There is no cookie cutter way of being at the RCA
For Tom Finn and Kristoffer Sølling the RCA was a community of practitioners where dialogue and prodding at things happened collectively.
After graduating from Visual Communication at the RCA in 2017 Tom Finn and Kristoffer Sølling established graphic design studio Regular Practice, building on their experience collaborating at the RCA. To date their clients have included the British Council, Serpentine Galleries, Intern Magazine and Mute Records. Their primary concern is typography and process, which they use to develop books, typefaces, exhibitions, websites and identities – including the RCA Show identity for 2018 and 2019.
Tom Finn: The identity last year was built with a tool we made that populated type with shapes. This time we were really interested in the conversation between technology and traditional styles of calligraphy and drawn type. If you imagine the inconsistencies in thicknesses you get through hand drawing type, with a brush for example, we wanted to see what would happen if you pass that through a digital tool.
Kristoffer Sølling: We’re calling it 'computer calligraphy' – the notion that the letter is formed by the stroke, but with a computer that manipulates the parameters. It’s an extension of what we did last year exploring the idea that if you make your own workflow, or your own tool using technology or code, that can then be used to make something inherently unique.
What’s it like working on the Show identity,
how does it fit in with your other projects?
KS: We learned a lot from doing it the first time around. The solutions we’ve come up with both years definitely push the envelope. It’s at the more experimental end of what we do, which is great, to come back and do challenging work for the place where you studied.
TF: It was our first big identity project. The applications range massively, from coffee cups to huge vinyl on the side of a building. There were a lot of firsts – we’d never done a 40-metre vinyl window before!
How did you first start working together?
KS: We first worked together on an extracurricular project set by the department. They wanted a design for Typographic Singularity – an exhibition of type experiments done by students and staff. This included graphic design and thinking spatially about how to organise the work. It was pretty full-on, but it was super fun.
TF: From the beginning, we were interested in questioning how to work together. Right away we started by cutting acetate and layering stuff together, rather than two people sat behind a computer we started by physically making something.
KS: Both Tom and I went into the RCA technically proficient as we’d both worked in industry so it wasn’t a problem to execute something on a computer – it’s more a challenge to do something original. We asked ourselves – how can we liberate ourselves from the way that we normally work?
How did the wider College environment help foster this way of working?
TF: After Typographic Singularity, we started making stuff that we otherwise weren’t doing in our College work. My sister was putting on jazz nights in the Art Bar and we did posters for that. They were like exercises – we would spend a few hours drawing some silly type out of layering stuff together, that we’d then use to make a poster. From there we did more posters, books for other students – we could do this alongside the more conceptually heavy work we were doing for the Programme. There was a nice conversation happening between the two.
KS: These collaborative projects were direct manifestations of our ideas at the time, put into practice. You could call it rapid prototyping, testing ideas in the immediate College environment.
TF: There’s a safety in doing things in an academic environment. We could push legibility and process in a way we can’t always now.
KS: It was about finding a balance. We could go way over the top, then realise it and reel it in a bit. We were getting to grips with how weird something can be, or not be. Practicing riding on the edge.
TF: We were also really interested in the visual culture of the RCA. The archive and the history of publishing, not just making publications, but the idea of designing a poster and it being considered, beautifully designed and an expression of the person. We felt very strongly about adding to that history.
Do you think collaboration is essential to being a creative practitioner?
KS: Our definition of creative practice is something you do together with other people. There is still space in the world for people who want to be solitary artists or designers, but it’s not for us.
TF: There is definitely a value in being a multifaceted designer. But there is more value in knowing what you can’t do and being able to bring in someone else to help. It’s not saying I can’t do anything, but it's knowing your restraints, what it is you want to do, and where collaboration can bring something extra.
What was it like day to day studying Visual Communication?
TF: For us, it was like a job. We were in every morning and would leave late in the evening. You have a studio, everyone is there, it’s a community of practitioners but also your mates. It’s a really healthy environment, people working hard and doing interesting things. There is a lot of looking over your shoulder at someone, doing something totally different to you like welding Arduino together.
We’re in a shared studio now, similar to the RCA, with other people who are doing different things. We find that a healthy environment, where dialogue and prodding at things, questioning things, happens collectively.
What were the benefits of being part of a diverse creative community at the RCA?
TF: The vast majority of the stuff we do now is linked to the RCA in some way. For example, we do some work for the British Council in collaboration with Etcetera Studio who were at the RCA at the same time as us. They invited us to work with them because they’d see one of our jazz posters in the café. Lots of these chance encounters happen – meeting in the Art Bar, or friends of friends – there’s a huge link to the RCA with everything that we do.
KS: The RCA is inherently international, both in terms of the student body but also in terms of being here in London. The work that we do now is not only located in the UK, I think that’s because London is a hub that can take you anywhere.
you set any particular projects at the RCA that had a significant impact on
TF: The Programme has a really big variation and you were discouraged from taking the safe option. There were interesting moments, weird things you wouldn’t otherwise have done. Lots of putting yourself in uncomfortable places. The staff are very good at encouraging that. I did one short project called “Uchronia”, which was about examining the relationship between practice and time. I stayed in a room with someone for 72 hours and didn’t leave, then made a book about it.
KS: Every brief or project has its own rules. It’s turbulent, but makes you eventually figure out what is for you, and what isn’t.
TF: My final project was about examining the way that we interact with archive material, the importance of serendipity and luck in finding things in an expanse. I worked with the College archivist Neil Parkinson to digitise the RCA’s poster archive and built a website that would randomly generate sets of posters, which was about that chance encounter and interaction.
KS: My final project was very much looking at graphic design. It was a dissection of a book, that asked, what is a book is made of. It was a narrative of two designers making a book, so fairly autobiographical. They make this book, and I make this book - it’s quite meta. The book, in the book, is about sandwiches, and the book is a sandwich.
Something that is hard to get across is that there is no cookie cutter way of being at the RCA. There’s a really serious question going on about how your practice has merit. Where are you positioning yourself, that is different to everyone else? They are not handing you a rope to follow, but they are challenging you to find your own way.
TF: It isn’t a master and apprentice Bauhaus-esque model. They will guide you to a certain extent, but it’s a process of self-reflection. People come in with one idea, or approach they want to explore, and then the environment and the teaching shows you something else.
What was most rewarding about your time at the RCA?
KS: Definitely the other students. And the studio environment, that leads to the connections that you make with other people.
TF: You go through this crazy intense experience and leave with friends that you’ve grown and changed with, but also people whose practice you really know in-depth, because you’ve witnessed that change, which is really beneficial for future collaborations.
TF: In terms of moving forward, we want to continue to collaborate with like-minded people. For us, a good project is not about flexing our creative muscles, but about successful collaborations where we are being paid what we deserve, the person gets something they are happy with, and we feel like it’s creatively exciting and pushing us.
KS: Attending art school is about creativity, but when you start working you have to professionalise. We’ve professionalised a lot, and now we are also figuring out the dialogue between creativity and the professional way of coming at things. We’re coming back to how to make self-initiated or personal projects and make those public.
KS: ...but not outrageously…
TF: …not for the sake of it, for the right reasons. We still have a hunger for things that we would like to be doing. We’ve had all these ideas since graduation but we haven’t had time to do them. The next phase is doing some of them, which is exciting.
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