Shop Visit: Hunter Gatherer


Todd St John’s work has been on my radar since 2007. I know because that’s when I first saw the cover of Money Mark’s Brand New by Tomorrow album, which features a wooden boombox built by St. John. 

He’s the founder of HunterGatherer, a design studio in Brooklyn that does an incredibly wide range of work. Magazine covers, branding work, illustrations, animations, furniture. It’s a pretty dizzying output from a really small team. 

Most recently he's launched a furniture line which extends his style into larger physical pieces. My favorite piece is the wooden chair that play off the classic design of old plastic lawn chairs.

Recently I got to visit St. John in his studio/shop and talk design and his creative process. 

So I was really interested in having you on the site because of all the different thing media/mediums you work with. I don’t know where it starter or how it evolved. It seems like furniture is now the thing you’re focusing on right now?

It’s kind of the thing that just got a big push, and it’s new. 

It’s new? 

It’s new to other people I would say.

But you’ve alway been doing it?

I’ve always been doing it for myself sporadically. Maybe twelve years ago we put a couple small things out, but this is really the first big push to sort of serious stuff. But yeah it’s always been a kind of thing in my house. 

How did it evolve? How did the push come about?

I had done it more, and having the ability to do it and interest in doing it. It all seemed to line up right now. Fifteen years ago, ten years ago even, I didn't have the access to the the shop situations that I have now. So it’s something that kind of evolved naturally because of that. I was more equipped to do it than I had been before. 

A lot of the build stuff we do in terms of illustrations, or or a lot of the things we’ve always built, have gotten more and more complex. So in my head at least, it seems like an a obvious kind of thing to do. 

When you do illustrations and animations you use a lot of physical objects a lot, or at least more than a lot of other illustrators. Can you tell me about that approach? 

One of the things we do is build things and photograph them. And a couple different reasons. One is it always seemed to open up possibilities for me in ways that other things didn’t. Where as if it’s just a drawing, it’s just a drawing. 

Yeah.

But if you start bringing space and lighting into it, there’s more iterations that come naturally. More things happen.

Like unexpected things?

Yup unexpectedly. So that was always interesting to me. It’s also something I just enjoyed doing. And having some tactile things is sort of rewarding. 

And there's some other things as well. I was doing a drawing style that was sort of dimensional, and I was like what if I just built these dimensional things to match these dimensional drawings. So there’s a little bit of synergy with that moment, and the way I was drawing. 

What came first working with your hands and building stuff, or the drawing stuff? Or did it just all evolve at the same time?

It’s kind of all the same. I grew up and my dad always built stuff and made me build stuff. So I did that. And I always drew when I grew up, and it didn’t even really occur to me to put those two things together for a long time, but then when I did start to do it, there aren't a lot of people who work in that way.

Right.

So it felt like something new, and it was interesting for me, and a natural way to work. 

Can you talk a little bit about the difference of producing something physically and when you produce something, one of your drawings on a computer or by hand? Do you use a computer or do you illustrate with a pen?

I draw with a pencil. That’s the first step for anything. But depending on the project, most things go through a computer at some point. It depends on the project.

How would you describe your style of work?

I don’t think about it much. There’s certain things I like, and there’s certain shapes I like and certain forms I like. And there’s certain kinds of visual jokes I like, but I don’t give it too much thought. 

Like what kind of visual jokes?

We did this, me and my friend Gary, we did this one series of wood products. There’s basically these things that are made out of wood and we silkscreened wood grain pattern on top of it. 

Okay yeah. 

Yeah it’s like a dumb joke, but things like that. 

Things that just like when you look at them, they play a little trick on the mind?

Yeah and I always like things that don’t seem that smart, but are a little smarter than they are, versus whatever the opposite of that would be. 

Yeah.

Something that seems like a modest idea, but there’s something extra packed in there. 

When you sort of set out to do the furniture push, how did you decide what pieces you want to make?

I think we wanted to do things that were fairly significant and work things out on a bigger scale. So there’s this credenza we did and there are these big standing room dividers we did. But I think the goal was to introduce pieces that felt significant, but also had a bit of common D.N.A through all of them.

Yeah there definitely is. It’s one thing I wanted to ask you about. How do you maintain that? How do you work it so you have that common D.N.A or style going through different pieces?

There’s just certain ideas you're thinking about. So like with the pieces we just put out, a lot of it has to do with structure and under structure. 

What do you mean by under structure?

Think about the George Washington Bridge. Originally that thing was going to be clad in stone, but they just left the sort of armature of it underneath.

Wow I didn’t realize that. 

Yeah as a result it’s this much more sort of beautiful structure. It’s that idea of the skeleton versus the skin. You have the visible, and the invisible. And even with things like design, or graphic design, or painting, there’s this idea of hidden structures of a like a grid or proportion. Basically, if you can see through an x ray through these structure underneath something. That was a lot of what I was thinking about. 

With the lamp, it’s stripping things down. So it’s really just vectors. Like literally when you think about vectors in the sense of math. There’s forces going in opposite direction and nothing else, that’s interesting. 

Cool. You obviously are doing so many different things there's animations, there’s the furniture, there’s branding. How important is it to you that you have all that stuff going at one time? Do ever just want to be like, I’ll just do this or I’ll just do that? Is it chaotic? How does it all work out?

There’s times when I think I should do that, but my compulsion is not to. My compulsion is to keep doing a lot of different stuff. So I’ve come to terms with that. And they kind of feed each other, hopefully in a lot of ways. And I do see them as all related. I’m not sure other people do, but I do.

Are there other things that you want to do, that you want to bring in that you’re not doing?

Oh yeah sure, there’s just the time in the day though. 

What would be an example?

Maybe Music? (laughs)

Right!

Yeah when I was in high school I thought that’s what I’d do. Yeah, but it’s just time to do all that stuff. 

Right, well thanks. Maybe you can show me around a bit?

Sure!