Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Who they are…We’re a bunch of kid-adults who come together every day to create new and innovative illustrations and other stuff. Our studio is a playground where our spirit and ego-less talent rule supreme.
How it all began…Am I was spawned during a goofy trip to Hermanus. University buds Ruan and Christo wanted to work outside of advertising agencies and decided to call their two-man creative solutions venture the Am I Collective. Sense was made of the name a year later when Mark joined to bring a business perspective to a crazy idea full of talent and passion.
‘Am I’ is a question we ask ourselves every day to direct our abilities into areas of new discovery. Humility and an inherent drive to keep improving ourselves is core to who we are and our name reminds us of this each day. In the beginning, we honestly had no idea where we’d be today. But believing that passion, above all else, would look after us has certainly paid off.
We started out in a small rented cottage in our beautiful city Cape Town, sitting on crates and working on trestle tables, sometimes (more often than not) through the night. The work we did was soon identified by local ad agencies and an international network of ad agencies grew through the internet and word of mouth. As founding partners – Ruan, Christo and Mark – we like to believe that we’ve created a space where each member of the collective realises their own responsibilities and we trust each other to keep doing what’s necessary to continue our relevance in the industry we play in. This year we’ve included Kris and Miné as partners who’ll share in any future successes of the collective.
Their people…We grew to a total of 22 illustrators late last year but have decided to return to a core of 15. It was fast becoming a large company and that’s not what we ever want to be. We strive to maintain a chilled work environment where everyone can retain their own identities yet contribute to the collective as individuals.
Because we offer a one-year internship programme each year, we find there is healthy competition to contribute creatively. This is a year for young artists to seriously develop their portfolios. We don’t have to keep urging each other to come up with exciting new things – it happens automatically.
Starting an animation studio…Without wanting to sound too arrogant, we’ve honestly established ourselves as an outfit that is right up there with the best illustrators in the world. In order for us to keep ourselves rejuvenated and inspired we found that we needed to explore new areas of creative expression, so disko was born. Good animation, in most instances, requires good illustration so branching into this arena was natural. We have no clue where it will take us. Only time will tell. But we do know that we can do great work because we’re amped about the new challenge.
The benefits of having a dedicated illustration studio as a resource undoubtedly gives us an edge, as most animation houses locally need to outsource illustration each time they land a project. This is costly to carry as an in-house overhead while waiting for the next brief. What generally happens then is that any job is accepted to bring in revenue and the animators die of boredom, rendering 3D pack shots of the latest six-blade razor about to revolutionise the world.
Working with Attic Design on the Coca Cola 2010…It was massive especially as we feel we’ve contributed in a small and simple way to an event (The Football World Cup 2010), which makes us immensely proud as South Africans. Attik are a very professional outfit and always acknowledged our role and contribution to this iconic design. They were ultimately responsible for putting together the visual identity for the campaign. We were involved in developing the elements from a South African perspective to give it an African flavour.
Overseas clients vs South African clients…We feel that there is a bigger appreciation for our craft outside our borders but that’s only because of the way we’ve presented ourselves (i.e. as a professional illustration studio), which was a fairly new concept to the SA industry. Artists wanting to specialise in illustration had very few options other than freelancing or becoming art directors in ad agencies before we started the collective. Now illustrators are forming their own collectives and doing their stuff. It’s great to see as we believe we played a significant role in making locals aware of the possibilities in illustration. Also, our international briefs seem to be very clear in terms of direction, whereas locally, art directors often use us with a hit-and-miss approach – not always knowing what they want the outcome to be.
Representing South Africa abroad…We consider it a huge compliment to be commissioned for projects that have a global audience, especially as South Africans. It does make us feel a bit like we’re the illustration Springboks going out there, representing. Hey, what about we stand to attention and sing our national anthem before we commence work on each international brief? God Bless Africa!
