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Our studio visit this month is a technicoloured trip to Stockwell in South London to the brand new studio of Kate Moross. The prolific graphic designer, art director, illustrator, typographer, animator and founder of Studio Moross is on a serious mission to 'Make Music Look Good' and recently invited myself and lovely photographer Backyard Bill on a tour of her studio with her dogs Tako and Ebi.

Kate has crammed an enormous amount of work into her twenty eight years on this planet from her early days designing profile pages and posters for bands on Myspace, to creating a nationwide billboard campaign for Cadbury in her second year of college, setting up her own record label Isomorph, collaborations with Adidas, Kiehl's, a clothing collection in Topshop, adverts for Sony, Converse, Nike, American Express, Ford and Dunk, editorial for The Guardian, Wired and Vice and art direction, branding, print and moving image with Studio Moross for the likes of One Direction, Sam Smith, Jessie Ware, Disclosure, Tala, Aqualung, MTV, Raybans, Hearts Revolution and Rizzle Kicks.

With her book 'Make Your Own Luck' now in its second print run, Kate was fresh off the stage of One Direction's 'On The Road Again' tour when we sat down for a tea in her studio. We chatted about her first memories of drawing, learning to design online, setting up Studio Moross, tackling The Directioner's and her musical journey from The Spice Girls to Sam Smith via Stevie Wonder. All while our brilliant photographer Backyard Bill snapped his way around her colourful studio.

What is your earliest memory of drawing ?
So many ! I used to like drawing circuses a lot and underwater scenes. But my absolute favourite thing to do was redraw my books, things like the BFG. I used to fold paper and staple it and then I would remember the story (usually quite badly) and draw it.

 

I wrote one about a kid eating an avocado once and I just smudged avocado all over the paper. I must have been really quite young when I did that. Hopefully early writing stage as my writing went down the page diagonally !

Did you have lots of encouragement creatively as a child ?
My mum always drew, not professionally, but she always drew as an adult so it seemed really normal to me, it wasn’t like they just got the crayons out for the children, it was something that we did anyway. And my Mum was really encouraging of any creativity or imagination I had even if it wasn’t about making something look good it was more about the process.

 

Also I grew up with a lot of visual stuff around me. My parents had quite a lot of great 80’s décor in their house and also my grandparents in South Africa had loads of art in their house. My aunt is an artist and in the 80’s she used to make really geometric paper pieces. We also had lots of South African art around which had a lot of pattern, colour and geometry. Yeah there was a lot of African influenced art.

And although I only spent three weeks of the year in South Africa every year it definitely had an influence on me. I had lots of vibrant busy things around me and I have always really liked that world.

As a teenager you designed profile pages for bands on My Space in the early days of the internet and social media and it had a massive impact on your career starting out. Do you think timing had it’s part to play in how your career launched ?
I think everyone is around at the birth of something that they can utilise to enhance what they do and I do definitely think being a very early adopter of the internet and computers had a huge impact on me. I don’t necessarily think it was the social media aspect that helped me, I had to be able to do something first in order to put it out there online.

 

My Dad was the ‘tech’ parent and my Mum was the ‘craft’ one so it was a really good combination and my brothers were both really into computer games so I had a lot of experience with hacking games and computers early on. I knew how to mess about with code, nothing sophisticated, I wasn’t inventing anything new, just stuff already shared on the internet. And I needed a place to put the images I was making and the internet was a great place for that and My Space was great too.

At that time a lot of people couldn’t code so it was an opportunity, not to code as I was never into that, but an opportunity for me to design. So I used the leverage of the fact that I could code to create designs. For me it was never about doing web stuff. It was always about creating visuals to go on the web.

You went to university at Camberwell and in your second year Fallon commissioned you for a commercial Cadbury campaign – all of a sudden your work was splashed all over the UK on 48$ posters. How did that come about and what impact did it have on you as a second year student ?
I had done quite a lot of flyers and things for My Space and I think because I had a website from day zero, from aged 16 or 17, I had somewhere with my work on it, anything I did, even if it was a pile of crap, I would put it up on my website.

 

Then Fallon asked me to pitch for Cadbury and I had never gone through that kind of process before. But I had experienced some freelancing before, even if it wasn’t paid so I was familiar with the process of briefings and revising and receiving feedback, so it wasn’t as intimidating as it could have been as I had already had a dry run.

I think the biggest impact it had on me was the realisation that I could make a living out of it and I discovered that I was good at business. I could handle that side of things. At 19 I could sit with an art buyer at an ad agency and hold my own. It scrapped all fear of work in the future as I knew I could do it. And of course it was great to see my work everywhere too.

I seem to remember you actually headed off to New York for a while after that Fallon Campaign ?
It is easy to let things go to your head and at that time the music scene was a bit egotistical, it was all about if you could get on the guest list or what clubs you went to and where you would get seen basically and I was really wrapped up in that club kid scene and I think I realised that wasn’t the person I wanted to be.

