“It’s rare that an idea is rejected because it’s bad”: Four creatives on how to realise your vision

Eric Hu, Prarthna Singh, Manju Journal and Sofie Birkin took to the Nicer Tuesdays November online stage for an hour and half of spectacular creative talks.

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Date
26 November 2020
Reading Time
8 minute read

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Since our monthly evening of creative talks took to the web back in March, Nicer Tuesdays has changed quite a lot. Though we’ve missed seeing our audience's attentive faces in the flesh, on the flip side, a major plus is that we’ve been able to open up the speaker platform far and wide to hear from some of our favourite creatives across the globe. Earlier this week, November’s event was an exemplary testament to this, connecting our incredible line-up of speakers from Bombay, Denver, London, Accra and New York. As we sat back, relaxed and stared into yet another screen, at least we had the presence of Eric Hu, Manju Journal, Sofie Birkin and Prarthna Singh to keep us company.

As we heard from the graphic designer, arts and culture platform, illustrator and photographer – as you can imagine – the event covered a wealth of topics. Definitely something in there for everyone. While Prarthna talked us through the complexities of Indian gender politics today, a subject which her striking photography centres on, over on the North American continent, Sofie discussed how to authentically capture eroticism through inclusive and accessible illustration.

Zipping then to Accra, we met Manju Journal’s founder Orlando Mensah and fashion director Kusi Kubi (who dialled in from London) where the pair took us on a photographic feast while considering what an African aesthetic means today. Finally, rounding up the evening’s talks, we welcomed the esteemed graphic designer Eric Hu from New York. He touched on why branding exists, giving his personal take on the process, then, to the delight of many design fans out there, talked us through the branding behind NikeLab which he produced in an impressive 48 hours.

GalleryPrarthna Singh: Champions (Copyright © Prarthna Singh)

GalleryPrarthna Singh: Champions (Copyright © Prarthna Singh)

Finding freedom through inspiring women

Let’s go back to the beginning of the evening. Laptops propped open at just the right viewing angle, HDMI cables at the ready, the event kicked off around 6pm for us Londoners. Prarthna Singh was first to take to the stage, taking us through some career highlights thus far before introducing the audience to her highly moving, ongoing series, Champion. It started six years ago as an investigative journey into the depiction of female strength, an endlessly interesting subject for Prarthna whose practice is rooted in the subject. Having studied in the US then returning to India, Prarthna’s talk examined privilege, Western ideas of Indian female identity and predominantly, the empowerment of women in India.

Champion embodies all three of these topics. But the project presented a number of challenges not just in its challenging of female roles in India. As Prarthna told us, there was a healthy dose of bureaucracy laden throughout the project too and it took around one year just to get permission to shoot the subjects she so wished to photograph. The women she photographs reside in Haryana, an area of India with the highest rate of female infanticide and child marriage, but in spite of this reputation, there is a place nestled in the northern state which is home to a number of female wrestlers.

“These women are champions in their own way, they are challenging the patriarchy every day,” Prarthna told us. Refusing to give up on telling these women’s stories, despite the long and drawn out lead up to the shoot, the photographer relayed the personal importance of this work, and how it was “a story [she] genuinely wanted to tell.” The series features shoots from several different training camps across the country where Prarthna met and became friends with many of her subjects. Touching on the nationalism of the sport industry and how that can contradict female empowerment, Prarthna’s inspiring talk allowed us to see how power and vulnerability can be two sides of the same coin. “I found my freedom through these women,” she said at one point, “these women are champions in every regard and I hope to be able to take their stories forward.”

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Prarthna Singh: Champions (Copyright © Prarthna Singh)

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Prarthna Singh at Nicer Tuesdays

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Sofie Birkin: Sex Ed, A Guide for Adults written by Ruby Rare (Copyright © Sofie Birkin)

How to illustrate a warm, funny, beautiful and erotic sex guide

Sofie Birkin dialled in from Denver, Colorado for our second talk at November’s Nicer Tuesdays. Having always craved a lot of variety in her work, there is one theme that’s continued to punctuate the It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch from earlier this year. Though she didn’t know it until it was pointed out to her, body positivity and sex positivity were clear commonalities throughout her work. Evidently adept at communicating inclusivity, Sofie briefly took us through her work for Cosmo’s sex guide which consequently led to her most recent and biggest project to date, illustrating sex educator Ruby Rare’s new book, Sex Ed: A Guide for Adults.

“They wanted it to be real, warm and engaging, but genuinely sexy,” she said of the brief. And in turn, it was crucial that Sofie find a way to show that “anyone should be able to pick up this book and find themselves in it”. Depicting a variety of people, bodies and relationships, Sofie explained how she went about illustrating this beautiful book, a far cry from the clinical diagrams of old sex guides. She went on to say: “We’re fed this very restrictive idea of what sex will look like which can really effect the person and how they view themselves.” And in this way, Sofie wanted to take the project one step further, adding an element of world building to the digital images.

The proof is in the pudding regarding the success of the book by the self-taught illustrator, receiving great feedback from the queer communities not to mention grannies living in the north of England. Sofie went on to talk about the “absolute shit load of porn” she watched as research for the book – “my browser history was awful” – she revealed. Finally, she rounded up her engrossing talk by answering a few questions from the audience on how to approach such a mammoth project and last but not least, what she’s learnt about sex.

