Camille Walala on her process and making it in the creative industries

Camille Walala’s colourful graphics have been appearing all over London of late. In the past few years she has applied her distinctive style – a Memphis-inspired mix of bright colours, monochrome patterns and simple shapes – to a narrowboat, a pedestrian crossing, two school playgrounds, a multi-storey office building and a nightclub as well as several shopfronts in the capital. She created her first 3D installation – an eye-popping maze – for NOW Gallery in Greenwich this summer and designed the landmark project for this year’s London Design Festival: a squishy inflatable ‘castle’ in the middle of the City.

Walala graduated from the University of Brighton with a degree in textile design. She started out selling cushions on Broadway Market but a commission to design the interior of a friend’s night club led to larger-scale projects. She has since painted buildings, roof terraces and pop-up bars in Croatia, Switzerland, Australia, New York and Buenos Aires.

Villa Walala by Camille Walala for London Design Festival. Photographs: Andy Stagg

Villa Walala

Her LDF installation – titled Villa Walala – was created with help from architectural designer Ioana Lupascu.  and creative producer/art director Julia Jomaa. The squishy structure is surrounded by graphic patterns and provides a burst of colour in an area filled with concrete and glass office blocks.

In a press release announcing the project, Walala said: “I wanted to create something that played to this idea of escaping the office and letting off steam, but which was also a surprising contrast to the architectural context – something colourful and playful that would make the people of Broadgate stop and smile.”

Walala was given a site – Exchange Square in Broadgate – and asked to think about how she would transform it. She visited the area to gather inspiration and found it filled with office workers in suits eating their lunch.

This gave her the idea to create something that would help them relax. “It might be a cliche but I imagine working in the city to be quite stressful,” she says. She thought about creating a giant stress ball but settled on a castle surrounded by inflatable ‘totem poles’ instead.

Designing the structure was a process of trial and error. Walala selected shapes and created 2D patterns and worked with Lupascu to render her ideas in 3D. “We were given architectural plans of the area … and we would play with 3D renders and sketch ups. It was a lot of back and forth and putting in different patterns and optical illusions to see which one worked best,” she explains.

The main structure and surrounding totems are constructed from simple shapes reminiscent of children’s building blocks. These shapes are made from digitally printed vinyl and inflated by fans.

Walala also created a colourful pattern for the steps and paving around the square. The pattern is designed to be viewed from above and made up of monochrome stripes and colourful diagonals. It was created using strips of vinyl – “I didn’t want to cover everything in vinyl but actually work with the concrete underneath,” she says.

Villa Walala by Camille Walala for London Design Festival. Photographs: Andy Stagg

Developing the right pattern 

3D is a relatively new territory for Walala but working with a creative producer and architectural designer has helped her bring her ideas to life. “I’m almost building a little studio now … it’s nice being able to work with people who can help you realise your vision and push your ideas further,” she says.

Her work is distinctive – the triangles, black and white stripes, bold shades of red and yellow and pink and blue make it instantly recognisable – but she never applies the same design to any two buildings or installations. Her patterns are sensitive to their surroundings and determined by the size or location of a site and its intended use.

Walala’s patterns might appear simple but she can spend weeks or even months developing the right designs. In 2015 she transformed the front of a multi-storey building outside Old Street Station in Shoreditch – a project she titled A Dream Come True – and it took her six months to come up with a suitable pattern.

A Dream Come True building in Shoreditch. Image: camillewalala.com

The project was Walala’s most high-profile commission to date and unsurprisingly, she put a great deal of pressure on herself to create something brilliant.

“I spent every day thinking ‘what can I do to make this really interesting?’… I was working with a photograph [of the building] and cutting out shapes but I just couldn’t come up with anything that I felt really excited by. Then I tried working on the diagonal and it was like ‘that’s it, I’ve got it – there was just this breakthrough moment’,” she explains.

