In an exciting industry, if you find yourself bored, you’re doing something wrong
On Tuesday night, Marylou Faure, Jerome Harris, Denisse Ariana Pérez and Grilli Type’s Noël Leu dished out a whole load of inspiration and advice.
Earlier this week, we hosted Nicer Tuesdays on our online events platform and it’s safe to say it was a corker. With viewers tuning in from Addis Ababa, Los Angeles and even Derby, there was a real feeling of community spirit in support of our speakers, who each wowed us. First up was illustrator Marylou Faure, then graphic designer Jerome Harris, photographer Denisse Ariana Pérez, and finally co-founder of type foundry Grilli Type, Noël Leu.
It was an inspiring evening, with each of the speakers delving into their personal journeys in some way. What rung true among everyone, however, was that, as a creative, you cannot underestimate the power of personal projects. Below, we recap each talk in more detail but to get the full lowdown on what Marylou, Jerome, Denisse and Noël had to say, keep an eye on the site, as we’ll be publishing the full talks as videos in the coming weeks.
If it’s what you enjoy, it’ll never feel like work
Everyone who’s ever worked as a freelancer knows it can be tricky – the impetus is on you to meet deadlines, get clients and propel your career forward. It’s something London-based (although dialling in from Spain where she was visiting family) illustrator and artist Marylou Faure knows all about. For her talk, she reflected on her career, particularly the past six to seven years, offering advice on how you can keep control over the work you do, and steer your practice in the right direction.
The issue arose early on for Marylou, as when she first started out, she wasn’t picky about the work she took on. But saying yes to everything left her work feeling bland, she told us, as it wasn’t tackling any issues, doing any positive or impactful, something “which was really important to me,” she explained. So she set about working with charities and non-profits she wanted to support. The other issue was that her characters had morphed into something she didn’t want them to be – cute. “I wanted my work to target an older audience, people my age, to be cheekier and a bit more fun,” she said. To combat this, she created a host of personal projects which reflected the kind of work she actually wanted to make, not what she kept being commissioned for. “At some point, I was just the sticker lady, while it was fun, I wanted to do something completely different.”
Marylou then swapped nearly all of the work on her website for these personal and non-profit projects, essentially creating a whole new portfolio which, slowly but surely, drew in the kind of work she had always wanted. Now, she jumps at any opportunity to do something different – be it a sculpture or a mural, a skateboard or a guitar – in order to keep her portfolio progressing. “It’s a really exciting industry and if I feel myself getting bored I know it’s wrong,” she said, answering a question on how she balances client and personal work now she’s more established. The key, she said, is that if you enjoy the personal work you’re creating, it’ll never feel like work and you’ll never stop getting better.
The only project worth doing is one you believe in
Delivering a whistle-stop tour of his creative career to date, Richmond-based (for the moment) graphic designer Jerome Harris took us through some of the ethos behind his practice and a recently-released book Wild Wild Wild West & Haunting Of The Seahorse by Johnathan Lyndon Chase. His ethos, he outlined, was largely formed during his time working at Housing Works, a non-profit organisation fighting the HIV and AIDS and homelessness crisis in New York City. “The best thing about this job was that I was making work that directly impacted the community that needed it,” he recalled, adding “I try to avoid doing any work that I feel ambivalent about.” In turn, Jerome’s independent practice often has some form of social impact too, like his ongoing project As, Not For, a touring exhibition which surveys work created by African American graphic designers over the last century.
Recently, his practice has been concerned with mostly book design, including Talking to the Sun at Fire Island, published by BOFFO to document its residencies and performances on Fire Island in the summer of 2018, touching on the history, present, and future of Fire Island as an LGBTQ space. There was also To The Front: Black Women and The Vote, designed in collaboration with Rush Jackson, which chronicles Black suffragettes and Black women’s impact on voting in the US. Wild Wild Wild West & Haunting Of The Seahorse, which he spent the majority of his talk focussing on, is part artist monograph, part sci-fi story, and emerged after Jerome was handed three ring binders full of images and scraps of paper which he then scanned to use as content. “None of it was typeset, I was literally taking scraps of paper the artist was writing on,” he told us.
