Five Days in the Sketchbook Archive with Aitor Throup

We spend five days in the Daily Sketchbook Archive with Aitor Throup, diving deep on metamorphosis, methodology, and the therapeutic benefits of using your imagination every day.

Five Days in the Sketchbook Archive with Aitor Throup
Cult design legend and pioneering voice in technical garment construction, Aitor Throup, launches his most accessible line yet with TheDSA.

Driven by a desire to promote pure freedom of expression in a culture devoted to systems of conformity, what started as a professional practice has morphed into a form of daily therapy; connecting Throup to his inner child and providing him with the space necessary to break the rules in pursuit of new aesthetic ideas.

Translating his The Daily Sketchbook Archives (started in the early 2010s) into a line of ready-to-wear garments and accessories, this is a diffusion brand with a sense of purpose and clear raison d'etre. Part collectable art, part call-to-arms to reconnect with our imaginations and balance the scales between our left and right-hand brain, Aitor Throup's TheDSA is cultivating a niche at the intersection of graphic-led streetwear and limited edition artefacts - each with a story to tell.

Joining TheDSA for five consecutive days of daily practise, END. proffered five sketch prompts and corresponding questions - each designed to elicit conversation and garner insight from a deep-thinking visionary and boundless critical mind.

No. 3108: Metamorphosis

Talk us through the journey of TheDSA so far? At what point did it morph from daily practise into a form of creative therapy?

In the first couple of years, it was simply intended as a daily gallery of sketches: old and new. I’m glad because now the archives really provide a comprehensive view of how the aesthetic has evolved and transformed since the beginnings of my general design practice (The earliest sketches on there are from around 2003 when I was doing my university degree). 

Even at the beginning, there was a therapeutic element as it allowed/forced me to stop being so precious about the work that I released into the world. That was the first significant shift for me. After that, when my old sketches started running out; I wanted to continue the series so I had no choice but to start drawing every day. I think that having a very tangible commitment is very healthy for us because it forces us to step out of the complex personal narratives we continuously create… It helps to ground us and bring perspective. I think that our heads tend to be either in the past or in the future; we can easily forget to be in the present; which is what my sketches allow me to do. 

I realised early on that my drawings also allow me to express a deeper, more free and expressive part of myself. My conceptual clothing design work is primarily governed by the ‘left half’ of my brain: it’s very technical, structured, systematic, philosophical and intellectual. My sketches simply allow me to exercise the ‘right half’ of my brain and express myself without purpose like we did when we were kids. The way I see it, the vast majority of people are walking around massively out of balance because we’re all existing in a very ‘left brain’ system. What they didn’t teach us at school was to always keep using our ‘right brains’… to always keep using our imaginations. 

No. 3109: Duality

Your work has always felt deeply esoteric and precise - what does your creative process look like? Does it differ across mediums, be it sketching or industrial design?

I think the essence of my work is very consistent through time and throughout any discipline or medium I work with. I’m essentially a story teller… I’m trying to craft narratives which are meaningful and timeless, by creating design languages and aesthetic systems which are new. In that sense my work is fundamentally conceptual: anything I do is defined by a justified creative context… There is always a ‘reason’ behind my work. Even if the reason is, for example, to do a sketch with no purpose; the sketch itself forms part of a rigorous daily system, which is itself a conceptual framing for the balance between the right and left halves of the brain. 

I feel like in order to be satisfied with my work it must first be conceptually hermetically sealed… Its limits and defining principles must be clearly defined. Only then I can let go and be free. I think that raw creative energy is so powerful that we must use it in a very considered way if we want it to resonate and be understood, or at least felt. 

My creative process generally starts with me listening to myself… feeling my instincts and capturing a fleeting feeling, a thought or an idea. Once I see a pattern in this continuously growing collection of snippets I begin to build and design systems and theories in an attempt to dissect them and expand on them. Ultimately, I’m trying to invent new aesthetic languages.  

No. 3110: Structure

Your career thus far has been characterised by hyper-technicality - from the labels you’ve worked with to the materials used - and it feels like TheDSA is a step away from the specification-focused aspect of design to move in a less detail-oriented direction. Why did now feel like the right time to switch things up?

