We Chat To Art Director & Designer, Charlotte Heal

We met Charlotte Heal at the end of last year when she wandered into our Pop Up shop, we were then really excited to attend the launch of Issue 14 of Kinfolk magazine which, Charlotte had been given the task of redesigning. Charlotte is based in London and specialises in art and fashion projects, working with some big names along the way. We chat to the art director and designer and find out all about her creative background and her varied and fascinating portfolio of work…

Have you always been creative?

Yes! My family are all designers so I grew up in a very creative environment. Family holidays were always spent visiting museums, galleries or drawing / painting which hugely influenced me. Creativity was certainly encouraged and it was inevitable that I would do a Foundation course and go to Art school.

What was your first job after graduating from the RCA in 2007?

After the RCA I was immediately freelance. I believe my first job was a book design for Lawrence King Publishers via Angus Hyland at Pentagram.

How did you decide you wanted to become an Art Director and for those of us not in the know can you tell us exactly what the role involves?

There wasn’t one day when I made the choice. My MA at the RCA woke me up to the fact that I didn’t just want to solely design but also wanted to orchestrate projects. Having come to design from a photographic perspective (I assisted after my BA (Hons)) and enjoyed both aspects – image making and typography ­– it simply felt like a very natural evolution. The role allows me to have a large overview as I’ll conceptualise an idea and bring in relevant talent to bring it to life. Be that with photographers, illustrators, set designers etc. who have the right aesthetic and feel for the project and client. What I also enjoy is then working with the material afterwards and placing the work in its context.

How have the internet and the ongoing rise of social media platforms affected or changed your job role?

A vast question! I think it’s the internet which has majorly affected my role. Its certainly sped up my process and meant clients demand things quicker. Research appears ‘easier’ with Pinterest and Tumblr but then we all access the same material so it can lead to hermogenised work. There is a sense that anyone can be considered a curator or art director which can have a negative impact on the industry as a whole. I try to steer clear of looking too much at blogs and creative sites as it’s easy to reiterate what’s out there.

Fashion 760x

Jewellery 760xCharlotte Heal – Town & Country Magazine, Game of Tones, Art Direction Summer 2015

Despite specialising in Art & Fashion projects your work appears very varied, is the variation something that appeals to you and are there any areas that you are particularly drawn too?

I am glad you say this! Yes I do love variation. If time and money allowed I would be even more so. I often equate design and art direction to that of acting. You need to have empathy for the client/role and I would hate to always play the same character – I would simply get bored. Doing the commercial jobs offsets the smaller projects and one puts on different hats initiated from the same starting point. Are there areas I’m drawn too? Freedom! When a client trusts and gives you a lot of free reign I am certainly drawn in. I try to lead by example whether when art directing photographers and image makers or with my assistant. If I’m prescribed too much I get frustrated! I think that’s why I enjoy editorial work. There is a playfulness and a freedom larger projects don’t always allow for.

Lula 760xCharlotte Heal – Lula

What does a typical day look like for you?

I like to get in early, check emails and see what priorities are for the day. Then my assistant will arrive and I’ll brief her on the day ahead, recapping on anything that’s come in over night. Working with American clients means there is the inevitable backlog from what’s been happening their end, whilst we’ve been asleep! We’ll then knuckle down for the day depending on client meetings or shoots etc. It does vary depending on the projects and we are often jumping between different projects during the day or heading out to meetings/shoots.

Which three projects from your portfolio have given you the greatest enjoyment to work on and why? Can you talk us through these projects?

In no order of preference:

  1. KinfolkIssue 15 – Creative Direction. I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. The pressure of the redesign with Issue 14 was over and had had good reviews so I could really put my energy into the editorial concepts and sourcing strong collaborative talent. It was an incredibly exciting and busy project. Exploring these with the Kinfolk team plus the talented contributors was great.
  2. Toast – AW15 Press Book – Art Direction. This should be on my site shortly if not already. This was a brilliant project. Jessica Seaton gave me a lot of room to explore different concepts for the press book shoot, before settling on an English Soil concept. Working with a beautiful collection, wonderful model and team, plus seeing my concept come to life was fun.
  3. ‘The Mushroom Picker’ – Violette Editions – Design. This was a while ago now but, as with Toast, I have always admired Violette publications. Robert Violette gave me great creative freedom and trusted me implicitly. It was simply a beautiful project and enjoyable working with David Robinson too. It was subsequently nominated for a design award which felt like the icing on the cake!