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Sofie Birkin: Sex Ed, A Guide for Adults written by Ruby Rare (Copyright © Sofie Birkin)

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Sofie Birkin at Nicer Tuesdays

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We Are All They in collaboration with Gucci and A Vibe Called Tech (Copyright © Manju Journal)

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We Are All They in collaboration with Gucci and A Vibe Called Tech (Copyright © Manju Journal)

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We Are All They in collaboration with Gucci and A Vibe Called Tech (Copyright © Manju Journal)

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We Are All They in collaboration with Gucci and A Vibe Called Tech (Copyright © Manju Journal)

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We Are All They in collaboration with Gucci and A Vibe Called Tech (Copyright © Manju Journal)

A celebration of emerging talent in Accra, Ghana

For our penultimate talk, we were treated to a whopping showdown of the Accra and London-based arts and culture platform, Manju Journal. Founded by Orlando Mensah back in 2015, the journal captures the beauty of modern Africa by shining a light on young creative talent working across fashion, photography, music and society in general. It celebrates African heritage and culture in both the continent and the diaspora, examining what it means to be part of the African aesthetic today.

As Manju Journal’s talk unfolded, it quickly became apparent that the platform has worked with an enviable list of creatives that any publication would be thrilled to bag; some of the best photographers and stylists in the business. Taking us on a whistle-stop tour of some of its recent publications featuring the likes of Ruth Ossai, Liz Johnson Artur, Nadine Ijeware and many many more, Orlando was then joined by fashion director Kusi Kubi to discuss its latest collaboration. This time round, with Gucci and agency A Vibe Called Tech.

The campaign brings Black design and innovation to the foreground of culture in this first collaboration titled We Are All They. Kusi took us through the ins and outs of the project and its visually explosive results, each image more striking than the last. The Manju team compiled an entirely Ghanaian team to work on the campaign which explores the fact that Ghanian pronouns are genderless. A highly significant and personal project for the team, the beautiful outcome is absorbed in Ghanaian culture and identity which Kusi points out using several mood boards which informed the work. It touches on male intimacy and friendship which is highly visible in day to day life in Ghana, and unlike the Western world, is not entrenched in old fashioned stigmas. As Kusi put it: “In Ghanian culture, you find men, girls, people walking in the street, holding hands, being free with each other – it’s a very loving culture.”

The shoot also pays tribute to prominent locations in Accra too, hinting to the rich history of the capital expressed through vibrant colour and styling. To top it all off, the shoot was also carried out during lockdown, so Kusi, Orlando and the other members of the talented ensemble had to find a way to execute their striking vision in a safe way too. Jam-packed with content and must-see images to accompany this fascinating talk, keep an eye out for the live recordings of these talks launching on It’s Nice That in a couple of weeks.

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Copyright © Manju Journal

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Manju Journal at Nicer Tuesdays

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Eric Hu: Logo design for Nikelab (Copyright © NikeLab)

An expert lesson on branding, typography and creative autonomy as a graphic designer

“I make images scream and words sing”, said Eric Hu, rounding up the evening’s events with a captivating discussion ideal for any designer or design-enthusiast. The New York-based designer has filled some of the most sought after roles out there, creative director of Nike Sportswear and director of design at SSENSE. But now, he’s the founding designer of his own eponymous studio, Eric Hu (Studio). He started out the talk by defining what branding means for him personally as a designer. In short, “a brand isn’t the company, it’s the point of view of a company.” It’s a perspective that’s shaped his understanding of his role as designer and what he can do for a client. As Eric astutely put it, “I get a metaphorical scalpel and try to take things apart.”

Talking us through how he helps a company articulate itself through a brand, we then got an exclusive lowdown into Eric puts his philosophy into practice. When it comes to honing in on the brand’s identity, there are a number of questions to consider – each of which Eric put to the audience while visually demonstrating examples from his portfolio of such at the same time. From the ambiguous, the monochrome, the playful and so on, Eric’s clear vision helps him discern what a brand is trying to embody and how he can help clients communicate this. Along the way during his highly informative talk, Eric analogises his words with creative challenges he has faced in the past. For instance, can a single typeface look like the inner lining of a cow’s stomach?

The renowned designer then took us through a recent – and pretty huge – branding endeavour. To design the logo for NikeLab. One of his first undertakings as creative director at the major sports company, Eric was tasked with creating the new branding system, initially, in 48 hours. He talked us through the rapid avenues of thought he went down, contemplating how he could refresh that swoosh while still maintaining the essence of Nike. Showing a myriad of different ideas and concepts which eventually upended in the NikeLab visual system that we know and love today, this talk is not one to miss. He also touches on autonomy when it comes to designing commercially in-house, how a background in web design has aided his creative process, and interestingly, how to successfully sell an idea. “If you can make people feel included,” he said as he concluded the well-rounded discussion, “it goes a long way.”

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Eric Hu: Mold Magazine (Copyright © Eric Hu)

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Eric Hu at Nicer Tuesdays

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Nicer Tuesdays is our monthly event of creative talks. You can find out more here.

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