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From Sketching and Stretching, to Boxed Wine and Old Signs with Spencer Pidgeon

Photo credit: Rachel Sanvido

It recently came to light that the common denominator of several of our favourite BC business’ current brand designs – think, Nonny, Oide, and Working Culture – is Spencer Pidgeon.

With that in mind, we reached out to the Vancouver-based graphic designer with the hope that, through our series of questions, we could glean some of the creativity and ‘special something’ that makes whatever Pidgeon touches resonate with us so perfectly on a visual and visceral (appetite-inducing) level.

First things first: what’s your background? Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in Vancouver doing what you do?

I’m originally from Toronto, but I grew up in Calgary and went to Victoria for university. I finally settled in Vancouver around 10 years ago. I originally moved here to go to architecture school, but quickly realized that graphic design was more what I wanted to do. I worked for various brands and agencies over the years, including Glasfurd & Walker and Very Polite, where I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects in food & beverage, hospitality and retail. I eventually made the leap to start my own practice in 2022, and it’s been a great experience so far.

When you aren’t wielding a pen or brush (real or virtual), how do you like to spend your time?

When I’m not working, I’m usually outside – trail running, cycling, skiing, etc. I’ve learned that time spent in nature is an important part of my work – I’ll be thinking about a certain drawing or project while I’m out there and it allows me to focus my thoughts and come back with a clear mind.

You seem to have a knack for connecting with good people. When it comes to creative/collaborative partnerships, what’s your criteria?

A big motivating factor in starting my own practice was to develop positive, collaborative relationships with my clients and work with more like-minded people. I think branding and design is valuable work, but I find that some people take it too seriously. I like working with people who are passionate about what they do but can still have fun with it. I think approaching each project with an open, collaborative mindset makes the work more enjoyable.

Working with such awesome food/beverage-related brands must (hopefully!) have their perks…Talk to us about some of the tasty benefits of working with folks like Nonny, Oide, Working Culture, etc.

Beyond the obvious perk of great coffee and non-alcoholic beer, a big perk of working with these brands has been the personal relationships I’ve built from them. Leigh and Lane from Nonny are two of my closest friends, and bringing that project to life with them has been one of the best experiences of my career so far. It’s not only been great for scaling my business, but it’s taken me on countless camping trips, kayak trips, bike races and more, all with several Nonnys in tow.

Photo credit: Spencer Pidgeon

You seem super dialled into the F&B industry in general. What’s your personal connection?

I worked in restaurants growing up, which definitely opened my eyes to how branding can influence the dining experience. I also had the opportunity to help create some great restaurant brands during my time at Glasfurd & Walker, including Di Beppe, Pepino’s and Flourist, from which I developed a real affinity for food & beverage branding. Since starting my own practice, I definitely gravitate towards that type of work and I only hope to do more. There’s something really satisfying about seeing people interact with my work in real life, whether that’s dining at a restaurant I worked on, drinking a Nonny at the park or walking down the street wearing a t-shirt I’ve designed.

What’s your favourite meal? On a perfect day, where are we and what are we eating? Please set the scene for us.

I’d have to say lunch, preferably outside – a cold cut sandwich with spicy dill potato chips and a coffee (or a crispy beer depending on the vibe).

Your aesthetic seems to somehow tap into retro aesthetics while also being cutting edge, which is impressive! Your work never seems stale or forced. Do you have a ‘go to’ resource and/or era for inspiration? Alternatively, what was the last unexpected or unusual thing that inspired you?

I’m definitely inspired more by old things than new things. Obviously Instagram is extremely valuable in terms of finding inspiration and staying up to date, but it has its many downsides. One of my favourite analog sources of inspiration is old signage – there’s always something imperfect or unexpected in the typography that is so hard to pin down. I also love looking at old record sleeves, film title cards and illustrated children’s books.

How do you delineate between your personal and professional aesthetic? Is it important to you that there is a disparity there / that you keep some of your personal creativity for yourself?

It’s all connected for me – my personal work inspires my client work and vice versa. I treat each project as an opportunity to create more of the type of work I want to be hired to do.

Name the local business (or businesses) that you’d like to rebrand?

Sal y Limon, Pizza Garden, La Grotta del Formaggio (with all due respect).

How about another local artist/branding that you think is killing it in the branding department?

There are plenty of talented folks in Vancouver that I think are making great work, not just in branding: Rachel Sanvido (design), Charles Nasby (photo/video), Bree Avery (photo), Zack Shoom (design/illustration), Grady Mitchell (photo), Shiloh Sukkau (objects/architecture), A1 Studio (furniture).

Imagine for us a non-existent business, service or product that you’d love to do the branding for. What is it?

I’d love the opportunity to make a cool instant coffee or boxed wine brand. I also hope to paint more murals and illustrate a children’s book in the near future.

In addition to a bunch of hella cool small, independent businesses, you’ve also worked with some big guns. Is there still such a thing as “selling out”? Why is or isn’t it so bad to work with big businesses to make them look cooler (and make a bigger buck, we assume, as a result)? Where do you draw the line?

If there is such a thing as selling out, I haven’t done it yet! I don’t see anything inherently wrong with working for big brands unless their values don’t fundamentally align with my own. There’s always an opportunity to improve what’s out there, and at this point in my career I can’t say there are too many brands I’d walk away from.

Photo credit: Spencer Pidgeon

Okay, let’s talk merch: over the past several years, it seems like everyone does it; it’s an extension of every brand – from grocery stores to barber shops, restaurants, cafes and delis…Thoughts? How has this affected you, and where do you see this trend heading next?

T-shirts are definitely the thing I get asked to design the most. Thankfully most of my clients let me do my thing rather than being tied too closely to existing brand guidelines or a personal vision. That being said, merch is usually pretty short-lived. In my opinion, it’s a lot more valuable for businesses to invest in an overall brand identity and a unique illustration style that can grow with them in a more sustainable way than a one-off t-shirt ever could.

The list of services that you offer is long. What’s your favourite part of your multifarious job? What about the most annoying aspect?

I love that I get to draw for a living. One downside is that I now have way too many graphic tees to fit in my drawer.

Favourite thing to doodle?

My sketchbooks are filled with people standing and stretching in weird positions.

What’s your favourite place to sit (or stand) and sketch?

Probably in my camp chair at the park or listening to music on an airplane.

Image via @MagicForestDayCamp.

Lastly, think back: what’s the brand that most captures your childhood experience?

I remember going to a day camp as a kid in Toronto called Magic Forest, where we got these t-shirts with an illustrated logo of a forest with a squirrel and a raccoon. Maybe that’s been a subconscious inspiration all along.

  • Nonny_BrainShirt_02
  • Nonny_SnackLand_Mural
  • Nonny_Sticker
  • 0032_###
  • Oide_ToteBag_01
  • Oide_ToteBag_Sketch
  • 0029_7
  • WC_Logo_Blob_Blue
  • WorkingCulture_Portfolio

There are 3 comments

  1. Spencer, it’s great to hear the back story that brings about your inspired creativity! Thalia, your gift for asking the questions is the precise touch that brings this all together.

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