For a long time, I have wanted to translate my conceptual approach to design into an accessible product ‘brand’ that is as rich in meaning and narrative as my less accessible work. I deeply believe in the value of the meaning behind my work, and I don’t think that should be exclusive, elitist or accessible only to a minimal amount of people. I think that streetwear provides an opportunity to build meaning and design value into everyday items for a much wider demographic. My idea is for TheDSA to be perceived as a collectable concept: once a sketch/number sells out it won’t ever be available again. 

I’m also particularly interested in the paradigms and psychological constructs around branding. The industrial and capitalist systems we live in have created specific consumerist norms which we all take for granted, such as the usage of logos to identify a commercial entity. Since the early days of my New Object Research manifesto I have spoken about the notion of alternative branding; namely ‘branding through construction’. TheDSA utilises an extension of the same principle: ‘branding through numerical system’.  What interests me most about this approach to branding is the visual community that will build over time through people buying and wearing a product: if you bump into somebody and you’re both wearing a different number there will be a sort of automatic relationship established between these objects, and therefore between the individuals themselves.

With regards to garment technicality, TheDSA is actually one of the most technically challenging production clothing concepts I have ever worked on. The sheer amount of prints across multiple garment bases, along with the relatively low quantities, makes it incredibly difficult to control precision and consistency. Secondly, there is a huge amount of colour and print development with each series… I see every single garment as a collectable limited edition art print, and I feel a responsibility as the artist to ensure the quality of each piece. Further, the seemingly minimal and simplistic design means that something not being right in production stands out like a sore thumb. Considering my studio’s commitment to quality and precision there is a lot that can go wrong in sampling, development and production, so it has actually been very demanding to achieve the required standards of this seemingly simple product. 

No. 3111: Methodology

I’ve read that you’ve said in the past that your methodology can become your enemy - getting so caught up in process that you lose sight of the creativity - is that something you still struggle with? How has TheDSA helped alleviate that?

Absolutely. The system and methodologies I create can become suffocating. That’s why it’s crucial to be able to exercise the opposing type of energy in order to feel balanced and free. I feel like in the early years of developing my studio and general design practice, I rightly focused on building the theory and general philosophy of my work as a whole. As I began to feel the systematic restrictions of these constraints I was able to implement the final missing piece; which was the liberated and purposeless raw creative energy characterised by my drawings. In the period of time directly following the New Object Research 2013 collection I felt like I had achieved what I set out to achieve from a conceptual product design and construction platform. I can still say honestly that I was at the top of my game, and I sacrificed a lot to ensure that we released product into the world which was unprecedented in many ways. However, I was left feeling dissatisfied with the ‘identity’ of my work. It wasn’t a complete reflection of me… even though it was an incredibly precise representation of one half of me: the side governed by the left half of my brain. I felt like I wasn’t expressing my other side, and my sketches allowed me to reconnect with that side; to reconnect with my inner child. 

Incidentally, this re-connection with my raw creative energy resulted in not only TheDSA as a product concept, but also it has formed the foundation of the huge conceptual clothing project which has been in constant development since my last presentation in 2016.  

No. 3114: Selectivity

Having been working on TheDSA for years, you’ve got a thousands-strong back catalogue of sketches to choose from. How did you go about curating the images you wanted to appear in the debut collection?

Series 1 was a very impulsive process actually. I wanted it to be purely about the different feelings that each sketch trigger in me. Each drawing is like a direct memory of a specific moment in my imagination, and I suppose I wanted to express as wide a spectrum of feelings as possible. My ideal would be for every single person to be able to feel a connection to at least one drawing in every series… a sketch that makes them feel something that they recognise and connect with. Ultimately, I love the idea of having multiples in your wardrobe which each express a different feeling; allowing you to choose which one you wear on any given day based on your mood… They can hopefully become characters that grow with you - maybe people will have ‘lucky’ ones that they wear under a shirt for a job interview! 

In any case, my favourite part of this ‘brand’ is how the earlier sketches/garments will be rarer and more valuable as time evolves. Even though people will still be able to buy brand new box fresh ones at any given point in the future, they’ll be new sketches which weren’t available before; and the old faded and ripped ones in their wardrobe will hold a completely different value; yet part of the same system. I can’t wait to see people’s collections as they evolve through time.