Interview: Rick Murphy, the Man Who Discovered Américas

Rick Murphy (@flashmurphy) hails from Seattle and serves as designer, developer, and illustrator at Hardly Code, which he co-runs with Eric Loes.

Rick’s produced the first geographic set for NeonMob which, when finished, will represent every country on every continent. Not ambitious or anything. The first installment called “Américas” drops next Tuesday, September 17, 2013. We sat down with Rick to discuss his obsession and learn more about the work he does.

NeonMob: Tell us about your set “Américas”.

Mike Duca reached out me to do a set for NeonMob. He liked my recent work exploring geometry and geography. We decided that flags would be a good fit for my style and something people would enjoy collecting. There’s roughly 200 countries on planet Earth and we decided to release them in installments. “Américas” is the first release.

NeonMob: What was the process for creating each flag? It looks like you really dug into local culture and geographic features to produce these pieces.

Each flag’s geometry is preserved and filled with imagery from the region and history of each country. Have you ever Wikipedia’d a random country? They are ALL really interesting. Try it sometime! Illustrations were re-drawn when needed and consistent texture/shading systems were used to give the set a cohesive look. There’s over 200 pieces in the set, so time management became a serious part of the process. It was a great workout.  

NeonMob: Where does your interest in geography come from?

Most of my work aside from NeonMob deals with locational attachment. Returning to a specific place can return you to a distinct time. It’s a feeling sometimes stronger than hearing an old song.

NeonMob: While a lot of your work seems to fit the “Flatland” aesthetic, you seem to have preserved some depth and added a considerable amount of texture to these pieces. What lead you to this style, how did you develop it, and do you think you’ll use it again?

This set of 200 was an opportunity to screw around with my style. I think I learned from each flag. Sometimes about texture, shape, perspective or blend mode. Other times about a country I’d love to visit soon. Yes, any successful exploration will definitely influence my future work.

NeonMob: Tell us about the Seattle print and t-shirt you did. How did that project come about, and what was the reaction?

I live 50 yards from the water in downtown Seattle. I will not experience this forever and wanted to document this moment in my life. The print was self-initiated and some blogs picked up on it. United Pixelworkers wanted to distribute a shirt for Seattle in the style of the print. Many people in Seattle commute to work via boat, so I simplified the shirt’s art to focus on the ferry. Both the print and shirt are enjoying their second runs. I’ve been very fortunate with this one.

NeonMob: You were commissioned to do a similar piece of San Francisco for Microsoft’s Build Conference materials. What came of that project?

The Wonderful Nishant Kothary was working on the Build conference collateral and wanted to add an illustration of San Francisco to the conference books. All of his work for Build Conference was beautiful. I’m happy to have been part of it.  Nishant was great enough to let me retain rights to the art so I could later release it in print. I’m changing up the composition for 18x24 inches and working with Vahalla Studios in Kansas City on screen print gradient techniques. I’d like to have it available in October.

NeonMob: Have you played Ridiculous Fishing? I can’t but help see the similarity between the geometric art in that game and some of your work.

Ha. Yes, maybe from the 45 degree geometry and such. I don’t think it looks like my work. My work is older than that game. We’re living in an era of visual simplification. Some of us are coming to similar conclusions on how simplification should be achieved. Ridiculous Fishing is a fun game though.

NeonMob: Where do you go for inspiration now?

The obvious stuff like Dribbble, Designspiration, Fox is Black, Design Work Life. Maybe  just a walk around Seattle. The best stuff comes over iChat from my designer friends. My motivation for inspiration lately is that of a spectator. I love to cheer others on but I think I’ve absorbed my fill of inspiration in this era of deconstruction and simplification. As I begin to rebuild and return to complexity I’d like my next wave to be inspired by things internal.  

NeonMob: Who or what would you consider to be your top five influences right now? Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

Charley Harper, Jonas Bergstrand, Gabby Zapata, Thomas Hart Benton, and Eyvind Earle. Rogie King showed me Eyvind’s work a few months ago. He is new to my list but quickly taking over.

NeonMob: So, gotta ask, do you collect anything in real life?

Hmm. If you look around my place you’ll see a lot of wine and music. Acquired from unintentional collecting.   

NeonMob: What’s your take on NeonMob?

It’s an interesting concept and you guys are implementing it wonderfully. I’ve talked a bit with Rogie about some of your future plans. I think y’all are headed for great things.

NeonMob: How would you explain it to a friend?

It’s like Clash of Clans meets art collecting.

NeonMob: Thanks Rick — this has been super interesting. Was there anything you’d like to add?

No, man — good luck! Thanks for having me. It’s been fun to be a part of the NeonMob story.

There you have it! We can’t wait for Rick’s “Américas” to drop next Tuesday, September 17. Until then, check out Ricks’ website, and connect with him on Twitter, Dribbble, and Instagram.