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Ask The Pro with Illustrator & Designer Grace Enemaku

Jun 2024

Tell us a little bit about your design career so far.

In 2016 I graduated DIT (now TU Dublin) with a BA in Visual Communication and started working at a tech startup called Intouch as lead designer of a small team. The next year I got my first agency job at Thinkhouse, a full service agency with a focus on youth culture in Ireland. I met so many inspiring, creative people there, as well as future collaborators such as Mona-Lxsa the founder of the female collective GXRL CODE which we ran together at the time. I started the role as a Middleweight Designer and by the end of my almost 3 year term, I was Design Manager.

I then went freelance in 2019 and now I run my own branding and illustration studio, enemaku. I’ve had the chance to work with amazing brands such as Arnotts, Facebook, Guinness, St. Patrick’s Festival, Cadbury and Gill Books. I won a 100Archive Award in 2020 for my Dublin Vinyl record packaging and my first children’s book was published by Gill Books in 2022, I Believe In You by Deborah Somorin. I also founded DesignOpp, an IDI initiative championing diversity for POC in Irish Design.

How did you land your first design job?

I actually had a design internship before I graduated which later turned into paid work. My friend disappeared on a night out and when she came back it turns out she had been singing my praises to a designer who ran a small branding company called Logo24. I took his business card and followed up with him the week after and got an internship there. Definitely unorthodox but shows the importance of networking (and having great friends!)

What pivotal moments defined your pathway to becoming a successful illustrator?

The most pivotal moment was definitely the act of choosing to work for myself so I could pursue illustration properly. I knew that I was never going to get to do the type of illustration I wanted working in most traditional studios and agencies. The only way was to carve out my own space in the world so that the right agencies and clients would know where to find me when they wanted to collaborate. There were also specific projects I worked on that I know led to other big jobs. My Black Girl Magic series for Hens Teeth sparked interviews and new clients, as did my first childrens book I Believe In You which has opened me up to more jobs in publishing.

Can you share a piece of advice you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?

I wish I’d known how important having an accountant was and how much stress it would save me! I even got that advice from a friend and colleague to get an accountant but I thought it would be fine if I waited until the end of my first year. Big mistake! Get one immediately so you have someone to run by any queries you have about your business. I waited and then made a VAT blunder because I tried to do it all myself. If you’re self-employed or just starting freelancing my advice to you is to get an accountant and save yourself the trouble. And remember you don’t have to do it all yourself, reach out to friends, colleagues and other professionals if you need advice on something that’s outside your area of expertise.

 

What role does mentorship play in your career, and how can design graduates find valuable mentors in the industry?

I’ve never had an official mentor but I‘ve been blessed to have made some talented creative friends I can turn to for advice. After creating DesignOpp I met some incredible people through the IDI who I think of as my unofficial mentors, like Charlotte Barker and Martin De Porres Wright. I look forward to my coffees with them and I’ve learned so much from their lives and experience. My best advice to graduates looking for mentors would be to start something interesting, make ambitious creative projects and share them with the world. Then go out to creative events and meet lots of people (hell for an introvert, believe me I know!). When people see young people with ambition doing cool creative things, they often want to lean in and see how they can help.

How do you navigate creative blocks or challenges in your design process?

I’m a big believer in using detachment to push through creative blocks. A lot of the time a creative block is due to a lack of information, uncertainty, or another emotion I’m avoiding around the project and the only way to move past it is by sitting down at my desk and tackling it from new angles until I find the solution. Once I start, I find that often the problem wasn’t as big as I had made it out to be in my head.

What’s the best way for up-and-coming designers to build a strong professional network?

Go out and meet people at creative events. It’s the number one way to naturally make friends and expand your network. But if you’re a super introvert, consider posting on social media instead, even LinkedIn. I used to hate LinkedIn and avoided it for so long but eventually started posting after another friend and illustrator Ashwin Chacko was singing its praises. And now every time I post something good happens or an opportunity comes my way so I recommend it to people now too.

         

 

What trends do you foresee in the design industry, and how should new designers adapt?

AI is impossible to ignore, and as conflicted as I am about generative AI like Midjourney I can’t deny its effect on the industry. I think new designers should be aware of it and plan their careers accordingly. Aim to specialise in areas that will take longer to be cannibalised like branding. Or alternatively, learn to wield it in your own workflows in an ethical manner so you can be prepared for the future. It’s the wild west at the moment and all we can do is hope that regulation will ensure fair use for us all one day. Knowledge of Adobe’s AI tools will likely be essential for graduates. And motion design skills seem to be mandatory for most new job openings so ensure you upskill in that area too as it grows more and more essential every year.

 

About Grace

Grace Enemaku is an award-winning Irish-Nigerian, multidisciplinary designer and illustrator. She creates branding and illustration for the unconventional and is also founder of DesignOpp, an IDI initiative that champions diversity for People of Colour in Irish design. She believes creativity can make magic out of the everyday and she reflects that in her work, which explores themes big and small, through funky, playful illustration.

Her projects vary from conceptual brand identities for new businesses, to print and illustration for brands and agencies. Select clients include Guinness, Cadburys, Facebook/Meta, The Science Gallery, Gill Books and more.

Her first illustrated children’s book I Believe In You by Deborah Somorin was published by Gill Books in 2022. She won a 100 Archive Award in 2020 and has exhibited with Hen’s Teeth and Where Are The Black Designers.

Check out all of Grace’s work here.

 

If you or someone you know would like to be featured in our ‘Ask a Pro’ series contact IDI. 

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