How do you avoid self-doubt? Just get on with it – the artwork won’t make itself!
May’s Nicer Tuesdays took place earlier this week and we’re still talking about the jokes, amazing work, and topnotch advice that was shared.
We had our fingers crossed as we logged on to Zoom on Tuesday night for our second online Nicer Tuesdays. Despite already having one successful event behind us, we wondered if it was beginners luck and if all would go horribly wrong this time around. As it turned out, it was quite the opposite and what unfolded was an evening of laughs, Dominic Cummings digs, amazing creative work and inspiring nuggets of advice.
Beginning the event with Haein Kim, we then heard from Paula Scher, Charlie Engman and David Shrigley who each offered something entirely different from the last. Below we outline some top takeaways from the evening but to hear the talks in full again, keep an eye on the site as we’ll be posting the videos soon.
Inspiration may be closer to home than you realise
Joining us from, incredibly, Sydney in Australia where it was three in morning was Haein Kim, who made it through her ten minutes fuelled by four cups of coffee. Although she’s usually based in Chippendale next to a “banging pub,” in a studio she shares with several others, Haein has of course been creating her hilarious work from home of late. Whether animated or still, one thing Haein’s work pretty much always is, is funny, largely due to her fantastic character designs. A little bit jittery from the caffeine but nonetheless charming and candid, Haein took us through the thought processes behind some if her best-loved protagonists.
She first touched on those who appear in Peepin’, an animated short from 2017 made alongside her partner and creative counterpart, Paul Rhodes. An honestly laugh-out-loud film, it tells of the Asian Australian experience and will be more than a bit recognisable for those who grew up in suburbia. Its main character is Kimmy K, who’s “very very bossy, very confident…” and, as Haein revealed, is modelled very much on her older sister Jane. There’s also Dorian (“a bit of a lonely weirdo with a sweet disposition”) and Jaelee (“hates silly things like boys and sinners”) but each character didn’t just materialise as they are now, as fully formed personalities with back stories and quirks to match. Instead, they are the product of pages and pages of sketchbook drawings, Haein told us. That’s something that is incredibly important with character design, she believes, you should iterate, not try and perfect your first drawing.
She later mentioned a film she created for It’s Nice That and Uniqlo, which takes inspiration her mum, and the way she would fight her fears to get rid of creepy crawlies which terrified Haein and Jane while they were growing up. Finally she mentioned how a recent web comic features characters styled in a similar way to a band she recently saw play live. So, the key, it seems is to open your eyes to what (and who) is around you when looking for references. “It doesn’t have to be through research that you find online,” she said. “I think it’s interesting to draw influences from people you know.”
Avoid refinement and embrace the mistakes
Up next and dialling in Connecticut was design hero (confirmed by the comments in the chat, someone actually wrote “the queen is here”) Paula Scher. A name we’re sure you’re familiar with, Paula has been a partner at Pentagram’s New York office since 1991. For her Nicer Tuesdays talk, Paula took us on a whistle-stop tour of three of her favourite recent projects. Starting with an identity for the Mental Health Coalition, Paula also talked through an identity and in-situ signage system for Museum Lab, and a campaign for shaving brand Flamingo titled The Bush 2020.
You’ll have to keep an eye out for the full video of Paula’s talk which we’ll be posting in the coming weeks to hear all the juicy design details. But reflecting on her talk as a whole, what really stood out was Paula’s observation that, sometimes, the projects which have limited time or budget often lead to the best results.
All three of the projects she shared on Tuesday had that in common, for example, the Mental Heath Coalition was designed in two weeks and rolled out in one, but was ultimately to its benefit. “Projects done for free tend to have an immediacy that fee-paying projects do not,” she told us, adding that when there’s a client calling the shots, projects can often become so refined that it gets boring. With the Mental Health Coalition, a project done pro bono, the identity was produced in a lively and quick way; “In this instance, all the mistakes work for this one,” she said, “even though it’s clutsy.”
The dynamics of photography are more than a little complicated
New York-based photographer Charlie Engman enraptured us all during his whirlwind of a talk. As the PDF of his new book Mom played as a slide show on screen, Charlie attempted to distill 11 years of work into ten minutes and, somehow, actually managed to do it. With far too much insight for us to possibly recall right now (again, keep an eye out for the video), we’ll attempt to summarise the points Charlie touched on.
Charlie first took up photography while studying Korean and Japanese at Oxford University as a way to scratch his creative itch, and began to take it seriously when his UK visa ran out and he was forced to return to his parents’ place in Chicago. Not setting out with any grand ideas or intentions for a project, Charlie and his mum Kathleen began playing around together, photographing her in wigs or with experimental makeup – whatever took their fancy. And so ensued a collaboration which continues today. “It was really an impulse,” he said.
The point of Charlie’s talk, however, was about what can be taken from this decade-long working partnership. Firstly, it’s about how the camera can impact upon a relationship. “In the act of photographing her, there was something very destabilising,” he remarked. “I started to see different aspects of, not only her, but also our relationship and our dynamic.” In turn, this opened up myriad questions about representation within photography, with him astutely adding “as a commercial photographer, I was given a certain authority to describe value or as desire.” So he began playing with subverting these ideas, or as Charlie calls them “boxes”. What can you put into the box of fashion photography before it stops being fashion photography, for example? “As I started to rub up these ideas of category or convention, I started to think about other mechanisms... and images in general,” he continued. Ultimately, the book questions authority and the ethics of photography – but not in damning way, it’s simply exploring. And that is the point of Mom, it is a place for the complexities and contradictions of photography to play out and exist all at once, to ask all the “juicy, squishy questions” but not necessarily to answer them.
We’ll be posting an interview with Charlie and Kathleen in the coming weeks so keep an eye out to find out more about this fascinating collaboration.
Just make work, don’t think about it
Last but by no means least was David Shrigley, an artist we’re sure you’ve heard of and who delivered a talk full of the same wry wit and sarcasm that his iconic black and white works do. He began, to the absolute delight of everyone watching along (evidenced in the chat) by pointing out that he was now in his studio in Brighton, having travelled there from his home in Devon as he’d just found out it’s fine to do whatever you like during lockdown… Jokes aside though, David explained that this period hasn’t been too challenging for him as “being isolated in my house is something I embrace, as it’s sort of what I do anyway. I guess I’ve been working on drawings at home for the past 30 years.”
What we really took away from David’s talk was the fact that he creates 10-15 drawings every day and, for the most part, he will only ever execute an idea once. Although there was an instance recently where Parcel Force lost a package meaning he did have to do those drawings again – if you’re reading this Parcel Force, David remarked that he really would like those back… The prime time for him to create these ideas, as it turns out, is between 6 and 9 PM (right after he’s had his dinner) and so “don’t go to a talk of mine before 6 PM or it wont be any good,” he added dryly. Luckily, we hit the sweet spot bang on.
Speaking to probably the majority of us watching, David also weighed in on how to deal with anxiety, particularly in relation to the work you create. His solution, he told us is to “get on with it!” The only way to conquer that fear is to just keep making stuff, whatever that may be: “The artwork doesn’t make itself, you make it, so just get on with it.”
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