Pauline Le Pape on seeking calm work environments and her methods for overcoming creative block
Pauline Le Pape is a type designer, graphic designer and art director based in Amsterdam. From music to architecture, her practice often falls within the cultural field with a sharp, typographic focus. We had the opportunity to catch up with Le Pape, who describes her decision to move to Amsterdam, how she tackles creative block, and how COVID brought a seismic shift to her practice.
PT Hi Pauline, how’s everything going?
PLP I’m doing good!
PT Having studied in Paris, what inspired you to move to Amsterdam? What was it like moving there?
PLP On one hand I would say that the life here is a lot more calm, the city is and feels a lot smaller. The hustle culture is not really something in Amsterdam (in my experience), but the cultural aspect and the design scene are still quite vibrant. On the other hand, I just prefer to live in a foreign country. I think that being slightly out of your comfort zone also keeps me curious.
The pandemic accelerated the realisation that I should no longer settle for precarity.
PT For many of us, COVID was a very introspective and reflective time. How did your creative practice shift during that time?
PLP For me, it was probably the biggest shift I ever experienced. I realised how frustrated and unhappy I was in my former work environment. The quietness and stillness during the beginning of the pandemic helped me to have a clear vision of that. The pandemic accelerated the realisation that I should no longer settle for precarity, or an unnecessarily stressful environment. After a few more years of solo freelancing, I was looking to collaborate with people in a longer and more committed way. I’m currently working with Some Days and I found a great balance there.
PT If you could describe your current practice in one sentence, what would it be?
PLP Staying curious yet committed to my craft.
PT Which project of yours has been the most challenging, technically?
PLP Maybe Cryo is now a challenge since I want to make it a cultural crossover. I’m currently working on it again, but the design process started in 2017. My goal is to keep it rooted in tradition, while stretching its limits and re-think its shapes. It is challenging to find the right balance, there is a lot of back and forth happening.
PT How do you normally work through a creative block?
PLP Recently I heard that in terms of creativity, nothing comes out if you didn’t let things come in beforehand. You need to let it go and try to nourish it. Of course, that’s easy to say and it doesn’t always fit with the reality of our jobs, we don’t always have this time.
If you can, I would say: go on a walk to get rid of the anxiety that comes with it. In a more creative way, sometimes what works the best for me is to write what’s my problem, which is something that a lot of my teachers used to criticise when I was a student. They thought that sketching is always the best way through, and I’m happy to report that it, in fact, doesn’t work the same for everyone. However, depending on the situation, ugly-draw it (understand: stop trying to make it look good, just try to understand what’s the goal and what you want to achieve). Lastly, ask for help!
PT Which project would you say is the most reflective of you as a person?
PLP Maybe Till because of all its paradox in how it’s being developed.
I’m not interested in pure academic execution, I like design that has an unexpected narrative.
I think I’m very curious and love to learn about a lot of very different things. In type design, it translates to a mix of a lot of different influences and interests.
PT What kind of clients or industries do you most enjoy working with?
PLP People that are able to trust you and your expertise.
In terms of industries, I love to be able to learn more about an industry or a topic through design.
PT Are there any books, podcasts or magazines that you’re currently enjoying or would particularly recommend?
PLP Every issue of Real Review!
One of the first type design books I fell in love with was Typeface as Program.
In general, I would encourage everyone to get interested in a lot of things out of design. Design is a vessel to tell stories, to make a good design you need to know about the context.
PT What was your initial introduction to typography? And in particular, creating typefaces yourself?
PLP At school, actually the first assignment of my preparatory class (first year after high school) was on typography, which is quite rare I think. It wasn’t about making a typeface, still very far from that, but it got me interested in drawing letters.
PT What are your favourite typefaces by other designers?
PLP The WIP typeface Lady Spider by Céline Jouandet and PVC by Hélène Marian.
PT Moving forward, is there anything you’d like to learn or any skills you’d like to develop?
PLP One of them is definitely public speaking. In July 2022 I gave a talk in Montreal for FORUM, organised by Caserne, and another one shortly after in Antwerp for the APF organised by ssnn and I loved it, despite the huge anxiety I self-inflicted before. I’d like to extend my interest in storytelling via design to this exercise.