“I’m a big fan of bad taste,” says Polish graphic designer Natalia Pawlak when we catch up the her about her practice, which includes colourful beer branding and a lot of nostalgic music posters. “In my opinion there is more beauty in it than most people think!” Although you definitely can’t call Natalia’s work bad taste as such, there’s definitely a lot that borrows from the kitsch of 70s and 90s aesthetics, such as hazy gradients, mismatched type and cut and pasted cartoons.
Starting out at the University of Fine Arts in Poznan “not really knowing how to open Photoshop”, Natalia first studied illustration, especially interested in creating accompaniments for books. “It all changed when I found out how complex and full of challenges graphic design can be,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Using illustration not as a pure form but as an element of branding, posters or book layout, started giving me the biggest thrill.”
A lot of Natalia’s work draws on early visual interests, like cartoons, Disney movies and Donald Duck comics, and characters from childhood favourites – or reworkings of them – often pop up in her designs. Seeing her work as a space to play with different influences, the vibe she’s chasing is “colourful and funky” with a touch of mysticism thrown in. Her graphics for a music night called Fatamorgana, for example, drew on a “remaining of dark magic and shamanic vision”. She says, “I went with grainy distorted gradients and some mystical symbols, black and purple colours which I consider mysterious and connected with divine.”
Another of her recent projects saw Natalia create the branding for a new cocktail bar in her hometown of Poznań, inspired by a brief of “tropical vacation”. Using a cornucopia of different typefaces and oranges, yellows, aquamarine and pastel purple, it also features some familiar-looking characters that could be from an 80s TV show. “I also added some analogue vintage photos of Polish lakes to connect it to our culture, and also because I love some good vintage Polish vibes,” Natalia says. “I made some things that are ‘not allowed’ with letters and typography, to remain within the tradition of good old kitschy polish graphic design.”
Her posters for band The Growlers also pull from this tradition. Inspired by the bands “chill and psychedelic” sound, Natalia created a bed of smiling flowers that are goofy and feel good. “I love doing gig posters because the brief is usually just your interpretation of the music one makes, which gives a lot of space to play,” she says. Mashing together a variety of clashing visual elements, Natalia’s posters shouldn’t work but they really do. “The best feeling for me is when I don’t have to follow strict rules and I can feel free to do something crazy.” As ever, freedom, play and a good helping of nostalgia made for a very fun portfolio indeed.