Today, it’s easier than ever to learn, create, collaborate and share. Everyone with an internet connection has the tools to launch a passion project or start a business. While, for some, that means making music with friends on the other side of the world and sharing it on streaming sites, for others, it means working with dozens of contributors on large-scale commercial projects.
Dropbox is one such platform inspiring and empowering the next generation of artists and entrepreneurs by helping them to develop ideas and collaborate internationally. To highlight the importance of collaboration and inspire future creators, they've challenged us to construct a team of young creators who will work together on a one-off art piece to be displayed in the heart of London’s Shoreditch.
London has always overflowed with creative energy and, despite obstacles, artists still find ways and places to explore and redefine what it means to be creative in the capital. The city continues to support and cultivate artistic expression and we tapped into this ever-growing scene looking for creators that could harmonize but also produce equally diverse expressions of what London is today. Our crack team of London-based artists is as familiar with its streets as they are its galleries and as comfortable with independent projects as they are collaborative projects. They are Pref, Will Gates, Jamie Julien Brown and Camille Walala.
Making the process a little easier, the artists are using Dropbox's collaborative workspace, Dropbox Paper. A virtual collaboration space connecting creators in real-time with all the value of real-world meetings.
We’re following the project at every stage and to kick things off, we got to know the artists a little better so that we could understand their creative processes and find out what makes them tick. First off, we visited Pref in his North London studio; Pref developed his style drawing during his younger years before studying art and design and working as a graphic designer. Combining typography, graphic design and graffiti, today, he runs a small design studio working with fashion and lifestyle brands, painting in his spare time.
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Recently, Pref’s most recognizable work has been his layered typographic pieces but he says everything he does is inspired by a simple love of ideas. "There's nothing more infectious for me than a great idea. The kind of idea that makes you think, 'Oh, I wish I'd thought of that,' or 'That's really nice, the way that works,’” he explains. "Seeing my friends and peers coming up with stuff, that's really the most inspiring thing for me, seeing other people have great ideas.”
But, for him, creativity is less of a thing a person does and more of a perspective on life. “Creativity is like a language, it's a way of seeing and understanding, a way of looking at the world,” he says. Pref, along with Walala, sees most clearly in the early hours of the morning and wakes up between 5 and 6 am. He also describes needing a calm and organized environment to be at his most productive, “the space I work in is really important to me. Everything's in its place and I like to be able to grab this or grab that if I have an idea."
Camille Walala didn’t tap into her creative talents until her late twenties. When we ask if she’d been a creative child she describes being scared of drawing on paper because she thought it was a waste. At this point, however, it's become almost instinctual, “I think I’ve just trained myself, it’s just kind of natural now to be creative,” she explains. “I’ve been learning every day over the past ten years.”
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But, of course, she still continues to proactively search out inspiration and in her world that means visiting galleries and exhibitions, photographing everyday images and being constantly aware of her surroundings, particularly while traveling. In recent years, Walala has been inspired by strong creative women and, during our discussion at her studio in Dalston, references one group in particular whose influence on her work is immediately apparent: "I've been massively interested in this tribe from South Africa called Ndebele. They are a beautiful tribe and the women paint their houses, wear massive jewelry and create this really bold graphic on their house. Discovering them has been a revelation.”
Collaborating on a project like this, Walala explains, has a wide-ranging positive impact on her art and general creativity. When compelled to work with someone whose style is different, she’s pushed out of her comfort zone, “collaborators often make me do things I never thought I could do,” she says. “It’s scary at the beginning but you always learn something from it” — a sentiment shared by all of the artists.
Will Gates claims to have drawn since the age of four, developing his skills throughout school and college with encouragement from his parents and teachers. While practicing graffiti art and letter form has had a massive impact on him, his work today is informed by everything from furniture design to Japanese graphic art.
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Unlike Pref and Walala, Gates is a night owl, "Sometimes I end up working until two or three in the morning because that seems to be when I'm most creative,” he says. However, just like Walala, he tends to make breakthroughs when he pushes beyond his comfort zone which is why he remains forever curious and open to such a variety of influences.
Jamie Julien Brown has a similarly open-minded approach and intentionally seeks out things seemingly unrelated to his projects, particularly when he finds himself in a creative rut. “Experiencing something a little bit detached from what you’re trying to achieve can help,” he explains. “Experimentation is very important in my work, of late. Exploring new processes and new ways of working can take you to places you haven’t been before. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but you always learn something.”
This experimental attitude has led Brown to explore a broad variety of mediums and projects including painting, installation art, set design, interior design, light sculptures and much more. “Being an artist is about putting your best foot forward each day and trying things that can make a difference,” says Brown. “It’s about sticking your neck out and baring your soul to others regardless of what critique or opinions you might get back.” But, in order to remain consistent, he's developed a signature style involving bold forms, graphic patterns and unusual textures, giving structure to his evolution as an artist.
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And its the same willingness to experiment and learn along the way that makes Brown so happy to collaborate with other artists: “With collaborations, there’s always an element of compromise, especially when you’ve got strong minds coming together with strong ideas, but I think that can be really healthy. You always learn from people."
With Camille Walala currently in Mauritius, Pref in Australia and Will Gates and Jamie Julien Brown in London, Dropbox Paper is playing a vital role in getting the collaboration off the ground, acting in these early stages as a space to share initial inspiration and ideas. Pref explains that one of the biggest challenges when working with other people is the logistics, "being in the same place at the same time, being able to discuss things, finding time to meet up and exchange ideas." But their shared space on Dropbox Paper eliminates these geographical concerns. "We're all in different parts of the world, so it's really nice to have this platform where we exchange ideas," Walala says; "Dropbox Paper just seems to roll many different mediums into one platform. Be it dialogue, moving image, still image. So it feels natural to share and develop our ideas," explains Brown.
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All four artists share a joint appreciation for collaboration, namely for its challenges and lessons. “It can be scary working on something with someone you've not worked with before because there's always this element of uncertainty,” explains Gates. “But on the flip side, it can be a real nice surprise and you end up doing a lot of things that you normally wouldn’t, you're pushed in a way." While they each describe the difficulties in working with people whose style and processes are different, they recognize that these are just opportunities to learn and become better artists. More broadly, this is the aim of Dropbox Paper: to facilitate and inspire collaboration projects that help artists develop their skills but also their opportunities.
In the coming weeks, we’ll share the fruits of our labor including live coverage of the mural being created, the unveiling of the finished product, and an additional, currently classified, global project. For now, check out Pref, Will Gates, Jamie Julien Brown and Camille Walala on Instagram to see their work and stay tuned for the mural revealing very soon. Find out more about Dropbox via the link below.