Vega Durban graduate Kyle Van Zyl has just completed his BA in Creative Brand Communications, specialising in Visual Communication. His work revolves around themes of social and environmental issues, consciousness and perception. For this edition of Fresh Meat, Kyle talks to us about inspiration, future prospects and his penchant for ideas of melancholy and human existence.
How and why did you become interested in illustration and branding?
I’ve been interested in storytelling and visual representation since forever, although I always struggled to articulate my ideas. After I finished high school I moved to London where my creative interests peaked. I became obsessed with collecting limited edition illustration journals and children’s activity books published by Nobrow and Anorak, and with the rise of image-based social media I was able to read larger volumes of creative work of all different kinds from almost every corner of the globe. I would attend as many shows and exhibitions as I could fit in and spent time with people who inspired and encouraged me to pursue my own creative exploits. When I returned to SA I knew that I needed to develop my own practical and conceptual skills and so enrolled at Vega.
What inspires your work?
The natural world and our scientific exploration of it. Philosophy and ideas that prompt deep enquiry into why we even exist at all. The human form and all the different ways it can exist. The work of other creatives, photographers, musicians, fine artists, writers, anything and everything creative. People who fight for and inspire positive social change.
Could you please tell us about your creative process?
I always have a notepad or sketch book handy to record any ideas, they always come at the most inconvenient times so I’ve learned to be prepared. I also write short paragraphs detailing my thoughts on a topic, sometimes they read more like poetry and other times like scientific study. When I have a basic idea of what I want to make I do extensive research, I use the internet, books and first hand conversations with people to gain a broad understanding of what I am dealing with. Once I have formed a solid concept I look for the most appropriate way to execute it, whether it be illustration, photography or writing. I take my rough work and expand it normally involving a lot of sketching and look for the best way to get the details that I want (more research) and plan out the final execution. When I am happy with how everything reads and fits together I start final compositions and fine sketches. These are like blueprints which I normally scan in and flesh out digitally. I like to end each execution with a critique looking at ways to make the work stronger.
Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas that you’ve been exploring in your student work.
The majority of my student projects had something to do with environmental or social issues, prompting some kind of creative solution or campaign to raise awareness. Some of the more conceptual stuff explored ideas around human consciousness and perception in relation to immediate and greater environments. I enjoy almost melancholy themes that deal with loneliness, empty space, human existence and the space we occupy.
How did this feed into your final project? What was the concept and how did you execute it?
I used my final project as a reflection of my own human experience. I created a series of surreal illustrations and short verses that expressed my feelings towards my daily experiences and reactions. I used this project as an opportunity to really explore and expand my illustrative style. On a daily basis I would record prominent thoughts and feelings and reflect on why and how these thoughts and feelings arose, I would sketch out self portraits based on these reflections rather than using physical references like photographs. I would then ink and scan my sketches and add colour and texture digitally.
What preconceived ideas, if any, about your field of study were debunked during your time as a student?
That graphic design and illustration would be easy, especially for someone like me who is visually inclined, and that the working process would be relatively standard and simple. There are a million ways to do everything and finding the most appropriate route is part of the struggle. I thought that the work would just be about the final product, but the final product is only as good as the research, concept and process work. I also thought that lecturers and clients would love everything I threw at them, learning to take criticism positively and using it to make your work stronger is a valuable skill.
What advice do you have for first year student or anyone starting out as an illustrator?
Don’t be too precious about your ideas; allow them to be moulded by your environment. Relinquishing full control will allow you to be more involved in the collaborative learning process. Talk about your ideas with your friends – it’s difficult not to be paranoid about idea thievery, but getting a fresh perspective is often invaluable. And if others steal your stuff, so what? No two creatives will produce the same results. Collaborate, get together with other creatives in different disciplines, learn about their creative processes, be flexible and do great work together. Always be prepared and organised, it will save you precious hours of sleep. Be open minded; use your time as a student to soak up everything that you can, learn about the world and all the different kinds of humans that inhabit it. This will allow you to receive inspiration from practically anywhere.
What are your future prospects now that you’ve graduated?
I’m currently working by day as a Junior Designer at Disturbance in Durban and by night doing freelance and personal work. I hope to gain some excellent experience and keep sharpening my skills. I’d really like to be able to work for myself someday and be supported by the kind of work that inspired me to study in the first place.
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