INTERVIEW: Imogen Grist

Imogen Grist is a designer, photographer and director based in Sydney. With a soft spot for food fights and melodrama, her style is defined by punchy visuals, restrained colour palettes, and a bold yet playful approach to concepts. Ahead of her upcoming Page to Pixel workshop at COMMUNE, she spoke with us about her background, some of her favourite work and the value of experimentation.

I was born in Orange and grew up on a farm where we had sheep and cattle, a big dam to swim in, nine dogs, and a pet a horse called Princess. It was a pretty idyllic childhood! 

I was always pretty arty farty throughout school, and I remember obsessing over stationary and which font to choose (RIP Curlz MT). Later on one of my high school teachers suggested I check out some graphic design courses and I ended up enrolling into the Visual Communications course at UTS. 

After graduating I worked as a freelance designer and photographer and directed a couple of music videos. Now I work full time at a production company and freelance on the side. 

Your work spans between graphic design, photography and directing film, how did you discover your love for all of these areas?

While I was at uni, I dabbled in a range of creative subjects like photography, screen printing, motion graphics, film - anything they had on offer (except web - I hated coding!) I really enjoyed the technical and creative aspects of design, photography and film. There’s always room to explore your own aesthetic and push yourself conceptually, but at the same time you’re learning a new program or working with new gear which I find really exciting. I like how design, photography and film all feed into each other, so it’s nice to find a balance between the three. It also means there’s a lot of variety in the jobs. Some days I’ll be out on a shoot, other days I’ll be at home illustrating or editing on my laptop. 

After graduating last year, you’ve already racked up an impressive client list including Cloud Control, Bec Sandridge, Young Franco, Inertia Music to name a few. Did you always have an interest in collaborating with musicians, or has this happened organically as you’ve been putting work out there?

A lot of my mates play in bands or run events, and initially I started out making gig posters and shooting live shows, so it all grew from there I suppose. Most of my work has come via word of mouth so I’ve been really lucky in that regard. I hate to say it but it’s who you know not what you know! 

One of your latest music videos for Cloud Control’s Rainbow City was a finalist in the Clipped Music Video Festival awards. What was the inspiration and process like for this video?

I generally start out by watching a bunch of videos and gathering film and image references together. Then I’ll listen to the song and try to imagine what will work visually with the music. For this clip, we had to work through a number of concepts until we finally landed on the idea of creating these surreal little worlds for each character, as if they were stuck somewhere between fantasy and reality. I wanted to keep it super simple and focus on the colour and lighting to create something a bit dreamy and bizarre. 

This was a funny project because my boyfriend is the lead singer, so there was definitely some added pressure to do a good job!!  It all worked out in the end though thanks to an incredibly talented and supportive crew (and a whole bunch of favours).

What has been one of your favourite projects to work on?

I would have to say the Cloud Control film clip due to the collaborative process and successful shoot day. I was also stoked that the band trusted me enough hand over creative control and let me run wild with the concept

The aesthetic across your work is really striking, fused with repeated pastels and restricted colour palettes. How significant a role does colour play when you are first formulating your concepts?

Colour is so important because it can set the overall tone of your work. It can immediately convey whether something is meant to be playful or serious. I tend to go through phases when it comes to colour - sometimes I’m inspired by something I see in a photograph or poster. I rarely begin a project with a particular colour in mind. 

I like using restricted colour palettes in my work because it gives me a creative boundary to work within. I think reducing my colour choices down to only a couple of options helps me focus on the actual idea. 

Your branding work features a lot of hand lettering and experiments with different printmaking processes. How important is playing and experimenting with new techniques when you are creating? Have you ever come across a new technique by accident?

I’m all for embracing the mistakes. There have been so many times where I’ve accidentally knocked over a bottle of ink or had my camera on the wrong settings, and things have actually turned out pretty well! I value experimentation and spontaneity within the creative process, because it allows you to stumble across new ideas and unexpected results. Some of my favourite work has been totally unplanned. 

Your upcoming workshop with COMMUNE Page to Pixel focuses on how to take your illustrations and designs into the digital realm, what can people expect from the session?

People can expect to get their hands dirty! I want to show everyone that design doesn’t have to be this clean and clinical process, but something that can be playful and full of spontaneity.

For the first part of the class we’ll be using ink and a range of other mediums to experiment with lettering and pattern making techniques. We’ll then be going through some simple steps on how to take these designs off the page and onto your computer screen, ready to turn into digital graphics using Adobe Illustrator. You’ll leave the class with a range of design files for you to use in future print or web projects.

Find out more about Imogen Grist, and book your spot in her Page to Pixel Workshop, Saturday 24th June at COMMUNE.