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Fully Exposed by Breakwater Mag

Taylor Leigh of FOE Creative is the designer and developer behind Breakwater Magazine. So of course, we had to interview him for the first of our Meet the Artist series where we talk to Vancouver Island’s community of artists, illustrators, photographers, designers⁠, makers—you name it.

By Julia Crawford of Breakwater Magazine

I was in design school at the time and I was learning about layouts and formatting—I really took to it. But I noticed there was a huge gap in the market for an arts/culture/action sports magazine, so I decided I should be the one to create it. The name FOE is an acronym for “freedom of expression,” something that really matters to me. I didn’t set any expectations or deadlines—I just chipped away it, driving around the Island shooting photos, writing articles—until I was ready to hit print. I knew at that point it was full-on. I built out a website, ran a small line of apparel, included stickers with every copy, sponsored small local events—the whole nine yards.

We put out two issues before my schooling became too intense. That’s when I decided to retire the concept. When I started my own design studio, I wanted to honour my accomplishment with the magazine so I named the company FOE Creative as a nod to where it all started.


How does the design scene on the Island today compare to the FOE Magazine days?

Since I was in school up Island [at North Island College], the design scene was pretty scarce. It was slowly evolving at the time [2009-2011], but nothing like what was happening in Victoria. That’s changed. There are so many self-taught and motivated individuals running their own ventures now. Because of that, we’re seeing a broader variety of styles and cool concepts—it’s really inspiring.

Tell us about your transition into creating your own design studio.

Once I finished school, it was obvious to me to move into the big bad world of communication design. It was always my goal. I packed up and moved over to Vancouver to be with my then-girlfriend, now wife, but only managed a couple of months before we realized that long term we wanted to be on the Island (when you’re born and raised here, nothing else compares). From there, I landed a contract at an agency in Victoria, and then another, and so on. It wasn’t until I hit a wall and realized that I wasn’t truly happy working for someone else that I decided to make a change.

I wanted to focus on unique, quality design and digital products that sparked emotion in other people—like it did in me—no matter how long I spent per project. I’d built up a short list of consistent clients from side jobs, so I felt like I could really give it a go. I quit my job, developed a logo, put together a three-page portfolio website, ordered business cards, and called FOE a “creative studio.” My wife was terrified and couldn’t sleep, although she never told me that until two years later. Now we’re nearly seven years in and both of us couldn’t be happier.


“Design shapes everything we interact with. It’s a language that carries emotion and if you dig deep and listen, it communicates so much with very little.”

You grew up in Campbell River. How much—if any—did growing up on the Island shape your career as a designer?

It was responsible for 50 per cent of it; the other 50 per cent is a result of worldly experiences and chance. Being born and raised in Campbell River, and becoming involved in its BMX scene, opened up my eyes to certain design trends throughout the ’90s and early 2000s. Looking back now, I realize how much of that stuck with me.

Still, I never got heavily into art and design until my twenties. I dabbled in drawing from a young age because I loved it. In high school, I never knew you could make a living as an artist or designer so I went to school for welding. I ended up welding sculptures in my booth instead of class projects. I completed my welding ticket, but I took my interest in art as a sign that welding wasn’t my calling. That was a critical time in my life; it shaped the direction of my career and led to where I am now. Through design, I found my passion.


You were heavily involved in the BMX scene on Vancouver Island as a teenager into your early twenties. How much overlap did pursuing a career in BMX lead you to design?

There was a major overlap. It was one of the main reasons that I took this path. I’ve ridden BMX for most of my life, and professionally rode from age 19 to 25. BMX was heavily influenced by a certain design aesthetic. Trends would hit the [skate/BMX] market years before it went mainstream. I remember in the early 2000s when photoshopped collages were all the rave. Later, you would see collages in marketing material for Coca-Cola, Adidas, World Cup campaigns—but those BMX graphics were collage-focused years before. The visual designs that were a part of that scene sparked a real excitement in me, although I wouldn’t realize until much later.


