My Creative Process is an interview series in which I chat with inspiring creatives of all types, and take a peek inside their minds. I hope this series will give you a sense of relief – “I feel like that too!” – and encourage you to keep making what you love to make.
Kristina Bartosova is a Slovakian graphic designer and art director based in Graz, Austria. Coming from a background of classic graphic design, her work spans from branding and editorial design to art direction and styling. Through taking the inherent personality and condition of a project into consideration, she creates powerful aesthetics that form a world of their own.
How did you end up in your chosen career?
Coming from a very artistic family, I have always drawn and painted a lot. I grew up during the aftermath of socialism in a ghetto-like part of the city, a time with no brands whatsoever. Only when someone had family in Western Germany or so, they would have fancy stuff, but otherwise, everything else was very standardized and basic. Think lots of dark blue and brown corduroy – if something was pink, it was usually not from here.
So I was always drawn to brands because it was out of reach. Coming across an actual brand that was known in the rest of the world was super-rare. This whole other world we weren’t supposed to see. It was like collector’s items. After the Velvet Revolution it slowly began that you could buy more Western things and I collected them. I kept everything – wrappers from the classic blue and white Milky Way bars, labels from the transparent pink Reach Junior mouthwash or L’Oreal crèmes – you name it, I had it.
I started illustrating on a computer really early, when I was 9 or so. My parents wouldn’t let me have any computer games and so I spent a lot of time playing the Lion King on Nintendo at my friend’s house, trying to memorize all the frames I liked. At home I would open Paintbrush and recreate what I saw pixel by pixel ’till it looked like the real deal. I was really good at it because the Lion King was important of course.
Later, when I started skateboarding and snowboarding I would work on my own designs for the boards. I had to be prepared in case I ever became a pro hahaha. I had this huge notebook where I would draw alternative logos with colored pencil and ruler. I had no idea that there were more fonts than those that came pre-installed on my parents’ Windows 95 computer, so I came up with my own and some of the designs were actually pretty good!
From that point it wasn’t a long way ’till I figured that I could turn it into a profession. I went to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava, which shaped me a lot, as they put a lot of emphasis on conceptual strength and I learned a lot about graphic design in the context of visual arts.
When do you feel most creative? Be it a time of day, particular season, or after a really great taco.
There’s a lot of individual situations, thankfully. Usually the ideas come when I’m laying on the couch or shortly before falling asleep. It’s that feeling of not needing to think about anything that opens up my brain to possibility and then I gotta get up and write it all down.
Where is your favorite place to create, and why?
As normal as it may sound: my office or my apartment. I have everything I need there – all the books, magazines, pens, markers and paper. Which one it ends up being depends on the thing I’m doing. If it’s something analog or if I’m just starting to work on a branding, I prefer to stay at home alone because I can move around and do what I feel like without distracting anyone. In that phase I might turn the apartment into a mess of thousands of papers and the inside of a toolbox.
Anything apart from the initial stages of design work, there’s no place like my office desk. I don’t put on a suit and tie or punch a timecard (but I do have power shoes!) but it really helps to have a place where you’re there to handle the business.
Typically, what does your creative process look like?
Like going with my gut as much as possible. As I said earlier, the beginning of a project is often messy. I almost never make ‘just the logo’ so when doing a branding I like to plan as much as possible beforehand. That means I always think about how it works in different applications, how it feels, what the photography could look like, what kind of interior would best represent the brand, etc. To get to all this, moodboarding is a major key.
Then I always sketch, at least a little. If I just jump right into Illustrator, nothing good comes out and the result will be far too stiff. That’s why I like to figure out a direction early on and then experiment and build a design. To bring it all together, I move to my computer and either scan the sketches or start looking for a typeface that fits the image in my head. Once a logo or the core element is finished, the process is much easier to control and straight-forward by just realizing the vision I created on the various applications. It just has to fit with the idea the client and I have set for the brand.
Who and what are you inspired by?
So, so many things! I am very easily amused and have pretty low standards for ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ so it’s sometimes the most random things that inspire me. It’s not like I never get bored, I probably do, but it’s not so easy haha. I can listen to the same album a hundred times and still enjoy it. Travelling in general and talking to other people and just listening to how they talk about different subjects passionately is always great for a change of perspective.
I also love to go back to Bratislava, my hometown to see all the small changes in time. Regarding design itself, I consciously try not to look at design blogs very often, (of course I check them from time to time) but I love Pinterest and go through other fields like art, interior, fashion, books, design or photography and look for connections. Nothing exists in a bubble and it’s fun to observe how trends that start in fashion influence graphic or industrial design and vice versa. I love to watch how different artists work with new tendencies and what references they use.
Right now, I am crazy about Amelie Pichard, a French fashion designer who makes these fun, almost trashy shoes and bags. I love the references she incorporates and everything about the concept and styling of her campaigns. You have to check her out!
How do you get past creative block?
I have no magical recipe for this, as someone who reads this might hope. I just get through it. I sit down, put in the hours until it’s there. Otherwise I’d have a block in every project, it’s just about sitting down and getting to it. To me the mythical creative block is just that, a myth. Of course I also get stuck initially but when I try and play around, it comes to the point eventually where it is fun, and then I continue from there.
How do you deal with perfectionism, self-doubt, and comparison?
This is not a humblebrag: I am a perfectionist, through and through. It is a double-edge sword and a trait that often gets in the way when you actually want to get shit done. I deal with that on an everyday basis. On one hand it’s good because you can rely on yourself with obsessing over smallest details, and that type of attention will positively show in the end product. On the other hand if things don’t go as I imagine, I get furious. That’s often the case with print production or set design.
Sometimes things turn out a bit differently, even when you’re as hands-on as possible. There is no way one can control EVERY aspect. If the time or resources are limited, you just have to roll with it and accept things the way they are. Then I try to focus on the fact that the work is finished, instead of on the flaws – that helps. You can always learn something for the next time and it is good to move forward.
I used to struggle a lot with comparison and self-doubt before, because I was brought up in a very competitive environment. But I made peace with that because that’s what shaped me into who I am today. I still try to be the best, I don’t think you can really unlearn it if it’s rooted that deeply, but now I get equally as happy from the success of other people who I like and whose work I admire.
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to do what you do (and be really good at it)?
If it’s what your gut tells you to do, go for it! It is a lot of work and the results will not show overnight but if it’s fun to you, it’ll work for others as well. The same is true for every other profession actually. It took me years to get to this point and it’s still not like I sit with my legs on the table and eat cake like ‘Congration, you done it’. I still think I have long way to go but I love what I do and that’s crucial.
What are you working on now, and what’s coming up next?
I’m working on several projects with my boyfriend right now, Thomas Pokorn, who takes care of the concept and copywriting part when we develop a brand identity. We art directed and designed two lookbooks for their upcoming two collections of a fashion brand, alongside their branding. Being on the set was a lot of fun, especially with Lipp Zahnschirm, with whom I also photographed my portfolio. We are currently working together for a local bakery too, and next month I am beginning work on a book about industrial architecture and a second edition of a museum magazine.
Thank you for having me!
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