Hanno van Zyl is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer living and working in Cape Town where he hand paints careful and considered dashes, dots and lines in ink before refining his illustrations digitally. Hanno favours B&W in both his illustration and graphic design taking occasional breaks from monochrome with clear primary colours or loud neon. Though his most recent works feature various items of trash and discarded evidence of human life suspended across the page, this palette preference keeps it clean. Here, Hanno shares more about his craft.
Please let us know a bit about your background, how did you become a graphic designer and illustrator?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in illustration and graphic design. Both my parents have made a living in the creative industries, which made it easy to validate my career choice and visualise an independent lifestyle. While studying Visual Communication Design at Stellenbosch University, I began doing freelance work in the music industry to help jumpstart my portfolio. After graduation I worked as a designer at advertising agency 140BBDO where I gained some amazing insight into the commercial world of advertising – and how different it really is from design and illustration. I made the leap to work independently three years ago and began operating under my own name. Currently I share the Only Today studio space, with some of the most talented illustrators and designers in SA. I am also represented by Alexander’s Band talent agency headed up by the wonderful Emma Cook.
What have been some of the highlights of your design career so far?
I have really enjoyed doing work for local bands that have been a major influence in my life like Fokofpolisiekar and Lark. But I would say that my highlights have been creating the corporate identity for an innovative food truck start-up, The Chef’s Bench, – and taking part in an awesome group exhibition called “Those Who Wander” at the Salon 91 gallery.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
As a designer I try not to adhere to a strict aesthetic, I would rather let the nature of the brief determine the look and feel of a specific project. I do, however, like to be quite critical in my work and for it to engage with the environment in which it exists. As an illustrator or artist I have a more concrete aesthetic that is strongly influenced by comic art with prominent brush and ink line work as well as outdated reproduction methods. I draw from my own environment and love exploring the details of everyday South African life that are often forgotten by dominant narratives. I’ve been spending a lot of time drawing garbage lately.
What are some of the pros and cons of being a freelancer?
Definitely the freedom that you are afforded to pursue projects that have meaning to you, and having the opportunity to leave a mark (even if it’s a tiny one) on our cultural landscape. The cons would be balancing your personal creative goals with that of your clients’.
How does the environment you work in affect what you produce?
My work has always had a preoccupation with spaces and the urban environment. Being based in Woodstock has meant a lot of my work has been influenced by the city itself. Witnessing the changing landscape of Cape Town (especially the more marginalised sections) has provided me with a very rich cultural playground in which to create a dialogue. Sharing a creative studio space has become essential to me: it helps you to divide your personal life from your professional life which can blur if you are working for yourself. Also being lucky enough to have such amazingly talented friends around has proven to be really beneficial. It’s great to have a support structure around to grow your work, technically and conceptually, but most importantly the camaraderie in times of stress.
You’ve recently done work for musicians, websites, stationery brands and even a wine bar. If you could choose anything or anyone, what would you work on next?
In terms of musicians I would love to do work for Thom York. His music and creative output has always been a huge influence on me, personally and creatively. But more than anything else I would love to design and art direct the identity of a fine art gallery like the Tate Modern.
Where do you look for inspiration, online and offline?
Offline, I love collecting little pieces of trash and rubble that gathers in gutters, as well as the little trinkets you find behind the till of spaza shops and corner stores. Architecture has always been a big inspiration to me, and I love finding something interesting in the starkest and most rundown buildings. Online, I try to look at everything from news sites to Tumblr. I especially love the work of Tom Darracot, Deutsche&Japaner and Morning Breath.
What do you do when you’re not working and how does that feed your creativity?
I love reading, cycling, swimming. Reading helps in the obvious way, where the swimming and cycling helps to clear my head at the end of the day, and stops you from moving too deep into the interior. Cycling is also a great way to explore the city.
What are you busy working on at the moment?
I am working on the design for a South African wine range called The Ambassador as well as the corporate identity for a children’s clothing line. There is also some of my work on display at the Sussex Open Studios in Woodstock.
I am always busy working on my own fine art, which has been a constant part of my career, and I will probably continue working on that until I keel over. In terms of design and illustration, I am working with Publik Wine Bar on a series of posters which will start rolling out soon as well as a new local brand of craft beer, 12Mile Brew, which I’m very excited about.