Rob Carney chats to the highly ambitious UK creative about why failure is great and how 2011 brought her the biggest commission of her life.
Charming, confident and funny with a work ethic almost beyond belief, Kate Moross has catapulted herself to the very highest ranks of the UK’s creative industry in a very short amount of time. Through tireless pitching and portfolio visits, and of course an undeniable talent that spans not only illustration but graphic design, identities, music videos and seemingly anything else she wants to do, Moross is a multi-disciplined creative force to be reckoned with.
She even runs her own record label and has a booming T-shirt business. It seems there’s nothing that Moross can’t do – or at least turn her hand to. “For me, it’s not about doing lots of things to be successful,” she says, beginning our conversation as she hurtles across London in a taxi. “It’s just because I like doing lots of things. There is so much out there to be creative with – whether it’s baking a cake at home or a paid job – I just try to do as many things as I can and call them work. I’d like to be a jack of all trades, master of some. I try and get better – and fail and succeed. It’s good to be scared and mess up sometimes. It’s boring being approved of all the time. Failure and experiments keep people interested in what you’re doing.”
When Moross last spoke to Computer Arts back in 2008, she had just left university – even though she’d been actively practising as a commercial illustrator during her studies and had a Topshop range of clothing to her name. After ‘escaping’ to New York, she came back to the UK and started a studio (and has since formed the ISO collective with four other UK creatives). Now, at still only 24, she has an impressive body of work – ranging from high profile pieces for the likes of British Vogue to flyers, invitations and even seating plans for her friends. “I get myself into all sorts of trouble because I’m open to anything,” she laughs. But it’s this enthusiasm and obvious love of her job that has made her so successful.
When quizzed about how she gets work, Moross is quick to point out that it’s not just what you create; it’s how you present yourself. “I think there’s a reason why people come to you, and it’s not just who you are and your work, it’s about being welcoming,” she says. “Obviously I have my agent, Breed, and that brings in some work, and then as a collective we find projects as well as actively pursuing work through being in London and meeting people,” she adds.
One thing’s for sure though, Moross knows that to get anywhere in the world of illustration (and in fact all areas of creativity) you need to get your name out there. “You’d be stupid to think that everyone knows who you are,” she says. “Every time I visit a new country, I make sure I do five to 10 appointments in the first five days. I meet art directors, art buyers, designers, anyone; just go in and chat to people about what they’re doing and what you’re doing. Tell them stories and engage with people because nobody can get that from your website or a PDF or an iPad.” She continues: “And never be too confident and think that you don’t need to go and have meetings with people – they don’t know who you are. My success lies not just on work alone, but with my demeanour and how you engage with people and show that you’re excited about what you do. Doing that alongside your work could potentially get you hired for a huge job. Even if it does mean dragging your ass around New York for three days in the sweltering heat with a 10-tonne portfolio, it’s worth it.”
It’s an approach that’s paid off. “I know Jamie Perlman, the art director at British Vogue through going to appointments with her and showing her my folio,” she says. “And then the article on The Brits came about. Traditionally Vogue doesn’t commission a lot of illustration, but the art director loves working with creative people so found ways of bringing my work into a shoot, rather than trying to crowbar illustration into the magazine. It felt more natural that way. And for me it was awesome that Alicia Keys and Dizzee Rascal had their pictures taken with my work,” she adds.
Moross goes on to explain that she drew the backdrop in her hotel room in New York in the middle of winter, got it scanned and sent it over to Vogue to be printed on a huge piece of fabric for the shoot. The Vogue job resonates as one of her favourite kinds of brief, as she explains: “The illustration projects I find most fun are when it’s loads of type. When a client says I have an entire list of copy and you can illustrate it however you want. That’s the thing I enjoy the most – the work I did for Kiehl is a great example of that. You can get something that’s very much your style, yet at the same time you can maybe try something slightly different.”
So does Moross still favour the traditional approach? “I used to work almost exclusively with pen and paper,” she begins. “Now I’ve bought a Wacom Intuos tablet and that’s completely changed my workflow in a really good way. I work directly in Illustrator, but not for everything. Whenever I’m doing type work I work by hand, as I don’t think you can get the same charm with letters and characters when you draw directly onto the screen. But with a lot of other stuff I can just sketch it out, and create something really colourful or interesting from an early stage.”
Another interesting project Moross recently completed was a collaboration with UK clothing label Firetrap. Moross is the first to admit that she and the Firetrap brand aren’t necessarily aligned, but that was, according to her, the point of the collaboration.
“It’s so nice when a brand says: ‘You can do whatever you want and we’ll make it’,” she explains. “So I did five designs and they were only going to make two watches, but they liked them so much that they made three. It was a great product.” Moross designed the faces and hands, chose the colour of the powder coat and saw her name debossed on the back plate of the watch along with her logo. “They wanted something really poppy,” she smiles. It’s a great example of Moross’ other ‘signature’ illustration style – slick geometric shapes forming bright, eye-catching patterns.
As if to further emphasise the breadth of Moross’ creative output, the conversation swiftly moves from this quirky, fun project to something a little more serious – for Moross at least. The artist did some work for Umbro back in 2009, but little did she know it would lead to the biggest job of her career. “I’ve just finished the identity for the Olympics for Samsung in the UK. I’ve done their entire aesthetic,” she tells us. “One of the guys from Samsung was with a guy from Umbro and he recommended me. I then got to pitch.” And pitch she did, working up hundreds of ideas to present to the company. “It’s called the Samsung Olympic Visual Identity System, to give the project its official name,” she says. Moross was also tasked with creating the composite logo, combining the brand logo for Samsung with a logo based on the 50-page Olympic brand guidelines.
For now, images remain tightly under wraps. However, soon you won’t be able to move in London without seeing Moross’ Olympic pattern motif displayed on buses and billboards around the city. “The reason they picked someone from London is they wanted to work with a Londoner who understood the city,” she says. “So I had to talk about London a lot and communicate my ideas, and explain my ideas about London to an entire company – it was tough. A huge process. I was acting like an agency – I was the only individual who pitched. It will be absolutely everywhere soon so I might have to run away a bit further than New York this time,” she laughs.
Great ideas clearly come naturally to Moross; but where from? “I don’t think about things in terms of influence. I’m not at school any more,” she says. “I don’t look at a painting by Van Gogh and go off and do a Van Gogh drawing in my sketchbook. I don’t read magazines, I don’t go to art galleries, I don’t engage with the culture in a traditional way that perhaps a lot of people do. I think I get most of my ideas from everyday life – going to the shop or interacting with the bus driver or seeing something by accident. I’m not one for organised culture or anything like that, so I do try to let things happen naturally. I definitely think your influences are to do with your character, your life, your mood and general culture like TV and film that you can’t really escape. ”
As Moross’ cab approaches her destination (she’s off to a grading for one of her music videos, before flying off to Geneva to VJ for her long-term collaborator Simian Mobile Disco) we squeeze one more question in – how does she think her style will develop over the next year? “I’d like to see my style disappear,” she says, after thinking for a few seconds. “It sounds weird, but we’re entering a place where a visual style isn’t necessarily the first and foremost thing for being successful. Think of it like a director or a screenwriter. I don’t necessarily want people to see my work and think of me – just be involved in great projects and have a body of work I’m proud of. Having an immeasurable or intangible style is way more important to me.”
Kate Moross is represented by Breed www.breedlondon.com