Zuzanna Rogatty: “I like not knowing how to define it”
Article by Studio Ground Floor
Zuzanna Rogatty on blurring the lines between lettering and design, the importance of playing with your practice, and the joy of the blank page
Originally hailing from Poland, where she explored her initial practice in her art school studies for eleven years, Designer, Art Director and Letterer Zuzanna Rogatty has certainly put her artistic proficiency into practice since moving state-side – now splitting her time between Hawaii and New York as a senior designer at COLLINS.
“Branding has been the core of my design practice for almost 8 years now,” Zuzanna tells us, discussing the varied definition of her eclectic practice. “Typography became an outlet for my personal expression and it has gradually become more prominent in my life,” she explains, having now made a name for herself through her lettering as well as her prolific professional practice. “My lettering is an absolute freestyle dictated by my intuition,” Zuzanna remarks, “quite honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s what makes it exciting,” expressing a candour and character that can be beautifully, and explicitly, seen in the vibrant expression of her work.
This notion of intuition and character seems fundamentally woven within the fabric of Zuzanna’s work, establishing a unique aesthetic voice that is undoubtable – and seemingly unavoidably – Zuzanna’s. “I tried to fight it in the past,” she recalls, referring to the manifestation of her defined style. “First of all it’s inevitable to maintain a style in your practice,” Zuzanna explains, “it happens unconsciously or purposely,” she adds. “Second of all it’s what makes you unique, makes you you,” Zuzanna notes, “and helps you to stand out in the vast ocean of designers.” Intentionally exploring her style within this unique voice however, is something that is important to her work. Suggesting that this definition of style and artistic repetition can lead to a lack of further creative exploration, a stunting in personal growth, and an eventual creative burnout she mentions, “I think it was Picasso who said that there’s nothing worse than copying yourself, even copying others,” Zuzanna remarks, indicating it as precessory to sterility. “I keep it in the back of my head everyday,” she adds, “I aim to evolve and explore constantly.”
Zuzanna’s forward-thinking approach to creativity and self-awareness is clearly a key factor in the playfulness and characterful nature of her work, bringing together her typographic rigour and illustrative humour to create a practice that is truly unique and seemingly undefinable. “I like not knowing how to define it,” Zuzanna tells us, noting, however, her hesitancy to call herself an illustrator; “I simply and consciously didn’t choose that path,” she explains. “I remember reading a Paula Scher interview, in the beginning of my early lettering explorations,” Zuzanna recalls, “in which she tells a story about how her Polish (!) teacher told her to illustrate with type,” a story that left a major impact on her younger self. “It allowed me to open my mind from treating typography in a traditional manner and use it as a tool to express myself,” providing her the opportunity to bridge her lettering skills and branding knowledge to propel each respective discipline forward. “My ability with systematic thinking helps with illustrative lettering work,” she adds, “sometimes these two fields overlap.” Whether it is the graphic candour of Zuzanna’s branding, or the scratches of her lettering, mark-making and the obvious involvement of humanity and hands is ever present in Zuzanna’s remarkable work. Questioned about whether she saw this tactility as important in the work she creates, Zuzanna explains, “I lean towards more gestural forms and it’s very subjective, but I think that a human touch will always be more powerful and emotionally packed than a digitally constructed, grid based piece of lettering,” caveating the unquestionable value in both. “My style definitely doesn’t suit all design challenges,” Zuzanna adds, “that’s why I don’t do lettering only.”
Whatever the means, however, the underpinning of Zuzanna’s work is – importantly and undeniably – play. “Having fun is crucial to my practice,” she tells us, “sometimes I laugh to my sketchbook or screen, which is dumb, but that's a testimonial of the fact that my work genuinely brings me joy.” This delight is a factor that not only exudes from her work, but is the reason that Zuzanna began lettering in the first place. “It began years ago as an experiment born from frustration at all the limitations being put on me as a designer,” she recalls, “I wanted to be free from that and lettering became my gateway,” finding the blank page a precious place devoid of expectation, restriction and rules. “That allowed me to have tremendous fun with letters,” Zuzanna adds, “I keep it that way.”
Looking ahead at what’s to come, Zuzanna declares, “I’m sick of looking at my screen!” finding herself dead set on grander, more physical manifestations. “For a long while already I’ve been planning to expand on other media and increase the scale of my lettering,” she recalls, noting her ultimate goal of painting on the biggest possible wall or canvas. “Other than that,” she concludes, her future seems set on “constant exploration.”
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