Daniel Eatock at his studio with his cat.

Daniel Eatock

Studio Visit

SCP’s editor Duncan Riches visits Daniel Eatock, artist and designer, in his Hackney home and studio. They discuss his working practice and his Rolling Pin Paintings, which are being featured in a specially commissioned window exhibition at SCP in December.

Where are you from?

I grew up near Bolton, in Lancashire, in a few different villages just outside Bolton. I came to London when I was 18, to go to Ravensbourne College, when it was in Chislehurst. I was there for three years and did my degree in Graphic Design, and straight after leaving Ravensbourne I went to the Royal College of Art and did a two-year MA. So I had a lot of design education, before that I had done a two year BTEC as well.

Daniel Eatock talks to Duncan Riches
View from the office room.

Where was creativity in your childhood?

Well, my mum was a typographer and my dad was a designer. So my dad did loads of work for Kellogs, so he designed Tony the Tiger, Coco Pops, and Snap Crackle and Pop and all that kind of stuff. I was born in 1975, and I have memories of going to my dad’s studio as a nine or ten year old in the mid-80s, way before computers, and seeing him drawing with pens, doing layouts, using machines for doing enlargements, and seeing a hands-on graphic design process. In the summer holidays and half-terms I would spend the day happily messing about in his studio making things, and watching him do stuff. I always wanted to be a graphic designer, but then I did my degree and had all these skills, and I thought maybe I don’t want to be a graphic designer, but it’s a bit late to say.

Then I went to the RCA, and I studied Communication Design, I met great people, the tutors felt like friends, and I went to a lot of different lectures from different departments, and it really feels like my practice took shape at the RCA. That’s where I first started to make work with felt-tip pens and then I started to reference things that I remembered from being a kid that my dad was making. My dad would use Magic Markers to do marker layouts, and he would remove the top layer, which he would then present to the client and the sheet underneath had all these blotchy marks, and I was like “wow”. It connected to the sheet that was above, but part of it was missing, so it was abstract, and I really loved them. So as a student I started to make work where I remove my hand from the process. I wasn’t using them as tools to make a drawing, I made these stands that would hold them (pens), and then the ink would seep through sheets of paper and work would materialise. Then my practice became more conceptual, more ideas based. I would try to find systems to generate work, rather than having to subjectively compose things.

After the RCA I moved to Minneapolis, and worked at a contemporary art gallery, The Walker Arts Center, and that was amazing. Then I came back and set up my studio, and it felt like London in 2000 was really happening, there was a nice bunch of people, it felt like everyone was supporting each other, not only within graphic design, but also in furniture design, people like Michael (Marriott), Martino (Gamper), Peter (Marigold), lots of the crowd that were associated with SCP or had come out of the RCA, were also in the same circles, there were lots of overlaps.

"It really feels like my practice took shape at the RCA. I started to make work where I remove my hand from the process."

Daniel Eatock

I started working in the design industry at that time, with Designersblock, Rory and Piers, at their show in St. Pancras in 2000.

I was in that show.

I totally forgot you were in that show. It was an incredible building. You are right, there was a lot of crossover then, there was a good feeling.

It was like full-on work. I remember I lived in my studio, and I kind of found who I was by making work. I was lucky in that I managed to meet Channel 4, and Channel 4 became more than a client, more like a friend.

Views around the studio, chair.
View from the window, Hackney rooftops and gardens.

Well you did the Big Brother Eye at this time right?

Yes, that was when I first came back from the States to London, and it was me collaborating with an architect, just the two of us in a studio in Bethnal Green. We exhibited in Milan at the Salone Satellite and met a woman who wanted to represent our furniture and she visited our studio. She said “I didn’t know you did graphic design as well as furniture”, and I said “I don’t really do furniture this is what I really do”. She said I should meet a friend who worked at Channel 4, I didn’t really think anything would come of it. The lady loved my work and we got on really well and she asked if I wanted to join a pitch to do the identity for Big Brother. I said yes, but I didn’t know what Big Brother was because I had been in America when the first series was on. So I asked her to send me the tape to review it. Her first prank with me was that she sent all of the tapes of the first series on VHS, this courier arrived from Addison Lee, and there must have been 200 or more tapes and boxes, because I had requested ALL the tapes. So she had put a call into the basement at Channel 4, saying, send him all the tapes, so they literally sent me everything. I watched one of them, and I thought there was no way I would win this. I could see that it had been the biggest TV programme of the previous year, and it was set up to become this epic thing, and I just sensed that I was not going to win. All the other agencies pitching were really big. So I just went to the pitch and did my thing. I went to the presentation and kind of performed it, I thought I’ve just got to enjoy it. Rather than treat it as a real thing, perform it. I shook everyone’s hands, said hello, and presented a bunch of conceptual ideas for each thing they required, a billboard, a title sequence, and so on. Two days later I got the call saying you’ve got it and I thought what does that mean, then we had to deliver it. So I basically had to make a studio overnight and that is how my studio was formed. It was just kind of bringing all my friends from the RCA together, and we did it. None of us had any kind experience in radio, adverts, in TV title sequences, we just made it up and did it.

