I was so thrilled to be able to sit down with a friend and artist I love and respect, whose work I feel is so indicative of moments we all travel throughout our lives. And in the case of Design Spaces, the way that space can be utilized in art and in the home, so that the home in essence can become a kind of art. Kat Lombard-Cook was kind enough to show us not only some of her work but also discuss her art and her evolution from graphics to design to 3D installation, and the relationship between the steps of the journey.
Childhood Memoirs, 2016
DS: Please tell us about yourself and how you got into your interest in graphic work and design.
KLC: I'm Kat Lombard-Cook, a designer, researcher and educator. I've worked in a number of media over the years: print marketing, video and motion graphics, comics, photography, print-making... I really enjoy learning new things, and there's always a technique I haven't worked with to try out.
I first got into graphic design in college because I wanted to find a way to work with my artistic side and analytical side at once. I almost majored in computer science or engineering, believe it or not. But I did one semester without any creative courses and realized that just wasn't sustainable for me. I was a far too practical child to pursue a career in the arts (thankfully I have loosened up with age) so design seemed like a good compromise for the competing sides of my brain.
The funny thing is, a friend of mine has said that I take the adage that every seven years we replace every cell in our body as a challenge to reinvent myself each cycle, but no matter what I change, ever since I was 18, I've stuck with design.
DS: A lot of graphic design work seems to be utilizing space in a way that grabs people. What are things you think about as a commercial artist and then additionally in your own individual artistic ventures in terms of the way space and spatiality are used for consumers and viewers?
KLC: I think the very first assignment I had as a design student was on positive & negative space. The screen, page, room, canvas is the context that design happens in, and how you arrange the components you need to include to communicate your message is completely dependent on space. I really admire creative use of space, chaotic post-modern stuff like David Carson did in the 1990s, but I'm more of a grid woman, myself. Maybe that's why I like comics so much! When you start with a grid, then when you break from it, that disjuncture carries so much more power.
Media Specificity of Non-Traditional Graphic Narratives, 2016
I still remember some of those first lessons about leading the viewer's eye around the page, making sure you leave something to draw them back into the design, not off the edge. The part of my brain the likes puzzles finds it fun to take a design and make it work in various contexts (different sizes and orientations of ads, or video and print remediation). You don't want your design to look like it was created for one and then shoehorned into the other. It forces you to think critically about the medium and how the viewer will approach your design.
In my personal work, I am usually trying to find points of friction, places where structures break down, so I'm often working completely against what I would do in commercial work. I want readers/viewers to be able to approach my pieces from various angles, and bring their own subjectivity to the work, so instead of creating a set path for them to follow, I present open avenues for them to wander about as they see fit. I find it a lot harder to not impose a structure or set narrative on the work but leave things open for interpretation and individual understanding. There needs to be enough of a bridge to lead the viewer along, but not so strong as to determine the shape of the path they take.
"I urge the viewer to try to weave their own stories from the glimpses of moments and shards of thought you find before you." - Kat Lombard-Cook, Viva Exhibition
Drawing Out Memories, 2014
DS: When you sit down to consider not just shape but layout, how do you approach color in a more general sense? Can you think of an example of a particular piece that really stood out to you as a success in terms of the way you utilized color in a really effective way?
KLC: I always liked Barbara Kruger's work. She stuck with a very strict palate of black, white and red and it was so powerful. That gave me hope that I could still make successful designs that didn't rely on a broad palate. It might also be why I use red so much, come to think of it...
I usually will pick one or two colors to be primary in the design. I often use colourlovers.com to get inspiration for what might work well with them. People post palates there, and you can search for ones containing the color you want to use. Helps me visualize what they'll look like together. There's often a LOT of trial and error for me.
This is where working digitally is so much better than in ink or paint. I can try it and work with it a bit, then completely switch it up. I agonize over color if I'm painting. And cannot match something I've mixed to save my life. It's a problem.
