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Bob Byrne: ‘Always finish what you start but know when to walk away from something’

Bob Byrne is an Irish freelance illustrator and product designer living in Murcia Spain. Since founding Clamnuts design studio 20 years ago, Bob has developed his company in a myriad of directions…
Tell us a bit about how you started as an illustrator and designer and your early creative influences.

My Dad who is an old school sign writer and designer was and still is a great influence on me. Meet the Garden Gang and a cartoon called Milton the Monster were also massive inspirations. I grew up in 1980’s Dublin with all of the UK comics but then I moved to Canada when I was nine and I was blown away by all of the different comics. It was crazy!

I left school at 17 and worked menial jobs while making comics in my free time. I eventually fibbed my way into a ‘design’ job and I couldn’t believe my luck to be sitting inside at a desk (as opposed to unloading trucks in the rain) and with access to a decent PC and scanner. I never went to college, but that place was as close as it got in terms of learning. Like the Beatles in Hamburg, it was a place to develop stamina and speed.

Tell us about the work you do now and what a typical work week looks like.

My main focus is an animated series called Moku Mundo. I want it to be something that frazzled parents can genuinely enjoy with their kids. I created ALL of the art in Affinity Designer.

I start the week like Bruce Lee and end it like, I don’t know…Shane MacGowan. No week is ever the same, but Monday and Tuesday I am like a monk…then the rest of the week it gets progressively sloppy.

I live in semi-rural Spain and there is always some distraction. One day there was a little piglet outside my door so that was another morning lost.

Can you explain a little about your creative process? Do you start working by hand and then transfer to digital?

These days it’s all digital. Pens really dry up faster in Spain and believe it or not that has pushed me more into digital. Although over the past month I have been using a sketchbook again because as soon as my 2-year-old sees the iPad, he wants to make a pizza in the Peppa Pig app!

You’ve published quite a few comic books and graphic novels over the years, which titles are your most proud of?

Mister Amperduke. The art is glorified stickmen in parts, but I re-read it last year for the first time in a decade and I loved it!

I had forgotten lots of it, so it was genuinely like reading a new book. I’m working on a prequel but it’s something I would need to immerse myself in full time and stop all my other antics.

“Amperduke” created by Bob Byrne
You also create a lot of apps and animated projects. What are your favourite projects to date and what is it you like about this kind of work?

The Dr. Moku Japanese system is something which I will always be proud of because I have received loads of heartfelt messages from people who were in a genuine tizzy before a Japanese exam. A trip to Japan and my apps saved them.

Tell us a little about Dr Moku and what inspired your love of languages?

I always wanted to understand Japanese so I went to night classes, but I was incredibly bad at it. I abandoned the course out of shame!

I just couldn’t remember the basic Japanese characters, so I turned each Japanese character into little mnemonic drawings. When I moved to Spain, I bashed it into a primitive iPhone app and it gradually grew into a solid business.

Examples of the Dr Moku learning card set.

I’m working on a Korean and Arabic version which uses the same methodologies and something else which can give you a massive boost in grappling Spanish, French and Italian.

How did you hear about Affinity and what inspired you to start using our apps?

I’m always mooching around for new graphics apps. I vividly remember jolting upright when I pulled my first gradient in Affinity Designer 1.4, but it wasn’t until version 1.5 that I fell head over heels in love. I have been using it every day since 1.5 and it just gets better.

They just feel right. The apps have a certain quality about them which I really cannot describe.

A comic book panel created by Bob for the Designer for iPad beta.
What features do you find most useful in your workflow?

So many. Right now I use Styles, Symbols and Assets a lot while creating Moku Mundo. I can rapidly draw a character, slap a style on it and then drag in reusable Assets like mouths and hands.

People who see me working full speed in Affinity Designer are appalled. It really is amazing how much material you can churn out when you are vibing and happy.

Bob Byrnes Twisted Tales spread from 2000AD.
How does Affinity work alongside the other software you use, for example when creating your animation?

The JSON export to Spine is amazingly good.

Bob working with Affinity Designer for iPad and Spine.

There are loads of things that I would love to see tweaked in Affinity Designer’s Export settings. Making ‘selection without background’ as the default would be a huge timesaver. Unbelievably so. I don’t think many people want to export .pngs with backgrounds.

For Affinity Designer 2.0 you shouldn’t be getting stressed about developing new features…just refine the current user experience and tweak the defaults.

You’ve recently taken up using Publisher for print design layout, can you tell us about the projects you’ve worked on and what you have in the pipeline?

I’ve been pacing my studio like a pudgy, caged tiger waiting for Publisher so I can start creating card and board games. I made a couple of books within the first weeks of the Beta of Publisher.

I have also restarted making the Mister Amperduke prequel graphic novel from scratch since Publisher came out. I haven’t perfected the workflow yet but I’ll crack it.

Scribble Scrimmage Activity Book created in Affinity Publisher.
Tell us about the tabletop game you have in development.

I just sent off my first physical board game to the manufacturer this week! STEM Family Battle is a trivia-style game for the whole family.

STEM Family Battle board game.
STEM Family Battle board game.

Making the 200 question cards in Affinity Publisher was a dream because now I can harness the power of Affinity Designer through StudioLink.

“Making the 200 question cards in Affinity Publisher was a dream because now I can harness the power of Affinity Designer through StudioLink.”

I used to design products for the giftware industry so I have a lot of experience in sourcing and dealing with manufacturers.

The other game is called Day Trip to Hearsay which was inspired by a disturbing ‘keeping up with appearances’ story about a friend’s mum. The player needs to unravel a rumour using logic, the learned traits of the other passengers and the clues in the particular story.

I am going to crowdfund that one because I could include little figurines and even make a stop-motion style video game on top of the board game if it goes well.

There are a couple of other physical, educational products in development too.

What achievement in your illustration career are you especially proud of?

I’d have to say it was when I met a comic artist who was a massive inspiration to me and he knew who I was and had seen and liked my work.

I haven’t appeared at a comic show since. I feel like that and a few other things just checked off comics for me. I will get back into creating comics next year though.

Last but not least, what would be your advice for would-be illustrators?

There are loads of platitudes and clichés which are of course solid advice in their own right but here is my nugget of wisdom. It probably won’t make sense straight away but take it from a grizzled vet of the graphics and life game:

‘Always finish what you start but know when to walk away from something.’

About the creator

Bob Byrne is an Irish freelance illustrator and product designer. Since founding Clamnuts design studio 20 years ago with its roots in Irish underground comic and zine culture, Bob has expanded his company to encompass the Dr Moku language learning apps and product range, animations and illustration for top brands such as Cadbury and mobile game development, with more products and apps on the horizon. Bob has been involved in the development of Affinity products from the early days, with his feedback and experience helping shape the apps.

You can see more of Bob’s work on the Clamnuts website and Twitter.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All artwork in this article is copyright © of Bob Byrne and used with permission.