Conversation with Yoan Jolly

As one of our first employees, Yoan Jolly holds a special place in our heart. In 2008, he started at Kowtow as our graphic designer, and over the next 10 years he set up to shape our visual identity. While there have been many defining moments and projects that we can attribute to Yoan’s creative skills, perhaps the most recognisable to our customers is our signature prints that you all know and love. We recently sat down with Yoan, to share more with you about his creative process and inspiration behind our Meadow Print.

What project did you enjoy the most during your time at Kowtow?

There are many great projects that I have enjoyed during my time at Kowtow, and I struggle to find one better than the other. From spotting people in the street wearing a print I designed to taking the last photo during a five day lookbook photoshoot. The opening of the flagship store was mind blowing; cementing Kowtow’s identity in spatial form was a significant moment. And meeting the people who make the clothes from seed to garment was a very humbling experience. That will forever shape my view of the world, as a creative, as a person, and as a consumer.

You seem to be very creatively oriented and inspired, can you talk to us about where you draw your inspiration from?

I grew up in a rural French suburb, and have always been inspired by nature. Our family home was on the edge of a city, surrounded by similar houses built in the late 1980’s. On one side green hills and paddocks, and the city on the other. In Summer, I would sit in the garden and teach myself watercolour by painting trees. Nowadays, I tend to go to nature whenever I can. A bush walk is the best way to keep me away from the vortex of the internet, and find genuine, organic inspiration. On an aesthetic level, nature works somehow like poetry: it is a succession of patterns, shapes, images and sounds that become sensical when blended with feelings.

You are very diverse in your creativity, working within mediums of graphic design, photography, illustration, painting and many more. Do you find yourself gravitating to one practice over another?

I always start creative projects with a hand made sketch. Recently, I have been gravitating towards photography more and more, partly because of work, and partly because it is a medium that is easy to carry. I have never managed to paint a satisfying watercolour of a tree, but my camera can reproduce what my eyes see with incredible accuracy! I also have recently started producing videos and I am quite excited by some upcoming projects. Cameras aside, I still dabble into other mediums: I paint on average one oil painting every two years to keep the technique going in case I one day decide to paint more. I would love to learn more craft oriented practices such as woodworking and glass blowing.

We have always loved and appreciated your landscape photography, how did you get into photography?

I came to photography organically, I can’t tell you exactly how, but I must have been around 16 when I stepped up into a darkroom to develop some black and white film. I loved the technical aspect. Since then, I have always carried a camera with me, and have shifted from the darkroom to digital. As for when landscape photography started, when I lived in France, I used to take the train to school, and the way the train windows framed the landscape as it was unravelling at full speed always fascinated me. When you are on a train, you kind of travel through the backdoor, on the fringe of cities; you see the side that would be behind the back of the photographer, the side where the landscape is in its most raw form. Taking photos of landscape is a way to remind me to look on the other side, to try to understand all the layers of history and culture that shape a place. It is also a way for me to record how I feel when I discover a place. I usually only take photos during my first visit and see them evolve as I learn more about it.

Yoan Jolly

This week we launched the Meadow print within our Building Block collection, can you talk to us about how this creative concept unfolded?

It started with a walk. I was working on a small series of photographs of suburban gardens, and I took a photo of daisies overflowing onto the pavement. Kowtow was looking at creating its first digitally printed fabric, and Marilou (the Head Designer) liked the photo. The creative in me wasn't very keen on the idea of printing a photo straight into fabric, and I thought it would benefit from being reworked. I decided to use oil paints to give it a richness that was not in the original photo. Oil adds a thickness, and texture that works well for the collection. I loved the challenge of painting a hyperrealistic piece.

Your paintings have really captured the textural qualities of a flower meadow, we can see and understand the relationship between nature and your mark making. Can you talk us through this creative process?

I just love painting, even though I don’t do it often as I would like. Mixing colours on a palette to reproduce the hues you see in nature is an amazing exercise, and so is giving the illusion of depth on a flat sheet of paper. I tend to never finish a painting and I will always only paint a portion of the canvas, leaving the rest blank. I love the intense focus that comes with every brushstroke, just like a walk in nature, it is very calming. I think painting is one of the rare disciplines where I really let myself free and don’t worry about making a mistake. When I design a poster, I constantly balance white space, margins, apply rules of typography, but with painting, all I try to do is reproduce what I see and there seems to be no rules as to how I will get there. So for the meadow print, I kept on adding flowers, and leaves until I had a pattern I liked while referring to my original photo. From there, the pattern just seemed to grow.

Can you talk to us about your home studio & the space you are working from?

My home is a modest but cute apartment built in the 1950’s. It has rimu floors and a sunny conservatory. I don’t have a studio per se, but I work from a table in the conservatory at one end of the lounge. I have a cupboard full of art supplies that I use whenever I have to work on an illustration project. The garden boasts a few grown native trees that blend with the hills right across, so that when you are in the house, all you see is nature. There is an amazing forest walk starting right across the road on one side. and the beach is one minute away on the other side. It is the perfect spot! My house is sun filled all day and the hills usually glow red in the sunset. At night, you can hear owls and there are lots of native birds flying around, sometimes even getting into the house!

Are you working on any creative projects at the moment?

I have a few projects on the go. I am making illustrations for beer labels, teaching illustration to creative people, filming videos for work, and have a list of about 20 photography projects that I really want to start but haven’t yet.

Follow Yoan on Instagram @it.already.exists