The artist in question is Johnathan Lyndon Chase, a Philadelphia-based artist whose work deals with Black queer bodies in mundane spaces, and who Jerome discovered in a bookstore. “I completely lost my mind,” he recalled, “as a gay man, I had never seen someone depicting Black gay men in that way before.” Getting to collaborate directly with Jonathan, therefore, was a real joy, with Jerome concluding, “I don’t want to tell you the story as don’t want to ruin the experience, but it’s a pretty fun read.”
Through utilising beauty, we can begin to tackle serious issues
Currently based in Copenhagen and a creative polymath of sorts, Denisse Ariana Pérez joined us to talk through her photographic practice specifically, which was a true visual feast for everyone present. In particular, she honed in on the themes of masculinity and water, sharing exclusive images from her upcoming book on the latter theme. “My work is all about elevating and highlighting beauty,” she stated off the bat. This often involves changing the narrative around marginalised communities, sitting somewhere between art and documentary photography. Sometimes though, she later told us, she’s “almost like a yoga instructor meets a director meets a therapist,” for the way in which she interacts with her subjects. No matter who she works with though, the aim is to elevate them, never patronise or demean. “When I’m photographing marginalised communities it’s very important to not highlight them as victims, my work is about elevating and portraying beauty,” she added.
On the topic of water, specifically, Denisse shared that nature is omnipresent in her work, but water is a subject she kept, and keeps, coming back to. She was born on an island in the Caribbean but didn’t develop a truly meaningful relationship with the element until she was an adult. But when she did, the connection was deep, as she discovered it allows her to be fluid, to float and be connected to nature – and this is now exactly the response she wants to evoke in her subjects. In turn, there’s a sense of peace to Denisse’s work, as if everyone pictured is totally comfortable and calm. This photographic obsession began in Senegal two years ago and has taken her on an “aquatic pilgrimage” around the world ever since. The culmination of which is due to be released later this year as a book, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Again, we veered towards the topic of passion for your work, when someone in the audience asked Denisse how she managed to stay motivated to produce this work over two years. “For me, it doesn’t feel like work and I have the stamina for that in which I believe,” she remarked. A particularly interesting takeaway from Denisse’s talk, which is sticking with us, is that through photography (and art), we can raise the public consciousness towards important issues, be that shopping more sustainably for clothes or understanding the plight of another, by utilising beauty and bringing some poetry into imagery.
GalleryDenisse Ariana Pérez
When designing a typeface, the devil really is in the detail
Rounding off the evening, and dialling in from Grilli Type HQ in Switzerland, was Noël Leu, the type foundry’s co-founder. The studio began around a decade ago when Noël and his co-founder Thierry Blancpain were at art school. Together with friends, they started Grilli as a place to share the work they were enthusiastic about – there wasn’t a grand plan, but it later developed into something much bigger. “People often ask how you end up doing interesting work, and often it’s just following your passion,” Noël told us.
He outlined some of the definition qualities of Swiss graphic design initially, how it’s about clearly defining a concept and then allowing that concept to define the details. “You have the masterplan,” he said, “and then all the pieces fall into place.” The other thing is absolute obsession with those details. Next, he outlined his ideas on what a typeface is; “a collection of minimalistic two dimensional sculptures” that when put together convey a message, so details and concepts matter a lot when designing a typeface, something Grilli Type takes to heart. He explained how, sometimes, the foundry will spend ten years working on a typeface until the team are happy with it.
It’s for this reason that Grilli Type always produces mini sites for its typefaces, to ensure the audience understands the level of detail and care which goes into making every one. To demonstrate, he talked us through their latest release GT Flexa, a true testament to how typographic technologies have progressed. A variable font, GT Flexa has no real shape, it just scales, meaning it's super responsive and adaptable to myriad screens and devices we view content on today. Its mini site explains the evolution of the technology – from stone masonry, to lead type setting, then photo type setting and finally onto digital type setting. This latest development, Noël describes means typefaces no longer have solid shapes, “they are more like lava laps” which means we can build a typographic space, instead of something flat and the typeface can scale within these axis. And it from this concept that GT Flexa was born, demonstrated through Grilli Type’s signature animations to explain every last detail.
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