September 2016

With an eye for the witty and ever so slightly out-there, art director and set designer Sandy Suffield's creations are sure to bring a smile to anyone's face. 

From cinched in waists and perfectly retro food slicers to pearl-filled bubble baths and dressed-up scarecrows, Suffield's portfolio is humorous, clever and vast but above all, accessible. We caught up with Sandy to find out more about her methodology, her ongoing project Things&People and what jovial idea is next in line.

You’re an art director, tell us about how you first got involved in this line of work? Did you grow up in an artistic environment?

It was something that I felt was unavoidable; being creative is in my genes. My Dad was an artist and my mum owned an art gallery in Blandford, Dorset. I grew up surrounded by wonderful British art from the twentieth century, including David Hockney prints, Lucie Rie ceramics, Bernard Leach pottery and Keith Vaughan and this certainly had an influence on me. We no longer have the gallery but growing up immersed in this certainly had a positive impact on my life.

What’s your design process? Where do you seek inspiration?

It’s really hard to say what my design process is because it’s such an instinctive thing. But if I had to put words to it, then I think my process is to whittle away at something – get rid of the superfluous stuff – until I find my end result. I previously worked for Pentagram Design and Apple so I learnt about the idea of “economising” a design or project to enable a clear message resonates. And then there are other, simpler, things like wit and colour which I always like to recreate in a piece of work.

I’ve worked as a set designer and graphic designer over the years and there’s a design process in both which overlap; for instance, trying to be as disciplined as much as possible.

All your projects are varied, what’s your favourite kind?

I enjoy set design and would like to do more of it; not just the final end product but the whole process, from conceptualisation to completion. But on the other hand I also like propping, styling and art directing; I like to do the whole gamut if I can but sometimes that’s not always possible.

Do you have a particular medium you like to work in?

Lots of people now work in a variety of mediums and I am no different. I do my set design, shoot myself and I’m a graphic designer. Technology is really helping everyone do new things; though I myself am not very tech-savvy, my camera is so I can achieve some extraordinary results.

Do you find you’re constantly taking photographs or are you good at balancing work with time off?

I’m certainly better than I used to be! I used to always have my camera on me, to a point where my nieces and nephews used to think my face were a camera! But I’m not like that anymore, I’ve got better.

How do you come up with your ideas as they’re all so varied?

In all honesty I just don’t know! I find the whole experience such a pleasure so in many ways it’s very organic. To me, they’re very silly ideas but the nice part about them is that they’re very democratic; everyone can enjoy them and I don’t think there’s anything too highfalutin. They really are a pleasure to make and I think that’s what really forms part of the work; they aren’t always prompted by commercial brief but are often created for pleasure and to bring a smile.

Your ongoing project, Things&People seeks to reveal what things mean to people. What would be your choice of object and can you tell us your reasoning behind this? 

Some cups and saucers from my mum.

The story behind it is long but it goes like this; my younger sister was getting married and so my eldest sister and I went to Covent Garden Flower Market to get flowers and we drove down to Dorset with a car full of flowers. When we got home we needed to find homes for the flowers; literally anything would do, including the rubbish bin, as we had so many blooms. My mum pulled down a massive Victorian ceramic bucket and she suddenly yelped. It transpires that she had hidden my Christmas present so well one year that she’d forgotten where it was! The present was four sets of tea cups and saucers, just from a charity shop, but she knew I’d find them beautiful. She was right. A couple of years later I actually found the exact same cups and saucers in The Design Museum (designed by David Harman Powell); what a find from my mum!

“Faking It” sought to reveal the trickery of food photography. What’s your best tip for creating delicious-looking food?

I did an awful lot of desktop research in the run-up to the shoot so I was aware of certain tricks of the trade, however I learnt most things from Jack Sargeson, a brilliant food stylist who worked on “Faking It” with me. Jack was instrumental in the success of the project; he made ice cream made from lard, icing sugar and food colouring and a roast beef joint look appealing. Of course, the reason behind this kind of trickery was because of the lights used in the past. They were so hot any food would simply melt under such conditions. We now have much more sophisticated lights to use on shoots so there is no longer the need to fake the food.

What can we expect to see from you next?

I’m currently shooting an allotment piece; I’m dressing up scarecrows in floral prints from a collaboration between Uniqlo and Liberty. I’m also working on the branding for a wearable as well as working towards a couple of new shoots. One is about what Elvis Presley used to eat; we’re sort of recreating Graceland but with his meals and the other is about fairground mirrors. I certainly can’t complain about being bored!