One of our worst enemies would be complacency, so we approach each brief with new vigour. How? Well, each brief gets a unique team assigned to it to find new styles and treatments. With 15 dedicated illustrators, the permutations are huge. Our works have reached all corners of the globe – the Coca Cola 2010 job, for example, is a global roll-out, used in many different parts of the world. We are proud of all the work we send out but a campaign we did for Ogilvy Paris and their client, Scrabble, last year won us a Grand Prix at the SA Loeries. Eight illustrators worked on that piece so it’s something we all felt we contributed to and were rewarded accordingly. A typographic job we did for Vodafone Australia (Yello brands) was also huge and used up many late nights because of the (roughly eight hour) time difference. Recently we did a job for Inter Milan, celebrating their victory in the Serie A. Cadburys (Fallon) won recognition in the UK and we were extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to play on such a stage. We are very aware of how lucky we are and therefore don't take a single job for granted. We feel we need to keep reinventing ourselves, as over exposure is never a good thing in our game. So, watch this space for Am I Collective 2. We would love to do a package including a music video for an international artist or the shop front of a renowned fashion guru. The possibilities are endless and we need to keep asking, ‘Am I there yet?’ The answer right now is a definite NO.
Their studio…We have a very cool studio smack-bang in the middle of downtown Cape Town. Our desks are on wheels and designed (by us) in a modular fashion so we can keep changing our environment. It also facilitates temporary changes when working in teams on certain projects. All the rest is organised chaos as all good studios should be. And we have a great coffee machine that keeps us going through the day.
Fun and games…Every day at 12pm at the sound of the Noon Day Gun (Signal Hill, Cape Town), we swop stylus for virtual guns and shoot the fuck out of each other until wrist cramp sets in. We try and get out at least once a month for a piss up at the local tavern – our record now stands at 132 Jagermeisters in an afternoon where we solved all the worlds’ problems. In the summer, we can be found having a stokbraai (stick barbeque) on the roof of our building and have, on the odd occasion, tried to hit an unassuming car, seven floors below with a catapulted piece of raw sausage. Outside work, activities and interests are vastly varied and range from music, golf and toy design to fashion, fine art and T-shirt design. We all have a life outside of the collective and this allows us to bring different perspectives to the table every time we need to rise to the occasion. Our credo ‘in dog we thrust’ says it all, in terms of the role humour plays in our lives.
Porcelain dogs and vinyl bears…As far as the dogs go, we were invited to exhibit at a small gallery back in our formative years and instead of doing the normal something-on-canvas we decided to mould 100 porcelain dogs and used them as a way to express our thoughts. The show surpassed all expectations and we were subsequently invited to the KKNK to exhibit there. Basically, it was a fun idea that grew into something a lot bigger than we ever imagined. The BARE project evolved from this and is our effort to give something back to the community (all contributions going to child welfare). 100 artists will be invited to each illustrate a bear, which will then be auctioned off after a series of exhibitions. We’re hoping to take the bears to a few places first to get some exposure before the auction. It’ll be a costly exercise but hopefully we can get a sponsor to foot the travel bill.
In terms of other projects, we’d like to launch a virtual town on the web soon – a little village where anyone can acquire a plot to build a home. Each home will be illustrated, of course, and eventually we want to see the village grow into a thriving city. Can’t give away too much at this point so watch this space for more details. The virtual town will be launched on our new website in the next six weeks or so. Virtual council are finalising plans for the necessary infrastructure as we speak. We are also collaborating with local company Muti T-Shirts and are hoping to bring out our very own range in the near future. Step aside Mr Marc Jacobs, if you would please sir. Pretty please!!!
Opening a gallery…We are very excited about this happening as it’s been planned for quite some time now. It’s more a garage than a gallery but it’s in a cool space, down an alley, in central Cape Town. We’re hoping to launch the garage with the bears as our first project at the end of June. It’s going to be a space where local talent can come and strut their stuff. We’re not planning to run the space as a commercial entity but more as a casual space to show off a little. Should be fun...
Changing styles…It is our intention to keep changing our style – it’s what makes us unique and keeps us uneasy. Change just for the sake of change is good for any creative headspace. We maintain change as our mission and facilitate this by offering one year internships for a select few. Every year our offerings are influenced by different styles and cultures, which can be seen in our work. This year we have Zimbabwean artist Sindiso Nyoni on board who is bringing a new perspective to our style. We believe his work will take on another dimension too and working together will hopefully be mutually beneficial.
The future…If we can keep changing our environment and keep routine and repetition from knocking on our door, who cares, really? We’re having a great time and consider ourselves pretty fortunate that what we do allows us to pay the bills. There are a hell of a lot of crappier career choices out there so we'll keep smiling and keep it real.