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Livery designer Joshua Stedford: ‘cars are my canvas with a turbocharger attached’

Having spent 15 years designing liveries as a hobby, in 2020, Joshua Stedford decided it was time to take the plunge and focus on turning his lifelong passion into a career. He chats to us about starting his own business, the creative process behind his work and more.
Joshua, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 24 years old, a lifelong car enthusiast from South London, and a self-taught Livery Designer. I started my business, Livery Magic, in January 2022. Alongside designing vehicle wraps, I also design branding packages and logos for new businesses, and I do quite a lot of work with charities in the healthcare sector too.

What led you to specialise in livery design?

I’ve been designing liveries in video games ever since I was about six years old. It captured my love for cars and graphic design within a single place, so I was instantly hooked!

Back then, livery editors in video games were much, much more basic than they are now, but it didn’t stop me from doing it as a hobby for years; starting off with early Need For Speed titles and then progressing my skills to newer driving games.

Eventually, in 2020 (still doing livery design as a hobby whilst working as a Marketing Assistant), I found my skills outgrowing the limitations of a video game editor. It was time to move my passion to the desktop. I was made redundant around February 2020 or so, and it felt like the perfect time to turn my passion/hobby into a career.

I used the entire lockdown and the majority of the pandemic to learn everything I possibly could about Affinity Designer, how to become a livery designer, and how to run a successful small business. I drew and researched and practiced like crazy until January 2022, when I officially established Livery Magic as a business.

What are the most important factors to consider with vehicle livery design?

Imagination, studying the car’s body shape closely, and understanding your client’s wants and needs. Just like logo design or any other creative medium, every great design starts with inspiration; something that gets those creative neurons firing. Having a loose plan, and some creative direction before beginning a livery will make the process run much smoother.

As for studying the car’s body shape, this is a really important one. Unlike a flat canvas, every single car is different, and identifying opportunities for logos to sit or areas to avoid is absolutely critical. For example, a car with really wide aftermarket fenders will distort any logo/sponsor you slap over it, so either avoid those areas or study the photos of the real car closely to make it work.

“Unlike a flat canvas, every single car is different, and identifying opportunities for logos to sit or areas to avoid is absolutely critical.”

But on the flip side, some cars have larger-than-usual areas—c-pillars, for example (the area behind the rear quarter window and beneath the rear window), which are excellent places for minor sponsors to sit! So it works both ways.

And lastly, the client’s requirements. Some commissioned liveries will be simple, clean, and uncluttered. Others will be completely wild with characters, gradients, and goodness knows what else! So, establishing the client’s desires early on will make early drafts more accurate to their vision, and you can figure out the best way to get the livery printed onto the real car. You can give them and yourselves a fairer quote too, because you’ll know exactly how much work is required to complete the design—it’s a win-win.

Can you talk us through the creative process behind your work?

The first step to creating a livery is preparing an excellent vehicle template. For my social media posts, I create them from scratch within Affinity Designer; creating my own reflections, wheels, outlines and more.

For client work (i.e., designing a livery to be printed), I often purchase a blueprint for my client’s vehicle, then modify it to perfectly resemble the car and accommodate any aftermarket modifications. This saves time and money, and it means a template can be both accurate and relatively attractive.

Once the template is ready, I begin the livery using inspiration from either my own research or my client’s feedback. On average, they undergo between three and nine revisions before the livery is finalised.

Which part of the process do you enjoy most and why?

The middle of the livery design process, when everything starts to come together. At the beginning, it’s natural to have a couple of doubts; wondering if the livery concept you’ve developed is a bit boring or too wild. But there comes a point where you decide on a layout, a colour palette, and a theme, and you think: “That’s it. We’ve got magic”. This is the best part of the process by far! Then the doubts disappear, and you can continue to refine the livery until it’s absolutely perfect.

How do you find using Affinity Designer to create your designs?

