2 Minutes With ... Paul McDowall, Founder of clarkmcdowall
Starting his career in London, Paul McDowall is the creative force behind clarkmcdowall. He is responsible for expressing tangible strategies into eloquent, compelling solutions with real world success.
After 30 years in the business, Paul's creative vision continues to shape, reimagine, stretch and transform some of the world's biggest and most loved brands. His work has been published around the world and recognized by the package design council, brand design association and AIGA. Over the years, he has received national and international awards from various prestigious institutions.
Paul's passion is in partnering with clients to push boundaries and working with the team to take on the new types of branding challenges that clients face today. He is most proud of having created a company where people thrive and grow, where great talent wants to be part of.
We spent two minutes with Paul to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.
Paul, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Liverpool, U.K. If you know the song "Penny Lane," our house is between the barbershop and the fire station. It can be a gritty, tough city to live in but pretty unique, so it made for an interesting environment to grow up in. Over the years it has been the birthplace of musicians, actors, writers and artists and still has a thriving creative community.
Now, I'm living in the East Village, Manhattan, in the house my wife grew up in. It's an exciting place to be. Lots of energy, creative and fast moving.
What you wanted to be when you grew up.
I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind. I didn't know what design was when I was growing up, but I knew I had to be involved in something creative. I love fine art, but I just don't have the bravery (or talent).
How you realized you were creative.
I constantly had to make, draw, build, create, or I would get really antsy. When I was young I would get so excited seeing an empty box or a blank piece of paper—I would always have to turn it into something. A shoe box became anything—I was super imaginative. I am still like that now. I love seeing the potential in something. It's the most exhilarating part of the creative journey to me.
A person you idolized creatively growing up.
Anyone from The Bauhaus. I love the timeless style based on functionality. Also Magritte—specifically his linguistic and perceptual theories. He makes us question how we interact with the world as we see it. It's ontology.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
By a quirk of fate, we got the best art teacher in Liverpool—Mrs. Schofield. She changed my life and those of my mates in high school. We owe her a lot. She gave me a path and had it not been for her, I would not be writing this today. She was one of several influential women I've been blessed to know.
A visual artist you admire.
Too many to mention! But typically abstract art touches me most—Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Miró, to name a few. But there are some current artists such as Julie Mehertu or Erik Lindman who I think create some powerful work. Nothing excites me more than standing in front of a canvas and seeing the textures and depth—the art has life.
A band or musician you love.
The Smiths or The Bunneyman. And Fleet Foxes—they're a family favorite. We listen to them on our drive up to the Catskills.
Your favorite fictional character.
Any protagonist from a Haruki Murakami book. They are usually lone guys—with a cat—trying to navigate the surreality of life, facing humanist questions, bringing something expected out of themselves. And they love food.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I have a few. Midnight Diner, which is a quirky Japanese soap opera. It's random.
But recently I have been really into podcasts around systematic abuse of power. It's so important to shine a light on this, and these journalists are critical for sharing insight and knowledge. They have the ability to force change. One in particular being "Catch and Kill" by Ronan Farrow. His tenacity, bravery and intelligence helped lead to the conviction of the predator, Harvey Weinstein. This also uncovered the truth around the systems that support the abuses and crimes committed by the rich and powerful.
Someone worth following on Instagram.
I don't really follow Instagram and I honestly don't need another reason to look at my phone. My preference is IRL—an art gallery, being on my bike, conversation with smart friends. I think I just aged myself.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
Professionally, Covid-19 made me think more openly about the possibilities of space, working methodologies, the needs of people and time. I am incredibly proud of the way our team adapted and how we evolved as an agency during this strange time.
Personally, I miss my family and friends in the U.K. Not being able to travel has been pretty tough.
Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on.
There are so many but one that always comes to mind is Evolution Fresh. It's a BFY brand owned by Starbucks that makes organic juices more accessible and promotes a healthier lifestyle. They were pioneers about 20 years ago but lost their way and were being delisted—even from their own stores. We got to work with the founder, which is always an honor, and a team we became good pals with. Our work not only helped stop the decline but it was so successful that the brand growth was outpacing the category. At the end of the day that is what we do for our clients.
A recent project you're proud of.
We're very proud of our recent work with Theo Organic Chocolate. The brand not only makes amazingly delicious products (I love chocolate!) but it is driven by values and purpose and has great intentions at its core. Our work solidified its positioning, narrative and creative ID. The relaunch has been a huge win and the brand is growing exponentially. Plus, we won some prestigious design awards which is a nice bonus.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
Saul Bass. His work is idiosyncratic, conceptual, graphic, refracted. His work is strong, bold style with an idea behind it. I miss "ideas" in design. There is so much "prettiness" and "insta-worthy" work out there. That has its place of course, but sometimes I miss "clever."
Someone else's work that you admired lately.
I'd have to go with Julie Mehretu. Her work is bold, brave, intricate and breathtaking.
A main strength of yours as a creative person.
I am open-minded and love to build ideas with others. It doesn't have to be mine. I shed that ego a long time ago. Helping others see the potential and realize a great idea is where I bring most value.
Your biggest weakness.
Spreadsheets and excel.
One thing that always makes you happy.
My kids when they are happy and feeling good about themselves.
One thing that always makes you sad.
When I see a flagrant abuse of power, self-interested egotism and how it subjugates others' lives on a micro or macro scale.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in design.
I'd be helping kids and families with a healthy eating program. Or maybe running a small inn where I'd cook. Anything to do with good food that does good and I'm in!