Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays

Using society as a source of inspiration: what we learned from February’s Nicer Tuesdays

At last night’s February edition of Nicer Tuesdays, each talk was a world apart from the one that came before it. Spanning the creative disciplines of filmmaking, comics, stop-motion animation, publishing and graphic design, not only did each talk share an alternate look into different outlets of creativity, but each speaker also showed the range of personalities and outlooks which fill the industry.

Below we take you through the learnings of each talk starting with Rhea Dillon then Alex Jenkins, Anna Malin Mantzaris and, finally, Craig Oldham, who, despite their differing work, each use society as a source of inspiration.


Showing all processes is key

Still knee-deep in her studies at Central Saint Martins, Rhea Dillon joined us to talk through her recent film made with Nowness, Process, and aptly talked through her own process both in studying and filmmaking: “You’re going to hear the word process a lot during this talk,” she began.

Finding research the most interesting part of her personal practice, Rhea talked through the artists that have informed her own outlook as well as being a consistent source of inspiration, explaining how she’s obsessed with Kerry James Marshall and the concept of becoming “a master of art”. But in this keen love of art, Rhea explained how “when thinking about the origins of art and the masters of art, how blackness has been left out of this,” questioning the audience to ask: “What is mastery and who get to create their own mastery?”

These thoughts led Rhea to create Process, the result of these feelings and a brief from Nowness “to talk about what my vision of the future of beauty is,” she explained. Following more research, the filmmaker realised that there was next to no representation of afro hair as a process in film and television, “that really upset me,” she says, “there wasn’t even knowledge about what afro hair looks like when it’s wet.”

Process, as a result, tells the story of washing afro hair with breathtaking direction from Rhea, creating a film which displays the everydayness which inspired it, but also adding cultural and political context. It’s apt, therefore, that Rhea summed up her practice by stating: “I take what’s happening in society and I reflect and refract that in my work.”


Illustration is the best way to communicate without looking someone in the eye

Next to take to the stage was illustrator and now comics artist, Alex Jenkins. Treating the audience to his first ever talk on his creative practice, the illustrator had the audience howling with laughter with his pieces, best described by the man himself as “grotesque… I like to make things that are a bit gruesome, perhaps even disgusting.”

Yet what Alex’s talk taught the audience was how, by picking up on the gross-ness of everybody, you can tell a story with illustration, even if they’re somewhat surreal. “And they’re hopefully funny,” he added. Admitting he’s not one to take himself too seriously, Alex’s illustrations are rarely titled and allow the audience to interpret the message themselves. “I see myself as a big bumbling guy with an awkward sense of humour,” he explained. “I’ve never really been the best communicator verbally but illustration is the best way I can express a story without looking anyone in the eyes.”

Where Alex has built upon this personal and creative outlook is recently through comics strips. Playing with the format of six and nine-panel comics initially, he has now settled on the classic four strip combination pointing out how it “works best for humour as you have to be more punchy.” He summed up this new direction, which includes a recent commission by dream collaborator Adult Swim, with “comics have given me a new lease of life in creativity”.


Use the first year of studying to take some risks and have some fun

Recent Royal College of Art graduate Anna Malin Mantzaris was next to talk the audience through her painstakingly delicate practice of stop-motion, concentrating on her film Enough.

Made while Anna was in her first year at the college, she capitalised on the creative freedom and time to experiment that your first year at art school often allows, and tried something different in an attempt to be more playful but most importantly, “I wanted to do something that wasn’t a classic story,” she explained.

The result was Enough, a film which does what it says on the tin and portrays short moments of when you’ve just simply had enough. “Looking back, I was inspired by moving to London and taking public transport at rush hour and witnessing all the passive aggressiveness,” Anna admits of the inspiration for the film.

Rather than one continuous storyline, Enough is made up of short moments, snippets of people losing their temper and flying off the handle. Formed by collating together Post-it notes of these moments, Anna then talked through the logistics of creating a film like this, which, despite only being two minutes long, took five to six months to make. The result is “a sad, mundane, but very funny,” short.


Every design decision should have a valid reason

Last to take to the stage and providing an emphatic talk encompassing film, publishing and graphic design was Craig Oldham. Describing himself as having “a schizophrenic existence” Craig splits his time between running his own studio, Office of Craig (“I’m that creative I can’t think of a better name”), writing books such as Oh Sh*t What Now and more recently working with Rough Trade Books as creative director.

Rough Trade Books, the publishing arm of record label Rough Trade Records, “is trying to do something different in the world of publishing” Craig stated in his talk. Running with the idea of trying to publish books that don’t exist by those with ideas that don’t quite fit anywhere else, RTB’s new series Epiphany Editions was actually an idea of Craig’s that had nowhere to live until now.

Epiphany Editions is a project that sees Craig creating fictional books that appear in films. And the first in the series see him designing the printed artefact that changes the course of the film in John Carpenters 1980s classic, They Live. “Beyond doing something that is for me, as a film nerd, it’s to celebrate the fact that these films have a life beyond themselves.”

Talking through his own personal favourite moments in the film which formed the inspiration for the book, Craig showed what influence alternate areas of creativity can have on a graphic design practice. For the designer this has developed into an approach where “every decision in design has to have a reason, I just can’t work any other way”. As a result, he adds details such as the book being printed on bubble scented paper as a link to the film.

Overall Craig also commented on creativity’s ability to translate world events, from the past through to present pointing out that the main reason he loves film is “because we need a filter to see the world through and understand what it’s really like.”


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