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Hello, thank you for your time and for agreeing to this interview.
I’m flipping through your portfolio and I’m wondering where to begin. Your experience of working with such a variety of brands on their visual communication but even more, your ability to create illustrated stories is impressicve. From commercial to fine art projects, your works have a character of their own as well as a certain mystery.
Your art, and the technique of collage in general, seems to have this kind of ability of creating multiple meanings.
Let’s start by going back to a project which you consider a breakthrough for you as a designer?
Let’s start by going back to a project – which of them do you consider a breakthrough for you as a designer?
I try not to pigeonhole my projects as ‘this’ or ‘that’ by their importance or lack thereof, or by affecting the direction of my work in general.
I’m always happy to recall one of my first major projects, for a major brand – Adidas Originals. Been a while since this one ☺. Back then an artist’s collab with a brand of this magnitude was something quite fresh and exotic.
What was your first collage or your first time you came across this technique? What is your relationship with this technique?
My first collages came up a long time ago, especially if you count in design years. In our world everything shifts and resonates differently month-on-month.
My first, somewhat awkward attempts at design were chucked right to the bottom of the bin about 9 years back. However, my first ever published illustration was featured in a printed magazine called “Fathers” somewhere around 2015.
I think of it as a stroke of luck now. I’d been working at Futu, who were “Fathers’” publishers and they were simply missing a bit of illustration for a piece. I volunteered to do it.
Generally speaking – everything back then, sometimes these days even, has been a sum of happy accidents.
As a technique, would you say that collage blurs the lines between design, illustration and fine art?
Good question, this. I’ve never actually asked myself this, needed it a lot, though.
Collage, or in fact any work based on graphic manipulation of photography are suspended in an invisible space swinging back and forth towards either illustration or design. But collage can never be called pure illustration. You don’t make it from scratch, you don’t really use any drawing skills.
Working in a multi-meaning technique – which collage is for sure – requires a skilled eye, great synthesis skills, an intuition for connections and sometimes an ability to play on people’s emotions ☺. For me, these are mostly soft skills, often ones people grow up with or ones you acquire with age and life experience. That’s why as a designer, I often find myself feeling – and being – a bit of a separate being.
From the design perspective, I feel like collage works much better with typography than with illustration. After all, it is mostly photography-based – it works great on posters, book covers, editorial designs or music album covers. Illustration has a way of being somewhat infantile, which is not something I want to do.
There’s a lot to be said about the art of collage, and a lot to discuss. The technique is relatively young – barely over a hundred years old – still, to it we owe Cubism, which emerged from works of Picasso and Braque, or the art world’s first breaths of Dadaism. There’s more – Bauhaus, the School of Weimer, also used collage as means of communication with its audience.
It seems to me that each collage can be surprising to work on. Certain series of visuals may seem to work together yet they turn out they don’t and you need to do things differently. Is that what it’s like? Trials and errors?
I think it’s the process that’s a lot more interesting than the final outcome. At the very least the process of making a collage is certainly spectacular and it lets you understand exactly why something looks this way and not the other.
Quite often I work with a certain vision in my mind – be it a simple image or a complex key visual – and during the process, it appears illegible or gets replaced by a completely different direction.
It is a complete unknown, which is sometimes what makes this kind of work exciting. I don’t provide any sketches – something my clients will often struggle to come to terms with – I’m never quite sure what the final outcome will be because more often than not I myself get surprised by it. I think it is an incredible magic and advantage of this technique.
I think that in the book “Krzysztof Lenk, Ewa Satalecka, Pass it On. Design, teaching, life” there’s a memory, a story of a design exercise – creating a composition of paper scraps that creates “tension”. Do you have your own exercises or tasks that help you approach your commissions?
I strongly believe in working “from detail to the big picture”, I rather take things away from a piece than add them. My designs are a sort of “collaboration” between the matter and the blank space, by which I mean the space that lets the piece breathe.
I think that’s often the most important bit – to allow even the most complex projects to breathe. Joe Castro would always leave a solid, unoccupied background around his designs and that is a rule that I follow. Or try to ☺.
A few words on your education. Did you have a mentor?
I wasn’t super lucky with my educational path or rather I was not making the right choices considering my capabilities ☺. Nevertheless, the entirety of education that I’ve been through was hard work and had a lot to do with perseverance. As you know, I’ve got a landscape design diploma where the tutoring was on a different thing than what I do now. Yet I did my degree at the Department of Arts where I received a lot of feedback that graphic design, or visual arts in a broader sense, was meant for me. Already at that time my diploma in Fine Arts had been on urban spaces, not to mention I was taking an extracurricular graphic design course. So in a way I signposted my own way forward, really.
Sometimes I wish I got real support, whether direct or spiritual to push me towards the things I liked – especially since my uni days were probably the time I felt the most lost in my entire life ☺.
