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Interview with Isabella : Craig & Karl

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The final installment of the interview series by Isabella Anastasio is with design/illustration duo Craig & Karl.   Isabella spent time with Craig Redman here in NYC, taking in a studio visit and a presentation by Craig at Refinery29.  Read her interview below:

This week, I had the pleasure of joining Craig Redman, of illustration duo Craig and Karl, in his office to ask him some questions about his work. Prior to the interview, I had a chance to watch Craig present his work to a team from an editorial website. It was an exciting opportunity, to have been able to see what being a working artist really entails, and to get to understand Craig and Karl’s work better. Craig and Karl’s use of bright colors and quirky patterns create a distinctly recognizable style, and their skills are ranged very widely. Craig and Karl have made not just illustrations for clients, but also fashion accessories, installations, and much more. It was fascinating learning more about these projects and being introduced to more of Craig and Karl’s work that I had not seen before.

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IA: How difficult was it to initially get Craig and Karl started?
CR: It is very difficult. What we did when we first started up was logos for friends, illustrations for friends stores, and things like that. You don’t make much money, but even though you don’t make much money, that process is good because it gets you understanding how to work with different people instead of just being in your own head. But yes, it’s not easy. It’s definitely a process, and you just learn every time.
IA: How did the Craig and Karl style develop?
CR: Well, we met at college, and the reason we became friends is because we had very similar aesthetic compared to many other people at college. We were the most similar, I think. And then because we were working so long together since then, (we met when we were 17, and have been working together for 20 years) and we’ve grown since then with the other person. So we very much have followed a similar path. It’s just the way it is.
IA: How long do most projects take?
CR: That’s a hard one, because say it’s an editorial commission like the New York Times, they’ll give you maybe four days. If its a collaborative project, like the sunglasses one for example, that could take 8 months from the first time you get an email to the stuff actually going into stores. It’s different with products because they plan ahead. A normal project, i would say a month max.
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IA: Who would you say are your biggest artistic influences? 
CR: Well, our influences aren’t necessarily just designers. We’re not really that interested in that, and not really interested in historical references for our work. We like contemporary artists, or we could be watching, say The Wire, and that could trigger some sort of idea. Really its not any design people that we like. Maybe someone like David Hockney would be a good example. He would be probably the studio favorite that we look up to the most. Bright colors, lots of patterns.
IA: What’s the most challenging project you have ever done?
CR: I don’t know that any really stand out as being impossible. Usually if it’s a big project, Levine/Leavitt usually takes care of it. They have to deal with all of the annoying dirty stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever had a big falling out with a client, usually there’s a little huffing and puffing, but you just have to work through it and keep it professional.
IA: Do you prefer any particular form of art? 
CR: All of it! The reason we do so many diverse projects is because we get bored. And we kind of formed Craig and Karl in such a way that we’re able to take on any type of project. I guess, to a degree, there is a reason we get to do so many brand projects, and it’s because we kind of turned Craig and Karl into a brand. So therefore other brands can work with us and say its a project with Craig and Karl. And those projects are good for us because we don’t, or before that we didn’t used to do 3 dimensional products, so to learn that process was great. It was a new experience. As you know, we do installations, we do paintings, we do a lot of 3D renderings, animation sometimes, illustration, design, a big mix of things just to stay interested. At the moment, painting is my favorite thing to do.
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IA: You do a lot of portraits of people, and though the color and patterns adds whimsy and surrealism to them, they always stay very accurate to the subject. What is the process behind making these portraits that keeps them recognizable? 
CR: You really just scroll through Google images.. Kanye is an obvious one, because he is very well known, but the not so well known you have to just Google image reference. And you try to figure out what are the characteristics about that person’s face that makes them them? You look for elements that you can exaggerate a bit, or put emphasis on, either through line work or by putting a lot of color in that area. You also have to be careful with patterns, otherwise the person starts to disappear into the background.
                                   
IA: Do you ever get nervous presenting projects to a client or to the public that you might get a bad response?
CR: Yeah, I mean we’re in an industry where we get judged for everything that we do. We present things to people and they judge it. Clients or just people on instagram. It doesn’t seem like it, but it does take a certain amount of balls to be able to present yourself to the world. People write hateful shit, and people write lovely shit. You just have to focus on what it is that you do. And it’s important to put it out there, that’s how you make a business out of it.
IA: If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing?
CR: I always wanted to be an architect, it would have to be something creative When I was a kid I would walk around with my gridded notebook and redesign my Grandma’s house, and stuff like that. I used to draw logos for myself.
IA: Lastly, if you had advice for someone new going into the business, what would it be?
CR: You have to keep forcing yourself to make new work, even if it’s not paid or for a client. It’s really about that process of personal discovery. And once you’ve hit that mark, where you know what it is that is your style, that’s what’s going to make you feel good about what you do. It’s a long process, you’re going to find styles that you hate, and new things that you’re capable of, just keep forcing yourself to do new projects all of the time.
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