Introducing Annie Atkins

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Introducing Annie Atkins

You may have seen our recent announcement that we now represent renowned graphic designer Annie Atkins for her illustration and typographical work. She’s best-known for creating period and location-appropriate props that make up the ephemera of many a well-known film, including Grand Budapest Hotel and Bridge of Spies. Though she still keeps up with her illustrative work for other clients like Hendrick’s Gin and Korean make-up brand Hera.

But rather than us telling you all about her, we thought it might be better to ask her a few questions so she can tell us about herself in her own words. So, here’s Annie:

Was art always something you excelled in from a young age?

Both my parents were artists, so there was always a house full of paint and paper and glue and papier-mâché and various other nicely messy materials to keep me busy with as a kid. I loved playing with the leftover scraps of Letraset that my dad would bring home from the studio, and making treasure maps out of the sketchbooks they’d give me. I don’t know that I excelled at art, but I certainly loved it! 

What was your first break in the ad industry?

I worked for McCann Erickson in Reykjavik just after the turn of the millennium. That’s twenty years ago and the design aesthetic was very different then to what it is today – it would have been unheard of then to draw any kind of lettering with paint or a pencil, we were all truly enamoured with digital typesetting! I used a LOT of Helvetica. It was a great experience though, especially being in Iceland, everyone seemed so cool – lots of asymmetrical haircuts and a pool table in the middle of the studio. I thought I was the bee’s knees. 

How did you get started in prop design?

My first break in film was as the graphic artist on the third season of the series The Tudors, about the life of Henry VIII. I had to make all his royal scrolls and stained glass – coming from an advertising background I was very much thrown in at the deep end. But I just had to get on with it, the camera was rolling! Luckily, I had some great training on that show, and I’ve been working with physical, tactile materials ever since. 

Do you go to see films you work on and find yourself looking for your work in the background?

Yes, I’m always looking out for the pieces I make, but they usually get very little screen time – the camera stays mostly on the actor’s faces. It’s always thrilling to see a shot of a hero prop that I’ve made though – a ‘hero’ is what we call any prop that gets a close-up and has to tell a bit of the story by itself. 

You keep up with your ad industry work as well – do you pick clients you’d like to work with, or do they find you?

No, I never pick advertising clients, I’m just sometimes surprised by an email that lands in my inbox asking to collaborate. Sometimes a brand wants to do something a bit different, and I like to treat the process the same way that I approach my film design: that the pieces I make are for characters, rather than companies. 

Who would you say has been a major influence on your work?

All the long-dead and unknown craftspeople that have gone before me. The people who painted the signage up on the city walls, or who painstakingly type-set the wooden block letters on the printing presses, or who calligraphed letters for the kings. I love lettering from the vernacular – like the old shop signage that still exists all around us. Whenever I travel I take lots of photos of lettering to use as reference. And, of course, Dublin where I live is full of great material too – just walking to my studio every day I’m always marvelling at little bits of mosaic work or glass painting that I hadn’t noticed before.

How did your book – Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps, Designing Graphic Props for Film – come about? Do you have a follow-up planned?

I will never write another book as long as I live! No, I’m just joking, I loved writing that book, but it took four years, and I definitely feel like I need to be in the ‘making’ rather than ‘writing’ zone again now for a while. Ask me when I’ve got another fifty projects under my belt and I’m sure I’ll be ready to sit down and put pen to paper again. Fake Love Letters was great to write because I was giving people a look inside the process of making film props, but also telling some stories about what life on a film set is like, which was fun. It also has a lot of nice photos of the graphic props that I’ve made over the years that didn’t necessarily get a close-up in the movies, including a whole chapter on the wonderful and entirely fictitious land of Zubrowka, from The Grand Budapest Hotel.

What’s your answer when someone asks what you do for a living?

I say that every time you see a character in a movie read a newspaper, somebody, somewhere has to actually make that fake newspaper – and that’s me! 

What do you have lined up next?

I’m just finishing up on a new major motion pic, and ideally now I’d like to make some more interesting pieces for brands. As much as I love the movies, there is something very appealing about working on a product that people will be able to pick up and look at up close, rather than just seeing a glimpse of on the cinema screen. Everyone in film always swears though that “this is my last job!” and as soon as the phone rings we’re right back at it again. It’s nice to balance the two disciplines when I can.