 

I wanted to work, I didn’t want to be a personality whereas some of my friends were going towards that or performance art or djing or whatever and I had a little breather and I booked a ticket to New York with the money I had earned and went away for three months and just sort of disappeared. Everyone thought I had left the country forever. I snuck back three months later quietly and set up a studio by myself above a dominatrix dungeon in town !

It was cool to just be working. Throughout my whole third year I freelanced and I set up my record label, that’s gone now but I was still trying to juggle school and essentially a career at the same time but it was nothing to compared to now. I thought I was busy then !

One of the things that really stands out about you and your work is how much of a multi disciplinarian you are, creating work across illustration, animation, web design, art directing music videos, apps and typography. Do you try to maintain a sense of style across all these different platforms ?
I think it depends. Illustration is quite an old fashioned graphic art in the sense that the way you work is quite straight forward, in the commercial world anyway. You receive a scamp by the ad agency, you do your own version, you send it back to them, you revise it until they love it, and then you move on to the next project.

 

But I always thought there was a danger in that. Unless you were always evolving, after a few years, maybe ten years, you wouldn’t have any further work. I think style goes in and out of fashion. I was nervous I would get put in that box and I didn’t necessarily want to be in that place. I sort of fell into illustration, I always wanted to be a graphic designer so I had an internal struggle as I was getting all this illustration work but I wanted to do design and be an art director, so I was kind of trying to balance the two.

That is what starting the studio is all about, essentially kind of closing the door a bit on being an illustrator and starting as an art director and leading that path and music specifically. Trying to take on less illustration projects and financially support my business rather than making quite a lot of money as an illustrator and losing all my own money starting my own company. So it was not a financial decision to start the studio it was about using the money I had earned to start a business basically.

You set up Studio Moross in 2012 with a motto to ‘Make Music Look Good’ hiring people like Charlie Patterson and Guy Field along the way. Is the way you work much more collaborative now ?
Yes massively, I mean there is a nurturing process at the beginning when somebody joins and it takes time to recognise their skills, hone, absorb and collaborate within the team and we make sure we bring everyone’s style to the forefront. I think that is what is exciting about studios, the style constantly evolves because you have other people who are contributing to that aesthetic.

 

For me its about finding young people who have great talent and even if they are quite green in terms of business skill that is something that people can learn, and it is something I really enjoy sharing with everyone. It is kind of nice helping people out in that way.

What was the inspiration behind your book, Make Your Own Luck ?
I think the book was about removing the pedestal around this idea of a successful career which is kind of bullshit and showing how things can happen. You don’t need things to make your career happen, you just need to work hard and be out there and you don’t need luck.

 

As much as I hate the title of the book, it makes it sound like a motivational self help book, we couldn’t get away from it because it did just sum everything up perfectly about what I wanted to say. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse coming up with that title.

But yes I don’t believe you get things by chance, I believe you get them by working hard and being in the right place, yes there is an element of luck by being in those right places but if you don’t get out there then it is never going to happen anyway.

In the foreword to your book Neville Brody referred to you as ‘Nuts, Brilliant, Unique and Obsessed’. Do you think you need to be all those things to succeed in the graphic arts industry ?
I wouldn’t call myself those things ! But it is really nice when someone does call you those things. I actually met Neville when I was in my foundation year, I did a one off project at the ICA and I met Neville there and actually he is my Mum's neighbour but I didn’t know him before so it was kind of a funny coincidence.

 

We have met up several times on conferences together and what I have always loved about Neville is firstly his involvement with music and the music industry and publishing and all of the great bold, interesting, visual, creative graphic design which was what I always wanted to do, to bring in the interesting in graphic design not just everything being about rules and typography.

Neville’s work is super playful and also he is so young at heart and I feel the same. He had a mattress that he used to drag into his studio because he would be working so hard he would have to go to sleep in his studio and get back up and work again and I do also have a feeling of that.

And I do think that is an important quality, this drive. Its like a constant thing in your head. I do think it is unhealthy to be like that all the time, it’s important to have balance too but I think that is something that he maybe saw in me, this hunger to make/create/teach/learn all those things wrapped up in one. It's about being a student as much as it is about being a business person.

Do you ever have digital fatigue and feel the need to get away from the screen ?
In a way I am part of that generation who always had the internet. My parents were early adopters of the internet so although it was the 90’s we were online. I had a dial up modem and a pc in my room when I was about 8 or 9 so I very much know life with the screen. I remember when the internet began which is quite an amazing thing to experience but it didn’t feel like ‘wow’ as I was young and I had a mobile phone at quite a young age.

 

I think there's a generation of people who do feel really overwhelmed when constantly online or in front of a screen. I don’t find that I need to get away from the screen, its actually a comfort, which sounds really fucked up !

I do feel the need to get away from work but I very rarely feel like I need to get away from technology, I’m not one of those people who needs that. And there are definitely people my age and younger who do want to get away from it all and have no phone signal, but that’s not my nature.

