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Steven Harrington Surface Experiments
Steven Harrington's Surface Experimentscourtesy of Microsoft Surface

Steven Harrington’s visual experiments: art meets technology

Looking into the virtual 2D world bringing visual artists together to collaborate and experiment

“(I’ve always seen) technology as a tool for me to make art, to refine and help me best present what I’m trying to accomplish,” says illustrator Steven Harrington over email from his studio in LA. Steven’s work is heavily influenced by his surroundings: it’s colourful, fun and cartoonish, embodying the contemporary aesthetic of southern California which he calls home. His bold pop style lends itself easily to collaborations and work that has appeared on everything from screen-prints and skateboards to large-scale installations and murals, such as a series including palm trees he did for iconic luxury store Colette in Paris earlier this year.

Steven has become well-known for his palm-tree graphic, but insists that it wasn’t until a friend from France came to visit him that he really got into drawing them: “He was so excited about the palm trees, and was always pointing them out to me. It made me realise how I had just seen them for so long that I actually stopped seeing them. His visit opened my eyes to really appreciate what’s around me. Now I keep painting those palm trees as a kind of reminder.” In general, Steven tries to source inspiration from his surroundings and “anything that gets me out of the studio and into the world around me… or else you just start to develop a sort of tunnel vision”.

His newest project is for Surface Experiments, a programme by Microsoft inviting some of the most exciting creatives working today to experiment and collaborate and to realise new ideas with the Microsoft Surface. From creating a mobile studio on the back of a Japanese pick-up truck to a vinyl book exploring the effects of colour and pattern on the eyes and mind, the Surface Experiments celebrate the experimental, ideas-driven and DIY approach of trailblazers today. Steven was won over by the freedom of the brief and the opportunity it gave him for experimentation and to bring one of his favourite characters to life. He suggested teaming up with London-based animator Andy Baker – someone he has admired online for a long time – and the project was born. 

For the multimedia piece, Steven and Andy partnered on the project, working as a team from LA and London to come up with “Far Outttt”, a classic-looking animation harking back to the days of Snoopy, using the Microsoft Surface Book, which sees Steven give life to his hand-drawn character. Steven used the Surface Book’s native pen-and-touch display to create the character on the device. “When you sit down at your desk and try to come up with something creative you kind of have to go on this crazy journey where you jump from one hole into another,” says Steven. “You always end up in a totally different place than from where you started.” This kind of journey is evident in that of his animated character, too: using a mixture of animation and live action, he climbs out of his two-dimensional reality as an illustration on a simple backdrop, into the real world and from there into yet another different reality comprised of thick, black lines and Steven’s signature palm trees. 

In terms of the Surface Book’s effect on his creative process, Steven notes that “the (fact that) the Surface’s screen detaches from the keyboard and you can rotate and reattach it and then work like on a notebook is a cool feature – it’s basically a digital sketchbook that’s great for carrying around and drawing and jotting down ideas”. For Steven, technology and art naturally complement each other in the modern world, although he believes that, for him, art at its core is really about the human experience and how we all connect with each other. His work comes from a place of feeling and emotion rather than a meticulous planning process: “To me, it’s just something that I do. I don’t like to think about it or analyse it too much. I like making images as a way of speaking without using words… It’s intuition based”. Overall, however, he believes that art drives technology: “Even though a lot of my work is handmade, I do use certain tools and technologies to make the process easier. Life’s hard enough as it is so why make it harder?”

Steve Harrington's Surface Experiments courtesy of Microsoft Surface

You can learn more about the Microsoft Surface Book here and through their Instagram