Trial, error and a pinch of play
Only two years after graduating from KASK, Emma Raymaekers already seems to have set her priorities straight. Wary of the pressure inherent to pursuing a full-time graphic design career, she found a solution that makes place for what she truly enjoys. From her studio in Ghent, Emma is determined to keep commissioned projects (including Subbacultcha’s very own magazine!), self-initiated or collaborative work as fun and stress-free as possible.
What drew you to study graphic design specifically at KASK?
I had planned to study Communication Sciences at KU Leuven, but during a university fair I spoke to someone at KASK’s graphic design stand and felt immediately at home when I attended the open day. So I went straight for the admissions exam, for which I designed some really bad stuff! [laughs]. But the teachers appreciated how honest I was in admitting my lack of graphic design knowledge, seeing as my previous education was in modern languages. They recognised I had a strong desire to learn, which got me into the program. Having said that, I did struggle a lot during my first year, so I was encouraged to retake it. I’m grateful I could start again and navigate the course much better the second time around; I was still making ugly things, but I could sense I was evolving so it paid off.
They recognised I had a strong desire to learn, which got me into the program
As a recent graduate, it can be difficult to find one’s way, but you seem to have established a network where you foster a positive work ethic. Would you say that your local context has helped define this?
Ghent is small so you end up knowing everyone. In my experience, you can always reach out to people and ask for help. I have many graphic designer friends with whom I have created a network of support rather than one of competition. If anything, we recommend each other and pass on jobs based on our availability.
Ghent is small so you end up knowing everyone
How has your professional practice developed since finalising your studies?
When I graduated in 2020, there were very few opportunities available due to the Covid19 pandemic. So I didn’t choose the best time to pursue a full-time design career, but I tried it for half a year and found it very stressful. That’s why I reconsidered my options and went for other types of jobs. At the moment I work part-time in the bookshop Paard van Troje, which is perfect because I love reading. Most importantly, it gives me financial stability so I can be selective and take the pressure off my design practice. It also allows me to work with friends, which under different circumstances I would have to charge as any other client. In this scenario, we explore alternative modes of exchange, for example receiving a painting instead of money.
Of course, fair practices should always be considered, but working with people I know also means I have the freedom to keep developing my voice, which is equally valuable. Maybe in a few years, I’ll reconsider full-time prospects, but for the moment I’m very happy with how things are going.
Working with people I know also means I have the freedom to keep developing my voice
Graphic designers can work both autonomously and collaboratively. How would you define your process in this regard?
One could argue that graphic design is collaborative by nature, seen as you’re usually working for others. But I think collaboration can also just be about sharing views, which I particularly enjoy doing with fellow artists. When you’re on your own, it’s so easy to get in your head. We live in such an individualistic society, and that’s why I also participate in collectives such as Bebe Books. Every time I help them with a project, I learn so much in return given how diverse their practice is.
Ghent certainly seems to provide the right conditions for emerging collectives to thrive. Can you introduce HS71 and explain your role within it?
My partner and some friends decided to make a label together so they could produce and release their music. I came on board to create a visual identity and design collateral for them. Laura, also a designer, joined the collective at the same time and now we lead the creative direction together. We invited two other people to manage and coordinate our activities, bringing a total of seven members.
Last year we organised concerts with the platform BROEI at the Geeraard de Duivelsteen, which was a lot of fun. This summer we curated artist talks and opened a group show in Parlor, for which I experimented around with images in an analogue way; for example, at the moment I’m working a lot with a scanner. It was scary to work outside my comfort zone, but that’s something I want to hang onto: to keep having fun, keep on playing and keep on learning and discovering new techniques.
This experience also reminded me how overcoming the fear of making mistakes is an important part of the process. It ties back to the time I repeated my first year of education - I was determined to keep making things through trial and error, persevering until it eventually all came together.
This experience also reminded me how overcoming the fear of making mistakes is an important part of the process
Subbacultcha and KASK & Conservatorium are teaming up for a series of artist portraits, featuring some of the interesting alumni and student profiles.