Sion Griff, Thirroul NSW

Common People ~ Sion Griff


The world of graphic design has found a rule-breaking signwriter and generally talented man in Sion Griff. From the humble beginnings of a small fishing village in Wales, Sion combines tradition with modern design in the perfect pairing for Kraken Kreative. He credits his father for inspiration as well as the nature he enjoys everyday while living in a quirky converted mechanic’s workshop nestled in Thirroul. We ventured for a morning coffee with Sion, partner Lily, their son Cai and one very energetic dog.

 Words by Rachel Abbott
Images by Billie Acosta

How did you first begin your journey as a freelance designer?

When I first came to Australia, I would do anything from pizza delivery to building gyms (despite never previously going to a gym). I started working in bars where word spread that I was an artist. They asked me to write signs and before I knew it bars I didn’t work in were asking the same. They expected me to do it in a few minutes instead of taking hours to perfect it. I had been a freelance graphic designer for a while but signwriting was the real beginning, it just snowballed from there.

For those who aren’t already familiar with Kraken Kreative, tell us a little about the brand.

It’s a creative studio based in Wollongong that I founded in 2014. We offer graphic design, screen printing and hand painted signage and murals. The business also collaborates with local organisations to work on art projects and events such as art exhibitions or fundraisers. We like to think of ourselves as part of the community. We love being part of the movement happening in Wollongong over the last few years and enjoy building relationships when working with local small businesses.

Common People ~ Sion Griff
Do you confine yourself to any rules when designing?

I don’t follow any of the rules I was once taught at college and I’ve never worked for anyone else as a graphic designer. I’ve been working for myself from the beginning, not full-time don’t get me wrong; I have always juggled other jobs in construction, bars at the same time. In the corporate world there are rules with graphic design however that is a very small part of what graphic design really is. The most influential agencies in graphic design these days don’t follow any rules whatsoever.

How have you seen graphic design change over the years?

It’s definitely more artistic now, there was art and there was design before and now they’re the same thing. If you want to be a good graphic designer and that’s your career path you need to be an artist as well; it is vital to be broad. I think having those skills and that creativity makes you stand out.

Common People ~ Sion Griff
Last year you curated ‘Useless Wooden Toys’, tell us more about the event, it’s impact and purpose.

“Useless Wooden Toys” is a initiative event which combines art and skateboarding to raise awareness and funds for environmental organisations to promote upcycling and recycling. It was run in conjunction with the Wollongong Fringe Festival, and I chose to help Plastic Free Wollongong through the event.

We worked with local Wollongong artists to revamp and redesign skateboard decks which were then auctioned off by local legendary skateboarders at Howling Wolf Bar. We sold all of the boards and were able to pay two of the artists to create t-shirt designs which were printed at Kraken Kreative.

This project combined things I love and enabled me to do my bit for the community with artists who are so passionate about what they do. Becoming a father made me more aware of the future. I certainly want my son to grow up in a society that cares about its environment so it was great to generate discussion about single use plastic and the individual impact we have- that’s why I support organisations like Plastic Free Wollongong. I’m just doing my bit for the community and look forward to doing more in the future.

Have you always been passionate about art?

I love architecture and all forms of art, construction and building; it definitely has its place in the world. I have drawn from a young age, however my father would definitely be where I found my inspiration. He’s incredibly creative; a builder that can design his own logo, help me out with art projects and build skate ramps with me and my brother. I wasn’t surrounded by creativity at all growing up in a small fishing village, so a fascination for design got into me through my Dad and it just went from there. I began designing logos, drawing them on a piece of paper and handing them out. It’s still the same with my process now; always the sketchbook before anything.

What’s been your favourite project to date?

In recent times, the Ryan’s Hotel signage because it took me completely out of my comfort zone which I actually enjoyed in a weird way. It was the first time I used an elevated work platform and I had to set it up myself. The only one I could get was a trailer so I had to use that type of platform on top of painting the biggest letters I’ve ever done at the highest height. It was very much a challenge, it was like an adrenaline rush.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?

As soon as I’ve finished a mural or a signage project and the ladders are down I will cross the road and just sit and stare at it. That is always a good feeling, especially when it’s been a laborious job. When I finished the signage for South Sailor, I remember crossing the road and just sitting on the bridge staring. I felt happy. People would come past while I was working on the sign and compliment my work, that’s always nice and rewarding.

When I finished the challenge that was the Ryan’s Hotel sign it was insane, I was exhausted and didn’t realise at the time. With graphic design, I’m always happy when I come to the end product however I don’t get to see graphics I’ve made on such a large scale with real life impact very often.

Common People ~ Sion Griff
Tell us more about your house, a converted mechanic’s workshop?

Lily’s parents bought the house from a bit of a mad dude, as you can see. He was a mechanic and lived in Thirroul his entire life. He lived upstairs and the downstairs was his workshop, which is where we now live. He got kids off the street back in the day to literally help him build the house, carrying rocks up one by one, which is interesting; don’t think that would get you very far these days.

Renovating was a hell of a project. It took us every weekend for about five months, it has a lot of character which we love. The entire house is made from concrete and stone, the only wood is the floors, doors and bench tops which were recycled from an old shop fit out.

I built the deck which has made a huge difference. It was just a big drop down into the creek before, now it’s made a second living space. It’s my favourite thing about living here, the deck with the surrounding bush looking out at the escarpment; its quirky and I like that you can just do whatever you like. With new houses you’re very limited but with this place you can do anything to it really.

Common People ~ Sion Griff
Common People ~ Sion Griff

Renovating was a hell of a project. It took us every weekend for about five months, it has a lot of character which we love. The entire house is made from concrete and stone, the only wood is the floors, doors and bench tops which were recycled from an old shop fit out.

Common People ~ Sion Griff
Common People ~ Sion Griff
Common People ~ Sion Griff
Common People ~ Sion Griff

Above PF Candle Co Original Candle

You do a lot of work around the Illawarra, what do you enjoy most about living and working here?

I really enjoy living in Thirroul. It’s very much a community business, I didn’t set out for it to be like that in the business plan however meeting other people doing similar things and local people working together- it’s a nice thing around Wollongong and the Illawarra. As soon as you get a connection with someone there is an instant relationship. You walk into the bar the next time you see them and there’s this handshake, conversation; it’s not impersonal, it’s great. I’ve never really experienced that before with freelancing. It was always just emails back and forth, you never met them and it was rather boring.

Living and working in a small town is great as you really get noticed for your work. Locals will come up to me in cafes and compliment a mural I have done, it really means a lot when the people who see your work everyday like it; that’s important to me.

Common People ~ Sion Griff
What inspires you now?

I’m definitely a big day dreamer; I can sit for hours and think. Time would go by without me realising just because I’m thinking about a project. I think things over for a long time before I even draw anything, that way I know what I want to do in my mind and then it’s just getting it done.

Inspiration wise it has made a difference living in Thirroul with the escarpment and the beach. I love drawing stuff to do with the outdoors so I definitely get inspired by small little towns like Thirroul and it’s nature. There’s always something to do and be inspired by. Theres mountain bike tracks in the escarpment, surf, decent skateparks, just no snow; that’s definitely something I want to do family wise – go to the snow.

Learn more about Sion here.