Kyle is a 23-year-old graphic designer, photographer and digital artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Having studied at The Open Window, followed by a two-year stint at Grid Worldwide, Kyle lost his job during the 2020 pandemic. Since then he's been freelancing full time and creating from home.
Read on for insights into the process behind Kyle's distinct graphic style. We also discussed the insecurities, messiness, misconceptions, tools, influences, and mental health in the creative process.
How would you explain creativity to a 5-year-old?
Creativity is looking at the world and understanding what it could be.
Why do you think creative thinking is important?
Creative thinking allows people to solve problems in ways unique to their understanding of what the problem is.
What's your favourite misconception about the creative process?
I feel like not enough people grasp the fact that you don't have to be sad to create work that feels that way, or angry to make work that feels angry. The idea that brokenness makes you stronger is becoming an all too common theme in the creative world but it's an ego ideal that never gives the people who truly need to heal a chance to do it.
Describe your creative process
I'd describe my creative process as somewhere between chaotic free creation and methodical curation. I pretty much start every project in a frenzy of research until I fully understand the problem I'm trying to solve.
If it's a purely visual brief I'll start by looking at hundreds of references, and then refining them into groups that represent different solutions to the brief. From there I usually just pick apart each of the references for why they work and what I like about them until I have a better understanding of the approach.
When I finally start designing I'll start with a blank artboard and just build as much as I possibly can until I run out of ideas. I find it's really important for me to take in visual references but then to distance myself from them and create just from memory.
Where do you get your best ideas?
Most of the time I get my best ideas just before I go to sleep, mostly in the sleep-deprived hours of 2-3am just sitting in my home office and doing something that has nothing to do with creating.
What do you do when the ideas stop coming?
I'm the type of person who feels like if I stop creating I'll lose my creativity. So when I feel like I have nothing to create I just experiment with as much random stuff as possible until I actually like something.
How does a notebook fit into your creative process?
I use notebooks for everything. I've got one for important things and thoughts, one that's just filled with my tasks (I'd be an organizational mess without it), one that's just for client feedback (and other boring stuff ) and one that's just for sketches at any given time.
What are some essential tools in your creative process?
Ink, paint, paper, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, MS Paint 3D, my trusty laptop sidekick and sometimes a drawing tablet (but I'm a master with the trackpad).
What does your workspace usually look like when you're creating?
My workspace is an absolute mess when I work. I work a lot with paint, ink and paper in my process but my workspace is usually about as chaotic as my art is most of the time. Like if you go on Pinterest and search designer's desk, just imagine the opposite.
Name some people that have strongly influenced your work
Dan Barkle, Kunel Gaur, $uicideboy$, Ratchet and Clank, Mick Jenkins, Duong Nguyen, Bisco Smith to name a few.
What would you change about the South African creative industry?
I feel like the breadth of what the South African art industry is, isn't as represented as much as a commercialized western view of it; especially within the art space. But I think as South Africans we do have a generally underdeveloped art space so it's typically no fault of the creators to lean towards a homogenized idea of where to start. But I feel like there's so much space to expand what South African art and design is, and what exactly that means to us and the world as a whole.
Did you always see yourself as a "creative"?
I like to think so. When I was a kid I was told I had a "wild imagination"; somewhere along the line that got me here.
What were you most insecure about at the start of your career?
Never being as good as I thought I could be.
Some advice for other creatives just starting out?
Always make work that feeds you creatively outside of the work that pays your bills. You kind of quickly realise that being a creative is really just "a job"; but the moment you lose passion in an industry that relies on it you lose.
What's next for you?
Slowly but surely getting into the big weird world of crypto art, and finishing up some of the final pieces of a collection of clothing I'll be releasing soon.
How many of your ideas do you end up using?
Less than half.
How do you know when something you're working on is finished?
One of the best pieces of advice I've been given is to do as much as you possibly can on something and then take away pieces until it breaks. That's when you know you're done.
How do clichés inform your ideas?
I like to think of myself as someone who goes against the grain, and it's how I've constructed my creative path. Essentially looking at what everyone is doing, looking what they're not doing, and then doing that. So I'd say clichés have actually had a pretty significant part of my ideas in that they've taught me exactly what not to do.
How do you know if an idea is worth pursuing?
I think a better question would be: How do you know when an idea is not worth pursuing anymore? I think most ideas are worth pursuing, but you never know until you try. The most important thing is to distance yourself from your ideas to know when to stop.
Is the quality of your work the most important factor to your success as a creative?
I've seen some really untalented people go really far in this business and some really talented people struggle to pay their bills. To me it's a bit of both though, I think the most important thing to me is the quality of my work and my creative journey, but sadly a lot of it is right place right time and of course knowing the right people.
Outsiders think creativity is sexy. Could you share something about the dark side of the creative process?
I think as creators we like to imagine universes and characters outside of ourselves in response to the world around us. And we live in a world filled with hate, violence and sadness. But we also live in an incredibly beautiful world and both ends of the spectrum are powerful driving forces for creativity. But the more you focus on either one, the more it becomes all you see. I think that too many creatives specifically tend to lose themselves in the process though, letting an ego idea of who you are or what drives you become a reality.
What's been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
Finding a balance between finding the work I like to do and the work that pays me to keep doing what I do best.
How long between the start of your career and your first paid gig?
Less than 1 year.
Are you being paid what you're worth?
How does your mental health affect your work?
I'm a pretty quiet and shy person until you actually get to know me, and we live in a world where everything and everyone has to shout just to be heard. I've found that comes with a lot of social anxiety which can lead to isolation and ultimately depression. But I've personally always found a certain drive in mental health issues, not as a form of motivation but as something that needs to be expressed outside of oneself, and creating has always allowed me to do that.
How does creative thinking improve your daily life?
Thinking about the world in a creative way changes the way you interact and see it, teaches you the discipline to see problems and think of solutions and really focus on the details of day to day life. I feel like creative thinking has taught me above all else to find beauty in ordinary things.
We worked with Kyle on a set of limited edition notebooks. Grab yours here. 70% of the profit goes to Kyle.
Follow Kyle on Instagram here.
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