Cohen - Half Man, Half Computer Chair
16 October 2015 by Sancho Murphy
MOITE........*pensive pause* there are some people, in the box of chocolates that is life, who come along and leave things just a little more rad than before you met them. *Points at Cohen*, readers, meet Cohen, a graphic illustrator originally from Adelaide now calling Canberra home. Towards the end of last year, I'd intended to really amp up Dirty Laundry but found there were not nearly enough hours in my day to focus my energy 100% across juggling 3 creative ventures, it had become an obligation rather than a passion, the not so fun side of business, like a floozy looking for a good time - I had neglected my first born!
But, since crossing paths with Cohen and his fiery skill set (thanks for the intro Mary!), we've spent the best part of this year working on the new website (when I say 'we' I mainly mean Cohen, I just give minimal pointers haha), some fresh logo wizardry for the new gallery space (Lobrow Gallery) and a creative studio launching in the coming months that I'm really excited to share with you all (it's an all killer, no filler lineup of Canberra locals with unique talents on offer).
Cohen is a good egg. A coder and a self-taught graphic designer/illustrator, he's done the rounds at a few advertising agencies, leaving the politics behind to do the freelance shuffle - hustling hard, hustling good. I thought it would serve well to share his story, because I've learned HEAPS from him (about being an independent and keeping it fresh) in the collaborative process which may provide some clarity to others navigating the twisted 'hall of mirrors' independent path.
Introduce yourself son! Don't be shy, turn the mic up to 11, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I'm Cohen! I'm a guy, a local Canberran, the quietly determined type, a self-taught digital designer, illustrator, artist and web developer. A sausage dog owner, notorious hermit, I don't take myself too seriously but I work hard making things that exist inside a computer screen. Sometimes outside! Whoa!
I'm best described as a vector designer. The types of projects I usually work on are branding / logo design, private and commercial illustration projects, lots of character design and interface design to name a few.
I run my own design studio, which is just a fancy way of saying I freelance, working from home, behind a desk in the kitchen (that's where all the food is), sometimes and sometimes not in my pyjamas. I work for clients all over the place, interstate, overseas. Location doesn't really matter because everything I do can be sent backwards and forwards via the interwebs.
Aside from client work I'm also an artist, I've exhibited in a number of art shows and successfully launched my first solo exhibition at Nishi Gallery late last year. Most of my personal art is quite dark and generally very character driven. I use a lot of bold lines and bright colours in my work, similar to what you see in tattoo art I guess.
Describe the Cohen design process.
Hmm, well if it's a commercial brief then I learn that thing backwards, there's nothing worse than missing an important detail and looking like a goose. I usually ask a ton of questions, so there's plenty of back and forth before I put anything down. That's why it's so important to have good communication with your client, if you bring them with you, make them feel a part of it, they're more excited and more likely to trust you to do your job. By understanding the client's requirements properly you might also find a completely different / better solution to what the client had in mind. I like to always be honest even if I think the client won't dig it initially. Lay all your cards on the table, otherwise you're just being a mindless designer and the end result won't be as great as it could have been. Oh and research, do lots of research.
I then move onto basic mock-ups/sketches. I don't give the client many options because the client can't see as far ahead as you (the designer) and might not see the potential in a particular sketch. If I'm really confident about an idea, I just give them one concept and sell it. If a client has come to you based on your portfolio, then you don't have to sell as hard because they obviously already like your stuff. If they don't know your work, then you may need to put extra time into your presentation.
Once I get the green light, I just do my thing. I rarely send updates until the final piece is ready. I find clients often don't understand a work in progress, which isn't their fault, they just can't see what's in your head. A WIP can be confusing and might add an element of doubt, along with whole bunch of unwanted questions.
For those late night interweb lurky lurks, what industry sites and blogs do you read regularly?
I'm pretty lazy when it comes to this kind of thing. I generally stick to Behance, Dribbble & Instagram. Behance especially, with such a massive online community, endless projects to look through, not to mention their curated sites for specific industries (branding, typography, illustration etc.). Behance is ideal for finished projects, where as Dribbble and Instagram are a little more casual, so you see more WIP shots and random sketches. Otherwise, if I need to know how to do something or need reference images, I just Google it.
I used to subscribe to Computer Arts and still have a bunch of their magazines which I sometimes have a geezer through. I recommend Computer Arts if you're just getting into the industry because they cover a broad range of work. It's a nice introduction.
Tell us about your favourite project and why?
I don't think I can choose one, I have two, for different reasons.
