Authenticity is an elusive brand value these days. Lately, everyone from multinational car companies to local organic juice purveyors want to associate themselves with the virtues of ruggedness, adventure, and “stayin’ wild”. Often, this amounts to nothing more than a new tagline and some strategically placed mason jars in the Instagram feed *. But if you want to see rustic in a more legit form, you’d be well-placed to check out the work of US-based Art Director Julia Blackburn. In her time, she’s collaborated with folks like Levi’s, MTV, ACE Hotel and Stefan Sagmeister to craft and curate some beautifully raw campaigns. Soaking up Julia’s aesthetic is like spending a week at remote log cabin in Oregon – it’s a breath of fresh, mountain-infused air. We spoke to her about advertising, “doing good shit”, and – of course – sex with robots.
Can you give us the skinny on your career so far? Where you started, and where you’ve ended up?
Later on I was living on a farm, making experimental films, working on a line of clothing when I heard about this ad school out in Portland called Wieden+Kennedy 12. Twelve students, everyone sharing credit for the work, and clients that were all ‘for good’ companies. It was advertising boot camp. Learn how to have a point of view. Don’t be a dick. Collaborate. Work hard. Don’t be afraid of what’s never been done. Fail harder. It was still “advertising” but it sounded so wholesome and interesting.
COLLABORATE. WORK HARD. DON’T BE A DICK.
And then after W+K 12 I got to make some fun stuff at W+K, working on the Levi’s Go Forth campaigns for three years, the Girl Effect work, a campaign for Coraline the Focus Features film… Right now I’m a freelance art director which was supposed to mean having summers off to travel but so far that shit doesn’t happen!
Your curation for the ACE seems to me to speak to Hotel as Art Gallery. How much leeway did ACE give you in terms of what work you could procure? Was it fairly open-ended?
Above – Blackburn’s curated art walls for ACE Hotel London.
Your work on projects like Levi’s Go Forth and the Coraline film boast a beautiful hand-crafted aesthetic. So many designs go for that refined, rustic look but often it seems inauthentic. What’s the key to having a project turn out looking genuine in that regards?
Above – Some of Blackburn’s weird and wonderful work.
LESS TIME ON TUMBLR.
MORE TIME DAYDREAMING.
Coraline was a film made entirely by hand, so we knew we couldn’t cheapen their enormous effort with some crappy craft on our end. Some of it was a no brainer, the boxes we sourced for example were real beautifully aged boxes hand picked from ebay and antique stores. I think 99% of the time in advertising you would get custom boxes made with brand new wood but that just wasn’t the vibe we were going for. It was weird to get to make things super dark and scary, it’s usually a vibe brands want to stay far away from.
What are you working on right now? And what’s on your desk as we speak?
I’m working on secret projects, I wish I could share more. One’s for the Ace and one’s for a big brand that’s never done advertising before. On my desk right now is a kale salad, the Freedom of the Hills book, a loom and some hand-dyed wool, a rock from the cliffs of dover, a pile of W-2s and a lucky bottle of white out.
Fast forward to the year 2034. What killer projects is future Julia Blackburn working on?
She is working on a campaign to remind people to practice safe sex with robots.
*For a much more in-depth discussion on the modern brand’s current obsession with everything artisanal, and whether or not we’ve reached peak mason jar utilization, check out the wise words of Tim Geoghegan over on his blog.