Graphically Binding Fibers: An Interview With Velcrobelly aka David McClure

Distinctiveness identifies artists and is prevalent in the insanely vibrant and ever-expanding world of graphic art. Taking in pieces, whether physically or digitally and stating with ease who they belong to is a credit to the innovative pack. I first noticed David McClure of Velcrobelly's boldly striking, with an appreciation of Sci-Fi campaigns for the Tyneside Cinema and then Northern Stage. David remembers, "The touring programme for Hound of the Baskervilles was also the first time I talked with you if memory serves!" Wanting to travel back, I got ready to discover more from my productive pal.

There was no a eureka moment or lightning bolt for David and his calling for a life in illustrating, but when he was a lad in school, his heart ached when his drawings on the classroom wall were no longer displayed. He recalls, “I grew up on a dairy farm, and the ONLY thing I drew was Massey Ferguson tractors. My teacher was understandably sick of the sight of them. She gently suggested that expanding my repertoire beyond agricultural equipment might be rewarded with exhibition space. So, I start to draw other things and devote more time to it.”

Art grew into a vital part of who he was, an aid to functionality, and his pictures reigned supreme on the wall once more. “I didn’t know what a career in art could be until I was at University. Schools careers advice was a half-hour class each week, spent rifling through dusty punch cards, all of which suggested joining the army,” he muses.

Over many seasons, his artistic tastes have shifted, as have the people who influenced them. Our Town's creative population, including myself, spotted the maker's work for the Tyneside Cinema. “I would say cinema has had the most impact, specifically, the intro sequence to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, whichwas a massive influence during my graphic design degree. I watched that film on VHS continually – and still have the tape. Cinematography continues to resonate in my work, and particularly in how I use colour.”

A calling came to McClure and the urge to grow his company, Velcrobelly, in late 2001. He managed to slot this alongside another job with a small design studio. "Within a few years, I was able to sustain myself full-time. I didn’t have any lofty goals, but I did want creative autonomy; I wanted to offer clients a high standard service. Situated at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle upon Tyne, David relocated in 2012, after working from home. He continues, "Thanks to Covid-19, that’s where I’ve been working from for most of 2020. But I hope to be back in the Factory soon."

Most of the creator's clients are in arts, culture and hospitality. He covers a broad range of design from logos, marketing materials, key art, advertising and some web layouts, designing everything from pin badges to building wraps. "The Hound of The Baskervilles was my first project for Northern Stage, where I had creative input in the key art, which was exciting and fulfilling. And it was an opportunity to use drawing techniques I’d been developing in personal projects," McClure proudly affirms.

"The Luminaries was my final project for Tyneside Cinema after 16 years as their graphic designer. As part of their 80th anniversary, a leading director – a luminary – would have a month-long film season dedicated to their work." The challenge was to design a framework for eight seasons when only the first luminary, Alfred Hitchcock, had been programmed."

"The main image for each season was composed in a circular motif, with characters from each film encircling the luminary. The designs were meticulously assembled. I totally enjoy image layouts like this – they’re like box-moving puzzles in a video game – shuffling pieces around until you find the right balance of shapes and shadow to unlock the treasure. With eight distinct programmes, some visual puzzles were tougher than others, but I think they made for a memorable sign-off."

With centuries of book publishing, there is an abundance of well-documented typography techniques and best practice to learn, taking this on board, McClure has savoured completing a number over the years: "Something is satisfying about designing a layout which no one will really notice if it’s done well."

"With Tyne View for New Writing North, I worked closely with author Michael Chaplin and his creative co-authors to design an illustrated book that I think captures their experience of walking along the Tyne. It’s a hefty book with some nice visual storytelling if I do say so myself."

Because his studio stands proud in the heart of the city, David mulls over our cultural scene that fizzes and flows with innovation and raises each other lathered in support. He shares, "I really love what Nowt Special is doing, and I’ve been lucky enough to participate a few times. Each exhibition is a great showcase for local artists and illustrators to display and sell their work. That talent pool feeds a strong cultural network which is particularly active on social platforms." Coming on to his favoured venue of our area, David thinks, "I’d have to say the Laing Art Gallery. Their permanent collection is great evergreen viewing. They can attract excellent touring exhibitions too."

For pleasure, the thriving dream catcher usually has an illustration or painting in progress in his leisurely moments. "The line between work and play is pretty blurred for me most of the time. If a personal piece is good, I’ll pop it into my shop." He confesses that he is terrible at describing what he makes. "I don’t consciously think about it all that much, but I have noticed that a lot of my pieces contrast darkness and colour. Sometimes that’s literally bright colours against a black line drawing, while at other times macabre-tinged subjects that are contrasted with really joyous, saturated colour.”

"I think you can see that contrast in pieces like Cosmic Soup and Remix of The Void. Both have skull imagery and an underlying cosmic horror-ish influence that could be super angsty. I like to think the abundance of bright colour subverts the mood or leaves it open to personal interpretation."

David started painting this summer as a means to not stare at a screen all day. We end our catch up with him diving into his recent creations and taking a peek at what may be in store for the New Year. "I’ve mostly been painting portraits of young women in a pop-arty sort of style, exploring colour and gradually introducing fantastical elements as I experiment and progress. 2021 is going to be a challenging year. Like so many self-employed folks, I have some difficult decisions to make. Whatever happens, I’ll continue to illustrate, paint and create."

Article by Beverley Knight