Under Strange Suns: how we made our art competition’s logo

Atomhawk’s annual art competition is the biggest event in our calendar. Every summer, artists from across the world share their skills and imagination with us through their ideas and jaw-dropping concepts.

Bringing the competition to life is a huge task; over 30 people at Atomhawk helped to make this year’s competition a reality, and each brought their own specialist skills, creativity and focus to the project.

The logo is an important part of the art competition. This year’s theme is Under Strange Suns. A logo helps set the scene both visually and narratively, providing an inspirational touchpoint, which is really important for entrants so we work hard to get it right. This year, our Graphic Designers Dan Gilmore and Lewis Wagstaff teamed up to create the Under Strange Suns logo. Here, they explain how they did it.

Client collaboration

For this project, Justine Colla, Atomhawk’s Brand Marketing Manager acted as the ‘client’, writing a brief for the graphic design team. The brief was clear: create a logo which was high quality, eye-catching and communicated the overall theme of this year’s competition theme in a creative way.

Additionally, Justine included a drawing of a rough idea of what she envisioned for the logo. This starting point was the basis for the designers’ inspiration. Along with the sketch, it was also a must for the final logo to support the competition’s key art.

Dan says: “Justine’s sketch was enough to communicate her vision, even if it was rough. We had something to build on. Having something like this is sometimes better because it means there’s more room for us to inject our own interpretation.”


When our creative team present to clients, we demonstrate lots of different avenues. We listen to the client talk about what they like and help to empower their favourite ideas.

Dan was the first designer to look at the logo brief. He responded with a range of routes in deliberately very different styles. He says: “I did one design that was very faithful to the original sketch provided, but the others are very far from that. I was taking inspiration from different aspects of the key art. Option 1 is the most sci-fi of them. Option 2 has a hippy vibe, which references some of the character design. Option 3 is more grungy; strange. Option four was inspired by 1950s / 60s sci-fi movie titles and pulp fiction novel covers.”

A key component of this brief was finding the balance between inspiring people but creating a design that doesn’t restrict creativity by leaning too hard towards one genre. Dan explains: “If we’d really gone down the sci-fi route, we could have discouraged people who don’t do sci-fi stuff, or influenced people to take that route if it’s not their strength. I think what we’ve landed on is something that’s quirky in its own right. It breaks down that barrier – it’s not prescriptive.”

Choosing a direction

Justine, as the client, selected options 2 and 4 as her favourites, and 2 won the day. From that point, Lewis worked on the concept. He says: “The feedback was to make the logo more legible because it’s the main logo for the competition, rather than a small asset within a game. It had to be clear on first glance. That was the most important factor.”

Expanding on Dan’s original design, Lewis created his own interpretation by using Photoshop to hand-draw the bubbly text. Hand-drawing typography helps to make a logo unique and bespoke. An existing font can form a base, but a finished logo has to be custom designed.

For example, take the 2022’s Forgotten Creation art competition logo. It began with a font as a base, which was then expanded upon and modified. The character and quirkiness of the refreshed typography made it very different from the original.

Back to Under Strange Suns. The graphic designers explain how they consider the letters they have to work with. Lewis says: “There are three S’s that are very prominent, bookending the logo. So, they need to fit into the shape of the other layers, which means each one needs to be unique to work.”

Dan agrees, adding: “And you’ve got other instances of repetition. Those three N’s in a diagonal line, and the two E’s. There are so many repeated letters that it would be really obvious if you were using a standard font.”

Adding structure

The next step was taking feedback from Art Director Drew, who suggested that the design should aim for a halfway point between the bubbly, psychedelic style, and the pulp fiction style. Using various modern typography examples, Drew created a paintover for the graphic designers.

Lewis says: Using Drew’s direction, I did a few options myself – pushing and pulling things, just warping it to go from one extreme to another, to see how far we could push it before it became too illegible.”

Dan explains that doing this gave the design more structure, moving it on from the previous bubbly iteration and making it more legible: “The letters are contained within boxes and angled in different ways. The format is more regular but it still holds lots of character, for example in the way that the curve inside the top of the U curls round.”

Evoking a narrative

All graphic design holds references that people will read within it. This logo nods to psychedelic posters, which in turn carry connotations that people know and understand. The design borrows these associations but it isn’t a total replication. Lewis says: “You’re evoking a narrative that’s inspired by, but not recycling, something that already exists. It’s trying to do all that while making something fresh, interesting and new.”

“We’re always working with ingredients that people have used before. But we’re making new soup out of them,” adds Dan, succinctly.

Final polish

With Justine happy with the design, it was time for Dan, as Atomhawk’s Discipline Lead in graphic design, to assist with a bit of polish. At this stage, Dan thought the legibility could be elevated and was concerned the S’s may read as lowercase G’s. He says: “I made some suggestions on how we might improve the legibility. It does breaks some of the established formula but I think it’s OK to break your own rules in order to make a better final product.”

Spikes were added to the sun elements to break up the shapes and add more interest, balancing them against the detail in the text. Quotation marks were also added. The inspiration for this came from the many 50s, 60s and 70s sci-fi novels Dan has read where the title is a quote from the book. Justine was particularly pleased with this addition. She says: “I really like the quotation marks. I think it contributes to the feel of the art competition itself, which is all about storytelling. And it almost like the logo is speaking to the artist who wants to get involved: this is the theme this year. That’s a really nice detail.”

Final thoughts

As an internal project, designing the art competition logo had a lot of creative flex and freedom. Lewis says: “You can explore – it’s something you can dip into with techniques you’re passionate about. It’s not just about getting the job done, it’s about enjoying that process.”

One of the building blocks of Atomhawk’s ethos is working collaboratively. Atomhawk works on lots of projects in small teams, which allows people at all levels to have a real voice, and to share their thinking. Dan adds: “The collaborative approach brings us all together to get a final result better than any of us could alone. I know that some artists don’t like having to pick up someone else’s sketches. Maybe that feels like they haven’t made the whole thing themselves, but at Atomhawk we like the collaborative approach, and it gets excellent results.”

For more information on our annual Art Competitions, check out our Resources page. For career opportunities at Atomhawk, see our open roles here.