The Hi-story of Billy Blue

06 November 2018


What makes Billy Blue legit? Is it our university accreditation? Is it our connection to industry? Is it our commercially focused education that wants you out in the industry carving your own path? Well, yes, but more important than that it’s the spirit of unconventional, innovative and inspired fun. This is one of the reasons why the Billy Blue pencil is so short: Years and years and years of spirited ideas. It’s a legacy we share with the many facets of Billy Blue; the man, the magazine, the school and our www.billybluecreativecom design studio…

1801 The Man

‘A courageously resourceful fellow’, To those looking into the history, William ‘Billy’ Blue arrived in Sydney in 1801 after being sentenced to 5 years for stealing 20 pounds of sugar, a key ingredient in his chocolate side business. After serving his remaining 2 years in Sydney, he showed his tenacity in making his living through a row-yourself ferry service which carried all manner of produce and contraband, unbeknown to the rower, under the hull. There is no doubt of William ‘Billy’ Blue’s humblest of origins, and determination of spirit against the odds. He was no saint, but managed to adapt and prosper in a harsh and distant land where chance needed to be seized. His quick wit and fast thinking endures his legacy and has placed Billy Blue affectionately in the hearts of creatives, living by our ideas, or products and our connected impulse to seek out all opportunity.

1977 The Magazine

Ross Renwick and Aaron Kaplan thought it was a good idea to name a magazine after a bootlegging convict, William ‘Billy’ Blue. He had a fire in his belly and, while it might have been the bootlegged rum, it powered him to become one of the most audacious and entrepreneurial harbour watchmen in Australia. Sparked by the spirit of this loveable namesake, Ross and Aaron launched Billy Blue as a rule-bending magazine celebrating local culture - Sydney’s answer to The New Yorker.

1980 Billy Blue Creative

On the back of this reputation, the magazine evolved into a design agency, Billy Blue Creative. Billy Blue injected opinions, ideas and friction into the Sydney scene with exceptional creative flair. It became synonymous with the best and most creative work, blowing the minds of both corporate conservatives and the creative community alike.

1987 Billy Blue School of Graphic Arts

As Billy Blue Creative grew, Ross and Aaron struggled to find designers with the talent and skills to meet both their creative standards and the unconventional spirit of Billy Blue. So, they advertised for students to come into the studio to learn alongside them. They thought possibly four students would apply. Applications from 68 hungry creatives were received, and the Billy Blue College of Design was created.

1990 Final issue

In 106 issues, Billy Blue published about one thousand short stories and articles from about 700 authors, many of them not heard of before or since. About half of the covers of Billy Blue had been chosen to appear in design magazines like Graphis (Europe) Tokyo Art Directors’ Annual, Art Directors’ Cub of New York, Australian Writers and Art Directors’ Annuals, Australian Graphic Designers’ Association Annuals, Design Down Under, The Work of Austalia’s Leading Graphic Designers and other local and international publications. One sunny Sydney day, on the day they would be starting the production of Billy Blue issue number 107, Ross Renwick and Aaron Kaplan decided not to do it anymore. It took only a ten-minute meeting with co-founders Ross Renwick and Aaron Kaplan to make the decision. They had become more interested in a communications company named Billy Blue Creative.

2018 Billy Blue Creative continues

Billy Blue Creative baptised young co-creators in a creative studio environment, giving their talent a footing in the workplace. That was in 1987, and the conversation hasn’t changed; demand has only escalated.  Today, we live the spirit of Billy Blue; unconventional, innovative, inspired, fun.