Cymry yn Yr Iseldiroedd

From Wales to Amsterdam

Written by Iolo Cowell
Creative Intern at VBAT

Hi, my name is Iolo, (that’s i-o-l-o), and I’m one of the new interns here at VBAT. I’m originally from Wales but have spent the last three years studying Graphic Design at Northumbria University in Newcastle where I graduated with a First (Honours). I hope this blog post will tell you a little about me and what I got up to before joining VBAT.

Conwy Castle overlooking the Conwy River

Part of King Edward I’s “ring of iron” and nestled in the foothills of Eryri, my home-town of Conwy is famed for the large castle that sits atop a stone outcrop and overlooks the Conwy River. The curtain walls of which encircle the small Medieval town and to this day remain an impenetrable barrier to any unpractised bus driver that must navigate through its archways.

Aside from its world-famous castle, Conwy also boasts the smallest house in Britain, a seed fair that has run every year without fail since the town’s inception, a collection of Tudor mansions, one kebab shop, and the occasional jousting tournament (I’m not kidding) along with a plethora of pubs.

In 2015 I moved from Conwy to Newcastle in the North East of England to study Graphic Design where, in my second and third year, I specialised in Branding and Packaging design. Alongside my studies I took an active role in University society life and became a committee member for the Snow Sports and Surf societies respectively. My role as committee member saw me, as part of a team, help to organise trips skiing to Tignes and Val Thorens, surfing trips to the South of France and more local (relative) excursions to Edinburgh and Newquay for University competitions. I enjoyed my time at Northumbria tremendously and consider them the best three years of my life — so far.

Cwm Farm Charcuterie

For my final major project at University I chose to rebrand an existing food producer from Wales. Designing food packaging was one of the activities I enjoyed most at University and I hoped that with this project, I might also be able to raise the profile of Wales and Welsh identity to a wider audience. After flirting with the idea of designing my own range of wine, the company I eventually chose was Cwm Farm, an award winning charcuterie producer from Rhydyfro, South Wales.

One objective I really wanted to ensure I achieved with my rebrand was that it should feel unapologetically Welsh, without becoming a pastiche. So cliché images of sheep or dragons were out, but I designed almost the entire packaging line-up in Welsh, to help normalise and provide exposure for the language.

The inspiration for the word mark, (“Cwm” means valley in Welsh), came both from the Celtic triskele and the curl of a pigs tail. I wanted to reference ancient Welsh culture, whilst remaining fresh and modern.

The packaging itself was heavily inspired by the mountains of Wales. Having grown up walking the mountains, they are something I have a deep attachment to and I hoped I might provoke a similar reaction in any potential perusing charcuterie purchaser.

My choice of colour and image were informed by my wish for the packaging to appear rustic and artisinal. Black and white seemed the obvious choice to invoke the feeling of the stark but beautiful Welsh mountain ranges and I hoped that the hand-made, well crafted, painted aesthetic, would make sense when paired with Cwm Farm’s award winning charcuterie.

I placed extracts of the second verse of the Welsh National Anthem, ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, under the base of each mountain to symbolise that the Welsh language is the ever-present foundation of the country. When all the pieces of packaging are placed along side each other, the full verse can be read:

“Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd,
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i’m golwg sydd hardd;
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i fi”.
“Old land of the mountains, the Eden of bards,
Each gorge and each valley a loveliness guards;
Through love of my country, charmed voices will be
Its streams, and its rivers, to me”.
The construction of the packaging allows for the salami to either be hung or lay flat.
‘Nduja is a spicy pork spread, orignally from Italy.

Elephant Whisky

Elephant Whisky was a second year project and my first introduction to packaging design. The brief asked us to design a brand identity for a new Indian whisky called Elephant Whisky, along with packaging designs for a Single Malt and Blended whiskies. My brand took for inspiration the story of my Great Grandfather, Frederick Kirkwood Makins. He was a forestry officer and acclaimed botanist in India during the 1900s who worked tirelessly to preserve the forests of both India and the UK. He authored a number of books on identifying plants and trees and produced all of his own illustrations.

During his time in India, the author Rudyard Kipling spent time with the forestry officers and was there inspired to write his ‘Jungle Book’ stories.

Using images sent by members of my family and through my own research, I made F.K. Makins the focal point of my brand. The logo I drew from his likeness, the illustrative style of the packaging I took from the techincal drawings in his published books; the signature and batch number details that feature on the Single Malt bottle I acquired from botanical archives.

Elements of the ‘Aged 20 Years’ icon are taken from the Imperial Forestry Service logo
The wax seal on the Single Malt bottle is that of the Linnean Society, of which my Great Grandfather was a member.

For the bottles I used Cinzano, labels removed and filled with apple juice. My decision was based on its relative similarities in shape to the logo. The broad shoulders matching the brim of the pith helmet, tapering down to a wide bottom that is reflected in the shoulders and collar of the illustration.

Graduating and moving to Amsterdam

After graduating university with a First (Honours) in Graphic Design I worked on some freelance projects. Most notably of which was the initial concept work for a cookbook in collaboration with Cwm Farm and chef Grady Atkins (mentor to Michelin starred Tomos Parry of BRAT) as well as work for Blas y Tir, the largest fresh food producer in Wales. I was able to work on both of these projects as a direct consequence of my Cwm Farm Charcuterie university work and am incredibly grateful to Ruth Davies of Cwm Farm and the Blas y Tir team for the opportunity. Working with Blas y Tir saw me front client pitches for the first time which I found a really valuable experience and gave me a flavour of what life is like for a professional graphic designer. After finishing my freelance work, I then had the opportunity to join United Studio in London for a month internship which I enjoyed.

So, that’s me. It is now February and I am settling in to life with VBAT in Amsterdam. I have already had the chance to work on variety of exiting projects and (narrowly) survived the baptism of fire that is cycling home in rush hour traffic. I’m excited to see what the next few months here in Amsterdam will hold!

For more of my projects, check out my website

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written by Iolo Cowell, Creative Intern at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme, PR at VBAT