“In 2015, I had two major failures that still haunt me to this day,” writes Brooklyn based designer, Allan Yu, on his website, “I failed to get into Yale’s MFA program in January, and was let go from a promising startup called Grailed in July.” After a year of beating himself up for what he viewed as not being good enough and not original enough, he started creating a composition a day, in a cathartic process, under the pseudonym Mars Maiers. To this day (9 February 2018), “Mars” has created a total of 768 artworks – “this continuous project is about finding myself and my voice in design, however slowly, however unoriginal, one day at a time,” Allan explains.
Initially majoring in accounting at Northeastern University, Allan quickly realised that it was not the course for him and switched to the design department. “It was a traditional communication design course but through the jobs and gigs I got after college I somehow fell into doing websites which naturally transitioned into digital products,” he recalls. Allan’s work still very much sits in the realm of digital design, a conscious decision based on economic and practical reasons. “I can make a composition and create value from nothing and commit errors without costing anything. Just the ease of the ‘undo button’ is enough for me to stay in the digital space forever,” Allan tells It’s Nice That.
The process of creating an artwork a day provides Allan with the chance to turn his apparent failures into motivation. “I think all those articles and self-help Ted talks about failing set up a false premise about trying to achieve your goals,” Allan explains, “I want to do everything I can to avoid failure and the fear of that motivates me.” By forcing himself to produce work daily and upload it to the internet, Allan is throwing hours and commitment at what he wants to be better at – “that’ll help me soften the blow when I do make a big mistake or make me feel less guilty about my effort if I failed to achieve something,” he explains.
Completely at odds with his professional practice, the artwork produced under Mars Maiers is incredibly free and experimental. “I’d say a lot of the process happens during the hours before I start that day’s Mars piece. I try to be aware of my visual surroundings enough to remember one element I want to incorporate in today’s piece,” Allan describes. That one element could take the form of a colour palette, a shape, a word or a certain dispersion of space but it will often kick-start an exploration that lasts several days.
Scrolling through Mars Maiers, visual aesthetics are grouped together in days or four or five until Allan gets bored and decides to play with something different. “I consistently look at my contemporaries and see what they’re doing visually and try to break down how they see things and implement my interpretation of their thinking,” Allan explains. Because of this approach, the artworks will often incorporate existing elements that Allan has found elsewhere, remixing them and incorporating them with juxtaposing ideas.
Through the use of found imagery and text and variation of line and colour, Allan creates work which rips up his internal rulebook and allows him to work without the fear of making mistakes. “I generally aim for a breadth of visual directions instead of the quality of a singular aesthetic,” he describes. By losing the constraints of the type of work he thinks he “should” be creating, Allan allows himself to creatively play – both improving his technical skills and exploring new ideas.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.