Q&A with Biff

For our brand new Q&A series, we’ve brought together the movers and shakers of the creative sphere to find out what inspires them, how they got to where they are and what next.


Philip Smith, otherwise known as Biff, is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. Originally from a sleepy seaside town in Dorset, his distinctive hand-lettering and pop-art-style doodles have graced the pages of Wired Magazine and the walls of Street Feast’s London markets. Most recently, he was invited by Adidas to illustrate their ‘Creativity Is The Answer’ campaign. 


First things first: where does ‘Biff’ come from?

When I was at college, I realised that quite a few of the artists I looked up to had aliases, such as Horsebites, Mr Gauky etc.. and having the world’s most ungoogleable name (Philip Smith), I had to come up with my own. I'd always noticed that my Dad’s jacket had the name "Biff" written on the back of it. He said it was his nickname at work and is kind of a Scottish thing for Smith. So I used it, and it stuck.


Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator? Was art your best subject at school?

Other than my brief dinosaur/archaeologist phase when I was 7, the only thing I've ever wanted to be is an illustrator, although I didn't realise it could be a job until I got to college. I'm pretty sure art was my best subject at school. But like everyone else in your class, you're just told to make ‘art’ and at that age, everyone’s perception of ‘art’ came from whatever the teacher showed you. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great and all, I just wished there was more freedom.


What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?

The thing I'm most proud of is that I’m able to be an illustrator full-time. I'm grateful for every commission and always pleasantly surprised that people want to work with me. To feel wanted doing something I love is a huge deal to me.


As a freelance illustrator, what does your day look like?

To be honest, if the brief allows enough time, I don't start working on anything until around 7pm. I'm nocturnal and enjoy working at night - there are less distractions, it's quieter and I like to have films on in the background, and a decent supply of snacks to get me through the night. Sometimes I'll stay up until 5am if I'm in a good flow. The day is mostly spent replying to emails, going for walks and psyching myself up to draw some fun stuff. I don’t always work through the night though - it depends on the project and my mood. The biggest thing I’ve learnt going freelance is to work when it feels good for you and when you feel the most comfortable.


Originality in the illustration industry has come under threat in recent years, with big brands accused of not crediting independent artists for their work. What’s the impact of this on artists like yourself?

Luckily, I've never been in this situation myself. But I've noticed that people, particularly other creatives, always show support and rally behind artists who have been miscredited. Big brands that plagiarise work from independent artists should be blacklisted, named and shamed. I don't understand why big brands with so much money seem to be the ones who have very little conscience.


How do you see illustration, and more broadly, the artistic sphere, changing over the next 5 years?

When you look at how technology is progressing, it would be silly to not notice how much it's changing illustration and art in general. Everyone wants the latest tech nowadays, and so illustrators working commercially have to adapt to whatever platform or program comes out next. It's exciting to see where it'll go next. I genuinely believe that we're not far off from a Blade Runner-type reality, with giant holograms and interactive street adverts, that sort of thing. However, nothing beats a good old-fashioned great idea - technology just provides alternative ways of making an idea a reality.

I also think collaboration will be a big thing. I’m working on a little project right now which involves a lot of collaboration between different creative professions. I'll say no more though - top secret stuff.


Tell us about your creative process - where do you draw your inspiration from? How do you transform big ideas into real work?

My inspiration comes from everywhere and everything: music, film, drunk conversations, food, travels, relationships, problems, things I love, things I hate. If there's one piece of advice I could give to other people, it would be this: people can't buy your personality. Who you are is what makes your work. Everyone has ideas - the way that you figure out how to portray them is what makes your work unique. For me, hand lettering or doodling things down into my sketchbook is the easiest, most therapeutic way of working through ideas and inspiration - it's like a diary. I tend not to spend very long on anything I do - the more spontaneous, the better. Sitting on an idea and not doing anything about it is just as bad as overthinking something and ruining the idea - you’ve got to find a balance.


You can find out more about Biff's work at biffstudio.co.uk and follow him on Instagram - @biffstudio

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