The Scribbler's madcap world of illustrations

Girl superhero illustration by Dan Bramall

Girl superhero - Credit: Dan Bramall

Dan Bramall's head is a-whirl with colourful characters that fill the pages of books and give life to brands, where does it all come from, asks Sandra Smith 

In what was the repair hub of a bike shop, The Scribbler is busy creating colourful worlds of mad-cap characters. The graphic artist, aka Dan Bramall, designs illustrations for books and brands, as well as his own paintings, which are all guaranteed to raise a smile.

Hitchin based Illustrator Dan Bramall aka The Scribbler

Illustrator Dan Bramall, aka The Scribbler - Credit: Sharon Cooper

The 46-year-old’s style can be summed up in one word - fun. Taking inspiration from popular culture, a love of animals, picture books and ‘the absurd things in life’, Dan describes his images simply as having ‘a spontaneous and colourful look about them’.

He studied at Liverpool University - ‘a great city, an inspiring cultural place’ - originally to do fine art but decided graphics was more practical and commercial. ‘And I liked the idea of helping others promote their products and services'. 

Old school graphic characters 

Old school graphic characters - Credit: Dan Bramall

Following his degree show, Dan was headhunted by the creative planning department at Littlewoods catalogue then completed a multi-media course before moving to Oxford as an interactive designer for a publishing company.

Then, in his mid-20s, he embarked on an MA in Illustration, these skills enabled him to break into the world of children’s publishing. Variety, then, is key for this Stourbridge born creative.

With a portfolio which began to evolve during his A Level and Foundation Diploma days, he recalls the early challenge of making a name for himself.

Illustration of a green elephant playing guitar

Dan has a love of animals and the absurd - Credit: Dan Bramall

‘Prior to social media, I used to turn up at designers and publishers with my portfolio as well as indiscriminately send out emails. Self-publicity is interesting because most people ignore you!

'But following my MA I was invited to be part of an exhibition by the Association of Illustrators. That’s where I was spotted by British Gas who offered me a commission. The campaign, promoting a loyalty scheme, meant my work was printed on a million gas bills. It was the only time I’ve ever been happy to receive a bill!’ 

Now a successful freelancer, the range of Dan’s clients is credit to his talent and work ethic. His book designs are in demand from the likes of Dara Ó Briain (Beyond the Sky and Secret Science), while Being You, a body image book for boys, has just been published by Cambridge University Press and includes 100 of his illustrations.

 Cover of Dara Ó Briain's Beyond the Sky astronomy book for children by Dan Bramall

Dan's cover for Dara Ó Briain's Beyond the Sky astronomy book for children - Credit: Dan Bramall

He is equally proud of his collaboration with Hitchin Mexican restaurant, Cantina Carnitas. ‘I’ve been with them since they were a pop up - the growth of their brand is partly due to my input', and a collaboration with Hertfordshire’s Settle Housing Association, developing visual resources for their website. Although he also confesses to experiencing ‘just as good a feeling when someone buys a £30 print’. 

So how do his designs come about? When it comes to the initial stages of a project, a good deal of ‘visual thinking’ goes on. After discussions on a brief with a client, the request is sometimes very specific, on other occasions he is given a generous amount of leeway. Either way, the client is buying into a joyful, irreverent style which culminates in two or three ideas.

‘I used to offer four or five’, Dan says. ‘Then I realised if you give the client too many choices, they always go with the ones you don’t like. They say the customer is always right, but they’re not!’ 

Dan moved to Hitchin 11 years ago. He loves the old market town and, following a stint based at a business centre in Letchworth, established Shared Space in Coopers Yard. ‘A friend and I renovated the place. This is where I work, plus we have 12 full timers and six hot deskers every day. There’s a meeting room here, too.’ 

His love for his adopted town is manifested in local products. During a fortnight’s down time he created a hand drawn Hitchin map complete with local pubs which evolved into placemats. Their popularity led to more items - coasters, tea towels, mugs - along with requests to cover other Hertfordshire towns.  

Learning to Listen logo by Dan Bramall

Yes, this is a real company, in St Paul's Walden near Hitchin - Credit: Dan Bramall

A workload including one-off illustrations, graphic design commissions and typesetting for a London publisher is proof that Dan thrives on diversity. But no matter the product or brief, whether you’re a client or a customer, the end result is guaranteed to brighten your day.