When Art and Design Meet: An Interview with Digital Artist Shane Griffin

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This article, by Dana Meir, is brought to you by our friends at Editor X

Whether working on an immersive art installation, a campaign for Nike or a film for Givenchy, digital artist Shane Griffin maintains his iconic style. He crafts captivating, otherworldly scenes and experiences, bringing his artistic mindset to his commercial work. This niche approach is what gives the brands he collaborates with a unique and innovative edge.

Griffin grew up in Dublin, and relocated to New York City in 2012, where he recently set up his independent practice, GRIF Studio. Specializing in both art and commercial design, the studio works on diverse projects through a wide range of mediums.

Pieta, part of Griffin's "Reinterpretations" series
Pieta, part of Griffin's "Reinterpretations" series
Pieta, part of Griffin's "Reinterpretations" series

Balancing Management With Creativity

After years of freelancing, Griffin felt it was time to broaden his horizons and take on more opportunities. With projects growing in terms of scale, consistency and deliverables, the formal launch of GRIF Studio earlier this year was a natural and necessary progression.

To his surprise, Griffin has found that running his own studio is much less overwhelming than expected. Accustomed to working on the design and production aspect of multiple projects simultaneously, his work now also involves the management side of things.

“Knowing that everything is running and progressing is a huge relief and makes for a much more focused mental space,” Griffin says. “Given all we’ve been through this year, that’s a rare luxury.”

When creating his studio’s new website on Editor X, Griffin was mindful to curate and bring attention to the projects that he’s most passionate about. To present his work in a way that would feel purposeful, he adapted the layout of each project page, bringing attention to the unique nature of his various pieces.

The GRIF Studio website, created with Editor X

This diverse mix of projects and professional roles is what keeps Griffin on his toes, enabling him to continuously learn, experiment, conceptualize and have a bit of fun along the way.

A piece from Griffin's "Between" series
A piece from Griffin's "Between" series

The Meeting Point Between Art and Design

The studio’s portfolio includes an impressive array of clients, from Apple to Nike to LG and more. What’s interesting to note is how Griffin’s personal projects and artwork inform his commercial pieces.

“I’ve been lucky to have such a positive response to my personal projects that it’s resulted in some great commissions and collaborations,” he says. “To me, that’s a real dream situation: elevating a brand with your signature look.”

One such project is his set of bespoke wallpapers created for the iPhone 8 launch. The work is based on his iconic personal series “Chromatic,” which explores light and color through mesmerizing large-scale visuals.

While Griffin’s artworks are often the starting point for commissioned design projects, he sees a clear distinction between the two.

“With art, it’s all about asking questions,” he notes. “You’re inviting the audience into your world and asking them a question about your subject matter. It creates this silent dialog of reflection and thought.”

Griffin’s art rarely has a specific objective. His goal is to let people feel something about his work, whether they end up liking it or hating it, and to momentarily grab their attention away from their phones.

His 2019 installation “Ecotherapy” is an example of a piece whose purpose was simply to invite the audience to enjoy a moment of calm and reflection. Griffin worked with satellite photography, transforming aerial landscapes into canvases of moving fibers. These “living canvases” were displayed on a floor-to-ceiling screen surrounded by mirrors, making for a transformative and immersive experience.

“I wanted to create something that was a love letter to the earth,” Griffin says. “I grew up with my mom being a hippy, and I’ve been a vegetarian all my life, so living in New York there was this longing for nature and the outdoors that I wasn’t getting my yearly quota of.”

A piece from Griffin's "Ecotherapy" series
A piece from Griffin's "Ecotherapy" series
A piece from Griffin's "Ecotherapy" series

In contrast to his artworks, Griffin’s commercial design projects are about answering questions. They are goal-oriented, have clear objectives and need to speak to the principles of the brand. “While the medium and process may overlap and be very similar, the method of getting there is entirely different,” he explains.

For both types of projects, Griffin works with a large and constantly evolving set of tools. Having transferred his workflow predominantly to GPU-based software, he currently does his 3D rendering on Redshift, 3ds Max or Houdini. For additional assets, he c
ombines Quixel DDO Painter and Megascans, with a huge array of plugins to achieve his desired results.

A Long-Standing Partnership With Nike

The focus on goals and targets in commercial projects doesn’t stop Griffin from coming up with highly creative and diverse works. During his many years collaborating with Nike, he has created physical sculptures, worked on multiple artwork and motion projects, and directed the title sequence for Unbanned, a documentary about the beloved Air Jordan 1s.

Nike "Sneakerball" sculpture

Recalling his first collaboration with the brand, Griffin says that the partnership came out of thin air, before Instagram and other social media platforms really took off. He started by fixing some 3D typography, and continued to collaborate with them on the Yeezy project, followed by many more.

Looking back, Griffin recalls a piece that he’s especially proud of—his artwork for the Yeezy IIs, dubbed “The Red Octobers.” “I still see people going crazy for the shoes six years later,” he says.

Merging Sonics and Visuals

For Griffin, working with sound comes naturally. Collaborating closely with composers and sound designers, he says, “There’s something so satisfying about this process. The rest is hell, but this is pure bliss!”

The way he sees it, there’s a mathematical harmony that marries sonics and visuals. “I always refer to it as the unconscious 10%,” Griffin says. “Most people will say ‘something’s not right’ when they see things out of perfect sync, but can’t really put their finger on it.” It’s all about making tiny tweaks with subtle ramps and cuts that blend together so well that you don’t notice them. “That’s what really makes the piece sing.”

Learning On-the-Go

Despite his outstanding achievements and impressive clientele, Griffin says he has made mistakes throughout his career. But it’s his daring and relentless approach that has ultimately pushed him forward. “It’s not ideal, but it works for me,” he says. “I’m the sort of person who doesn’t read a manual. I can’t do it. I’m entirely visually driven.”

As a self-taught artist, Griffin sees art and design as more of a personality type. Not going to college meant that Griffin could start his career early on and gain a lot of experience by his mid-20s. “Luckily, we’re in an industry where people are judged on talent and professionalism over Ivy League schools and social status,” he says.

Throughout his career, he has also taught himself how to work with many digital tools. With technology and the visual industry evolving quickly, he points out the importance of constantly staying in the know—otherwise you can find yourself with a lot of catching up to do.

The events of 2020 alone have been a tremendous learning curve for all of us. “We’ve all had to adapt one way or the next,” reflects Griffin. “From long hours, to separation anxiety from work, to the lack of respect for clear working hours, everyone is seriously affected in one way or another this year.”

Having had a couple of projects canceled due to the pandemic, Griffin notes that while it’s been tough to work on live-action pieces, it has, on the other hand, been a good year for design and animation. “I’ve tried to not let the more insignificant things bother me, and just remind myself that I’m lucky to be working,” he says.

Mars and Venus, part of Griffin's "Reinterpretations" series
Mars and Venus, part of Griffin's "Reinterpretations" series

Dana Meir is an editor at Shaping Design. With a background in industrial design, she is interested in user experience within both the physical and digital environments. She is passionate about exploring the theme of ethics in the tech industry and how we can build a more positive future through design.