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Features / Dropbox: Call for Collaboration

Kelly Anna and Josie Tucker create an empowering zine to celebrate female strength

We’re excited to announce Call for Collaboration – a new It’s Nice That x Dropbox Paper project connecting creatives from across the world to collaborate on fun, fully commissioned creative projects. Each month we’ll spotlight the projects on It’s Nice That and show how Dropbox Paper helps these great ideas come to life.

Collaboration isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a day in the life of an illustrator. But, despite often alone when working on creative commissions, an illustrator’s process usually begins by bouncing ideas off someone, be it a client or a friend. For London-based illustrator Kelly Anna, using the medium as a collaborative and communicative creative resource is key to her process. “I work best when I have people to bounce off!” she tells It’s Nice That. “I am a social creature so working closely with other people gives me so much energy and can spark so many different ideas,” making Kelly the ideal first creative in our new series with Dropbox Paper: Call for Collaboration.

Last month we spoke to Kelly around the idea of working on a project with us that she couldn’t complete on her own. An ongoing theme in the illustrator’s body of work is communicating female strength, leading Kelly to develop the idea of a zine inspired by Katherine Switzer, an athlete ejected from the 1967 Boston marathon simply because she was a woman. Katherine’s story evoked Kelly to think about her teenage self, the feeling she used to get when she wanted “to play with ‘the lads’, but it just wasn’t the done thing,” the illustrator notes.

In turn, she wanted to create a zine that made sports inclusive for women still teetering on the edge of getting stuck in the game. The zine would be energetic, empowering and would champion female strength, but she needed a designer.

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After placing a call out on It’s Nice That’s Instagram last month, from the entries Kelly pointed out the work of graphic designer Josie Tucker, a Royal College of Art graduate with a certain “attitude and passion towards the messaging of her work that spoke to me,” Kelly tells It’s Nice That. Josie, who currently runs an environmental group, Adapt, creates work which makes her own voice heard and for Kelly, “If you believe in the work and projects you’re doing, it shows.”

Similarly, Josie entered the call out due to a love of Kelly’s work, in particular, because it’s “playful and has so much life and energy”, drawn to the illustrator for her representation of women. It appeared to be a perfect match with Josie particularly interested to see how a collaboration with a total stranger could “work from total scratch”.

Joining together over a collaborative Dropbox Paper document, the pair began their collaboration by sharing an abundance of imagery. From typographic references shared to steer Josie in the right direction, and with Josie contributing key dates related to female sporting achievements between 1900 and 2000, the conversation started to step up a gear when Kelly first shared a collection of stamps from the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

From here the pair dove into sharing as much graphic imagery from the Olympics over the years as possible, from Mexico City graphics in 1968, old videos of karate championships and typographic details zoomed into on posters and other printed ephemera. This culminated in one find from Josie which really hit the nail on the head: a collection of every single Olympic logo to date, both summer and winter games, from 1896 to 2022. “Every logo EVER for the Olympics – so cool – love that every single one has a strong identity and the elements about each nation that they represent,” she wrote to Kelly on their Paper thread.

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At this point, the pair decided the colour palette of the original Olympic interlocking rings logo of blue, yellow, black, green and red, was the perfect combination to work with, communicating to the viewer a possible ode to their inspiration. However, the Olympic’s logo is surrounded by negative space in any application of it, allowing its primary-coloured vibrancy to work well. With the pair noticing this, they decided to go down “a tone or two” utilising an off-white beige tone Kelly used in illustration tests, “to make it look less sickly!”

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Discussing elements such as this, and keeping such a lengthy backlog of references while getting to know each other was also a part of the process, aided by Dropbox Paper’s function of documenting each collaborator’s input. “It was great to have a running history of all the project’s developments from the start to finish, there was no danger of forgetting old ideas or misplacing research,” comments Josie. “It ends up being quite conversational because it all follows one line, and it’s simple to respond to the other person’s work.” This dialogue also encouraged Kelly too, adding: “I like the fact you can comment alongside the images too. That made it really easy to have a continuous development dialogue with Josie.”

It was upon locking in their chosen palette that Kelly feels the project between herself and Josie began to really take off: “I think the final turning point was when we toned down the colour palette to make it a little less intense, to feel more relaxed and light,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Then it all started to sync together better.”

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With a colour palette and key research references for the female-focused sport-themed zine decided, Josie then left it to Kelly to input some initial sketchbook scribbles. Scanning in pages of drawing concepts in their chosen colour palette, the pair then naturally turned to proactive sayings which could become typographic moments of motivation in the zine. This particular conversation was one Josie, in particular, enjoyed, commenting how “we both realised we both had the same addiction to thesauruses and rhyme zone! We came up with loads of words and phrases together”.

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One phrase the pair really clicked on arose when Josie responded to Kelly drawings with, “Strength is lit”. Kelly then returned to her sketchbook to turn it into a visual metaphor, again picking up on Olympic’s reference imagery. The pair continued to draw these phrases within sketchbooks, making it easier to share quick, key ideas and comment on each other’s drawings via the Paper thread.

Other motivational saying began to form too, such as “hard body hard mind” and “woman up”, as well as one saying referencing the zine’s original inspiration: Katherine Switzer. Developing the saying into: “two six one, she ain’t done” as a nod to Katherine’s running number, it became a key visual summing up the project too, with the pair then opting to use it for the front and back cover of their publication.

This process of combining a hands-on creative technique with the digital aid of Dropbox Paper also allowed Kelly and Josie to see the benefits of hand-drawn type, a consistent element in both their practices, which they decided to use for the majority of the zine rather than typefaces. While working on the “two six one” phrase Josie noticed the benefits of drawing the phrase rather than typesetting it digitally, asking Kelly: “Think I might hand draw this instead! What do you think?” with Kelly agreeing, “I think hand draw this over using the computer… it looks so sick like this!” This decision only bolstered the general look, feel and texture of the rest of the zine by opting for an analogue aesthetic.

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The next step was for the pair to work on digitising all of their collective ideas, organising them together as spreads for the zine. As the designer in the duo, Josie began tidying up the hand-drawn text and adding in a colour palette with swatches by Kelly.

As this process began to pull together, Josie was also able to advise Kelly on possible colour changes which could work by swapping colours, allowing a certain flow within the publication. Consistently commenting on each other’s progress at this stage, it also allowed Josie to spot gaps for more motivational sayings, particularly on the spread with a female figure holding up a flag to read “on the reg”.

A more organisational task, that of laying out each of the spreads also encouraged the pair to play more with visual metaphors. One saying they wanted to include was “grow a pair”. Once laid out in the zine its reference to the female form possibly wasn’t clear enough, encouraging Kelly to ask Josie to flip the saying upside down to replicate a pair of breasts, a playful hint at the zine’s subject matter.

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Following this process, the zine’s layout was complete, emphasising female strength, empowerment and inclusivity within sport throughout every page via both Kelly and Josie’s illustrative, narrative and typographic skills. Now printed and bound, one element both creatives hope audiences take away from its creation is the energy they both shared throughout its making.

Josie sums this up nicely by simply saying, “I hope they feel motivated!” whereas Kelly hopes it conveys “how much fun we had too”. “The messaging behind it is so important,” after all, and was key from the very beginning of Kelly originally developing the idea. “As a girl, I personally feel bombarded with disingenuous or unauthentic copy from brands often jumping on the wagon,” she points out. “I didn’t want to create something sickly or overworked. I wanted it to feel fun, punchy and fearless. I believe we achieved that.”

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