Taking a look at the pictures below and throughout the piece, you wouldn't even imagine that Christine Serchia had no idea what an art director was, as she started in her former role for Cubitts. Clearly, she's a keen and incredibly focused learner.
The resilience of Christine has few equals in the industry. She loves knowledge just as much as the craft of photography, and when she realised her technical prowess needed some work at university... well, she just kept working. Often, it is determination that makes or breaks the career of an ambitious creative. In Christine's chase, thankfully, we know it was the former. And that's probably the reason why, when the pandemic hit, she had very few issues moving to full-time freelance life.
In this Member Spotlight, we are learning more about one of our best art directors of 2020, an incredibly talented and hardworking professional with a great personal story for us all to hear.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve forever known I wanted to be an artist. My sisters and I love creating. Those who’ve known us our entire lives would laugh to think of how we spent the Saturdays of our youth drawing and oil painting at “Daryl’s Art Studio”, or in crayon on our parents’ walls and furniture. I famously ruined (aka personalised) my mothers’ Gucci handbag in the 80s, which she occasionally reminds me of.
When we got older, my twin sister Jenny and I went to art school together, we worked in the university art gallery invigilating, we took every studio art course imaginable, and art history, too. We wanted to learn everything. My favourite was photography. My technical prowess and craftsmanship was absolutely horrible, but as one of my professors told me, ‘Where others would stop trying, you never give up. You make work that stands out and always keeps us interested’. Which is what I’ve endeavoured to do ever since.
When I began my first role as Art Director for Cubitts The Modern Spectacle Maker, I didn’t even know what Art Direction was. Our Head of Creative, the best designer I’ve ever worked with, Laura Meyer, saw something in me, gave me a chance, taught me and inspired me. It resulted in the acquisition of my dream job, with my dream brand, and dream colleagues. The best thing I’ve ever done without question.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
Geographically, I’m UK-based alternating between London and Bristol. Formerly, I was Art Director for my dream company Cubitts. Since the pandemic, I’ve gone entirely freelance: curating exhibitions for 2021, designing publications, content creation, and campaign proposals for start ups. I also have a side hustle, Just Friends Studio, creating publications like my handmade book FRANK, the visual chronology of my favourite human being, Frank Serchia; as well as making art objects like my Stationery for Breakups collection - handmade paper prints using words used to end relationships.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I think about this possibility often and would love to do interior or furniture design. How does function impact the form or environment? What makes a person comfortable in a space? What a person's home communicates when they’re not in it. I’m currently designing my first furniture collection ‘Furniture for Heartbreak’ in collaboration with the one and only Fred Crouch. With pieces like ‘A plinth to lay your broken heart upon’ this collection is more conceptual than utilitarian, but we hope people will see a bit of humour and a melancholy beauty in each of the simple modernist-inspired pieces.
Can you explain your creative process?
I start by writing a list of my own thoughts. I use what I’ve written to begin visual and historic research to define the concept. I love composing a concept and translating it into something dimensional. Taking something ephemeral, a thought or idea, and making it real - what does this thought look like? How does it exist in a way that others can understand it without words? What is the most important part of an idea? What colour or material would it be? I then create a series of artboards - my favourite part of the process - and share this with the artists I collaborate with as a catalyst for their response to the brief. There’s always an element of the unexpected and that’s the brilliance of collaboration, you can’t predict what inflection your collaborators will offer to the narrative, the process, or the outcome.
How would you describe your style?
Minimalist, but memorable.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from?
It’s an endless list of individuals, but I absolutely have a list of reoccurring muses I always find my way back to. The ones that currently hold my attention in their hands:
The simplicity of furniture designed by Donald Judd. When you’d like to make your life (or everyone else’s) an art form: Yoko Ono’s Instruction Paintings. In a single sentence your life becomes an artwork. It’s amazing the power you have from words, just by simply saying them.
Do you have any heroes in the industry?
Infinitely many. Margaret Sweeney, Head of development from the British paper merchant, G. F Smith. She can’t take a breath without improving the lives of everyone around her. She’s taught me so much, and been a source of strength and wisdom in times I really needed support and clarity, and she’s brought amazing people into my life.
My twin sister, Jenny. She’s an award-winning designer. No one can draw like she can. She makes exciting, beautiful, elevated designs, and has the best typographic sensibility. She transforms everything into something captivating and imaginative. Her style is singular in nature, and she uses her intuitive understanding of people to continuously inspire them.
How has technology affected the way you work?
I love this question. I love how technology expands possibility and makes exponentially more possible. It has made my creative processes quicker, more egalitarian, more collaborative by offering a universal visibility and ongoing collective dialogue, so that ideas can be composed despite geography. I like to combine analogue and digital technology for the sake of dichotomy, and to reference the origins of processes.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
Change. Altering a perspective, a process, a material, or an idea. Making it different by understanding what it is; what it isn’t, and exploring ways of seeing that aren’t necessarily through your own eyes.
Living. Actions that are observed from living your own life. Some of the most original ideas you’ll ever have come from moments where you’re not creating; just listening; observing; noticing something you hadn’t recognised or understood before and making a conscious effort to respond in a new way.
