Part 1

Name: Julie Hawk
Occupation: Designer, Illustrator, Singer
Nationality: Irish
Recommendations: Everyone should spend an hour or two of their lives staring at the artwork for Green Day’s Dookie. I had the full version on my wall when I was about fifteen. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. As for a piece of music, I’ll recommend Silver Haze by Aye Nako, which I’m currently obsessing over. They make gorgeous, angry, fun music through voices of the black, LGBTQ+ community and are an amazing example of music that makes acts as a platform for visibility.

Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Julie Hawk, be sure to visit her instagram as well as the site of her band Hawk.

When did you start creating designs and layouts for music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about the relationship between music and design that drew you to it?

To be honest, it started off as more of a necessity and a form of contribution than anything else. I imagine that a lot of designers can relate to this. You’re organising a school project. You’re handy with scissors. You end up being the go-to design volunteer. I’ve always taken enormous satisfaction in being useful while doing something I actually love. But there’s a point at which you risk seeing your work as just a favour to others. For me, it took a long time to take professional and creative initiative in illustration. But when we started running Veta Records live nights, it opened me up to the potential of design to be far more than an after-thought. It’s when I started to re-educate myself about the psychology of design and question its relationship with music. For me, it’s like a meeting point. Without hearing your music or being at your event, people have a chance to see a little of your personality and experience the level of care that you give your art. I love the power of an interesting design to do that in a split second.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

I haven’t sat through an art-class since secondary school and I also have a (bad) habit of skipping the basics and having to backtrack and start again from the top, so learning by ‘copying’ has been something I’ve leaned on to keep drawing alive as a hobby. It helps me to explore ideas and inspiration, the same way that copying Thom Yorke’s singing in the shower probably has some value to my own music. But I’ve only ever seen real development in my own style when I take the time to explore subject and technique. Maybe I’m just valuing myself a little more these days, but the more time I put into learning, the more I can see my own distinctive style taking shape.

What were your main design-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

Being self-taught can come with some bad habits - basic ‘common sense’ things like taking a short tutorial instead of clicking away at Illustrator for an hour, trying to make a basic edit! I’m having to learn to make time and patience to learn from the bottom up. 

What makes for a great music related design? What are the differences in terms of approach for different formats like posters, flyers and covers?

Beyond functionality, I think that great music related design is something that gives you an unexpected insight into a band’s personality. On social media, musicians are expected to be so present in so many ways, that real personality and ‘fandom’ can become diluted. It’s one of the reasons I’m still mourning the era of CDs. I used to feel so connected with bands and artists, pouring over inlay sheets with lyrics and photos. While most people don’t hold music in their hands anymore, I think that musicians still have the power to connect with fans visually through posters, flyers and zines. We shouldn’t lose sight of this relationship.

What kind of relationship is there between the cover of a release and the music? What can the visual layer add to the music or how can it even change its impact? Would you say the end result is an art work in its own right, a fusion or merely a support of the music?

You can end up with fusion, of course. But you need an awesome record to begin with. After that, the album art has the ability to evolve and take on a life of its own, the more you hear the music. It can retain the same sentimentality as the music itself.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I’ve been working a lot in Illustrator for the last couple of years, either on its own, or combining it with physical drawing. I have always loved seeing the juxtaposition of organic and digital art in a way that doesn’t hide the way that they clash. Probably another reason I love zines – the construction isn’t hidden. Technology is obviously amazing for sharing work and getting feedback immediately. But it’s definitely turning us in to impatient creatures. It’s one reason why I miss the ceremony of physical CDs and merch, and taking the time to engage with printed artwork.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with the artists you're working for?

I love the responsibility and trust of designing for another artist. The most challenging thing is when someone has a very specific idea of what they want something to look like but aren’t really sure of why. So, I have to get my marketing hat on a bit, and ask the right questions about the kind of impact they want the visual to make. I’ve got a few years of working in marketing as my day job, so I’m better at that part than I used to be. After that, I like to disappear and come back with several rough ideas, but not until that initial brief is figured out, which can be surprisingly tricky.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

We are four band-members living under one roof, with different projects and day jobs to work around, so my week is pretty laid out a lot of the time. Otherwise, we’d never get any music done. My sacred time is the morning. I don’t know what happened but one day I woke up and decided I was an early-riser. It’s my time to actually be alone, and I find it therapeutic and productive at once. Usually I go for a run and I never, ever go without breakfast as it literally might be my favourite thing. I could eat breakfast, in any form, for every meal. Then I’ll either cycle to work (got a day job three days a week) or set up camp in the kitchen, for design work or writing. I can sit at the kitchen table in the morning and still be there by the time it’s dark if I’m not aware, but there’s nearly always a practise arranged at 5pm, which is good cos it gives me a timeframe or a group sit-down to get on top of band admin. I need to have some structure or I would never leave the kitchen table. So, for that reason, I do have to keep illustration and music separate, as a way of adding structure. Separate lists.

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