Connor Smith completed a BA in Creative Brand Communications at Vega School Johannesburg, specialising in Visual Communication. His graphic design and illustration work is colourful, bold and punchy, “I’d say that my work says a lot about who I am; while it hardly expresses one signature style, I think a bit of my personality finds its way into all corners of my portfolio.”
His work is inspired by his interests, with illustration playing a prominent role alongside layout design, typography, copy writing and character design, all within the space of graphic design and illustration.
We speak to the young creative about his process, main influences and time spent at college.
How and why did you become interested in digital design and illustration?
Illustration was the gateway for me – I’ve been drawing for longer than I can remember, and by now it’s deeply ingrained in who I am. Once I learnt how to use a computer, my artistic medium of choice went from crayons to Microsoft Paint, where the paint bucket and undo tools changed my life forever.
Around the age of 10, PowerPoint entered my life, which I used all the way through to my late teens to create animations, experiment with motion graphics and create logos. During this time, graphic and digital design started to catch my eye after I discovered The Designers Republic, one of my biggest influences. It was in high school, when I started studying Fine Art and Design and getting used to Adobe software, that I came to fully appreciate creativity as more than a hobby, at which point the course had been set.
Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas that you’ve been exploring in your student work.
While a positive, perhaps informal tone is present in many of my works, one of my more serious projects was the creation of an anxiety awareness campaign, which uses typography to depict the problematic nature of living with suffocating anxiety in its many forms. It was contextualised by my own experience with the disorder. I think it’s important that I use my skills to comment on personal issues, as a means of coming to terms with who I am.
How did this feed into your final project? What was the concept and how did you execute it?
The final brief was to craft an industry-ready portfolio which introduced not only my work, but myself, to future employers. I married elements of self-expression and honesty with the illustrative, character-driven features of my other projects to create a more positive introspective work.
“Once I learnt how to use a computer, my artistic medium of choice went from crayons to Microsoft Paint, where the paint bucket and undo tools changed my life forever.”
I’m represented at the core of the portfolio by a wind-up robot character. He’s not the most loquacious machine, but he’s driven by an intense, vibrant passion for design and illustration, and his visual communication skills more than compensate for his verbal communication skills.
What has your experience as a student been like? What valuable lessons did you learn along the way?
Student life for me has been the rollercoaster of ups and downs that other students tend to describe. I’ve learnt the importance of keeping up with deadlines without rushing the creative process, I’ve learned how to cope with disappointments and contextualise success, and I’ve learned that there’s no arbitrary limit on learning and improving.
There have definitely been highlights during my studies; representing Vega at the 2016 Loeries Student Showcase taught me a lot about the people in the creative industries, their work, and what makes them successful. Also, being chosen to do my internship at the HfG University for Art and Design in Offenbach, Germany gave me invaluable context and insight into the mechanisms and standards of international art and design.
“I think it’s important that I use my skills to comment on personal issues, as a means of coming to terms with who I am.”
Please tell us about your creative process.
It generally starts with me letting my imagination run amok, before focusing on a few general ideas. Research, mind-mapping and sketching are a major part of the process, after which I develop the best ideas before focusing on a final concept and running with it from there. This is the ideal scenario, of course – my process will vary somewhat from project to project, but I always make an effort to generate as many ideas as I can. After all, ideas that proved unsuitable for one project could be right at home as part of the next.
What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
I was told never to stagnate or get bored of design and art. Learning from your mistakes is far more valuable than letting fear of making mistakes stop you from trying at all.
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