I’ve grown up in a busy city where everything is really stimulating and sometimes I feel even more relaxed when I go to an even busier city like New York where it is smelly and loud with people and music everywhere. It’s that white noise, I find it quite relaxing.

There has been a resurgence of handmade techniques in the last few years, processes like Screen Printing, Risograph and Letterpress. Do you think this is a direct result of digital fatigue or is it simply the case that for young people starting out now those processes feel like new media because the internet is something they grew up with ?
Yes I 100% agree with that, its like ‘Oh we can take our digital images and print them out and sell them'. That’s an amazing way of looking at it. People would think it is really expensive but it is not that expensive. Risographing is super cheap.

 

Yes it is new media to people who didn’t have it growing up. I mean I had fanzines and photocopying culture, I actually had a photocopier machine in my bedroom that was discontinued from my Dad’s office and I sort of smuggled it out so I had that so I don’t crave it so much. But people five years younger, absolutely yes, it's new media to them.

Last year you were asked to art direct One Direction’s 'On The Road Again Tour'. I remember you telling me about doing live visuals on tour with Hearts Revolution and Disclosure but OD must have been off the scale in terms of production ?
Yes it was a bit of a step up from Hearts Revolution where I would be taking my own projector around with me and pinning bed sheets to walls of student unions ! from that to the biggest band in the world – it’s a big jump.

 

They needed new designs for the various different stages they use through out the year and they needed a new opening film too. Watching the fans interact with that is the most amazing experience ever, standing in a crowd of 75,000 people and the music comes on and we had created this really epic pre intro for the opening film.

It was an amazing project. The band and their production design and art direction team just let me do my thing, they felt what I do was right for their audience and right for the band because its youthful but it’s also cool and it's grown up too. Its not like I was just making something for kids, its not patronising, it’s about vibrant work and content that you can connect with and that enhances what they do as a group.

How did you find the band's epic fan base The Directioners ?
You have to respect any fan base, as long as you create for them then there is nothing to fear. I think as a force they are very powerful and I think it is a really interesting flip on everything. The fact that lots of young people can get together and have an influence on even the way that I would create work, all 20 million of them, it's impressive. I definitely did my research into the fans, on what they enjoyed about the band and the music and the shows.

 

And I have absolutely loved working with One Direction and their team and I am still working with them now doing more projects. They are a very loyal client too, they like to keep working with creative that they engage with.

And actually you know how we were just talking about getting away from your screen, well that’s the one time I believe people need to put their phones down, at live events. I was taking pictures and feeling like I really needed to capture this and I had to have a word with myself as I just needed to experience it. It's so big there is no way you can capture that atmosphere unless you had a 40 strong camera crew. You cannot do it justice on an iPhone. So that was the one time I put my screen down and just enjoyed the opening number.

Music has always been really important to you and your work. What is the soundtrack to your life so far ?
The Spice Girls were definitely the sound track to my youth, my very young youth, but I think I would say something like Stevie Wonder because I love the music and I love him and I love his album artwork. I loved everything about that Songs In The Key Of Life era so I think that is something that has stuck with me since I was a little kid. I used to listen to it in my Mum's car on the way to school and now it always makes me feel happy. And I think a lot of what my work is about is happiness and I think people don’t always necessarily incorporate mood and feeling into their work consciously but that is something that I try to do as much as possible.

 


 

So Spice Girls to Sam Smith via Stevie Wonder then ?!
Yes ! I love pop music. I feel like there is a lot of pressure to be cool and do work for underground edgy music and actually I love working for pop groups who have the biggest audience. I love this idea of accessibility and making design for everyone and everything. Design shouldn’t just be for the 'in the know', its not about taste makers, design is about everyone and reaching everyone.

 

If you look at the One Direction crowd for example they all edit their own images and make their own illustrations and there is tons of fan art out there. It’s a huge creative network without them really knowing they are engaging in the arts. I will happily work for the biggest band in the world and the smallest band too. I’ve no qualms about either.

That is an interesting point you make about The Directioners making their own content. Do you think it is quite different from when you started out as a designer ?
Yes. We are creating a world where everything is visual and that is why there is so much work in design now. Every single brand, every platform, every newspaper, every online blog needs photos, they need video, they need illustration, they need content and content is the word of the decade right ?! All we ever do is get content commissions so that is a perfect world to be a creator in because you can make content for people in any area.

 

Illustrators and graphic designers are now becoming brand ambassadors for big corporations and big brands, I have people emailing me all the time asking to do a collab. I guess if you think about the music industry in the 80’s you just had packaging, advertising for the releases and music videos and that was it and live shows but you didn’t have the same level of stage design, didn't have all of these screens that need things on them.
But now for each release we have around 50 platforms that need content on them and at Studio Moross we like to try to do bespoke things for each platform so it is not homogenised.

I try to encourage young creatives to find an area they are interested in and learn how to create content in that industry. Whether it be fashion, music, architecture, furniture design or theatre think about where you want to go and how you can create in that industry, you can always find a niche for yourself but even more so in design and music now, there are so many great places for things to exists.

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