Research. One of my favourite things to do; something we all do without realising. Learning how the beginning affects the ending. Understanding the catalysts of how we got to where we are. Design, photography, how what happened throughout history influenced or sparked a response by the people that lived it, and what that means for us in our current place in time.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
When I think of what I’m most proud of, to date, it was forming the ‘World’s Favourite Colour’ Collaboration for Cubitts x G. F Smith. There are so many defining characteristics from these two beloved British brands that make them a perfect duet. Their unmatched pursuit of quality; their synonymousity with art and design, their pursuit of circularity in process and product, their care for the people they work with and for. Something that started in friendship resulted in a collaboration which celebrates history, design, materiality, but also our way of seeing. It addressed a common denominator, ‘The World’s Favourite Colour’ and demonstrated a limitless possibility of two industries who we thought could no longer surprise us: spectacles and paper.
This collaboration showed us that our creative pursuits are just the beginning. Cubitts, is my all time favourite spectacle maker and G.F Smith my favourite paper merchants: the people behind these brands are the best at what they do - making our lives individually and collectively better, and inspiring us eternally to do the same. Whenever I see another human being wearing their ‘Eastcastle’ frames, I shed a single tear of maternal pride. I know how much thought went into every part of it, and all the people who made it real. To witness the idea sublime and fulfil its purpose is one of the most important reasons I will always pursue creativity.
How do you recharge away from the office?
By day, going for Richard Long-style walks, planting seeds, drawing, photographing, looking at photography, or existing outdoors. Traveling to explore, to exist in a new environment, or an old familiar one. By night, consuming wine and having one-on-one chats. Time and people are the most irreplaceable things that we have, and what I appreciate most. I realise how lucky I am that my existence coincides with the existence of the people most important to me.
What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?
Something that I have found has helped me is in creating projects under your own initiative and inviting people who you admire to collaborate with you. I am a devout advocate of collaboration and have noticed the common thread whether inviting others in participation or being selected to participate, everyone respectively has said ‘I just want to work with nice people’. I think that says something important. Acknowledging that we are all human, understanding the uniqueness of individuals and encouraging them to exceed their own expectations within the process. The way that you treat people has a significant impact. Helping others is one of the greatest things we can do, and it actually is amazing how effortlessly you can. Sometimes even saying or writing one single sentence, making one single image is enough to create positive change. You never fully know the impact of what you do and how it will resonate.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
My hope would be for our industry to align pursuits in search something greater than commerciality. When I think about what survives throughout history, it’s never how much revenue a company has generated, it’s always about what they discovered, what they did differently, what they created that would never have existed without them, and how they bettered the greater good. If that became a collective universal goal imagine what we could accomplish in our lifetime. It’s always what you see or do differently that sets you apart.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
One change I would like to see realised is for the industry to recognise the importance of creativity, enough so that we are no longer ever asked to work unpaid as creatives. My hope is that with this recognition of finding work of quality and consistency, clients can pay tribute to the people that make this possible - we are doing our job just as people in any role do, we deserve for our time to be valued by the people who request it of us, so that we can continue creating.
The more time we have to devote to our creative work (and less in search of financial stability), the more things we can make possible. It helps with the evolution of our work, to take on greater challenges, to learn new processes, and collaborate with people who share an appreciation and who understand the complexity of how to create something that changes the way we respond to the world around us.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
Too many, but here are a few of my absolute favourites:
As for resources, London Centre for Book Arts. I can’t count how many individuals and small businesses (including my own) now exist because LCBA has taught them how to make a handmade book, a riso print, a solander box. Some of the projects I’m most proud of exist only because of their help and guidance. They’ve made a community of makers from their studio in Hackney Wick, London and everything they create is quality from concept to completion. They also have the best book shop and tools: https://londonbookarts.org/
In terms of books, I’ve collected photography books for many years. If I were to list my favourites, the list would be eternal. The one I’ve spent the most time with the past year has been Jasper by Matthew Genitempo. The next photobook on my list is Sleep Creek by Dylan Haustor and Paul Guilmoth of Wilt Press, who unbeknownst to them have greatly inspired the first digital exhibition I’ve curated, and one that I’m currently planning. I hope to curate an exhibition of all of their work one day.
Finally, this is really my signature wheel house of readings:
Oliver Sacks “My Own Life” (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html). The article he wrote for The New York Times after learning of his diagnosis of Ocular cancer. I always hold onto one line in particular.
I always seek the words of humans who are aware they’re on the brink of the end of their own life, to clarify the things that are most important about the life they’ve lived, and the way they use their creative ability to leave something significant behind, something important enough to outlive them. They tell you things that you could never otherwise know about their own life; about life in its entirety.
A letter from Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille on the ‘divine dissatisfaction’ of being an artist. If you ever feel like giving up, read this once and realise that you have to keep trying. Your contribution to this world won’t exist without you:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU. Keep the channel open.” As quoted in “Dance to the Piper and Promenade Home” (1982) by Agnes de Mille
For film, photography, and design these are my Ride or Dies:
- Gary Didsbury / https://www.garydidsbury.com/
- Matilda Hill Jenkins / http://www.matildahilljenkins.co.uk/
- Lola + Pani / https://lolapanistudio.com/
- Tian Khee Siong / https://kheesiong.com/
- Creep Productions https://www.imacreep.co.uk/
- Jennifer Serchia https://www.jenniferserchia.com/
- Noura Andréa Nassar nouranassar.com
- Laura C. Meyer https://lcm.sg/
- Fred Crouch https://www.fredcrouch.com/
- Design Print Bind https://designprintbind.info/
Honestly, the list is endless, and ever-evolving, which I love. Thank you so much for asking these questions and to everyone who has ever encouraged, supported, or been a part of creating something of significant meaning to me.