Part of: Moving Logos

Interview: Cecilia Erlich on Text, Type and Modern Day Graphics

by Christina Donoghue on 1 June 2022

Delighting in making text and type works of art in their own right, graphic designer and typographer Cecilia Erlich spoke to editorial assistant Christina Donoghue about her work, influences and how the artistic duality typography - if done well - can offer, combining image and word to create the unthinkable.

Delighting in making text and type works of art in their own right, graphic designer and typographer Cecilia Erlich spoke to editorial assistant Christina Donoghue about her work, influences and how the artistic duality typography - if done well - can offer, combining image and word to create the unthinkable.

In Tristan Tzara's 1918 Manifeste Dada, one of the chapters included the line as follows: 'Every page should explode, either because of its staggering absurdity, the enthusiasm of its principles, or its typography', and it just so happens that our latest graphic designer, invited to reinterpret SHOWstudio's logo, can do it all. Absurdism, enthusiasm and a professional flair for typography, Cecilia Erlich delights in manipulating text and making words a work of art in their own right.

Erlich told us, if given three words, she'd describe her SHOWstudio logo as 'dynamic, colourful and enigmatic', little does she know that these three adjectives also speak for the rest of her striking portfolio, a giant experiment in pushing the boundaries of text, type and modern day graphic design. Interviewed by Christina Donoghue, here's Cecilia Erlich in her own words.

What moves me is the desire to understand the process that unfolds behind every new idea - Cecilia Erlich

Christina Donoghue: How would you describe the work you have created for SHOWstudio in three words?

Cecilia Erlich: Dynamic, colourful, enigmatic.

CD: In your own words, how would you describe the work you do?

CE: I consider myself a mix between being a graphic designer, motion designer and visual artist. I studied fine art in Madrid and have developed my career working primarily with TV and as a freelancer. My creative production focuses on motion graphics in both my design work and my work as a visual artist. Adding to this, I often experiment with other media, such as painting, sculpture or collage. I alternate between commercial jobs in graphic identity and motion design and my own personal work, where I prioritise visual experimentation.

CD: How would you define your work as a visual artist?

CE: I’m continuously exploring different styles and graphic languages through movement, typography and colour. I make use of the resources offered by graphic design to experiment with the perception of colour and different typographic treatments, bringing together a variety of styles and new techniques to challenge the possibilities provided by graphics. I’m interested in simple and refined design that is exciting and stimulating at the same time. I’m constantly challenging myself, looking for and creating a visual and conceptual language that goes beyond trends. I often fluctuate between abstraction, visual poetry and geometry and tend not to be too concerned about settling for an aesthetic language that is coherent or predictable, like a personal stamp. What moves me is the desire to understand the process that unfolds behind every new idea.

CD: What was your creative process like, from concept to creation, in response to Nick Knight’s brief to redesign and reinterpret the SHOWstudio logo?

CE: It was a very exciting proposition. Nick was interested in new ideas that reinterpreted the logo, which I found incredibly stimulating. My creative approach tends to be quite similar for every job. I usually start by testing different styles and techniques, which leads to questions relating to structure, movement, intention and concept. For instance, a question such as how much movement is needed opens up unlimited possibilities around the idea of ‘being on screen’, that is, to simply make an appearance or to remain on screen. I wanted to find the right balance between movement and legibility, creating something striking enough to capture the attention of someone during the first few seconds – allowing you the time to understand the idea –but that is short enough to make you want to watch it again. It also has to work in shorter sequence applications. In regards to style, the ideas were more abstract, with a focus on the movement of the letters. This led to the effect and the use of clothes. As a concept, it connected with the essence of SHOWstudio, and as a visual resource, it allowed me to explore different possibilities.

CD: In your own work, do you always start with an idea in mind? Or is your way of working more freestyle?

