Britt Blake is a graphic designer, illustrator and writer based in Brooklyn, currently in her final semester at the New York City College of Technology. She'll soon be taking her first steps into the art & design industry and has just launched her own website, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up with her to discuss her work.
What made you want to become a graphic designer?
I was born a creative thinker and it is so ingrained into my being that I came to a point in my life where I decided that I just had to accept the calling and persevere. A compellingness of graphic design for me is in its purpose of engaging and informing an audience. There are always changes in communication mediums, which keep me on my toes. And when done right, it is inclusive and adds a sense of enrichment to the landscape. I think that’s cool.
What inspires you and how does it affect your work?
Music definitely does. I visualize music functioning together like parts of a cell in biology, making the sum of a massive and greater whole. Because of that intrinsic sort of understanding with music I feel somehow more capable of making sense out of clutter and confusion when I design. I think it’s something sort of cross-sensory, perhaps. I’m fascinated by folklore stories and culture. I have an appreciation for journalism, underdogs and history. And I think that translates into making people pay attention to ordinary things, or things ordinarily missed and taken for granted.
Tell me about the Absolute USA Indie compilation that you curated.
I was working for a music marketing and distribution company. And they put me in charge of putting on a compilation to promote the music and their services. I made negotiations with the company to make the offer more appealing for the artists. So then I found the artists I wanted, went through all sorts of craziness to get their signatures on the agreements, worked through licensing issues with a few record labels, and by some amazing feat, it finally got out there. And I think it’s pretty solid if I do say so, myself. Look up "Absolute USA Indie" on iTunes.
How difficult is it being a student in NYC?
The challenges of just living in NYC can get hairy at times. But it’s also rewarding, of course. I chose to go to a CUNY school (Which stands for - City Universities of New York). My college is part of a network of public universities for NYC residents. Moving here as an outsider, I was a bit taken aback by all the native New Yorkers at school that knew their way around. I got over that intimidation pretty quickly though and I love it now. With so many people, it does take some determination to adapt and make it work. But the tuition is comparably inexpensive. And many of my professors also teach at Pratt and the New School! So you heard it here, guys – bang for your buck.
Do you feel your school has prepared you for the world of art and design?
I definitely feel it’s helped me along. But from what I understand, I think it takes talent, tenacity and relentlessness on the part of the student to really make it happen. And I think it's also an issue of making a place in the world for yourself that suits your strengths.
Do you have any moral issues about becoming a graphic designer?
Oh I definitely do, especially in the world of Advertising Design, (which is technically my major). And it is something I will likely struggle with ‘til the end of time. There are some companies I wouldn't want to design for. But I don’t think that I believe in the notion of ‘selling out’ or anything like that. It’s the designer’s job to make a product or environment look appealing. And everyone has different moral standards. But consumers should also take to heart that pretty on the outside doesn’t always mean pretty on the inside. And yeah, sometimes advertising and the product being advertised, is just plain junk.
Who do you admire in the design field?
The people I admire are mostly tied with music and illustration somehow. I know that Peter Saville is at least partially responsible for that legendary Joy Division album cover and a ton of other great records.
I love Peter Saville!
He’s great. And Raymond Pettibon who illustrated Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo.’ There’s this younger artist in NYC that is doing some pretty legendary illustration designs for music and his name is Nick Gazin. Graphic design-wise, I came across the works of James McKinnon, and I like the geometric juxtaposition of his work a lot.
Is graphic design about problem solving?
Yes and no. It should solve a communication problem in a most basic sense. But the other part of the equation is to make something compelling for the viewer, and it takes more than merely displaying relevant information in a visually appealing way to do that.
Your work seems to be quite illustrative. Do you sometimes question whether you want to be a graphic designer or illustrator?
That’s astute. I think the research and perception-oriented side of me can adapt to any project. And I feel like I pick up on technical things pretty quickly. So I say, why not do it all! But yeah, I like illustration a lot. I saw that documentary on Robert Crumb when I was a kid and I was totally enthralled with that. But I’m not sure if illustration is my biggest strength. I think I’m blessed and doomed to be interested in one hundred things all at once.
You’ve also worked in video production. Is that something you’d like to do more of?
Oh, definitely. I put together some featured artist interviews for the compilation that I worked on and those helped me in adapting to video editing. But generally, they are sort of visually static.
Are you working on a video project right now?
I’m in the process of getting documentary footage together of bands around NYC. And I’m playing with the idea of making web episodes on a blog for people to watch. My approach is pretty low-key though. I’m going for a mix of Penelope Spheeris’ “Decline of Western Civilization” and Andy Warhol's screen tests. I’m focusing on getting some amazing content right now and when the time comes I’ll take it from there.
Sounds great! So, what’s next for you when you graduate?
It’s so difficult to tell because the landscape always changes in NYC. At some point I’d like to find a few fellow artists and designers and programmers that I jive with, and collaborate in starting a bit of a graphic design business. But right now, I just got an internship at Vice Magazine/Records. And if that goes well I hope they adopt me.