idea is worth doing even if it’s not for a specific occasion.

How did you become a greeting card designer?

I took the unorthodox approach of falling off a ski jump to start my artistic career. While recovering from my poor skiing I couldn’t do my day job (which involved a lot of driving round the countryside), so did some drawing while I was supposed to be working. A local gallery asked to sell one of my drawings (the one that is now Bewidlerbeest’s logo) which spurred me on to try and flog a few cards, that I’d printed on my home printer, at a local agricultural show. I made £40 and it grew from there.

Several years on, and my wife and I run the business full time together, and we’re stocked in shops across the world. The major plus point is that I no longer use my home printer to make my cards!

Describe your typical work day…

I put on a shirt and tie (but no trousers – I work from home after all). I then spend the morning pondering the nature of beauty and truth in art while watching Homes Under The Hammer.

Ok, that’s all a bit of a fib.

I’m usually encouraged by Maddy, my wife, to actually get on with something useful. This could be anything from drawing, photo editing, business planning, stock ordering or anything in between. No two days are the same and actually waaaay less than 50% of my time is spent designing.

That might sound like a bad thing for an ‘artist’, but I enjoy the business side of things too. It’s been equally important for us to work on the business, as it has been to do new designs. I would STRONGLY recommend that anyone wanting to make a living from their art should read business books and listen to business podcasts. Feel free to contact me for my recommendations (if I haven’t bored you to tears already).

What’s your creative process?

I have a treasured sketchbook of all of my ideas that are hastily scrawled in it (they look like a five-year-old has drawn them). When I’m planning new designs I’ll dip into the sketchbook, pick out some favourites and then start gathering reference images to work from. Most of my designs involve animals so getting the proportions at least slightly accurate really helps.

Next is a pencil sketch of the design, then permanent black fine liner outline. I then paint the design with watercolours and gouache and make the final image pop with another pass with the fine liner.

Once the illustration is finished I scan it in, add some text in Photoshop, and then it’s off to the printer for a proof to be made.

I’m very slow at drawing and painting, so all of my ideas are ‘evergreen’, as I miss all the trend-based themes. I’m only just catching up on Line of Duty now!

What are the challenges you face as an independent artist? And the joys?

It can be stressful starting your own business. For a long time there were points where I wasn’t sure I could pay my bills, or where I felt I was working non-stop all hours of every day and could never switch off.

However, I know that running my own business is the key to giving me more freedom than working for someone else ever would. I never have to ask for holiday, or if I can walk the dog in the middle of the day.

It’s immensely satisfying making a living doing something you love. I get to sit at home, in my pants, coming up with silly jokes and drawing birds in hats, while many of my friends are chained to their desks in mortal combat with an excel spreadsheet.

It’s not an easy way to make a living, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you had one piece of advice for a fellow artist, what would it be?

I’ve no idea who said it, but I strongly believe in the quote ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing – focus on what you’re doing and getting better at what you do.

I’ve fallen into the trap myself of seeing other artists getting results or deals that I’m not getting, and being envious of them, and maybe even trying to emulate them.

This is made harder by all the business advice that says you should be on social media all the time to grow your following. While you’re on social media you’ll undoubtedly see others with larger follower numbers than you and sharing the edited highlights of their lives and businesses – it’s unavoidable.

However, if you spend all your time scrolling on Instagram trying to grow your numbers, or fretting about what others are doing that you’re not, you’re not spending time designing, learning about business, or just having some down time.

It took me a while to learn this and if I could go back, I would redirect all that wasted energy and time into doing more designs and developing myself!

Also, I can recommend falling off ski jumps – it literally jump-started my new career…(Ok, I admit, that was not my best joke).

Good luck in the Henries Awards! What do you think you’ll do if you win?

If I win a Henries award I’ll probably try to enter the village art competition again to see if I can do better than third.