Illustration takes on many media, but smartwatch faces and straps are relatively new canvases.
The likes of Casetify offer custom straps for the Apple Watch from illustrators such as Bodil Jane and Jessalyn Books – alongside cases and other accessories featuring their artworks. It’s unusual for brands themselves to team up with individual artists to release custom straps with accompanying faces – preferring to constrain themselves to simple colour and material options with broad appeal – but when produced as limited editions they provide stylish items that work more as promotions than products.
Honor, sister brand to Huawei, has a history of working with up-and-coming artists to promote its phones and other smart devices, targetting a younger audience than its better known sister with lower-cost products. We interviewed Clara Bacou back in 2018 about creating spirit animals for Honor phone users.
For the launch of its Magic Watch 2, Honor commissioned four artists to create artworks to be used on face and strap, including London-based pop artists Jacky Tsai, Chinese calligrapher Wang Dongling, Italian multi-disciplinary artist Giovanni Ozzola and Bristol-based illustrator George Greaves.
I sat down with George at the London launch of the watch to discuss his work for the project, titled The Palm Tree. It’s a simple, relaxed scene with a soft colour palette that reminds me of a few old Swatch designs I used to own in the 90s – though feeling fresh rather than retro.
While you might think that the choice of materials – a digital screen and a stitched leather strap – might be the biggest hurdle to creating a design like this, for George it was the shape that was the main constraint.
“It was difficult in the sense that it's an awkward canvas,” he says. "It's tiny. It's very narrow. So at the beginning I said, 'What the hell am I going to put on this? What's that thin and narrow?’"
The answer was a palm tree. This enabled George to create a design that runs from the part of the strap with the catch onto the digital face and then onto the longer, lower strap piece with the holes.
“[Honor was] quite keen on making it a continuous design. Originally I was thinking of the strap and the watch face as a separate thing, but the end result is that it's one canvas.”
That decided, it still took a lot of trial and error to get the layout right.
“It was difficult,” admits George. "It took a few attempts. I tried out a few different paints, but then – like with most of these jobs – you can get into that groove and it's suddenly ‘bam' and it's done. It's just getting into that place where you suddenly find the right way.”
George doesn’t know how Honor discovered him, but he assumes it was via Instagram, which is where he finds most of his new clients.
“Probably 90% of people find me through Instagram,” he says. "That is my main tool for getting work and it's great. I spend a lot of time updating it, creating work for Instagram, and it always pays off."
George has been a professional illustrator for around three years – alongside running prints-and-fashion label/store Printed Goods with his brother Raphael. Previously the two ran a Risograph press, which how the two got into selling their own works.
“We started a Risograph press and that was our first foray into business,” says George. "There were a lot of mistakes – and a lot of the machine breaking down and not delivering. We were printing for other people, but when we started printing our own designs, they started selling really well."
This raised George’s profile, and lead to illustration commissions. However, he says that the relationship between his self-driven work for Printed Goods and his client work is deeper than just the former promoting the latter.
"The two are symbiotic I think,” he notes. "Without Printed Goods, I don't think my style would have developed as quickly as it did. It was very useful to see what people wanted to buy and say, 'Okay, if someone likes this enough to spend more money on it, I should be doing more stuff like this.’
"I think in time that's what's led to then these commissions coming my way and getting great projects like [the Honor smartwatch]."
Read our sister site Tech Advisor’s review of the Magic Watch 2.