Kinfolk 15 760xCharlotte Heal – Kinfolk Issue 15

Language Limbs 760xCharlotte Heal – Kinfolk Magazine Issue 15, The Language of Limbs

Toast 760x Charlotte Heal – ToastThe Mushroom Picker 760xCharlotte Heal – The Mushroom Picker

There are two personal projects featured in your portfolio, Bookselves & Ecdysis, can you tell us more about these studies and how they came to be?

Bookselves actually came to be some years back. I am excited by personal stories, what links people and what makes us up as people too. I decided to note down the contents of peoples bookshelves and in doing so link different generations together. Alongside profile portraits I was keen to explore hand postures as they held their favorite books. Does the action illustrate the material being read or the personality of the reader?

Ecdysis was very much an experiment with photography and print making. I am fascinated with trace elements plus the idea of the renewed self and the shedding of an old skin. Butterflies caught my attention because of their short lifespan and the rumor that once the dust is removed they can no longer fly or survive. ie. They never shed a skin. The images were a simply exploration of this trapping as it were.

Ecdysis 760xCharlotte Heal – Ecdysis

You recently redesigned Kinfolk Magazine for Issue 14. What set of challenges arise from the redesign of an established brand with a recognizable aesthetic?

Having an established brand helped to some extent since it was a springboard to jump from and push against. Having said that I think the challenge was keeping myself in check and knowing when I had pushed too far or not enough. You don’t want to alienate a strong audience but similarly it’s important to evolve. There were times when I certainly had to brush the pressure element aside and not worry too much about future negative reviews etc. Looking back it was certainly the initial stages of the design process that were the most challenging. Once the grid and fonts were established it felt like less of a mountain.

Kinfolk 760xCharlotte Heal – Kinfolk Issue 14

Describe your dream project?

I’m often asked this and it inevitably varies. I would love to work with a theatre producer designing sets with a team of photographers, paper mechanics, projectionists and dancers. I’m not sure what we’d create but I enjoy seeing work out of its normal context and working within a team.

We know you also do some lecturing, workshops and talks, why and how did you get involved in this?

I started lecturing straight out of my BA (Hons). At the time I didn’t want a studio design job as I was assisting photographers so initially it was a practical solution for a regular income. I also had the opportunity to work alongside a huge mentor, Nikki Salkeld, so jumped at the opportunity. Further talks and workshops came about through word of mouth and recommendations. It’s always a privilege to be asked into a course and, though it’s a cliché, I do always take a lot away from each experience.

nanban front cover 760x

Nanban 760xCharlotte Heal – Nanban

About You:

When are you at your most creative?

This is tricky question as it varies so much. On personal projects it’s when I’m alone and have plenty of room to be messy – I tend to spread out a lot with my work. I can get bursts of creativity late at night and feel very awake but I am more often than not a morning person.

Describe your style in three words?

Classic and clean with a twist!

Do you have a fashion icon?

I am a huge admirer of Margaret Howell and Stella McCartney. Women who have strong integrity and sensitive intelligence to their fashion designs.

What was the last thing you bought for your home?

We’ve recently moved house and have very little, so I’m suddenly buying a lot of pieces. To be really accurate it would be 8 coasters from Labour and Wait but also a print from Present&Correct for the living room.

Can you tell us the last exhibition you visited?

Photo London at Somerset House. New work by Corinne Mercadier was a win for me.

Can you name three things, people or places that really get you animated/excited?

Seb and Alec my nephews, travelling (most recently to revisit Copenhagen and I was VERY excited), and anything dance related.

Name one book you have read recently that you would recommend?

‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald

Favorite café or restaurant in London?

It’s a classic but I will never grow tired of Andrew Edmunds on Lexington Street, Soho

City or country? 50/50 straight down the middle

Design or make? Make

PC or Mac? Mac

Books or films? Films

North or South? Just moved to North London but my roots are South!

Tea or Coffee? Coffee

Day or night? Day

Savoury or Sweet? Definitely sweet!


All imagery thanks to Charlotte Heal