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Our Art Director Shares 6 Groundbreaking Creatives From Adobe MAX 2019!

Creative People

Earlier this month our art director Annie Portelli attended the annual Adobe MAX creative conference in Los Angeles! It was her second time at the blockbuster event, after the Las Vegas conference in 2017, with a stellar line-up of tech whizzes and creative people from all over the world taking to the stage to share advice and insights.

Hearing from hugely influential people such as Sesame Street’s creative director and Wes Anderson’s graphic designer, Annie came back buzzing. Today, she shares her highlights!

21st November, 2019

Artwork by Lisa Congdon.

Designer and illustrator Lisa Congdon.

Artwork by Lisa Congdon.

Annie Portelli
Thursday 21st November 2019

Lisa Congdon

An artist, illustrator and author, Lisa Congdon is one very busy lady! Lisa’s playful touch lends itself to many contexts, whether it’s a collaboration with Comme des Garçons, MoMa or even Harvard University, her unique style will quickly lift the spirits of any brand she’s working with.

 I first stumbled upon Lisa’s work on Instagram (of course) but it wasn’t until hearing her speak at Adobe MAX that I learnt she only came into the world of professional illustration relatively late in life, when she was 31 (she is now 52). She explains, ‘I’ve always done illustration as a hobby…I went from this person with no artistic training or connection to art to this person who works with big clients, has 330k followers and is asked to run classes!’

Her talk at Adobe MAX was titled Finding Your Voice; Uncovering The Holy Grail. This is a topic which so many creatives discuss – the importance around ‘finding your voice’ and uncovering where on earth it’s hiding! Lisa reassures us all that ‘There’s no clear picture of what finding what your voice looks like, your voice is always morphing and changing.’

Lisa’s talk was utterly inspiring, even for someone (like me) who doesn’t consider themselves an illustrator or artist. ‘Your voice is your story. Everyone has a story. Your story matters!’ she said.

Lisa finished by giving us all a parting goal – ‘Do something creative every day, even for a few minutes’. Such a simple task which we can ALL take part in – even if you’re not in the creative industry. Thanks Lisa!

A scene from the film Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson, where the main character stands in front of a yellow wall with eighteen Japanese archipelago maps behind her. Each of these was individually HAND DRAWN by the design team, right down to the finest detail. 

LEFT: Annie Atkins in her studio. RIGHT: Annie’s recent book ‘Fake Love Letters’ available for pre-order.

Some of Annie’s sketches from the film The Boxtrolls where you will find NO straight line in the entire film!

Annie Atkins

To me, being a graphic designer within the context of filmmaking seems like one of the most exciting jobs out there – and Annie Atkins is one of the best! She’s worked on HUGE big-screen films including Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and The Grand Budapest Hotel, as well as the recent version of Joker, just to name a few.

Annie’s presentation was highly entertaining, opening our eyes to the world of graphic design within cinema, explaining that once we see it, ‘we can’t unsee it’. And she’s right – it’s EVERYWHERE and can unknowingly become quite iconic! Think about it, The ‘Golden Ticket’ from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Harry Potter’s acceptance letter from Hogwarts, the list goes on and on! Even as a graphic designer, I never really thought about where these things came from. But now I can’t stop thinking about it! Annie explains that ‘Maybe 90% of what we make for a film belongs firmly in the background, and sometimes what we create isn’t actually for the cinema audience at all.’ 

Of course, one of her greater known clients is the one and only Wes Anderson. For those of you who are familiar with his films, you would know that EVERY little thing is considered. So being the head of graphic design for a Wes Anderson film such as Grand Budapest Hotel is a huge deal! Annie explains that unlike most films, ‘Wes puts graphic design at the forefront of his films’.  She explained that he is very hands-on, working extremely closely with the creative department. There’s a scene in Isle of Dogs where the main character stands in front of a yellow wall with eighteen Japanese archipelago maps on the wall. Each of these was individually HAND DRAWN! Annie showed us one version of these maps in her presentation and zoomed in…you see the land, get a little closer and you’ll see the states, closer again, the mountain ranges, the river names, the streets! It is out of control. In the film’s final cut, the maps are blurry figures in the background. We never get to see the immense detail of the beautiful maps. BUT it’s all about context. 