"I basically had to make a studio overnight, so that is how my studio was formed. It was just kind of bringing all my friends from the RCA together, and we did it. None of us had any kind experience in radio, adverts, in TV title sequences, we just made it up and did it."

Daniel Eatock

To fast forward, my practice, as well as making commissioned work. Well, every commission I received, I was always trying to figure out how to deliver my work to satisfy the commissioner, but I really felt like it was my practice. I would have these conversations with Channel 4, where I would say, I am not really a designer, like the kind that would work in an agency. I always tried to be transparent, but they always said we don’t mind as long as you can deliver a billboard, and it performs its role, we don’t mind how you talk about it, or how you get to the result. So, that is what I did. I just saw it as part of my work, and I was making other work and exhibiting at the same time in museums and galleries, but gradually after about ten years the Channel 4 thing came to a natural conclusion, and I am where I am today, just making my own work. My first studio, when I was working with Channel 4, was called Foundation 33. Then I sold that agency to become part of an Ad Agency, with a woman called Kate Stammers, who is now head of Saatchi & Saatchi, and that was called Boys Meets Girl. That’s a funny part of my history, because it worked for me at the time, but creatively, nothing much happened there.

Are there key projects from the agency period that have particularly informed your working practice?

I think my outlook on life is that I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a long term plan, I don’t know what I am doing tomorrow, next week, or in one year. I try to be really spontaneous and live right now. I am observational, so I will do walks, runs, I will just look at things, I find that often I am responding to stuff, making things. Trying to create new ways of seeing familiar things. Combining two things that wouldn’t usually sit together, and then they feel right. Using materials in inappropriate ways to arrive at unexpected things. And that applies to exhibitions or paintings, or books, or anything really. I try to be as resourceful as possible, so the work that is in SCP, those didn’t start out as work. Those sheets were used as part of a process of making another work. It’s a bit like cooking, I don’t buy ingredients to make a certain meal from a recipe book, I just buy the good ingredients from the market, and then figure out how to combine them. Then at the end of the week you end up with all the bits leftover, and I think how can I combine those, but often that’s the best meal, because you have restrictions. I like embracing restrictions. Trying to maximise whatever is available, trying to do the most with the least amount of stuff.

Is there anything else about the work at SCP that we should know about?

I think that I should make one, well it’s difficult to make one, but a few. If we go downstairs in a bit, we could get three canvases and make smaller versions. I don’t know if they will work out, because it won’t be fully focused, but we could just play, and then at least I can reveal that process, you can capture it. Whether the final work is good who knows, but at least you will see the process. It can be a nice thing, it might help to describe it by doing, rather than words.

Do you have an ideal kind of working day?

Yes, I am quite dogmatic. I have a list of things I must do. I don’t call it work, I just call it part of living. But I feel like every day, I have to run. I will run my daughter to school, then run round Clissold Park, then round Hackney Downs, I do six miles every day. I’ve been running every day for about the last four years, and I found since doing that, I don’t get injured. If I feel tired, I just run slowly. I run the Hackney Half every year, at the beginning I was never interested in times, or places, I would just run it. Then suddenly, I saw my result, and I thought that’s quite good, I should see what happens if I train. But then I run every day, but I am not training for speed, but now I am still getting faster, every year, even though I am getting older.

Presumably you’ve read Murakami’s running book?

Yes, it’s great. Have you read Born to Run? That’s great. I am really interested in how running falls into my creative practice. By running, I feel like it gets all that anxiety and nervous energy, that’s kind of just dumped, and I come back after that run, and I feel totally grounded. Then I am able to deal with emails, and questions and things, I feel calm, there is no anger or frustration. That’s where I can really make work. If I think I am fighting the work. I think I feel angry, and the run just chills that out.

