Anthony Burrill: Working Hard and Being Nice to People

Anthony Burrill describes himself as a ‘persuasive, up-beat illustrator and designer’. Today at TYPO London, the softly spoken man took us on a fantastic journey through his eclectic career to date; regaling stories of letter-pressing in the “ancient” town of Rye, printing a poster using the crude oil from the disastrous BP spill of 2006 BP and why we should “Work Hard and Be Nice to People”.

Anthony Burrill, photo © Gerhard Kassner
In fact, it is easy to believe that Burrill himself lives by this very motto. On stage, Burrill’s softly spoken personality embodies the sentiment of possibly his best-known work (the “Work Hard and Be Nice To People” poster). Drawn from an old saying Burrill heard, the poster went on to be a huge viral hit across the globe. Freely admitting to often ‘Googling himself’ (after all, who doesn’t?), Burrill showed us a glimpse of the reach of the poster – “from Mums to fashion bloggers” and even one individual getting a tattoo of the design.

It is impossible not to like Burrill when he speaks. His passion for his work is tangible, as is his love for all things analogue – something deliciously refreshing in our modern digital age. Throughout his talk at TYPO today, one constant thread was his love for making things by hand. Letterpress is a passion that has taken him across the globe to the bright lights of Los Angeles and Rio, Brazil, and by stark contrast, to the most unlikely place in his local village of Rye in Kent. After seeing a letter-pressed poster for a local florist in a shop window near his home in Rye, Burrill discovered a local printer creating these posters with a exquisite set of letterpress. Ten years later, Burrill and the printer are still working together.

Anthony Burrill

Anthony Burrill

Anthony Burrill has gained a following in the design world for his innovative collaborations with friends and fellow artists, designers, print-makers and film-makers. Burrill works across a range of media, including posters, moving image and three-dimensional work. His persuasive, up-beat illustration and design has been commissioned by cultural, social and commercial clients around the world from New York, to London to Tokyo. He combines an instinctive handling of colour and composition with a witty approach to words. He has worked on advertising campaigns and posters for clients such as The Economist, the British Library and London Underground. He regularly collaborates with musicians and animators to make films, music promos and animations, using his distinctive visual vocabulary and passion for fusing sound and image. His installations and 3-D work have been commissioned by Colette in Paris and The Design Museum in London among others. Printmaking is an important part of Burrill’s practice and he creates limited edition prints with slogans including “Work Hard and Be Nice to People” that have become mantras for the design community and beyond.
As his talk drew to a conclusion, Burrill spoke about the background of one of his most popular works, the ‘Oil and Water Do Not Mix’. Commissioned by  advertising agency ‘Happiness Brussels’, the crude oil and sand was collected from the sealed off beach in Lousiana (while the security were on lunch break), and used the them as the ink for the screened printed posters. With all the benefits of the posters going to Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, I get the definite feeling the Burill is definitely Working Hard and Being Nice to People.

By Paul Woods