CE: Usually, I don’t; I come up with them as I go along. I need to see to come up with an idea or a question. I consider the technique as a way to get to the idea. It is also worth acknowledging that after years of working almost daily, I have developed many projects, and I can always go back to ways of working. But generally speaking, it is a process that begins and develops in a very improvised and dynamic way, trying and testing all the time. When I work on a commission, I pay more attention to the brand’s identity and ethos. In my personal work, I follow my own interests and curiosities, but it is fair to say that I always strive to keep an open mind and an analytical gaze. I usually make lots of tests until things start to find their own place in a way that feels right.

CD: What role does research play in your work? Do you have any key creative influences?

CE: To me, it has been fundamental to understand that the process of searching is, in itself, a way of working and of learning. I shut myself off from any external influences, and all I do is test after test. The flexibility offered by the digital media really eases the process; from the most basic (and revolutionary) commands such as ‘undo’, duplicate or layers, to the most complex ones, it is designed to work in an organic and intuitive manner, open to accidents and mishaps. I feel that through working with digital media, I have overcome many of the fears that I had with other media, such as painting. Research is part of my daily activity and is how I understand the importance of creativity. It helps me to put to the test ideas and open up different paths, as well as to find images that I can’t plan or imagine and express what I want to say in a better way.

My main influences come from the visual arts, particularly from Western painting. Artists such as Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Henri Matisse, Sonia Delaunay, Richard Diebenkorn, Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Joan Miró and Joseph Cornell (the list is really long), whose work I have always admired. Recently I have discovered others, such as Etel Adnan and the work and thoughts of Bruno Munari, with whom I feel a very strong connection.

CD: Why do you like working with motion? And what attracted you to this way of working in the first place?

CE: I began working with motion during the years I worked on TV, but I have been fascinated by on-screen graphics from a very early age. On TV, everything is dictated by timings and duration, and I got used to design incorporating movement in the process because it was more practical. What interests me about motion is that it allows me to add time as a resource and alter graphic elements in order to make them changeable and establish interactions among them. Motion is not only to move something from one point to another; it is also to choose how different elements behind in time, their vibrations, deformations, contrast with other static elements; there are many nuances. For instance, combining time and colour offers interesting results because it adds another degree of interaction: expanding and amplifying the narrative and formal possibilities. I also use the motion tools to achieve unique visual results that can work as fixed images.

CD: What mediums/technology did you work with for this project? Why?

CE: I use After Effects in most of my work; I feel very comfortable working with it. For this specific project, I used a plugin that allows you to create a 3D mesh, to which you can later apply different textures. In this instance, a video collage combining some of my former ideas with distorted images from SHOWstudio. This way, the fabrics show the trace of how the project has developed.

CD: Your work fuses image with type, creating a new kind of image in itself. Do you always set out to create visual art when playing with the rules and borders of type?

CE: I am attracted to the duality offered by type itself; on the one hand, it is an element of language, and on the other, it is a purely abstract shape. I often work with these two concepts simultaneously, establishing relationships between them. I find ways to express myself through type and words, playing with their legibility, applying graphic treatments and effects, as well as experimenting with their meanings or altering the rules of the composition. I don’t always intend to create visual artwork. I am often interested in showing the technical possibilities that I discover, but I also try to offer an alternative reading or show something in a beautiful or interesting way.

CD: I read in an interview that you often pose the question of whether you’ve done a ‘good job or a bad one’ if you’re not happy with the end result, even if the client is? Do you often struggle to strike a happy medium between creating commercial work and your own artistic satisfaction? If so, how do you navigate this space?

CE: I am interested in visual experimentation, but unfortunately, some commercial jobs don’t allow much experimentation. I work across both fields, and I always follow the same working methods, or at least similar ones. Over the years, I feel that these two worlds are more connected. I believe artistic satisfaction is something ephemeral and fleeting. For me, it is not usually about an end result but about certain creative processes, or about the fact that I can develop and be dedicated to my working practice. Satisfaction is often the drive to look for more challenges.



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