Needless to say, I could have listened to Annie Atkins talk all day, I would love to be her intern for a week to see what she gets up too, as I am sure her hard work was toned down by her modesty! What a woman! 

LEFT: You probably guessed it, but these are the one and only Big Bird’s big feet, celebrating 50 years of Sesame Street! RIGHT: Sesame Street creative director Theresa Fitzgerald.

Theresa’s final logo design to celebrate 50 years of Sesame Street!

The Sesame Street crew celebrating their ageless grace!

Sesame Street spreads far and wide, to those who need it most! This is Elmo spreading the love and education at a refugee camp, where more than 30 million children have had to leave their homes to flee conflict and persecution, and many have no access to quality education.

Theresa Fitzgerald 

Okay, so I really think we need to take our Dream Job column to Adobe MAX next year – because there is no job out there quite like this one! Hearing Theresa Fitzgerald (the creative director/graphic designer for beloved children’s TV show Sesame Street) talk at Adobe MAX opened my eyes to the importance of design in the context of children and education.

Sesame Street’s morals, values, life lessons, manners and just basic friendliness touches a special place in so many hearts, even as adults. It’s hard not to laugh when the cookie monster comes onto the scene to excitedly gobble down handfuls of crumbling cookies, followed by curiously raising sometimes hard questions about the important things! It’s equally hard to hold a straight face when watching him trying to communicate with Siri for this Apple commercial back in 2017 – how does his humour never get old? How have they managed to maintain that magic? 

Theresa discussed Sesame Workshop, a not-for-profit doing great work to meet children’s needs in more than 150 countries within classrooms, on screens and in communities with their hero characters. Theresa explains that the Sesame Workshop mission has always been to help kids ‘grow smarter, stronger and kinder’, and you can see the difference it’s already making. What a feat! 

Continuing on with her captivating presentation, Theresa also shared a range of recent projects she has been working on at Sesame Street, including the wonderful 50th Season logo! Even out of context, anyone would know immediately where this logo belongs, Theresa has managed to squeeze every essence of Sesame Street into one very cute design! She also shared with us the character profile cards of some of our favourite members. These are properly designed ‘passport’ style cards, with a profile photo, along with general information such as age, birthday and to our great humour, the personality traits of that character. 

I could talk about Theresa and her incredible contribution to Sesame Street all day, because is so much more than a children’s television show, BUT I will leave you with the same thought that Theresa closed with on teamwork, which I’m pretty sure could easily be translated into a conversation between our good friends Bert and Ernie. Theresa urges us to ‘Grow with intention talent and temperament. There’s no ladder’. Such good advice, and not always easy to remember. I strongly urge you to read more about Sesame Workshop and what good it’s doing for the world!

One of Aaron Draplin’s proud moments was when he was asked to design an official USA stamp! He was so excited when he saw it at the post office that he teared up and asked the lady behind the counter to join in the moment and capture a photo all together with the stamp. Cute!

Just a chill poster for one of Draplin’s chill clients – NASA!?

If you’re into quality/clever logo design – you should buy this book!

LEFT: Aaron Draplin. RIGHT: Poster for Third Man Records, featuring The Raconteurs.

Aaron Draplin

Even though I have already heard Aaron Draplin speak once before at  Adobe MAX 2017, I couldn’t help but sign up to his talk again. Draplin’s super casual and practical approach to design makes for a very easy going lecture, which is a welcomed treat amongst some of the tech-heavy talk.

This year Aaron decided to take a different approach to his usual presentation style where he shared his Adobe illustrator tips and tricks – or as he called it ‘The Draplin Design Company’s Deepest, Darkest Adobe Illustrator Secrets’. A risky way to run a presentation where you’re plugged in live, and your every move is being projected for all to see in real-time, notifications and all! I think I can speak for most graphic designers out there in saying that the moment you have someone looking over your shoulder while you’re trying to operate a clipping mask, you suddenly become totally incompetent. BUT Aaron conquered this task with ease and great humour. He took us through a range of very simple Adobe Illustrator tips and tricks which always trip us graphic designers up, such as (and excuse the graphic designer talk here) – the perfect colour selection practices, getting those nodes to snap to the line and some snazzy symmetry and alignment tricks.

