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Meet Claire Grocott, Shillington Graduate and Founder of Studio Kokomo

After having worked in many different roles across a range of industries, Claire Grocott had never seen herself as a creative person—but she realised she loved all things graphic design—there was a stone left unturned!

So she listened to the nagging voice, telling her to give graphic design a go as a career, took a deep breath and enrolled in the part-time course in our Sydney studio. We chatted with her about her Shillington experience, love for all things graphic design and how she ended up founding her very own freelance studio working with amazing clients from all over Australia and the world.

What were you up to before studying at Shillington, why did you decide to take the plunge and study graphic design?

After finishing a Philosophy degree I worked in many different roles across a range of industries—I was a PA at a corporate finance company, an Account Executive at an ad agency, ran a little wedding flower business and even did a stint as an Event Manager at a speed dating company! I’d always wanted to study graphic design but I was never an ‘arty’ kid and didn’t see myself as a creative person.

I eventually realised though that I just really love all things graphic design-related, and if I didn’t at least give it a go as a career I would be forever kicking myself. So I took a deep breath, put my big-girl pants on and enrolled in the part-time course at Shillington Sydney.

What advice can you offer to someone who wants to transition careers?

If there’s a little voice in your head nagging you to study design—listen! I was super nervous about retraining, starting from scratch as a grown-up is super anxiety-inducing, but if you’re passionate about design and driven to learn and grow you will have zero regrets. Even if it doesn’t lead to a whole new career, you will have gained some new mad skills!

Shortly after graduating from Shillington, you began freelancing and started your studio—Studio Kokomo! Can you tell us more about that?

The plan was to try to find a part-time, in-house design job after I graduated at the end of 2019, but the pandemic had other ideas. By early 2020 there were no jobs in sight and I was home-schooling two young kids—not ideal conditions for launching into a new career.

Luckily, I’d started picking up small freelance jobs for friends and through word-of-mouth while I was at Shillington, and that work continued to come in.

My client base has been growing steadily since then and now I run my little one-woman studio, offering branding and web design, graphic design for branded events and activations, illustration and general bits-and-pieces design services.

All with Studio Kokomo’s trademark colour-drenched feel-good vibes, of course.

What does a typical day-in-the-life look like for you? We’d love to see some of your work!

This is such a cliche, but every day truly is different. Sometimes I will be deep in research and idea-generation mode for a branding project, other days I will be juggling a bunch of smaller projects—quick little stationery layouts, actioning feedback, organising production quotes. If I’m feeling stuck on a creative brief I’ll usually permit myself to look through my books for a couple of hours, go for a beautiful bushwalk, play with some paints or wander around the Art Gallery—all activities that never fail to get me unstuck! Then, of course, there is the time spent on the boring old admin side of running a small business—quoting, proposals, bookkeeping. But it’s all great!  I love the variety, I love that there are big creative problems to solve and smaller technical jobs to cross off the to-do list.

Can you share details about any recent projects? What’s the most exciting opportunity you’ve had since striking out on your own?

A couple of recent highlights have been working with the puzzle company Journey of Something to illustrate designs for their gorgeous embroidery kits and creating the branding and supporting graphics for Bloomville, a super fun branded activation by Sugar Republic for Woodlea Town in Melbourne, and designing a motorcycle helmet for Cyclecraft in Bondi to tie in with the branding I did for them when I was fresh out of Shillington. Just a really fun variety of colorful jobs with great people, and the end products have been beautiful, tangible things. I’ve also just finished off a couple of other gorgeous branding projects but they are yet to launch—stay tuned!

What do you love about being a designer?

I’m a big believer in the ability of design to bring little moments of joy into our everyday lives, and I love that I’m able to do something as simple as combine colour, type, imagery and other graphic elements to create something joyful. The idea generation and research processes are hugely satisfying, there’s nothing like collecting and being immersed in reference materials for hours at a time and emerging from that process with something entirely fresh. I also just really like working in the Adobe suite. Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign all feel like old friends now and I enjoy the technical process of using them all. Very nerdy.

What inspires your design work? We’d love to hear about any particular experiences or influences on your practice!

Inspiration is everywhere! I love colour, texture, nostalgic flourishes and imperfection, so I’m particularly drawn to things like old signage, off-beat typography, beautiful textured paper stock, 60s surf culture, Polaroid and 35mm photography, and handcrafts like weaving, embroidery and collage. Interiors are a great place to find unexpected colour combinations. Art galleries are chock full of visual inspiration— again colour palettes, approaches to using materials, and new approaches to composition. Flowers and plants remain inspiring to me, even though they’re not the medium I design with anymore. I have a large (and growing) collection of gorgeous coffee table books on design, art, gardens, film, interiors and printmaking, and diving into those never fails to inspire me. The list goes on! Also…Pinterest.

What does the future hold for you! Where do you see yourself in 12 months?

I would love to know the answer to that! I hope I’m still working on fun briefs with my long-term clients while expanding my client base. I’d love to take on more illustrative projects and maybe paint my first Studio Kokomo mural. I’d just like to continue to grow as a designer, make genuine connections with clients and collaborators and put more joyful design out into the world in the form of brands, products, events, prints—anything designable.

Back to Shillington, did you make any lasting connections with teachers or fellow students during the course?

Yes! I made some great friends and built relationships with lots of my classmates—such a great bunch of humans.

Shillington brings together groups of people who may be from really different professional backgrounds, but everyone there is passionate enough about design to be committing to the course, so you’re bound to connect and vibe with each other.

I’m also still in touch with my wonderful teachers (hi Liv and Julie!) who are so inspiring and were wonderfully supportive during my time at Shillington and beyond.

What was the most surprising thing about the course?

I learned that idea generation is a thing! I always assumed that great, fully-formed ideas just landed in the heads of ‘creative people’ but no, there is an actual process that you can learn and follow to come up with ideas. Who knew? The Shillington course teaches you that process and gives you plenty of opportunities to use it.

What would you say to someone who is skeptical about the Shillington course?

I’ve done so many courses—a bachelor’s degree, TAFE certificates, and lots of industry-specific courses, and Shillington by far equipped me with the most practical technical skills and knowledge of any of them.

The course is so well structured, you’ll be working in the Adobe suite from day one and building from there—that’s the only way to learn the programs.

Is it like the Matrix where you can lie down and learn design (or kung fu) with your eyes closed? Nope!! It’s hard work, and the more you put into it the more you will get out. But if you knuckle down, you will leave with a gorgeous portfolio and all the skills you need to be able to confidently call yourself a Designer with a capital “D”.

Anything else you would like to share? Surprise us!

A couple of years ago I discovered risograph printing and I am obsessed. For those who haven’t heard of it, riso printing is a very cool 1980s printing technique that uses a machine that looks like a clunky old photocopier but it’s so much more than that. Risograph inks are so vibrant and super-saturated, and the texture of the printing is imperfect and gorgeous. I kind of want to keep it a secret for myself, but I also kind of want everyone to go and look it up and get on board.

Big thanks to Claire for sharing her creative journey with us! Make sure to follow her on Instagram and check out her website

Like to follow in Claire’s footsteps? Learn more about Shillington’s 3 months full-time and 9 month part-time courses Online or on-campus in New York, London, Sydney or Melbourne. 

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