Give us the best trick you ever did on a BMX.

Ha! For street, I’ve done a couple of quadruple and quintuple kinked handrails to ice picking the last down. For park, perhaps double whips…I was more into flow and style as opposed to “triple backflips,” you know?


You do everything from branding to web development. How do you make space as an artist to develop your craft?

It’s becoming harder to find the time, but I vowed never to lose sight of that. I block off an hour or two on Fridays to explore different styles and just do what I feel in my gut. A lot of the projects that we work on right now are very illustrative, so it’s easier to fulfill that side of myself. The projects I have been working on lately are the stuff my design dreams are made of.


What’s your favourite type of artwork to do?

When it comes to products, I’m loving label designs right now. The process is so organic and I’ve found a solid groove that allows me to trial and error different illustrative styles, depending on the type of client. I always start with paper and pencil, then ink, before I scan my artwork and either rework it in Photoshop or rebuild in Illustrator.


How does design shape our daily lives?

That’s a really in-depth question. I can go deeper on this topic, but I believe design shapes everything we interact with. It’s a language that carries emotion and if you dig deep and listen, it communicates so much with very little.

It’s the app that you downloaded for your alarm in the morning; you probably gravitated to it through its attractive UI [user interface], but in the end, you fell in love with its soothing tones. It’s your morning coffee, plucked from the shelf because you loved the packaging’s heavy contrast. It’s right in front of you when you order lunch. If the menu design communicates effectively, it might even just tell you what to eat even if you aren’t listening. It’s everywhere—and it’s my job to evoke that emotion and pique curiosity in people.


Where do you find inspiration?

Newsletter subscriptions, a stash of links that I turn to weekly, and conferences whenever I can make the time.

Locally, from an urban perspective—downtown. My wife and I live out in farmland, so when I’m downtown I love walking around, taking in window art, signage types and styles, even mannequins and the way that shops dress them. You never know what you’ll come across that sparks creativity in you. From a nature perspective—our forests, rivers, lakes and ocean. Being somewhere quiet is key to winding down and resetting mentally. I grew up fly fishing as a child, so to spend a day on the river with a notepad in my fly vest is my go-to.


Who is someone on the Island you’re inspired by?

I don’t think I can name just one, so here’s a few. Every single one of my clients inspires me. Each of them has their own story for why they do the work that they do. They live it and love it every day, and that really affects me and the work that I do. From a designer perspective, Matt Johnson. He’s the friend that got me interested in the graphic design aspect of this industry, and he’s constantly pushing the envelope.

And lastly, my wife for all of her love and crazy amount of endless support. Without her, I’d probably still be rocking tight black jeans and a Black Dahlia Murder shirt, drinking Budweiser at the skatepark.


Any advice for someone pursuing a career as an artist or designer on the Island?

Listen to your gut and design with emotion. Designing based on logic and best practice is important to a degree, but your goal should be to spark emotion and feeling. That is what will create impact and drive your designs forward.

And put yourself out there. Be bold, not reckless. There are never any bad experiences—it’s up to you what you choose to take away from any situation. The ability to reflect on situations, both good and bad, has helped both me and my company grow.


You do a lot of work in the craft beer industry. What beer are you enjoying right now?

We do, and it’s awesome! We’re primarily focusing on the craft beer, spirit, wine and cider industry right now. Currently, I’m a huge fan of Mount Arrowsmith’s Beach Side Passion Fruit Witbier, and Vancouver Island Brewing’s Juan De Fuca Cerveza—I keep a keg of the cerveza on tap in my garage 24/7, just in case I get dehydrated. Aside from that, I always keep a bottle of Hoyne Pilsner around.


And, if you could be anywhere on the Island enjoying that beer, where would it be? 

My backyard in Central Saanich, sipping a beer with my wife on a hot day, while our crazy girls play on the bouncy castle.

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