I’ve been searching for my own design mentors, peeking at the world of great designers and how they worked. I would never imitate anyone, though. I’m an outsider in that sense.
Does your background in architecture help you with your visual communication projects and vice versa? What do you reckon about this?
I was surprised to find out that yes, it does help a great deal. Turns out my university course was incredibly future-proof and really lent itself to such a fluid mixture of different kinds of art. What is space with no image? With no visual layer? Lots and lots of academic journals have been written on the subject with more and more in the pipeline. On grassroots-based, creative initiatives in the public space, for instance.
Combining the viewpoints of both an architect and a designer, I can say for certain that, due to my awareness of space and nature, I automatically assess each new project I’m about to serve to the outside world and its implications on the environment.
In short – would I hang my design, a client commision, at home? This is a question that I tend to ask myself, as I tend to create forms that are overloaded. This is how I make sure things work together smoothly. In my opinion it is the nature and the environment that have the upper hand. We come after that, trying to fit in with our ideas. That’s why I love to see a sense silence and calmness in a design. At least those designs that I do for myself.
The most important lesson from working with big and small brands or clients?
Be aware of your truth and your work, feel confident, be able to defend your ideas and don’t let anyone get over your head. 🙂
We are professionals and for our ideas and our vision we receive compensation.
And remember, do not sign everything you are given right away! 🙂
What do you appreciate in visual communication projects?
I love a smart, intelligent message, that’s what turns me on ☺. But seriously, I really appreciate a simple idea, that one little element that sparks interest, concern, one that might start off the thought process. The designs should grab attention in two or three seconds and they don’t need to be conspicuously labor-intensive. I follow my heart here, not the head. Overall, we live in the world of multiplied ideas, same mockups and same beautiful, fine-tuned projects that quite often never go beyond the frames of Instagram.
I guess what I value in projects is when they are alive and call out to their target. Be it an old street sign of a bakery in some tiny Italian village that is itself a bit like an old local – not to be changed. If something works and the environment is attached to it, why change it? For the sake of newness and progress?
How do you begin your collaboration with a client?
Depending on the complexity of the project – or its starting stage — I begin by establishing the scope of work, the schedule and the copyrights of the final image. At this stage it is good to work out a brief, which will help to understand the commission.
Aspects like specifying the area the image will be used in or a timeframe or the elements to be designed, their formats, the media – all of this and a couple of other things will affect my quote. It’s only once I’ve accepted the budget and have read the contract draft that we can start setting any deadlines.
It always takes a long time and is almost never a pleasant part of the job but you need to get through it if only to avoid any future misunderstandings.
This also helps the client to understand your methodology. We agree on how many rounds of client feedback or alterations there will be – my approach is to usually agree on these because, apart from the initial sketching stage, the client almost always receives the final project.
You work for music publishers and musicians. Music is very often considered a great companion for the creative process. How is it? How do you listen to music?
Music is my great passionate love ☺. Sometimes the feeling’s mutual, and sometimes music only helps me get through my day without suffering major losses. In fact it was music that started my passion for design. Album covers were one of my first commercial projects and very honest fancies. I would admire how others did it – combine visual language with sound. How the link between the sight and the hearing is incredibly important.
Without a cover, music is not complete. As if it’s missing the emotional layer. The process of designing itself is very emotional, in fact. And designing for music is a privilege of sorts. And a challenge too, as it often involves finding the answer to the music maker’s imagination. Personally I’m very fond of this initial stage, when you can listen to the album before it’s released.
Do you have a favourite city?
I’m not taking the risk of a one-word answer☺. I certainly love Vienna which I got to know better in recent years. Copenhagen, which has a special place in my heart. I appreciate the culture of these cities, the architecture, fashion and some indescribable vibe.
On a trip to Antwerp with a project, it dawned on me that it is, in fact, the perfect, pocket-like city – it contains everything that I could possibly need, all the while being compact. There are many tiny workshops and studios, vintage furniture stores, craftsmen’s boutiques – things that aren’t really put at the forefront of Poland’s cities.
A town like this is easily walkable in a 20-minute period. Not to mention the cycling infrastructure — for me the city doesn’t exist without it! The three cities I mentioned above all have this and you can wander their streets safely.
I live in a large city but I gravitate towards smaller towns. I’m keen on sustainability and the notion to give our towns back to nature. For quite some time we’ve been seeing people migrating from city centres towards suburban areas and villages. Obviously the economics might be one of the reasons behind this, but it’s hardly the only one. More and more of us find ourselves in need of a tree, a lawn, morning dew and a slower pace.
I like Poland’s southern cities; Katowice, Wroclaw or Krakow, most probably because they are close to the mountainside but also because they are different and each of them has something unique that I find mesmerising. There’s also Gdynia, with its streets laid out in a modernist grid and the beautiful Bydgoszcz. I could live in any of them.