DS: Comics have such a very interesting utilization of space and thoughtfulness of presented information within a given frame. Can you speak to your particular interest in this field as well as the rewarding elements you find from it as an artistic medium?
KLC: There is so much information in comics encoded in the structure itself. That side of it particularly interests me. Even the box that bounds a panel contextualizes and informs what is drawn within. Are the sides regular or jagged; do they match the other frames surrounding them; Drawing Out Memories, 2014
or are they present at all? If one panel breaks from the standard, it's notable. Some artists eschew the grid, and the reader approaches the work totally differently than one that strictly adheres to a nine-panel page.
I also love that the same structure can bound both space and time. That doesn't happen in other mediums. The reader has to be so actively engaged to determine the relationship between the panels, how they fit into the overall narrative (or don't as the case may be). Here, by Daniel McGuire, shows the exact same spot in space, separated by vast stretches of time. That gap between panels can serve so many purposes. Scott McCloud bases his whole theory of comics on that space.
I could go on, but I probably shouldn't! I guess my main take-away is that the conventions we use to read or understand within a medium are often a lot more plastic than we realize. And creators/designers can take advantage of that to challenge our viewers.
DS: You have worked in both 2-dimensional as well as 3-dimensional forms. Do you have a preference or in another way, a preferred method of conveying certain elements based on the different capabilities of each situation?
KLC: An integral facet of my research is media specific analysis, which basically looks at the medium being used to present a message and picking out what is unique to that format. Often the medium I'll be working in, 2-D, 3-D, static or time-based is pre-determined by the context of a project. So I'll take a look at the message, and then see how the medium I'll be working in can best be utilized to communicate it.
"Even when we think of a design as being 2-D, it always exists in a space in the world, and that's something we
should consider. A poster can sit framed in isolation in someone's home or jockey for visual space Viva Exhibition, 2016
for visual space in a crowded pub hallway." -Kat Lombard-Cook
Personally, I think my favorite media to experiment with is printed books. There's kind of a mix between different elements of dimensionality there. The reader is habituated to looking at the plane of the page as the canvas of the book, so you have your 2-D design, but you also have the physicality of the object as a whole to consider. How the book inhabits space will subconsciously determine the manner in which the reader approaches the content. So even when we think of a design as being 2-D, it always exists in a space in the world, and that's something we should consider. A poster can sit framed in isolation in someone's home or jockey for visual space in a crowded pub hallway.
The crafting part of me finds bookbinding to be very rewarding as well. There's something very satisfying about sewing signatures together. And I like that, because we're so used to the form, there are lots of ways to play to or against reader expectations in fun ways. Like how Chris Ware and Chip Kid designed one of the objects in 'Building Stories' to feel to the reader like a Little Golden Book from their childhood. To evoke that sense of nostalgia, they actually scaled the book up a bit, so that the ratio of the size of the book to the adult reader would mimic how a Little Golden Book felt to the child. That is such a specific feeling, but they nailed it. In my work, I bound part of my PhD thesis like a children's book. I did this to point out that, before we've even read one word, we've already made decisions about how much mental focus and engagement a text will require from us. When the content doesn't match our expectations, we feel dislocated, even betrayed by the design.
DS: What advice do you have for readers in terms of how you personally like to experience art in the home?
KLC: I think art in the home can be a great way to express facets of your personality. I've got (probably too many) gig posters framed, magnet boards filled with illustrators prints, cards and comics, and (definitely too many) toys and knickknacks. Each one has a story. Someone coming into my home could make some educated guesses about my tastes, whereas, for me, these are traces of my past, memories anchored in objects.
When I was younger, I think I put more importance in developing an aesthetic in my home, and I'd have pieces that fit that style but didn't speak to me personally. Having made two moves across the Atlantic in the last decade, anything that didn't have meaning just wasn't worth transporting, and I found my life much more enriched by what was left. My advice would be to find things that strike a chord with you and prioritize those objects.
Build your design around things with personal meaning.