I totally agree. I have been in the habit of swimming a lot in the mornings, and I find the same, it kind of creates its own momentum for the day, then everything takes less time and is more smooth.

I think about all these things, I run, I meditate, and I think how am I going to take all this time from my day to do all these things? But I feel like they add time, but taking ten minutes out to meditate, it really puts you in a better space to be able to recognise things in the world, recognise to be present, to focus on breath, if I start getting anxious I recognise to breathe. You just save so much time by having these things in your working practice. So my day consists of a run, a breakfast, then usually I will start making something spontaneously, a painting, or some art project. Then I will park that while it dries, or I will leave that after an hour, and then I will do some computer stuff, which is usually responding to requests, about can I buy that, or send that, admin stuff, that will take up an hour. Then I will have some lunch, which is an important time. I make sure I cook lunch and spend time eating it. Then I will have a couple of hours before I pick up my daughter from school, and then when she is asleep I will spend a bit of time working in the evening.

Daniel Eatock studio room west wall.
Daniel Eatock studio room wall.

We move to the Studio room to talk while Daniel makes a few Rolling Pin Paintings.

I would like a space with bigger walls to hang things up, but it really works to work from the place I am living, I love that. We moved in 2012. I called them Rolling Pin Paintings, because the first one was done with a rolling pin. When I first started doing them during the pandemic, I was making diptychs, pairs of paintings. I would make two at a time, trying to make a dance, a bit like a DJ. I would make a mark, then another mark, and kind of respond. There was something about doing diptychs that really worked with the process, but now I tend to make them in batches. So even though they are all the same technique, I will explore different things. In my mind, I set up a different set of parameters for each batch.

Daniel Eatock in conversation.
Daniel Eatock beginning a Rolling Pin Painting.

Is colour important in these works?

Colour is really weird, because I feel like I use colour for the form, I don’t really know how to explain this because I am trying to figure this out, so bare with me. When I make a painting, I am not looking at the colours, I am looking at the shapes. The only reason I am using a colour palette is to differentiate the shapes. So, with the felt tip pen prints, I use all of the colours that the manufacturer puts in the set, in that one (on the wall) there are 92 colours, so I use all of them. It’s totally objective, I am not selecting. These (what he is working with) are all the paint colours that this manufacturer makes, I just tend to work with all of them. I tried to combine things that I find ugly, that don’t work, because I don’t want the work to be about colour, but I am aware that it is totally about colour. Because at the end, it’s only colour. But I like the colours when things overlap. Like I am not really into any of the colours, but I like this colour, and this colour (pointing at sections of a painting where two colours overlap to make a new one). So it’s a bit like when you make a meal and you have your potatoes and whatever goes with it, but that little bit of mustard or something is really necessary, but if it was a big plate of mustard you wouldn’t be able to eat it. With colour, it’s a bit like that. It’s like finding the conditions where things work together. I don’t really mix colours to try to make a colour, I just use colour straight from the manufacturer’s tube and then the rolling creates these overlaps that then have nice colours in there.

"When I make a painting, I am not looking at the colours, I am looking at the shapes. The only reason I am using a colour palette is to differentiate the different shapes."

Daniel Eatock

Are there any projects, or particular things you are looking forward to in the next period?

No. There’s not actually. I like every day. I think as long as I can continue. It’s a bit ridiculous the amount of satisfaction I get from making these paintings. It is in relation to other things in life. They don’t all work, but I just feel like it’s a nice challenge each time I make it. Is this one going to come out alright? Is it a good one or not? There are three strands of work, there are the Rolling Pins, the Felt-Tip Pens, and I also do something with Clip-Frames, where I put paint between the glass and the MDF backing board. Part of my enjoyment is to invent a process, or a way of making work, and then just mastering it. Just keep playing and playing with it.

Maybe my aims are to just help my daughter to grow healthy and well, I would like to run a marathon in under 3 hours, soon. I think these are the biggest aims and the work fits around it. I am really happy to have it in SCP because I don’t have a design practice anymore, it can be quite complicated to work out how to sell a lot of paintings.

"It’s a bit ridiculous the amount of satisfaction I get from making these paintings. It is in relation to other things in life. They don’t all work, but I just feel like it’s a nice challenge each time I make it."

Daniel Eatock
Daniel Eatock pointing out a colour he enjoys.
Daniel Eatock studio portrait.

A big thank you to Daniel for welcoming us into his studio and for taking the time to talk.

Daniel Eatock Collection