27. March 2012–
With news this week that Twitter is setting up shop in Berlin, we caught up with the woman responsible for its iconic branding – graphic designer Linda Gavin. Also based in Berlin, the artist takes us on a tour of her inspirations – from her childhood artwork and Mafioso-turned-dollhouse-maker Dad, to embracing her bubblegum-style art and branding one the world’s most recognizable social media tools…
At the heart of every good graphic designer beats a budding artist. Some begin honing their creative talents at University, others at primary school. But for a few, like Swede Linda Gavin, it started after putting pencil to paper for the first time at the tender age of two. “I live to use my eyes. I get inspired by everything beautiful or clever made or what we can find in nature,” she explains.
When a Chinese gang-leader and Swedish seamstress fell in love…
“My Mum is into upholstery and makes miniatures too. She knits with wires and makes the smallest dolly wearables you’ve ever seen. She’s well known in the Korean mini doll fashion scene,” says Gavin. From the age of two, Gavin’s parents began teaching her how to draw – not scribble across any-surface-will-do type stuff, but portraiture and pencilling in facial expressions.
“I became very competitive with my Dad and I wanted to develop fast so I could be better than him, so he could stop mocking me. I had very high expectations of myself from a young age,” she recalls “My Dad always loved creating art. He’d been into woodwork since the age of ten, he paints a lot of animals, and for the past 15 years – he’s made miniatures and dollhouses and managed to sell miniature Swedish villas to banks.”
But Gavin’s father Leow Chong Pin hadn’t always lived the creative cushy life in laid-back Sweden. Of Chinese descent from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, “he had his own mafia gang called Flower of Love,” chuckles Gavin. “My dad was the gang leader of mostly Chinese and Indians. He stabbed his first person when he was eight but he was more in to martial arts like Kung fu and Thai Boxing than knives after that. My grandpa was the big boss however, he had eight wives and my dad grew up like a prince but then grandpa was stabbed and killed when my Dad was 17.
The family went broke, and then when my Dad was in his 20’s he met some European backpackers who convinced him of how easy it is to travel,” says Gavin. From there, Leow Chong Pin funded his backpacking venture through Europe by selling Rolex watches and Levi jeans until making the last leg of his journey into Sweden. “That’s where he met my Mum. They fell in love and she wanted his baby,” she laughs.
“I am really a product of my parents’ joy for creating and collecting,” says Gavin, “they always inspired me. Growing up they taught me that the only thing that matters is that you are happy with the work you’re doing every day. And now I’m making a living from doing what I love.
“I was given one day to develop the Twitter logo”
“I had exhibitions back in Sweden and found that people didn’t really like my work – I didn’t sell anything. My style was considered too commercial back then, and it didn’t fit in art galleries. Now it’s changed and the world has come to accept this bubblegum style which is playful and a little childish. Maybe it’s because I was 10 years ahead of my time.”
“Everyone was talking so much about Berlin in Sweden – it’s so expensive in Sweden,” says Gavin, who – with her husband Robin – migrated to Berlin in 2005 to freelance and lead an undistracted creative life. Shortly after her arrival in Berlin, Gavin was poached by original Twitter inventor Noah Glass in Silicon Valley to design the Twitter logo. “I’d been creating logos in that style for some time before I was approached. I was given one day to develop the logo while I was working on the website at the same time, and barely slept,” says Gavin.
In addition to a line of projects she’s been involved with since Twitter such as mobile-photo app Mr Chiizu and Los Angeles-based visual effects studio PixelDrum Studios, Gavin’s also taken on her own ongoing side-projects like Lucky Friends; a line merchandise featuring self-created characters in colourful, dreamy form and landscapes: “I’m building an imaginative world that exists on our planet. I call it the Lucky Region,” she says. Gavin’s Lucky Region consists of four distinguished cities, where monsters, animals, and characters like pop-star Bunbina and her alpaca neighbour Alexander peacefully co-exist. “It’s just something I find fun to continue working on even if I don’t see an ending to it,” she adds.
Ample sources of inspiration
Gavin also draws ideas from closely studying video games and animated movies, “I appreciate the time that artists spend on making small details. ‘Tangled’ is a great example. I got so many ideas on what graphic designers can physically do with hair! I’d love to know the craft behind replicating something that complex in 3D.”
Of course, being surrounded by her line of industry work – everyday, arms her with abundant ideas on how best to approach a branding or logo job “You need something that’s different but stands out. The McDonalds ‘M’ is the ultimate example. It needs to be simple, clean, and easy to mount onto various backgrounds,” says Gavin.