Graphic Design duo Gilles & Cecilie share their working process
Cecilie is Norwegian, Gilles is French. They met whilst studying their Graphic Design BA at London institute Central Saint Martins. Following various collaborations working at Art Directors at design and advertising agencies, the duo set up their studio in 2007.
We talk to them about their creative process, networking and finding your way in design.
Can you tell us about your background and journey into design? Where did you grow up and go to study?
Cecilie: I have always been making stuff and drawing since I was a child, but was never introduced to illustration or design as a profession. I attended a foundation in design in Oslo before moving to London. I learned a lot, met many like-minded people that I still know today and got introduced to CSM that I applied to. I also have a Masters in Business Management.
Gilles: I spent my youth in the outskirts of Paris. I was doing skating and graffiti… and was spending days in Paris at the Centre Pompidou , Louvre Museum, Musée D’orsay… I did the classic French art curriculum before Central St Martins. My background is a strange mix of DIY, suburb influence and classical art. As I was doing my art studies in Paris I was involved with charitable organisations doing activities with kids; running workshops and going to public libraries.
What drives you? Can you tell us about your inspirations and ideas?
The possibility of creating something better, larger, more ambitious that what we already achieved; the search for new colour combinations and materials. We find inspiration in everything. Especially travelling and meeting new cultures. We find inspiration in walking unknown streets, visiting museums, old churches and medieval towns. We find inspiration at sea, watching the waves, seeing land from afar and the sound and the smell of the sea helps clearing your mind. I get ideas all the time and write them down in my notebook, then they will come to use in someway or another in the future.
Can you tell us about how your style has evolved? There’s plenty of playful elements and lots of colour! You mention that you cover an extensive list of skills in Art Direction, environmental and set design – has this been a conscious decision or have these kind of projects just come about naturally?
We create together and our personal style and ideas become something new, like a third person. It’s great to be a duo. We always wanted to do project based work that could go beyond drawing on paper or just specialising in one field. Our background as Graphic Designers has led us being art directors for our projects and naturally that has been our direction. We are creatives, we focus on the idea and the concept and then we propose how the project will be implemented, it could be digital, printed, painted, built, installed, performed. It is all dependent on the nature of the idea.
How do your workshops and education projects help support your career? Are they a more stable source of income?
We hold workshops often as part of our creative process to help gather content and insight about the work we are about to embark. Since we founded our studio we have been involved in educational projects mostly because we enjoy sharing our experience, meeting students and setting briefs that are challenging. The income from the educational project are a minor contribution to the studio income.
How did you get approached by the V&A? Can you tell us more about The Gingerbread City project and concept?
The Gingerbread City was started by The Museum of Architecture, an organisation led by Melissa Woolford. It’s held in a new venue every year, and last year it was held in the V&A Museum. The best part of this story is that the reason they got us into the V&A was that a friend from Cecilie’s ukulele playgroup at the Duke of Uke had visited the previous Gingerbread City and recommended this to their friend that works at the V&A. It’s all about networking and recommendations.
We focus on the idea and the concept and then we propose how the project will be implemented. Digital, printed, painted, built, performed – it all depends on the nature of the idea.
How do you typically find work? Do you have an illustration agent? Can you tell us about this relationship?
We meet a lot of people, we get repeat work from commissioners and we get recommended. That is the main way we find work. We have an agent in LA and one in Shanghai for managing projects in the USA and Asia.
Do you have any creative heroes? Writers, artists, musicians, family members or friends who influenced you as you were growing up?
Our creative heroes are the ones that always develop and challenge. The ones that continue to create even if they have been exposed to changes in health like Matisse that changed to paper-cutting his artwork when he had to sit in a wheel chair and to draw with a very long stick. The ones that invent their own tools, that are ambitious like Niki de St. Phalle that made her own sculpture park the Tarot Garden because all sculpture parks before hers was only made by men.
Cecilie: My earlier heroes is my mother, my aunties and my grandmothers that all were knitting, crocheting and sewing, I learnt all these crafts from them and are still using my craft knowledge in our work when we build installations.
We draw with ink, watercolours and colour pencils on paper. We love good quality paper and colour pencils, and the way the pigment transfers to the paper to create textures.
Illustrators often have a collection of materials that they use time and time again – what’s in your creative toolkit?
We draw with ink, watercolours and colour pencils on paper. We love good quality paper and colour pencils, the way the pigment transfers to the paper and create textures. In our painting toolkit we have waterbased paint , spray paint with various pressure and pigment and we have brushes and rollers that we take good care of. Some of our tools are more than 10 years old. They are from Brazil, Japan, Mozambique and USA. It’s important to take care of tools and make them grow old as they get used in different ways and can be used for different kind of mark-making than a new tool.
Can you tell us about any projects you’re currently working on?
We have just finished an installation of large scale characters made in painted plywood in Oslo. After the summer we are going to make a series of animations for Red Cross, a few more wallpaintings, and illustrations for a Scientific conference.
To continue with a career as a creative practitioner you need a huge amount of willpower, determination and perseverance to make your way.
If you could pass on some advice to young creatives out there, what would it be – can you share something you have learned since you started out?
The main thing is to have a plan. Make a list of 3 things you want to achieve in the next year. Then make a list of things you need to do in order to reach them. To continue with a career as a creative practitioner I think you need a huge amount of willpower, determination and perseverance to make your way.
Where do you see your work taking you in the next decade? What kind of projects, collaborations, experiences do you hope to cultivate for yourself?
We would like to do more meaningful collaborations with organisations and brands that inspire and help make the world a better place, like working with Amnesty International, the Red Cross and schools. During the next ten years we will do more self-initiated projects, large wallpaintings and installations/sculptures in public spaces.