A lot of the time I’m quite hard with myself … but you can’t have perfection immediately

“A lot of the time I’m quite hard with myself, I think it has to be good right away … but you can’t have perfection [immediately],” she says. “My style is quite simple but I can spend a lot of time trying to find the right balance and the right composition and colours and find a nice harmony in the design. People think it’s easy to do but actually, it takes a lot of work.”

Walala x Play at NOW Gallery

Creating collages

Walala often comes up with patterns through creating collages out of simple shapes. “I do a lot of work in my sketchbook when I’m abroad. I travel quite a lot with work so I might have one or two hours in the morning … where I just enjoy making patterns with no special purpose,” she explains.

These patterns are instinctive but they often provide the starting point for a larger project. “Quite often when I get back to London, I’ll be inspired by what I’ve done in my sketchbook and I might go and [translate] that on to a building,” she adds.

I always get that moment of doubt. I think as a creative you definitely notice imperfections where no-one else will really see them

Working with digital renders gives Walala a good idea of what designs will look like on a large canvas but she still experiences moments of doubt when a project is nearing completion. She says she was filled with doubt before peeling away the plastic sheeting covering her maze in NOW Gallery but was like “a kid at Christmas” when the final design was revealed.

“I always get that moment of doubt. I think as a creative you definitely notice imperfections where no-one else will really see them,” she adds.

Walala x Play at NOW Gallery

Bringing colour into cities

Walala’s work is in high demand but she is becoming more selective about the kind of projects she takes on. Her focus now is on bringing colour into cities. She still works on commercial projects and textile designs (she recently designed geometric backdrops for an Armani campaign) but would like to take on more projects that benefit communities.

“I still do textile collaborations but I love the idea of painting big buildings … because I think colour is really missing in some cities,” she says.

“One day I hope I can [paint] a big council estate – one that looks really grey and depressing – because I think it would really help lift people’s moods…. I’m trying to get architects and people who are building new buildings just to think about investing in art.”

Georgina’s Happy House by Camille Walala. Image: camillewalala.com

Her belief in the power of colour to transform cities is one shared by Morag Myerscough – who has created neon playgrounds and cafes in London as well as a ‘Temple of Love’ on the South Bank – and Yinka Ilori, who has also created colourful installations for this year’s LDF. Walala says Myerscough has been a huge inspiration – she even wrote to the designer to ask for advice when she was just starting out.

“I was amazed when I first saw Morag’s work – I didn’t know it was possible to apply graphics on such a big scale and I think she really opened my eyes to this world,” says Walala.

This doesn’t happen right away … but I’m glad I had to struggle

Walala is one of the most sought after designers in London right now but it hasn’t been an easy route to success. She waitressed part time for several years after graduating and has only recently become a full-time creative.

“This doesn’t happen right away…. When I finished uni, my tutor said ‘it will take at least four years before you start making money’ and only in the last few years has my career started to take off properly. But I’m glad I had to struggle because I really appreciate it now,” she adds.

All creatives dream of making it big but Walala believes it’s important to start small. You never know what an exhibition of prints at a local cafe or a collaboration with a friend might lead – and working on smaller commissions is a necessary learning experience before taking on projects like a landmark commission at LDF.

You need to prove what you can do first and gain the respect and trust of people

“It’s great to want to do big things straight away but what’s next? You need to prove what you can do first and gain the respect and trust of people. It took me nine years to get to do something like [Villa Walala],” she adds.

For those just starting out, Walala recommends contacting people who inspire you for advice and saying ‘yes’ to as many projects as possible. She also recommends taking great photographs of your work to add to your portfolio or Instagram feed. (Walala has 91,000 followers on Instagram and regularly posts pictures of new projects or works in progress).

Walala has ticked off many career goals – “the building was always a dream,” she says – but now she says she would like to “give something back”.

She recently designed interiors for a psychiatric hospital in a partnership with charity The Nightingale Project and hopes to continue creating designs that are “sensitive to people’s needs” and can “improve the lives of everyday people.”

“I’ve proved what I needed to prove to myself  … I’ve got my ego boost … so I think it’s about being a bit more selective now. I want to do things with communities and use my skills to bring colours and patterns into people’s lives.”

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