An interview with graffiti artist Paul “DON” Smith

Do you remember back in March when I had a chance encounter with one of my favourite graffiti artists Paul “DON” Smith? Well, he kindly agreed to do a quick interview with me by email, and it gives me great pleasure to share it with you today. Naturally, I’ve included a lot of images of his work, too. Enjoy!

Street art by DON

So, should I call you DON or Paul?
LOL. Don is great, but could be better, so you know how to get hold of me.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Don

How long have you been producing street art?
I have been an active graffiti artist for 25 years, but my recent street art, where I create images that I think an audience/people may like, has been a shorter time; say 5 years or so.

Legend of the Fall, Tom & Twiggy, by DON

Have you always worked with stencils, or do you ever use different techniques?
I have mostly been a freehand spraycan artist, but I am now a mixed medium artist, I have starved myself long enough, I am free.

DON in Shoreditch

Why do you choose to make street art, rather than painting on canvases and exhibiting in galleries?
LOL. I do both, but mostly its on the streets, for now I paint originals and paint original limited editions, through selected galleries or my website.

DON in Shoreditch

Have you ever got in trouble for painting somewhere you shouldn’t have? If so, what happened?
I used to get into a bit of trouble, but that has long gone; my teenage years, many years back. The police know of all my illegal work, as they offered me a clean slate if I could tell them of other works. It saved time them knocking at the door again, me time and them time, it’s called “taken into consideration” (TIC).

DON in Shoreditch

Do you have a “day job”?
Yes I am a self-employed graphic designer.

Street art by DON

Do you have any objections to your work being referred to as “graffiti”? Is there a difference between “graffiti” and “street art” as far as you’re concerned?
Not really, I am just more selective now on the locations. It’s all the same, it’s just if the audience can communicate with it or not, if it has a message or is it just ‘ME’ ‘ME’. The market has opened up with the wonderful success of Banksy and Blek.

Quee saved the God by DON and Our Diamond Queen by DON

You seem to paint a lot of portraits (which is why I love your work!). Is there a reason for this?
I think it’s a nice thing to see. One will identify with it quickly and may find it endearing. I tend to stick with portraits that influence myself and I am reaching out to see if others feel the same. Artists, musicians, actors, writers, thinkers, designers, distinguished characters, also portraits of individuals who the audience/people do not know and it’s interesting to place them on the world stage.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Don

I’ve noticed a slight religious theme to your work recently. What’s that all about then?
Powerful images are amazing to paint. I do little twists too with this, like “Queen save the God” [below], I had not seen it reversed before and thought it was nice as the Queen/monarchy is head of the church. Keep the faith, it’s a great thing, like humans, we are powerful.

DON: Queen Saved the God

Which other artists do you admire?
Monet, Turner, Constable, Duster UA, Rodin, Hodgkin and many others.

Image courtesy of DON

Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers about your work, or about street art in general?
More to come so watch this space!

This image is courtesy of DON

A big thank you to DON for taking the time to talk with me! For more information about DON’s work, please visit his website:

I hope to do more interviews like this and in person in the future, so watch this space and do get in touch if you’re an artist who would like to have a chat.

Born brilliant?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes people great. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what makes one person so much better than another (or be perceived to be so much better).

In my job, I have a lot of contact with utterly brilliant people; people who are at the top of their professional field, or young individuals with more potential than my entire year-group had at school. But what makes these people the best? Is it their upbringing? Is it because they went to the best schools, didn’t have to work as a till-monkey in between university classes, and had rich parents who took them abroad multiple times a year? Or is it just that they were born that way?

Of course, this line of thought could lead to the question of what classifies one person as better than another anyway. What I mean by “better” is that some people seem to have the whole package (and then some), while others don’t even know how to open the package. Some people are able to hold intelligent conversations on a wide variety of topics in multiple languages, while others can barely string a sentence together with correct grammar in what is supposed to be their native language. Some people have incredible lives planned out before they even graduate, others leave school at sixteen and end up stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with stacking shelves in a supermarket or working in a shop. I’ve certainly done my fair share of menial jobs, and I’m well aware that without people doing these jobs the rest of society would break down. I’m also not classing myself as one of these “brilliant” people. Far from it – I’m in awe of some of the people I come into contact with (and utterly jealous of some of the young ones who don’t know how lucky they are). I realise that a fully functioning society requires people of all levels of intellect and ability – I just want to know what makes them that way.

Another related thought I’ve been having this week is to do with appearance and the impression we make. Say you were hiring at your company and had two candidates to choose from. Both have straight A*s throughout their entire academic careers. Candidate A went to either Oxford or Cambridge University, and arrives wearing a crisp dark suit. His hair is slicked back, clean, short and he speaks with perfect “BBC pronunciation”. Candidate B went to a perfectly good university which wasn’t Oxbridge. He arrives wearing a crisp dark suit, has long hair in a ponytail and his ear pierced. He speaks with a northern accent. On paper, these two men are practically identical. Which one would you hire?

Of course, body language and personality would come into the decision, but my money’s on Candidate A. Candidate A has, perhaps,  been more fortunate in his upbringing and been offered different opportunities to Candidate B. However, they are both very intelligent young men who deserve a chance in life. I would actually rather hire Candidate B because his appearance and background show a little more personality, but I think I’m in the minority.

So, these “brilliant” people… are they born that way, or is it a combination of upbringing, education and the way they present themselves? Would Candidate B be one of these “brilliant” people, if only he had gone to a different university or cut his hair? Of course, it’s not as simple as that.

I’ll continue to ponder. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Einstein - Brilliant, but his hair was kinda long...

(Image source)

Plinky prompts Q&A

Even though it’s September, and eight months of 2011 have already gone by, I’ve decided to join’s Post A Week initiative. Actually, I decided to join last week, but I got “too busy to post”. This is becoming a habit which I need to break, so I’m forcing myself to do a quick post tonight.

I’ve decided to use five random questions from Plinky Prompts to make a little Q&A. If you’d like to add any further questions in the comments box below, I’d be more than happy to answer them! 😉

Cake or Pie?

Cake – every time! Especially cupcakes. I’m having a bit of a thing for cupcakes at the moment, and this week is National Cupcake Week, which is pretty exciting.

Banoffee cupcake

When are you happiest?

Funnily enough, I was asked this question in an interview recently. My response then was “when I’m lying in the bath with a good book”. That’s still my answer, but sadly I don’t have a bath (only a shower) at the moment. It’s killing me, but my books are less soggy.

If you could become two people right now, what are the first two things you’d want to do?

I’ve been so busy lately, that becoming two people would be really nice! I’d leave one of me at home to finish writing all the blog posts and articles I’ve started, while the other went to work. I’d let the work-me go out after work to exhibitions and parties, while the writing-me just stayed at home and wrote about it all.

Would you rather be a food critic, a book critic or a film critic?

That’s easy – a food critic! I’ve been dabbling in restaurant reviews recently over at Haikugirl’s Japan, and it’s something I’d like to get into more seriously. Naturally, I’d be happiest reviewing Japanese restaurants, or pâtisseries…

What’s your favourite month? Why?

It’s probably December, because my birthday and Christmas are both in December. I like that winter feeling, of wrapping up in coats and gloves, going out to a place like Covent Garden and seeing all the Christmas decorations. I’m crazy about Christmas and love any excuse to put a bit of tinsel up… 😉


Can you think of some more questions for me? If they’re good enough, I might even turn them into a whole new post!