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Designer Pierrick Calvez: ‘I throw in some shapes and try to find a resonance’

Pierrick Calvez is a designer and illustrator who likes to talk simply about typography and creativity online. He also gives lectures in France and China.

Pierrick’s approach to design is thoughtful, with bold lines and minimalist typography. Pierrick started his design career in Paris and amassed an impressive luxury client list, with names like Chanel, Loewe, Krug, Perrier-Jouët, Lacoste, BMW and Disney. Now based in China, Pierrick runs his own studio and shares his knowledge through design lectures. Having recently taken time off to travel and develop his personal work, Pierrick has since created several ranges of striking, semi-abstract art prints. We decided to chat to Pierrick to find out more about his varied career…

Tell us a little bit about your history as a designer.

I was born and raised in the countryside, on the west coast of France. Old land, green pastures, raw coastline. I’ve always been into books and French comics as far as I can remember. I studied fine arts. It was a weird and crucial time in my life. I learned some art fundamentals. Painting, drawing, photography. I’m glad to not have learnt graphic design right away, in retrospect.

I moved to Paris in the early 00ʼs. That was just at the beginning of the web design boom. I was twenty-three. Startups were hiring like crazy. I knocked on some doors; one studio needed some hands. They hired me. Never designed a website in my life. Thatʼs how it started.

Tell us a little about your design studio and your work as a creative director.

I started my studio 13 years ago. I was doing experimental online pieces at the time. A couple of them got noticed. It helped me get my first gigs. I was sharing a studio with a painter in a fur factory. I was the only guy doing web stuff. Then I got the opportunity to be creative director in agency. I navigated in the ad world for about ten years. That’s where I got in touch with the luxury and fashion industries. I worked primarily for advertising. We had the budget and great material to work with at the time. The money that went into web design, pre-social network, was insane. In 2010, I bought a one-way ticket to Shanghai, China. I shifted gears and went to work for more human-centered design firms.

“In 2010, I bought a one-way ticket to Shanghai, China. I shifted gears and went to work for more human-centered design firms.”

How different have you found working/designing in China compared to Paris? Can you tell us about any particular cultural differences you have observed in communication and design?

If you had asked me when I arrived eight years ago, I would have told you that the market was not mature. It was all about going to the market fast, at the expense of quality. Agencies are more slow and steady in the west. But China is catching up big time to the international standard. The environment is highly competitive. There’s a pool of individual talents emerging in every creative field. Check out Creme Shanghai for an aperçu. They reference lots of local talents.

What is it about Risograph printing that you like?

I discovered Riso pretty recently through friends. I’ve been into digital design for the longest time, and Riso was the best way to get into print. It’s immediate, it’s cheap, it’s imperfect. It allows for mistakes and experiments. I don’t own a machine—I don’t think I would have the patience for the technical maintenance it requires. I learned and printed with the great people at Bananafish Books in Shanghai.

You’ve recently taken a year off to learn new skills. How did this come about and what have you learned during this time?

I was thinking about taking some months off with my little family for some time. We finally did that last spring. We went to South Japan. Tibet. South China. During that time I collected photos, sounds and diverse ambiences with a portable recorder. We were pretty much off the grid for two months. I accumulated quite some material.

Back home, I resumed my illustration work and put some side projects back onto the table. I took the plunge and never looked back really. I’ve been at my desk ever since, and this will hopefully lay the ground for new lines of work.

Are you looking forward to bringing these new things into the mix when you reopen your design studio?

Yes, definitely.

How do you go about creating one of your illustrative works? Do you sketch things by hand first?

I do sketch, most often a couple of strokes to get a rough idea of the masses. Sometimes a bit more detailed like for the Beetle. Then I start the digital collage. I never overdraw it. In collage you want to allow happy accidents.

Your illustrative compositions are really dynamic. How do you approach composition when you’re creating your work?

I throw in some shapes and try to find a resonance. Something that itches. If I don’t get it in the first half-hour I start over. Then I build up slowly. If it becomes too nice I mess it up a bit. By slicing cutting adding rough edges or little mistakes. I try to preserve the balance that got me there in the first place.

What other artists/designers/music has inspired you over the years?

There’s so many. You guys in UK have a great creative scene. I’m looking toward Japan quite often in the east. There’s strong individual creatives there too. Do you know Toco Toco TV?

In addition to your design and illustrative work you seem to have a love of black and white photography, where does this interest come from and what inspires you to shoot?

I had a thing for black and white photography back in fine arts school. I learned rudimentary film development at the time. But I started to shoot regularly in Asia for documentation purposes. I shot for years with a GF1. It has a nice grainy B&W mode out of the box. I couldn’t quite find the same feeling with newer cameras. I’m still using it to this day.

You’ve worked with some really high-profile clients including TAG Heuer, BMW, Disney & Chanel. What has been your favourite client project and how does creating client work differ to your self-initiated projects?

It’s exciting to work with high-profile names. But luxury and fashion brands are very self-aware and surprisingly risk-averts when it comes to their communication. Fairly enough thatʼs their stock-in-trade. I came to understand and respect that. They value photography a lot. I always worked with top notch photo material. What I had to get right really was to put decent type on top of it. What really hooked me though was the craftmanship mastery behind the scene. I got the chance to visit some workshops back in Paris. I was quite impressed. That’s the real deal there. I liked to work with Lanvin, Perrier-Jouët and Diptyque were great. They’re old houses. They honed their craft for decades.

How did you hear about Affinity Designer and what inspired you to start using it?

I try new apps regularly. I first got in touch with Affinity Designer around the v1.2. I came back to it more seriously at v1.4. For the story, Photoshop has been my default tool for fifteen years. I never questioned it. Then breakthrough: Sketch arrives. Massive disruption in production speed and team work. I used it a lot. But for visual designers it keeps falling short. It’s not meant for bitmap work. To me Affinity Designer gets the mix right. Vector and bitmap blend seamlessly. It gets all the UI features for screen production. And it’s fast. As modern software should be.

How has using it changed the way you work?

It didn’t change it really. But it made it more efficient. Serif got the fundamentals right—they focused on speed on reliability. That’s what really matters in production environment. And I appreciate how every new feature is rolled out very carefully.

What achievement in your design career are you especially proud of?

Iʼve been sharing some design experience lately through writings and talks. I enjoyed doing that. Giving back a bit to the community.

Your website has lots of great articles and advice for designers, what would be your top piece of advice for designers?

For young designers: ask to join client presentations. Listen first-hand to what the client has to say. It will build up your confidence that will help sell your designs.

For veterans: keep designing. Don’t let a management role get in the way.

You can see more of Pierrick’s work online at on Instagram Twitter and Medium

We recommend checking out his article Five minutes guide to better typography.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.