03 Dec Kaeli Justus Illustrates the Workspaces of Creatives for ‘The Desk Project’
For an ongoing series dubbed The Desk Project, graphic designer Kaeli Justus creates vector illustrations showing the workspaces of different creatives. “It started when I came across Jessica Hirsch’s amazing type piece that states “I like my desk messy and my whiskey neat” and that got me thinking that both my desk and drink preference depend on my current frame of mind or the job at hand,” she says. “This sparked a bit of a voyeuristic desire to see other people’s spaces as I wondered whether this area, at which people spend the majority of their time, reflected anything about them or if it was just a utility-based space with little or no connection to the occupant.” Kaeli sent off an email to a group of people – friends, acquaintances, people she admires from a distance – asking them to send her a photo of their desk or working area, and the project has continued to grow from there.
She works in a simple vector style and a limited colour pallet in the hopes that the unique or quirky items on the desks of each individual stand out, while maintaining some sort of uniformity or a visual language throughout the illustration series. The things people choose to (or deliberately choose not to) surround themselves with on a daily basis can say a lot. “I think what has been the most surprising to me,” says Kaeli, “is that often people would reply saying that they’d send me a reference as soon as they’ve tidied up, or as soon as they buy x, y and z. I think it’s typical of a social media focused society to want to curate the way people perceive you. I don’t mind it, to a certain extent, because it’s still a reflection of who you are. But of course what I truly wanted to illustrate was their messy, ‘lived at’ desk – because I know that mine looks nothing like it did the day I bought it either…”
There’s still a way to go before it will be complete, but Kaeli finds time between “real work” to add to the series and aims to represent a good balance of careers. Some of the creatives whose desks she’ll be illustrating soon are Miss Moss, Jade Klara, Emily Jane Long as well as Kent Andreasen and she plans to illustrate her own working spaces as a natural culmination of The Desk Project. “My desk at work (Cow Africa) and my desk at home are two extremely different spaces. At work my desk has only one airplant in a glass beaker, a little ceramic bokkie-friend, a massive assortment of seeds and superfood-this-and-that to be popped into my breakfast (which is generally eaten at said desk) and then pens, papers and organised mess. Oh, and a telephone that I try very hard to pretend isn’t there,” Kaeli tells us. “My home desk is white and minimal. Generally, the only things on it are a few plants, glass beakers with a flower or two, my laptop and more often than not, my ginger cat. This desk has a really long drawer though, and I think it’s very much a case of ‘what lies beneath’ here.”
Though she graduated in 2012 and is still finding her feet in the industry, The Desk Project is one of the things propelling her in the right direction. For Kaeli, the most rewarding thing about a personal project of this nature has been seeing the change in her illustration competency on other projects. “Seeing growth is great and it keeps me going. Other than that, the response from people has been amazing. It’s always a surprise to wake up and realise that people are actually interested in what you do. I think SA needs more of that – locals rooting for locals,” she explains. “I think it takes a lot for people to start putting themselves out there, even in the smallest, round-framed, most minimal of ways.”