CHARLOTTE COOPER: Truth in Advertising
CHARLOTTE COOPER is one of the San Francisco’s advertising community’s rarities. And she’s only been out of art school for one year. An intense seeker of juxtaposition in any form, Charlotte brings typical design projects to levels that advertisements don’t deserve. Surely, this is only the beginning of an imaginative career that will push the contours of whichever industries she chooses to contribute to.
Interview by Jaime Ellison.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO PURSUE AN ARTISTIC CAREER?
Absolutely not. I grew up in a home of contrasts: my father a logical attorney and my mom an artist and interior designer, but together they created an inspirational Bauhaus home in Mill Valley, CA where both creativity and intellectualism were equally valued. Since I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by how the mind works and the forms ideas take on. This obsession seeped into even my high school projects and my undergraduate work at Wellesley in cognitive science. I wove my way through an internship at Lucasfilm and a major LA talent agency before I knew simply working with creatives was not enough. After moving back to SF, I fell into graphic design at a large corporation, where I figured out that to really tap into my potential, I needed to go back to school. I decided on the graduate program in Design at CCA, which really emphasized a trans-disciplinary and process-based approach to Design.
© Charlotte Cooper. Image from Charlotte’s design thesis on Ornament & Symbol: Mediating Identity Through Adornment, May 2011… In which she explored Repetition, “a form composed of many units has a delicacy a solid form can never possess, a quality of organic growth that layered multiplicity lends the aggregate.”
TRANSITIONING INTO A FULL-TIME ART FOCUS MUST HAVE BEEN ILLUMINATING. HOW DID THAT EXPERIENCE AFFECT YOU?
I was incredibly nervous, spending the summer before worrying about my lack of formal undergraduate design education and wondering what would set me apart from others in my program. I had good instincts, but I still thought graphic design was about making things “look cool.” I hoped my general intelligence and cognitive science background would propel me. So, I attacked the suggested reading list with a vengeance, trying to bolster my strongest areas. (I later realized I was pretty much the only person who read anything from it.) Later, just being in the studio environment allowed me to blossom, as did one course in particular, Form Studio with Martin Venezky, which gave me the solid foundation to develop an experimental process. It was basically this: Get the fuck off the computer. Examine materials and break down each aspect to its most basic level. Choose one small thing, then rigorously iterate and see where the materials take you. This was a revelation, to understand that design is not simply a representational story but a relationship story, a story of how things work together. It was the reverse of how I’d been working previously: rather than imagining what you should make and then trying to execute it, you start by examining a concept, then find a thread that guides you to build stronger, deeper visual expressions of that concept.
TO WHAT EXTENT IS A GOOD PRODUCT THE RESULT OF YOUR INSTINCT?
General design tenets and standards are important, but your instincts are paramount. However, my instincts only took me so far without a proper foundation. Now that I’ve developed a process, I’ve honed my instincts and know better how to follow my gut to decide each successive step. Basically, I needed to learn the “rules” of graphic design, so when I broke them, it would be purposeful and deliberate, and a natural result driven by my experimental process. Martin took away my tools so that I could develop other tools. There are times when you can say “this will always go here”, as organizational systems are a key part of design, but letting go of that control helps you really integrate things and trust your instincts.
HOW DO YOU RECONCILE YOUR INHERENTLY STRONG DESIRES TO PURSUE DEEP ARTISTIC EXPRESSION AMIDST AN OFTEN SUPERFICIAL ADVERTISING WORLD?
You know, people think design is all about making things pretty, and many designers in this business are incredibly resistant to some of the projects we have to do. But I take perverse pleasure in making a rad spreadsheet or making Powerpoint my bitch. It forces you to come up with creative solutions. My agency is also incredibly open to letting us explore projects that aren’t technically part of our job descriptions, so we each get to wear a lot of hats.
© Charlotte Cooper. A map of San Francisco inspired by the makeup of human blood.
FROM WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR INSPIRATION NOW THAT YOU’RE OUT OF THE ART SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT?
In the absence of the studio environment, I’m always scouring blogs and Tumblr. But even that can become boring, as styles catch on and become cliche. So, I like to look back at what people were doing before computers. Type specimens, train schedules, things like that. Back when it was a lot more precious to print something.
When you compromise, you have to maintain your investment in the present project and remember what it felt like to create in a more satisfying way.
To view more work by Charlotte Cooper, please click: here.
Published: January 9th, 2012