The multicolour travels of an Art Director - #MemberSpotlight

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From Cape Town to London, Illustrator & Art Director Justin Poulter has never given up on his ambitions and dreams of becoming an established artist in the creative industry.

Some designers find inspiration by being exposed to a number of creative stimuli. For Justin, such inspiration comes from seeing the world. Through all his travels, he realised the value of welcoming new inputs and experiences by seeing different cultures first-hand and travelling far and wide. Born and raised in Cape Town, Justin is now working freelance from London, with an impressive portfolio of work performed for a number of top brands.

For this Member Spotlight, we are learning more about Justin's creative process and ambition, as well as his personal advice to starting creatives around the globe.


How did you get into the industry?

After doing communication design (graphic design) at a University in Cape Town, plus some internships and work placements, I began freelancing with a partner doing illustration and graphic design for local advertising agencies and magazines. This was during the time of the football world cup held in South Africa, so there was a big surge of work out there and we were lucky to be able to ride the wave.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I’m now based in Hackney, London. I moved to London from Cape Town about 6 years ago. I am a freelancer, but I do most of my work through my agents Jelly London and Ampersand Globe (China). Some of the clients I have worked for include Vans, National Geographic, Bud Light, Costa Coffee, Naked Noodles, Youtube and Johnnie Walker. Mostly these clients have come via commissions from advertising agencies like Wieden + Kennedy, Droga5, M&C Saatchi, Creature London and a few others.


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’ve always loved the idea of being a photo journalist, but do love what I do and so I’m not looking at making a change. Rather, I would like to evolve within my chosen profession. Whether thats moving more into branding and tackling bigger more holistic projects or eventually running my own studio and creative directing work.


Can you explain your creative process?

It really depends on the brief, but usually I start with developing an idea, sometimes this requires research and exploration. Then I would begin sketching (nowadays I do this on the iPad). I then share these sketches with my client and get as much feedback from them as possible at this early stage. When the client is happy with how the sketches are looking, I take these and begin working up the illustrations in vector using Adobe Illustrator. Depending on the time allowed, there will be a few more rounds of feedback from the client before the final illustrations are approved. Occasionally the final illustrations are then also animated by Jelly Kitchen, an animation studio connected to my agents. In this part of the process I will direct the animators to make sure the animations look as good as possible while still answering the brief from the client.


How would you describe your style?

I always find this a bit tricky to put into words, but I feel mostly it is a juxtaposition of clean and messy and a combination of vibrant and gritty. 

Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Some of my favourite artists are Kristian Hammerstad, Charles Burns, Conrad Botes, Stephen Powers, Kaws, Tod Francis and Evan Hecox. There are a couple of studios and companies I also find very inspiring such as Vault 49, Dixon Baxi, Taxi Studio, Media Monks, Jones Knowles Richie, Anyways Creative and Pentagram Design.


If you had to pick one ideal client/employer, who would that be and why?

Vans. I love the brand and the culture it is a part of. I also feel that Vans is one of the few brands that's been able to grow so big while still keeping true to its authentic roots. 

How has technology affected the way you work?

As I mentioned before, I do all my sketching now using an iPad in an app called Procreate. This saves me loads of time creating and sharing work. Also, I would say the ubiquity of the Adobe suite means the final work I create using Illustrator is always easily readable and usable for my clients. I also find Dropbox to be really handy for sharing files and keeping a digital archive of all of my work.


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Getting out and seeing the world is the best cure for creative block in my experience. Whether thats going on a trip to another country or in recent times just to your local corner store, you never really know what might catch you attention and inspire you. I also try not to get disheartened by all the amazing work being shared by other people. I find this crucial to staying motivated. 

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

The Creative Pool Annual award I won for my work for Johnnie Walker was a huge milestone for me recently which I’m very proud of. But I would also say that it's so important to make sure your latest work is your best work. Sometimes the brief may not be exactly what you want to be doing but it’s so important to be proud of your output. This for me is the biggest challenge of being a commercial artist. 


How do you recharge away from the office?

My cycle to and from my studio is a great way for me to process my thoughts which occasionally leads to ideas. Also, photography is a personal hobby of mine that helps inspire my work in some ways. I find taking pictures with no commercial intentions to be freeing and a great way for me to recharge creatively.

What is one tip for other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Be original and make sure you love what you do. This will come across in your work and people will see the value in it. With that said, it is also important to show how your work can be used commercially. Try to think how your work can bring something potentially dull to life.


What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?

One thing I would change is the way people value the creative work of freelancers. I see a lot of importance put on follower count and not a lot of importance put on industry experience.   Of course thats not to say there aren’t total prodigies out there! I am constantly impressed by young talent entering the industry.