In a word, brilliant. Above all else, I can trust the software to get the job done. It’s affordable, powerful, and once you learn about the most important features, easy to use. Once you’ve learned the basics, the advanced tools are excellent as well. Some of my templates and liveries can get pretty complex, but Affinity Designer handles them with aplomb. I run the software on Windows (I have done so ever since February 2020), and I’ll definitely continue to do so.

“Some of my templates and liveries can get pretty complex, but Affinity Designer handles them with aplomb.”

Do you have any favourite features?

I use the Pen Tool in pretty much every project, so that’s the first feature that came to mind! But there’s plenty more. Programming my own shortcuts in Affinity Designer saves a lot of time and streamlines a lot of processes, and the swatches make it easy to develop colour palettes for each livery (or company for logo designs). A shoutout to the Transparency Tool as well, which allows me to create more subtle, matte-like reflections in the Designer Persona.

How have you honed your style and skills over the last couple of years?

Via practice, studying the work of my peers, studying famous liveries, and then practicing again! At the beginning, I experimented with a lot of different styles; determining which ones were popular, what techniques didn’t work, and what felt true to my personal style. But only recently have I found my signature style: minimalism in livery design.

Whilst I can do more complex liveries, my best designs are actually very simple and focussed on the fundamentals: decal placement, a suitable colour palette, and plenty of negative space for all the elements to breathe. This is true of legendary Motorsport designs from history too, such as the Marlboro and Rothmans designs which are beloved worldwide.

I kept those three fundamental points in mind throughout the last quarter of 2022, and I feel much happier with my newer, cleaner style.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an artist, and how have you overcome them?

Definitely imposter syndrome. Many, many other graphic designers have experienced this too; doubting their own skills, talents, or accomplishments. To overcome it, I tried to counter my negative thoughts with a positive one (a cognitive behavioral therapy technique), and kept practicing and improving, in many ways to prove to myself I could really do this at a high level.

Finding my own style and self-teaching the craft wasn’t easy either. There isn’t a teacher, classmate or grade to determine how much progress you’re making, so naturally, you compare yourself to your peers and competition. This can lead to a bit of a spiral, wondering if ‘you’ll ever be that good’ or similar; often being a precursor to imposter syndrome.

That last point is difficult, but I stuck at it, persisted with my dream job, and kept practicing. Over time, I got better and better and the gap between myself and my competition got smaller and smaller.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

The first livery I ever designed for print. Before 2022, I’d designed stickers and such for cars, but never a fully-blown livery ready for print, let alone for a car as expensive as the Audi R8 LMS. But it was an opportunity of a lifetime, so I jumped in the deep end, poured my heart into this asymmetrical design, and the risk paid off!

Other than that, starting Livery Magic in the first place. Going from a 6-year-old designing liveries in Need For Speed to doing it for real cars 18 years later never ever gets old.

“Going from a 6-year-old designing liveries in Need For Speed to doing it for real cars 18 years later never ever gets old.”

Joshua’s livery design for the Audi R8 LMS
Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about, and do you have any long-term goals?

Last year, I completed plenty of bespoke liveries for a lot of international clients, and most of them will be applied and printed early this year, so I’m really looking forward to seeing some of these liveries out in the wild!

Overseas, there’s a very large car show coming up in which a Livery Magic design may make an appearance, so I’m very excited about that! And possibly a chance to share my career experience as an influencer at another event as well.

As for long-term goals, it’s a huge list! But to sum them up, I just want to get even better! Despite being great at what I do, I still have lots and lots to learn. For example, I’d love to get more practice with the Pixel Persona. I’m pretty much a vector design expert at this point but haven’t trained as much with pixel-based artwork.

Finally, do you have any advice for others thinking of starting their own creative business?

I’d recommend doing plenty of research beforehand and essentially not skipping any steps. Determine what your specialty is, what software and hardware you’ll need, what the competition looks like, and how you’ll make a decent living from your dream job. But with research, hard work, patience, and practice, you can absolutely start your own creative business and make the dream a reality.

“With research, hard work, patience, and practice, you can absolutely start your own creative business and make the dream a reality.”


To see more of Joshua’s work, visit his website or check out his Instagram or Pinterest accounts.