Eye for design continues to rock after 25 years

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Former Nayland College student Dave Thomson has worked on the design of Smokefree Rockquest for 25 years.  Many of his creations are featured on an art installation at Nelson's Millers Acre parking lot to celebrate 35 years of Rockquest.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF

Former Nayland College student Dave Thomson has worked on the design of Smokefree Rockquest for 25 years. Many of his creations are featured on an art installation at Nelson’s Millers Acre parking lot to celebrate 35 years of Rockquest.

When Dave Thomson jumped on his motorbike as a student and rode from Nelson to Christchurch to take photos of a Rockquest final, he had no idea it would lead to 25 years of design work for the contest national music for young people.

For more than two decades, Thomson, now with his own creative company Imaginary Friends, has been branding Smokefree Rockquest, coming up with the concept for his artwork every year.

Thomson was around 17 and a student at Nayland College in Nelson when it all started. Involved in the school newspaper, in 1997 he decided to travel to Christchurch by motorbike to do a series of photos of the Smokefree Rockquest National Finals for the newspaper.

After returning to Nelson and deciding his photos were pretty good, he knocked on Rockquest co-founder Pete Rainey’s door to see if they’d be interested in them.

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An avid designer as well, the approach led Thomson to do design work for Rockquest.

“I did more and more for them, and a few years later they let me take over the branding reins.”

Many of the designs Thomson has made for Smokefree Rockquest over the past 25 years were featured on an art installation in Nelson’s Millers Acre parking lot to celebrate 35 years of Rockquest.

An exhibit in the complex, which can be seen through store windows and features videos with music, interviews and highlights from Rockquest, is underway.

A self-taught freelance designer, Thomson was driven from the start, working weekends at the Farmers department store as a teenager and saving his money to buy his first Macintosh computer.

Having done graphic design in high school, Thomson had wanted to become a comic book artist but was discouraged by a teacher who “didn’t see much potential in it.” However, always interested in music, Thomson was also inspired by record companies making fun artwork for album covers.

“I realized I could do some of the creative art in a music platform,” he said.

Nayland College alumnus Dave Thomson creates artwork used by Smokefree Rockquest.  Thomson visited the Make Shift Space Smokefree Rockquest exhibit at Millers Acre showcasing much of his art during a visit to Nelson.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF

Nayland College alumnus Dave Thomson creates artwork used by Smokefree Rockquest. Thomson visited the Make Shift Space Smokefree Rockquest exhibit at Millers Acre showcasing much of his art during a visit to Nelson.

After leaving school he worked in Nelson, setting up his own label Small Time Records in 1999 and working with young bands in Nelson and organizing gigs. For the past 12 years he has been based in Auckland creating music videos, as well as artwork, branding and design primarily for music artists.

“I’ve always been passionate about artwork that accompanies music, whether it’s video or photography.”

Each year, he comes up with a new concept for the Smokefree Rockquest artwork, redesigning his logo to match that year’s theme. This can involve illustration, photoshoot, or sometimes editing, and he loves his work, especially illustrations and video content.

“It’s really fun and interesting,” he says.

To keep the artwork fresh every year, Thomson pays attention to trends and what’s popular in music and fashion with teens, creating a mood board with ideas and getting feedback from a test group of students.

Thomson also works for Rockquest Promotions’ other competitions and has continued to work with Smokefree separately, creating commercials and visuals for it.

He’s also worked with an array of musicians over the years, “creating something they’re going to be proud of.” He is currently working on a music video for Polynesian metal band Shepherds Reign.

“I consider myself an incredibly lucky person to have met the guys at Rockquest,” Thomson said.

“They guided me throughout my growth. They’ve been the backbone of me doing my own thing.

“I wouldn’t look back. It has been the right trip for me.

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