Crystal Zapata: Calm Chaos

Work / Graphic Design

Crystal Zapata’s work joins the dots between radical Italian design and Chicago house

As a child, Crystal Zapata made collages out of magazine clippings, drawing everything she had collected together onto the page; this love soon grew into a passion for graphic design, and is visible in the delicately-layered posters she produces today.

Using her childhood knack for experimentation, Crystal’s aesthetic is, in her words, “a cocktail of ideas, references, and influences that have been manipulated, stretched, inverted, deleted, and reverted”. Her design is playful but contains beautiful formal moments. The abstract shapes are loud and fun, bouncing around each other, and the typography is minimal and robust, standing strong against a colourful background.

Crystal studied dance for 15 years. “My design practice is influenced by movement through the negotiation of space and moving elements around the page”, she explains. The separate elements in her design form the steps of a choreography. A ballet or a salsa, the shapes cha cha cha and dance together, bounding across the poster in a manner that entices us to join.

The designer’s work has been largely influenced by other artistic mediums. “I enjoy drawing with looser mediums like oil pastels and charcoal, as well as photographing on a 35mm point and shoot”, she tells us. “Those textures weave themselves into my design”. In several of her posters, we see gorgeous inverted photos, heat-maps and scratchy, waxy crayon.

Crystal is also heavily influenced by music, making posters for a bi-weekly dance party in her hometown, Chicago called Bricktown Sound. “Collaborating with people whose artistic practice provide sensory stimulation outside of sight and touch is very refreshing”, she explains. “Listening and feeling become especially crucial tools for designing, and similar to music, design can be dissonant of melodic”.

Each week the DJs are different, so Crystal makes the posters as eclectic and varied as possible; She emulates the energy of the music through her explosive designs. As the acts play vinyl, she feels it’s necessary to pair this decision with analogue methods of design, a technique she enjoys combining with digital.

“I like using materials and textures that can’t be digitally replicated”, she explains. “There’s a romance about messiness and materiality that I really love”. After making work on the computer, she scans and prints it. We’ve all been there: pressing our faces against the cool plastic, scanning our hands, or in Crystal’s case, her feet. “I love the super subtle halftone texture that the printer produces”, the artist comments. “It provides a romantic tactility that digital imagery and typography typically lack”.

For the artist, “graphic design is one of the most concise expressions of a cultural moment”. Memes, logos, advertisements, are all a sign of the times. “Trying to unpack trends through visual culture is really fascinating to me”, she explains. With her love of old record covers, Chicago house music flyers from the 80s and 90s and 1960s radical Italian design, we observe through Crystal’s work, our generation’s love for all things retro.


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


Crystal Zapata: Bricktown Sound


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Crystal Zapata: Zine, Photos by Jingyu Lin