You may have already gathered my excitement, from Facebook and Instagram, about one of my latest projects – a series of greeting cards I’ve titled ‘African Cities’. Here’s a little secret: they were a bit of an accident.
Context is everything
I was working on calendar designs and I was inspired to embark on a side project, taking abstract elements from the drawings I’d created and reinterpreting classic festive themes. Upon experimenting, I realised the beauty of this approach was that the cards could be seen as holiday-specific but, they could also very much work well for any occasion, any time of the year.
This made a lot of sense to me. Growing up in Kenya, I didn't experience white Christmases. Nonetheless, all the greeting cards you could find depicted snowy landscapes, reindeer and other icons rooted in traditions, and places, far far away from us. It was hard to find designs that represented or spoke to our particular experience.
For that reason, these cards fit so well with my general mission to create contextually appropriate alternatives, for those of us from cultures outside the dominant Western one. And for all of us who desire something a little bit different – some diversity to add to the mainstream narratives.
I wanted to celebrate African cities. My team and I did a lot of visual research, looking at images from different countries. Pictures of architecture, cityscapes, landscapes, people and crafts. I did some initial drawings bringing these elements together.
Then, pattern-obsessive that I am, I started to to pick out shapes from all these images and imagine how I could bring them together in a different way. I didn't want to just recreate cityscapes – I wanted to create compositions that had a rhythm and playfulness that would intrigue and delight those who saw them. As I experimented with this process of abstraction, I noticed that a lot of the shapes could be read in different ways by different people.
Take the image below – are those trees, sails or pyramids; are those hills, waves or fish scales?!
Bringing them to life
We worked with one of our favourite printers, London co-operative, Calverts, to produce our first run of cards, on 100% recycled paper. We launched them at the 2014 Africa Utopia festival and received a wonderful response.
Shortly thereafter, we set up a photoshoot. Asilia’s graphic design intern, Nuri Abdur-Rauf, happens to be a great photographer so, she took the reigns.
I also got to indulge my plant obsession – it made sense (of course) for the art direction that I had in mind. I found some beautiful natural adornments to complement the cards.
Everybody on the team had a turn at styling and the whole experience was a lot of fun. It proved how much you can accomplish without fancy equipment and a huge budget (more behind-the-scenes photos here)!
I’m still over the moon with how the photos turned out. You can see many of the final selects on Asilia’s BigCartel shop.
The celebration continues all month
Throughout the month I’ll be sharing more stories behind the cards, as well as celebrating the African cities that inspired them. This will include a handful of blog posts right here, some Instagram action and almost daily activity on Asilia’s Facebook page.
I need your help
I will also be undertaking some market research this month, mainly to inform my future product lines. Would you like to take part? If you’re interested, please get in touch via studio[at]weareasilia[dot]com and I will send you some more information.
Last but not least, I’d love to hear what you think and which cards are your favourites. See them all here.
All drawings, illustrations and designs by Lulu Kitololo. Photos by Nuri Abdur-Rauf, Lusungu Chikamata and Lulu.