Aaron has always been a promoter of self-driven projects. Although he has worked for some HUGE clients (like, NASA huge!) he still finds time to draw for himself. He carries around his ‘field notes’ notepad with him everywhere so when the moment strikes, he can jot down anything that comes to mind or sparks an idea. He emphasises how LUCKY us graphic designers are to be able to use these programs every day, and I’m totally with him on that! ‘Adobe Illustrator is not only used by us graphic designers making fun graphics, but it’s used to save lives by people who draw up specs of little tiny instruments which will end up in someone’s heart one day to keep them alive, it’s AMAZING’ he stressed with excitement!

Young Australian graphic designer Alex Darbyshire.

Poster design for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. Alex talked us through the development process of this direction and the difficulties in establishing his ‘style’. After getting advice from a friend, this went from an over the top brightly coloured poster, to one which is now pared back and subtle.

Some VERY sleek branding for a fictional newspaper called ‘The Public Informant’ by Alex.

Some more incredibly established work by Alex Darbyshire!

Alex Darbyshire

I can’t tell you how proud I was to see an Aussie face up on the stage at Adobe MAX! Alex Darbyshire is a super talented emerging designer who studied Communication Design locally at Swinburne University. Hearing from a young, enthusiastic, fresh and extremely talented designer reminded me of how exciting it is to be a graphic designer today and ignited that enthusiastic energy which tends to wear off after a few years in the biz. Alex’s passion for design is contagious and his optimism is encouraging to say the least! 

Alex took us through his extremely productive journey as a graphic designer so far. I remember the feeling of graduating from university, you have this great confidence but utter terror of working with ACTUAL graphic designers. Are they going to criticise my kerning? What if they laugh at how I set up my artwork? It’s so daunting, but at the same time, you feel invincible. Alex captured this thought process perfectly…It’s the feeling that ‘I can do anything…but can I do anything?’ 

He reflects on some advice given by one of his lecturers – ‘We design for strangers we will never know’. Such an important thing to remember is so easily forgotten, especially when you start your first job. You think you’ll immediately get a gig to design a cool publication with a client that has no limits and loves your specific style and has a huge budget, but the reality in most cases, and also in Alex’s case, is that you’re probably going to be designing packaging for a muesli bar brand with no creative control or consideration and little-to-no budget. And that’s life!

Based on Alex’s body of work so far I have no doubt that he is really going to make his mark in the world of Australian graphic design. Already his folio is established,  sleek, considered and holds an elegant touch of sophistication. I can’t wait to see where this crazy world takes him! Watch out for this one!


Mark Conlan in his Melbourne studio.

Flea Market by Mark Conlan.

Mark really knows how to take commercial illustration to the next level! This very cute illustration was for ToneDen, a social marketing platform.

One of many illustrations from a New York Times article ‘How To Build A Relationship’. Very cool!

Mark Conlan

I had the great pleasure of having a one-on-one chat with Mark Conlan at Adobe MAX this year, it was nice to talk with another guest attending this epic creative conference and compare notes! Mark is a multi-disciplined illustrator originally from Dublin and now living right here in Melbourne.

Mark’s skill set is baffling, his very distinctive illustration style lends itself to many contexts, and thoughtful animations. For someone who didn’t actually study graphic design, he’s managed to work his skill set up to be recognised and HIRED by some BIG SHOTS including the New York Times, and Coca Cola!

Mark and I had lots to talk about, which I will go into more detail about in the coming weeks in a special studio visit with Mark – BUT but one thing which I’ll end this article on are some insights that Mark shared with me, which I think are helpful for anyone interested in attending Adobe MAX 2020!

Much like the rest of us, Mark explains that his ‘biggest takeaway from Adobe MAX this year has to be the sense of community.  Something that is SO important for the creative world, as simple as that – COMMUNITY! That’s what we are and what we need to be! I also think there’s something so nice about being surrounded by ‘your people’ where you can freely talk about the new pen tool features or how to build the perfect gradient and not get eye-rolled…who’s with me?

Annie was a guest at Adobe MAX 2019 and had the best time ever. Thanks, Adobe! 

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