Today, meet the graphic designer & illustrator behind Fried Cactus Studio. The talented Aron Leah joins us to chat about how he found his unique style and client-base, and why it’s so important for creatives to step away from the computer, slow down, and work smarter.
Hello, my name is Aron and I’m a freelance commercial artist from Bournemouth, UK with a passion for the coffee and the outdoors. I freelance under Fried Cactus Studio where I am able to work with a wide variety of lifestyle clothing brands and businesses within the food and beverage industry.
Tell us about yourself and where you work. How did you get started in design?
I currently work in my studio above a coffee shop just a short bike ride from where I live. I moved in very recently and I’ve tried to keep the studio fairly simple and free of too much clutter. It’s also on the third floor and is quiet, which I like.
I’m completely self-taught, and couldn’t be prouder of that. Having always been heavily influenced by music and the BMX/surf/skate industry, I found myself immersed in this lifestyle and took an interest in the brands within that culture. I also spent a long time working in the coffee industry and traveling to warmer climates during the winter.
I began working as a graphic artist for a lifestyle clothing brand where I honed my skills as a designer. This is where I learned the importance of how my illustrations could help form a really thoughtful product. I started getting requests for logo design and became obsessed with learning the rules and etiquette of logo and brand identity design.
I started Fried Cactus Studio as a way to tip the scales from 9-5 to full-time creative freelancer.
What helped me develop my own style was taking inspiration from personal experiences, finding ways to strip those ideas back to give them more meaning, and working with the constraints of design and application. As my client list grew, so did the projects, and I started working with various brands on full collections. It was a truly collaborative effort which made the process all the more enjoyable.
I started Fried Cactus Studio as a way to tip the scales from 9-5 to full-time creative freelancer. It has now allowed me to collaborate with different businesses, mostly in the food and beverage industry and this opened me up to working on full brand identities. The studio continues to grow and I couldn’t be happier and more grateful to everyone who has supported me and the awesome people I get to collaborate with.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
The most enjoyable part for me is that every project is different and I get to really understand the client’s life journey up until the point we connect. Then, the aim is to craft something that they really connect with and ultimately their audience will connect with.
Most recently, I have been working with clothing brands on full season collections. This is so great for a couple of reasons: One being that there is always way more drawing involved. Secondly, I get to think more about how my work forms the collection and how it can be used on different garments and applications. I’m proud to have some work dropping soon with New Era which both the client and I are really happy with.
I also focus on logo design which is great because I get to really simplify my work and think about how design functions in different locations. Currently, I’m working on an identity for a coastal based coffee roaster in the UK.
What else are you passionate about outside design? How does it influence your work?
I’ve always been an advocate for keeping both the mind and body healthy. It’s definitely been a personal struggle of mine and freelance design tends to make it a little more difficult to maintain. So, I try to keep things simple. In between client projects, I try to work on personal illustrations with messages about positivity and taking life a little bit slower.
Surfing is really important to me, it’s one of those sports that you can’t do all the time. The conditions have to be right but it’s always worth the wait and it really lets you be present in the moment. I also recently picked up bike packing. Going on long bike rides and brewing up coffee in the middle of nowhere is such a great feeling. Sometimes I draw when I’m there and sometimes I don’t.
In between client projects, I work on personal illustrations with messages about positivity and taking life a little bit slower.
Everything I like to do is a form of physical activity, in a quiet environment…usually with a coffee. Again, just keeping it simple, and I apply this to my work. I try to think about ways to strip the work back to its simplest form in order to say as much as possible with as little as possible. Naturally, these interests impact my work and the clients I collaborate with. This combination of ideas and passion helps to create work I can be proud of.
Tell us about a favorite piece of advice you’ve received as a creative. Why does it resonate with you?
“Say no and take personal time.”
It’s really easy to get into that routine of saying ‘Yes’ to everything. You take on more than you can handle and you start sacrificing personal time to hit deadlines. Working every hour available has good intentions for the short term but is detrimental to the long term.
Communicate where you’re at with people in terms of your schedule and workload. If the project is meant to be, it’ll happen. If not, something will catch you.
Working smart is scary and difficult to do but taking personal time will make you more effective and keeps the creative fire burning. If you are faced with a problem that is taking more than a couple of hours to solve, put down the tools and go indulge in something you enjoy. Come back to the problem and smash it out of the park!
Shout-out: Who is another Dribbble designer you admire?
I’d love to shout out my buddy Dan Blessing of Design Shark.
Dan has great ideas, loves what he does and puts a huge amount of passion into his work. Check out his recent personal project the Zodiac Football League.
A big thank you to Dribbble for asking me to take part in this interview.