Flipping the portfolio review on its head, designer and researcher Grace Lister and Josh Akapo, co-founder and head of strategy at archtype chatted with graphic artist Anthony Burrill at the 2021 New Blood Festival about his work and how he got to where he is today. Discussing the highs and lows of his career, the conversation covers overcoming career hurdles, creating ethical work that you believe in and how to respond to feedback.
Watch the talk above or get the need-to-know below.
On staying relevant
“The industry changes every year, so I'm always on a mission to keep the work that I do relevant, and connected to what's going on. I do lots of projects with different charities and pressure groups and I do my own practice as well – then I can work with selected commercial clients, so it's a real mixture of lots of components.”
On creative career hurdles
“The main hurdle is lack of self confidence and shyness and imposter syndrome and all that stuff… There's always that tension working commercially as a graphic designer, delivering other people's messages that maybe I didn't believe in myself. I very gradually began to kind of move away into something that was more fulfilling and nourishing for me as a person.”
… and overcoming them
“The main thing is just to be determined, and to be persistent: we're creatives, we've got to find different ways of doing things and apply that creativity.”
A project that kick-started his career: Hans Brinker budget hotel in Amsterdam campaign (1997)
“Within the five years after I graduated from college I was making my own little publications and magazines and stuff like that, and this led me to meet Eric Kessels [of KesselsKramer], who was working in London. He was working with my wife at the time, she's a photographer, on a student travel campaign.” She recommended him for his typography, and they ended up working together.
“He was the kind of gatekeeper to the next stage of my career… Eric kind of used it as a means of creating these campaigns that really stood out in advertising. So this was like anti-advertising… he saw something in me that nobody else had.”
On working on what you believe in
“It’s up to each individual person to figure out how they negotiate the commercial world, but it should be about working with brands that you feel some kind of natural affinity with, or brands that are working ethically – just working with stuff that you believe in, and working for people you believe in.”
On responding to feedback and developing resilience
“I just ignore feedback… I used to do 20, 30 rounds of changes – it would destroy you and any kind of enthusiasm to work. It's all about conversations and talking with people you’re working with. And managing their expectations. It’s taken a long time for me to get to that stage, and it’s all about self belief as well: believing in your own work.”
Oil & Water Do Not Mix poster, 2010
“This is a screen print using oil from the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first time I’d made a piece with an environmental message that really spoke about a particular issue. It was one of those things that just set me on a completely different path…You can do stuff with graphic design and visual communication that talks about these things.”
On how non-designers can build portfolios
“Maybe build a mood board describing a simple strategy. Simple use of language keeps things concise and focused in explaining your ideas. Reveal your strong, simple core idea with an explanation. Cut copy down as brutally as possible: people don't read huge paragraphs of text.”
On having more strings to your creative bow
“Maybe take a day a week where you create your own projects. By doing that stuff that feeds into your creativity, you've got more strings to your bow: working on a tapestry or rug making or something like that, but then applying typography… A crossover between different creative disciplines is always really interesting… My kind of side project was letterpress printing, and that became what I did.”
On taking a break from work
“Do something different: maybe working with your hands, playing a musical instrument... I like riding a bike – you're doing something different, physical with your body and it releases different chemicals into your brain. Even if it’s watching a film or just staring into space, those are all good things to do with your time that are part of your creative ecosystem.”
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