Sarita Immelman is a Joburg based freelance illustrator and designer. She fell in love with drawing when she was much younger, and after finishing Communication Design at The Open Window Art Academy in Pretoria, she opened 2Buffels Melkery, and started raking in the awards. She’s also into Rabbit Show Jumping. We caught up with Sarita to chat about her work, and her hobbies.
How and why did you become interested in illustration, design and advertising?
I was hooked on illustration the first time I managed to draw a picture that wasn’t a stick figure. It was a horse. I thought it meant I was going to be a painter with a loft studio, nude models and temper tantrums. The idea that artists get away with certain taboos because they have a “gift” was a very attractive one for me. Turns out that in the real world, the ability to draw a decent horse, usually gets you into an advertising studio where there’s only slightly less nudity. But the tantrums are glorious.
What was your first job, and how have you grown since?
The first one was doing medical illustrations for a group of doctors who were building a sort of digital encyclopaedia. Not the most promising career starter, but I was just chuffed that someone was prepared to pay me to draw pictures all day long. I had the time to experiment with different ways to make digital illustrations and got most of my 10 000 Malcolm Gladwell-hours in, all while having the kind of access to dissected dead people bits that are usually off-limits to anyone but medical students.
The next venture worth mentioning, was a bold but somewhat naive experiment by me and some friends (including 2 copywriters and a suit, who were already fed-up with agency life) to start our own little boutique advertising agency called 2Buffels. Every traditional department was a separately owned business, so design was done by my partner, Marcelle Labuschagne and I. It was called 2Buffels Melkery. We had moderate success in the form of a frapp of golds at our first Pendorings, and that helped us with enough business to keep going. But I learnt very quickly that the term “agency experience” isn’t just something you need to get a new job. We needed to meet and work with the right people if we were going to do this thing properly.
So the Melkery set out to infiltrate the ad-business sideways. We already learnt that people are willing to overlook this lack of “agency experience” if you had some awards to your name. So the plan was to get more of those, starting with The Loeries. We studied the archives (with Eye of the Tiger on repeat in the background), grabbed the first willing client, and created a Corporate Identity that won metal in 3 different categories that year. It still makes me laugh that 2Buffels Melkery made it onto the rankings list in between all the big and respectable agency names.
The plan worked and one big blur later I had earned more than my 10 000 hours of agency experience at places like DraftFCB, McCann and DDB.
I got to work with some of the smartest people in the business, laugh my ass off, win international awards and use important-sounding job-titles. I learnt that I f*#!-ing LOVE the friends I made, making something beautiful is the only way to fill the emptiness, you don’t get extra points for being too serious and an important-sounding job-title is often handed out in lieu of a proper raise.
Eventually the day job was just interfering too much with the freelance Marcelle and I were doing on the side, so I had to choose. And I chose disco!
Autism South Africa
“The big idea around the (Autism South Africa) creative work is to communicate what Autism IS NOT by using various misconceptions in the form of hard-hitting provocative statements which centre around the line ‘Autism is…’ ” – Sarita Immelman.
Credits: House of Brave, Marcelle Labuschagne
How do you tackle a new project- take us through your process.
It’s a bit like a 12-step program for alcoholics. It starts with denying that I have a problem and ends with acceptance, with anger and a spiritual awakening somewhere in the middle.
I don’t really know how it works. We like to start by filling our heads with as much research and inspiration as we can. And then at some point you just have to sit down and force yourself to start solving the puzzle, hoping that there’s something in your head that will help. More often than not, the missing pieces come from older, unrelated cramming sessions. We usually end up a few degrees to the left of where we first thought we wanted to go. And that’s a good thing, because first draft ideas are sucky.
Describe your style, and what inspires it.
I don’t really have a visual style (a symptom of advertising). I feel like I have to be able to do my own version of anything. It’s part of the challenge to come up with a fresh look that’s custom-made for the job at hand. I hope it’s the quirkiness of our concepts that identifies our work.
I do have a tendency to turn most projects into illustration jobs though. That’s probably wrong from a purist perspective. But I don’t want to stop just yet.
What has been some of your favourite projects, and why?
I recently got to create a window for a new bar in Braamfontein called Anti Est. with some of the talented guys over at Grid Worldwide. The identity is built around the idea of “unlearn”. So we wanted to create the image of a nun, dropping a habit. Quite literally. So the nun-graphic turns into a burlesque-style stripper scene when we shine a red light on it. This one is at the top because it’s just not the kind of thing clients normally buy. It’s closer to what I imagined myself doing when I was a kid who just figured out I knew how to draw a horse. I enjoyed every minute of it.
The-O Sound Studio was fun because we managed to turn the ugliest parts of the original space into our favourite part of the whole job. Sound studios have these accoustic panels all over the walls, usually upholstered in something nasty. And the ceiling had some weird architectural structure that we couldn’t understand the meaning of. Lucky for us, it formed a perfect rectangular “O” shape. So we decided to accentuate the weirdness of it with some colour and create characters for the 11 acoustic panels to interact with the strange shape in the ceiling. A bit like the apes reacting to the monolith in the first scene of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. This worked perfectly with our branding concept, because “oh” is the sound you make when you finally get something. So we see the faces at the moment of enlightenment, with the bright coral glow from the ceiling reflecting on them. I love that it’s visually so loud you can almost hear them.
The 8ta launch campaign I did with McCann is a bit old, but still in the running because the regular outdoor clutter in Jo’burg is something that makes me angry every day. I can’t even talk about it. But for a short time, there was less ugliness to look at. We made some simple and striking billboards, the way nature intended.
The BS Beer packaging I loved purely because satire is one of my favourite things in on earth.
What has your experience as a freelance creative in South Africa (and Johannesburg) been like? Tell us about the challenges and benefits.
One of the main differences to being a freelancer vs agency creative for me, is that Johannesburg agencies would rarely brief an illustration job into the agency. It’s almost always given to a freelancer. Not because the talent isn’t there, but because there’s just not enough time. Turnaround times are so tight, that asking for 2 weeks to experiment and create a custom style for a job, is understandably laughed at by any decent traffic lady. All you have time for is to find a reference and brief the illustrator. But I love indulging in my own projects. So scheduling myself, is the best part, and the biggest challenge. I miss how easy it was to have a whole team of people helping me make things happen on time. But then again, I love showers at noon and 3pm power naps.
What do you do for fun?
Rabbit Show Jumping. I don’t have a rabbit and I don’t go to any shows, but I watch it on YouTube. So that’s pretty much the same thing.
What’s next? Any exciting plans or projects?
For the next few months we’re working on the branding and launch of a new service to South Africa with an agency in Cape Town. So that’s exciting, but still in a top secret phase.
Marcelle and I also have to find some time to create a brand for our partnership, because let’s face it, “Immelman & Labuschagne” makes us sound like an engineering firm from Pretoria.
Keep up with Sarita’s latest projects on Behance.
The Patisserie | In-store Posters
Credits: McCann, Yvonne Hall, Michael Lewis, Nick van Renen, Andrew Chandler
Blink Stefanus “5.5% Alcohol. 100% BS” | Labels and Campaign
Credits: House of Brave, Marcelle Labuschagne
The-O Sound Studio
Credits: Marcelle Labuschagne
Vodacom “Back-it-up” | Illustration and Advertising
8.ta | Heita Launch Campaign
Credits: McCann, AM I Collective