Design for Art Direction
My first and only placement this year was with designer and creative director, Harris Elliott. It was a very interesting experience… I had not heard about him before the internship, I was referred by a friend of his, photographer Dean Chalkley whom I had an interview with first. Dean and Harris presented a radio show together and had worked together on a collaborative book and exhibition at Somerset House, Return of the Rudeboy. Even though I want heard of either artists, once I researched their work I thought they would be perfect to work with.
The first interview with Dean was very classic; meeting for a coffee in a Hackney cafe before he had to go off and do radio. It was a very encouraging and inspiring interview. Bar the praise and the fact that a professional, famous photographer was showing genuine interest in my work, we had really fun, good conversations about a range of things and it was fantastic to get industry advice from him, even if I wouldn’t be able to shadow/work for him. However, the meet was lovely and Dean promised to put me in contact with Harris, also letting me now that he was only at the end of an email if I had any more questions for him or if I wanted a chat. My first kinda “networking” interview thing went well.
Just as he had promised, a few days later, I was in an email chain with Dean and Harris and I could see that Dean really bigged me up to Harris. So there was slight pressure to live up to Harris’ expectations, fuelled by Dean’s praise. The interview with Harris took place in the cafe at The Photographers Gallery (cliche or perfect), exactly a week after my interview with Dean. The interview/conversation with Harris was very similar to that with Dean, but slightly more professional because of his intention to take me on as an intern, while with Dean it was more friendly introductions. Harris told me the work his studio was getting up to, I presented my portfolio and spoke about how my skills would be of value to him. During the interview, one or two people approached Harris as they knew him and it was all very energetic and entertaining? I could tell that although a hardworking and accomplished artist, he was also just a creative from London doing things London creatives do and this calmed my nerves a little. However, Harris is still a no-nonsense person so I had to whip myself into shape and get organised, because work was starting the very next day, at 9am…
Beginning work, there wasn’t much of an introductory, transitory period, I was straight in the deep end, going from factory to factory in east London, picking things up, dropping them off, very intern-type errands. My primary role however was to create design work for a project Harris was potentially going to be on. Using scans of rice bags, I created so many mockups, hoodies, t-shirts, socks, bucket hats, anything and everything! A lot of it was learned on the go too, I picked up a lot of extra skills I didn’t know I could do; I realised I was more skilled and competent than I thought, I just needed live briefs to put the skills to practice. With the studio being small, there was a lot of instant back and forth texting with Harris to send work, last minute errands, etc.
I’m not sure what preconceptions I had about the nature of the professional, creative industry, but from this internship, it seems a lot more ‘informal’ than I thought it would be, informal meaning not as stuffy and demanding as say the finance industry. Despite this, there were still anxieties I felt from the pressure of the fast moving world of work, feeling like the work I was making wasn’t good enough, but there wasn’t time to be feeling that way I just had to step up. Navigating how to be independent while still working for him was interesting as well, eg asking if I can leave the factory to go work elsewhere, working from the college, able to do my own thing in work hours. Though I was an intern he hired, I am still a creative individual myself with other responsibilities.
I was fortunate to have started working with Harris while he was commissioning work for an event in Lagos put on by Skepta’s manager. As someone born there, I had a lot of insight to offer for the project, which Harris really appreciated and was willing to learn about from me, as I learned so much from him about brand design processes. That working relationship felt good, he trusted my opinion and trusted me with more responsibilities. I was able to assist on an exciting, high-brand fashion shoot which informed me more about styling and fashion/culture; Harris gave me the coolest books to read for the shoot research but it was also valuable knowledge for me - today, that book he told me to read has inspired a lot of my project planning.
As a black photographer myself, I was more than happy to spend hours trawling over names and images. Not only was it work for Harris but it was beyond-valuable research for me too and my practice - especially because I never had a formal, research based education in photography and media. Now, not only was I getting that education, it was education that was tailored to my interests. Shout out to the DPS year. This visual research updated my creativity in a way. Suddenly I was better at making visually appealing things and this may have come from being exposed to talented creatives and also researching techniques, artists, etc. My Photoshop skills at this point are at an all time high and I was making work for other creatives sourced by Harris to then use and make something else for the project. I was in a creative feedback loop and it made me feel… professional.
I really, really enjoyed the placement. It was the only one I got the opportunity to do but it was the perfect one (even without pay). I gained connections, and skills in networking, a knowledge on shops and places for designs/companies we used e.g. fashion formula; I learned more about design processes - fashion design, graphic design, styling. I am reaaalllyy into styling now, working with Harris exposed me to this side of design I might have never have appreciated, I am extremely grateful for the experience.