Traveling around Warsaw, what changes can you spot? In what direction, do you think, are the public spaces developing? Is it possible to define a direction? What direction would you like for it to develop in?
I see Warsaw as a hodgepodge of various district-cities, with a common city center.
And so, for example, I live in Old Mokotów district and don’t really need any other places, other districts to function, since all I need is here. I can’t be the only one to live like this. I’m mean local communities based on this kind of village-like style. I really like this, because I can go out to a spot I know well and see familiar faces there. There really is no need for us to commute to the center 🙂
I like the Vistula riverbank area for sure. It’s really developed in the recent couple of years. My early memory of this place was that the urban planning for this place is very lacking.
My wish is that the city was more about pedestrians and less about cars.
How do you overcome creative’s block?
I take a step back and leave the project to rest for a while, waiting for a better time. I’m not up for forcing myself, when things don’t work out. If I don’t have the luxury of time – I go out for a bit of fresh air ☺.
How do you work with letters? Do you have a list of foundries or typefaces that will surely work out?
The majority of my projects are rather complex which is why I pick the typefaces that will balance out the entire thing. Unless the idea is about going crazy – which is when all boundaries go out of the window ☺.
Anyway, I do try to keep up and look at new font releases. Or to miss a lot. This also works, since not all of the trendy fonts are genuinely interesting.
I really like TYPE01, where I find interesting typefaces, PangramPangram, Type-Department.
Very often I find myself design typography of my own or modify existing fonts so that they fit my projects. That was the case with the works I did for the band Kamp! the custom title for “Sexify” series or Zwierciadło magazine which have my custom-made letterings.
What do you appreciate in typography, in letters?
I’m not a typographer, so I can answer as a lover of all things visual ☺. What I find incredible in typography is that it’s both a verbal message and a beautiful graphic design at the same time.
Typeface designers have an advantage here. I like the fact that typography is governed by these unshakeable rules of design and you need a combination of strong letter-shaping knowledge, intuition and an aptitude of sorts. Not to mention this kind of radar in your eyes and a feeling of space and an ability to see the tensions between each of the letters.
For me it is a very complex discipline, but a charming one. Typeface designers very deservedly make history ☺.
What is your favourite animated feature from your childhood?
At the risk of sounding like a boomer, my favourite animated series was “Well, Just You Wait!”, a Soviet story of the Wolf and the Hare, that I had on VHS. I still have it somewhere at my folks’ place, so gorgeous!
I have very foggy memories of either Russian or Bulgarian womenswear infomercial they’d ran before the show that’s made it onto my tape.
On that note, another one of my childhood’s favourite series was the Japanese TV live action, or a tokusatsu, called “Tokkei Windspector”, which my mom would tape for me in the early 90s.
Favourite primary schoold subject?
PE and Arts. Not much has changed :-).
How does it feel to stand in front of a mural of your design?
It’s weird! Rather overwhelming. It feels good, it’s a positive feeling, but I’m not one to self-indulge like that often :-). I prefer it a whole lot more to be sent the mural pictures by other people. One of the walls has been given a hashtag, and as a result I can always go ahead and take a peek into this virtual gallery of my mural.
Do you journal? Do you jot down ideas? With scribbles, scraps of photos, doodles?
I do jot down single words or sentences. I’d much rather journal using a visual medium – I take hundreds and thousands of photos with my phone. I sometimes go back to them and struggle to comprehend a thing ☺. But it allows me to create this kind of memory map of delights.
I do not do illustrations but for some time now I’ve been collecting other people’s drawings or draw my own bicycles. Graphically, a bicycle is a form that’s drawn differently by everyone, no exceptions. And it is incredible. I’d like to publish an album with these doodles one day.
Favourite art piece?
Big fan of Francis Bacon here. I like this kind of anxiety that his paintings evoke. Bacon deconstructs and starts over, which is very intriguing and mysterious for me. Him and Lucien Freud are a strong duo of creators. Quite recently I was able to see some of the early works of Matisse and paintings by Hockney – I felt really inspired, I didn’t know Matisse influenced Hockney’s art so much.
I’m not too good with Polish art, but I can certainly say I enjoy going to Warsaw’s National Museum and sit in front of the Battle of Grunwald by Matejko. I pick one of the characters or an animal and just stare at it. A kind of meditation or a quiet moment.
Is there a book that everyone doing graphic design or visual communication should read?
Alexander’s McQueen’s biography. If not the book – watch the documentary.
Can you recommend someone who’s worth following?
Nick Knight, Daan Reitbergen, Max Siedentopf – last three names that I followed ☺
What music should we listen after this interview?
Leland Whitty – Glass Moon
Everything but the girl – Night and day
VICTOR TAIWÓ – SHOVEL MOONLIGHT