The first one is an illustration for Harley Davidson. I had a week and a half to complete it, which was completely insane. It was pulling all-nighters and red bull for a week (I never drink red bull but had to in this case). Easily my biggest test so far. The illustration had to be quite large, it was a very different style than I'm used to, I had to nail a very specific brief, and the piece had to work wrapped around a motorcycle helmet as well as on a poster. It almost broke me but it worked out in the end. I learnt a lot about how to best approach larger illustration projects and what can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time when pushed to the limit aka death.
The second is my first solo exhibition, which was a year of planning and took 6 months of dedicated work. The exhibition involved about 30 original artworks, a huge custom wallpaper pattern, a big decal and a hand-made custom toy concept. The sense of accomplishment filling an entire gallery and getting such a great response was unreal. I wouldn't do it again in a hurry because it was way too stressful but the doors this has since opened has been pretty crazy. Well worth it. Budding artists should always try and get involved in exhibitions, especially digital artists. Digital art is less looked down on now. In the past I've found the occasional traditional artist refer to it as 'not real art'. Bleh. It's art, so exhibit!
You've done the rounds in a couple of advertising agencies, bailed out and are now rolling the freelance dice, how does one compare to the other?
There's good and bad in both but overwhelmingly I'd choose freelancing any day of the week. I started out working for a couple of digital agencies in Adelaide and they were great for a while until I felt the need for more creative/design work. That led me to working for a couple of ad agencies in an attempt to collaborate with more designers and hopefully have more access to interesting projects. A got both of those things but also experienced first hand the chaotic nature of the ad industry. I had been warned by a number of people, but thought 'hey what's the worst that can happen'. Small ad agencies still try and do everything a big ad agency would. Design, web, video, copyrighting, marketing. The amount of work you have to get through is ridiculous, along with the deadlines you're given. I lasted at one ad agency for just three and a half months (You won't find the place on LinkedIn). Massive egos, narcissists, low office morale, idiotic decision making, bullying, account managers being brought to tears, you name it. I wasn't hanging around.
I gave it another go working part time but still found the 'just pump out the work' attitude soul destroying. I learnt a lot about design and how not to run a business, so I got out and started my own. If I'm not proud of the work I'm doing then it seems pointless to me. I want to put in the time, I want to nail it, I want to do it on my own terms and I want to have a positive relationship with the client. Although freelancing is still tough, I get to pick and choose the projects I work on, I see projects through from start to finish and I have a lot of creative control. No meddling managers on an ego trip telling you how to do your job!
I think it's important to work with other designers, you get competitive and you can bounce ideas around and learn from each other. Definitely don't jump straight into freelancing because building up a portfolio and getting clients takes a while. Just be wary, and try and find a place that specialises in something. They are more likely to have better processes and a better office culture.
Tell us about your least favourite project and why?
Oh god there's too many I can't pick any particular project. That's just the nature of the industry, the stars do need to align for a project to be great and memorable. I give every project my all but sometimes a project is just a bad idea from the outset but the client is determined to see it through, the client might also be an egomaniac / dictator so you're not given the freedom you need to do a good job. Or you're just in a design rut and unable to produce something you're proud of. I think this happens to every designer. You just have to be resilient, and remember that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. When I say failures I'm being dramatic, the client might love the work, but you just think it sucks. Typical artist I guess.
Who are some of your fanboy crushes, you know those crazy prodigious people who inspire and make you wanna draw, but also not because they're too good and it's like I'm not even gonna try.
Jared Nickerson stood out to me when I first got into the game. I used to subscribe to Computer Arts, and that's where I first saw his work. He's a vector designer who creates really slick graphics, insanely detailed patterns and his attention to detail is scary.
Ian Jepson is a digital painter, I love his style, it's super bold and colourful, but his themes are always pretty dark. He does a lot of poster illustration work, which is worth checking out on Behance. He often creates time-lapse videos of an artwork in progress, which provides a great insight into his methods.
Adhemas Batista would be one of the best designers out there, he's a colour genius. He puts colours together in such a way that if I tried using his colour scheme it would look like spew, but he kills it every time. His client list is ridiculous.
If you've heard of / seen Invader Zim, Jhonen Vasquez is the creator of that show. I love this guy's illustration work, it's super fucked up. So much blood and carnage. If you've been desensitised as much as me, it takes stuff like this to tickle my... whatever's in me that enjoys horrible things.
Zutto is a vector illustrator based in Russia. I first noticed this artist's work when his / her Swampland series came out. I still go back and look at it now and then because it's mind blowing. The detail, the colour, everything. One day I'd love to achieve something as lush as this.
One more, Super Silo. This guy draws robots, and I have a bit of a thing for robots.