Passenger X Fried Cactus
Passenger and Fried Cactus logos

Passenger X Fried Cactus: A Graphics Story

"I play between surrealism, abstract and more straight forward literal ways of communicating ideas or emotions, to tell a story.”

Aron Leah, Fried Cactus

We first met illustration legend Aron Leah (aka Fried Cactus) back when he designed the epic graphics on our Brewgooder beer cans. 

His style is unique and playful, and packed with story. For our Spring '24 collection, we set him the challenge to create some unique artwork for a new line of tees around the themes of ‘Go Forage’ and ‘Better Outside’. He delivered.

Here we catch up with Aron to talk inspirations, style choices, preferred briefing methods, and in-studio soundtracks. Here goes.

How did you get into illustration and design, what is it you love about it?

That’s a really difficult question... There are so many reasons why I love it. I get so much out of being creative, solving problems and developing something so personal over long periods of time. Then having other people resonate with what I create. It's very rewarding in that sense and I honestly couldn't imagine doing anything else. Believe me, I've tried a lot!

Fried Cactus Studio logo on the sleeve of a t-shirt

I just fell into it. It was a little bit of being the right person at the right time, but also someone had my back and gave me a shot. Grateful for that!

How would you describe your particular style and where do you gather inspo?

I play between surrealism, abstract and more straightforward, literal ways of communicating ideas or emotions, to tell a story. I choose to do this in a minimal, single-line illustration style as that just feels most comfortable and enjoyable to me.

A woman smiles standing in the shade of a pine tree on top of a mountain
Aron's 'Go Forage' graphic on our Organic Cotton T-Shirt

Back in the day, I spent a lot of time riding bikes, surfing and travelling. Between living in a van on a beach in Morocco and pedalling through LA, I had some amazing experiences. 

I fully use those experiences to inspire certain aspects of my work. It helps me connect to projects on an emotional level in the hope that other people will see what I'm trying to do, because it feels familiar.

A man leans against a railing overlooking a town
Aron's 'Better Outside' graphic on our Organic Relaxed Fit T-shirt

I'm also inspired by more urban city settings, everything from art, music, fashion and especially the people within those cultures. 

I'm always working on finding the right juxtaposition of both my past and present experiences. I think that's true of most artists, constantly trying to put parts of themselves into what they create.

A woman walking along cobbled streets looks over her shoulder
Aron's 'Better Outside' graphic on our Organic Cotton Vest
A close up of two men holding a cup of coffee while sitting on a wall
Aron's 'Better Outside' graphic on our Organic Relaxed Fit T-Shirt

What part does illustration play in your wellbeing?

A huge part. It can leave me feeling burnt out and kinda down but then also I'd probably go insane if I couldn't do it, I love it.

It's a constant battle for me though. There aren't many industries where something you put so much of yourself into, is under scrutiny and critique from yourself and others on a daily basis.

A woman holds onto a tree and spreads her arms out

Being a freelance illustrator gives me the flexibility to have a day off here and there, be there for my family and continue to do the things I enjoy. I don't have to turn up to a 9- 5 and be creative on demand, but that's not to say it doesn't come with other challenges.

Everyone has a different journey but I've really had to roll with the punches and find ways to keep going, which I think makes it all the more worth doing.

"I try to help other creatives where I can, like if someone reaches out for advice I'll always help out and try to make their journey a little easier. It meant a lot to me when people did that in my greener days."

A group of four friends laugh together

Why is it you like to draw from words only, without visual references?

Don't get me wrong, often visual references are part of my process. But I'll try to limit it to reference books I already have or only gather a few images and not get overwhelmed. I have to trust that I can create something that will work.

A close up of a graphic print on a women
'Go Forage'

When working with people, I try to listen and ask the right questions. You can uncover all kinds of stories or unique insights into what makes a brand or business special, their vision, ethos, heritage etc.

"The aim is to take an idea, emotion, experience or whatever it might be and go, 'Ok, what does that look like as an illustration'. Iteration is pretty key here as there's usually more than one way to communicate something."

A man crouches down by a bookcase and explores the books
Aron Leah, Fried Cactus Studio

So if I can gather that information which is usually written down, I'll just build on that by writing about my own experiences or doing research into subjects I'm unfamiliar with. I do a lot of writing before my sketch process, it kinda prepares my brain.

Talk us through the designs for Passenger’s Spring range - ‘Better Outside’ and 'Go Forage'

With 'Better Outside', I thought about how your day-to-day life will always be there waiting for you. So I really wanted to capture this sense of connection and hanging out with your friends around a campfire. 

Those times are so important and I have a lot of memories of post-surf cookouts with friends, on a random part of the coast somewhere in the south of France, my mind a million miles away from life and responsibilities back home. That's pretty much what I was thinking about when drawing this.

Better Outside graphic print
'Better Outside'
A man sits on a hammock sipping from a beer can looking out over the mountains

With 'Go Forage' I have absolutely no experience with foraging! So this was more about research and I developed this idea of 'hide and seek' where the forager is searching high and low for mushrooms and herbs etc. I thought that was pretty funny. I'm really stoked with how this one turned out!

A woman leans against a rock smiling
'Go Forage'

And finally, top tracks you play whilst in the studio?

I've pretty much had Deftones and Isaiah Rashad on repeat. Two very different genres but it works!

Check out our Spring '24 Collection featuring Aron's work

"A big shout out to everyone at Passenger for bringing me on board for this collaboration. It was such a fun project and it's always great collaborating with like-minded people. Cheers!"

A man sits on a hammock and raises a beer can to his friends
Back to blog