Henock Sileshi on designing for Brockhampton, and learning to trust his instincts
The Berkley-born, LA-based designer’s mammoth career started off by accident. Here, he tells us that story and what it’s like to work alongside one band for so long.
- Ruby Boddington
- 17 June 2021
- Reading Time
- 5 minute read
The story of how Henock Sileshi (AKA Hk) came to be the designer for Brockhampton is pleasantly accidental. It all began during high school (at the time, a career in creativity wasn’t even on Hk’s radar, in fact, he was aiming for the NBA) when a friend asked him to design a mixtape cover. “To this day, I don’t know what prompted him to ask me to do such a daunting task. I had no prior knowledge,” Hk recalls. Using some rudimentary online photo editor and the guy’s Facebook profile picture, Hk played with the sharpness, brightness and contrasts, then added stickers and his friend liked it. Hk was asked to make more and so searched online for “how to make mixtape covers”. Yahoo Answers’ reply said to use Photoshop so he got himself a copy and “ended up opening the pandora’s box – looking endlessly through online tutorials and playing within the application seeing what was possible and capable,” he explains. And that was it, he was hooked.
Over the years, Hk has “built a natural affinity towards design as a whole, and it prompted me to go back and learn about different designers and styles, learning about fine artists, figuring out my own taste palette and what attracts me to certain things and what doesn’t!” It’s been a totally instinctual and exciting process and, today, Hk only knows what to call himself because he used to read the liner notes of all his favourite albums. “I’d always read up on who did what on the project, just to get a better glimpse of the depth that goes into make a body of work like that. If it wasn’t for people like Virgil Abloh contributing work to Kanye and Cudi albums and seeing his name credited as an art director or graphic designer… After it all clicked, I told myself, I want to be this!! Not only for me, but for my friends and for the group.”
The work Hk is best known for (and which has amassed him a significant online following too) has been alongside Brockhampton, the Texan hip-hop boy band with a cult following. Alongside the band since the very beginning, Hk has been a part of their growth and has pioneered the visual output which often attracts as much attention as the music itself.
One thing they love to do, for example, is have the artworks for each single represent a totally different visual direction to their album artwork, with the singles actually made before the album visuals. But this process was flipped with their most recent release, Roadrunner: New Light, New New Machine. Hk was given free reign and chose to feature multiple members from the group (something they don’t often do) in the visual by taking a still from the video and embracing its lo-fi look. “I don’t know I got the gradient like that in the middle, a lot of my process is trying something I know and then going to places I’ve never been, just clicking around or blending things 100 times or cranking to insane settings until I feel harmony. It won’t feel right until I step back and say ‘Yep – there it is’,” he explains.
When designing the band’s merch, he employs a similar method, telling us he simply wants to make stuff “I know I’d wear and my friends would wear.” Starting with a blank canvas on every occasion, he experiments within the visual world of Brockhampton. That being said, he’s still able to produce widely varying results featuring distorted text, intricate graphics, photography and everything in-between. “There are no bounds with what we make and I’m glad people appreciate that,” Hk remarks.
“Being able to have trust and assurance from the rest of the group only motivates me to keep pushing forward visually,” Hk explains on the benefits of working with a specific group over a long period. “I never have to worry about the music aspect of things, all of the members are geniuses. The amount of responsibility I get and control I have allows me to treat work like a playground, not having to feel bound to keep up with trends or feel like I have to adhere to a certain agenda.” Through this relationship, he’s learned to stick to his intuition, making decisions based on a feeling and “committing to that spirit.” He describes his process as “kind of like how skateboarders see places or spots as new ways to get a trick or line off, it’s how I’ve been able to see things with design and working with BH.”
It makes sense really when you consider that Hk’s entry into the creative industry was such an organic one, with the process of any project being his favourite part. “I love when things work, whether the mission to get there was gruelling or calculated, purely accident or to the tee,” he says. His output exudes his clearly-immeasurable love of creating, meaning his projects are dynamic and exciting, each one different from the last but imprinted with the same sensibilities. With Brockhampton, Hk has set some boundaries at this point, he explains. It’s less of a brand guideline and more of a mutual understanding across the team of what feels right and what doesn’t. “I know how to manoeuvre and explore new ideas while infusing some of the pillars of what we are attracted to and see what we feel works and doesn’t,” he explains. When it comes to his own work though, those boundaries are dissolved and he runs with it. “The best thing is learning a lot more about myself and my approach to starting things and the process, that’s the biggest takeaway from all of this.”
With so much experience under his belt, Hk tells us he has no idea what the future holds but that very thought is something he’s comfortable with. “I know there’s an expiration date to this group thing,” he says. “At the same time too, I also got here just by working and staying focused. If I keep doing that I think I’ll be just fine. It got me to this point, who knows where it’ll take me?”
Henock Sileshi: Big Wide Body (Copyright © Video Store Records, 2021)
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.