As many creatives will know well, the beginning stages of a project can feel like an impossible wall to climb. For Sophie Douala, a Cameroon-born, France-raised, Berlin-based graphic designer, it’s the beginning which is repeatedly the hardest part of a project, as her work often presents varied themes and concepts, and is “a way of releasing thoughts and emotions,” she tells It’s Nice That. But, “with practice,” Sophie realised “that I just gotta start somewhere.”
Now Sophie begins each project with a series of reflections, before getting started on the computer. Her work is largely pattern based, placing her illustrative flair within design structures, and in turn experimentation is a key part of her practice. Research, too, is a consistent component, even popping back up once a project is finalised. “There's tons of research and unused materials that I like to reopen for inspiration,” says Sophie. However “above all” creating work “is about creating a safe space for myself; what I mean it’s up to your imagination!”
Due to developing this process that works for her, Sophie has been able to establish an expansive practice that feels much more like visual experimentation than strict graphic design. Originally introduced to the creative world as a child when she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, Sophie originally applied to art university, “and the idea was to study textile design after the one year preparatory program,” the designer recalls. “Well, turned out that during that year I got so hooked on print design that I changed my life plan.”
But, much like the way a fashion designer calls upon current events, cultural themes or figures via print design, Sophie does too. Describing her practice as a way of visually telling stories, the overall aim of her output is to translate energy and positivity into visual formats. “I believe that energy is one of the strongest feelings and when I create illustrations, I hope to convey something positive,” she says. “I am amazed at how colours can carry so many different meanings, and I am exploring this in my work.” Viewers will also sense that it’s not just colour but composition that Sophie’s practice questions, one which she describes as “a bit like putting together a visual narrative.”
Examples of this train of thought coming to life include Sophie’s project Butter Side Up, a series of posters for club nights at The Pickle Factory in London. Cherry-picking from a pastel coloured palette, the series of posters is an ideal example of Sophie’s childhood love of pattern taking on new playful and varied forms. Another she mentions is a set of posters for IFZ, where she asked the client for key words to immerse herself with. Playing with “notions of duality and equilibrium” from the given words of futuristic, feminist, dark and gloomy, the artworks purposefully pair two colours “to represent those contrasts and the pattern is just an interpretation of what those concepts mean to me,” the designer explains. “In general, I think the patterns I create are quite conceptual, but I also don’t feel like putting emphasis on the process of creation, once the piece is finished.
The result is a series of projects each as vibrant and layered as the last. Each also leaving the viewer to interpret what they see and decipher what they enjoy for themselves, it’s no wonder that Sophie’s growing client list tends to lean into music – where she can immerse herself in a whole other world to translate into pattern. With several unreleased projects in the pipeline “that I am very excited about!” ones to keep an eye out for are her ongoing collaboration with record label Jirafa, as well as her identity work for Berlin-based booking agent Mutual Obsession.
Sophie Douala: Meta Morphosis (Copyright © Sophie Douala, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.