Around nine years ago Ohio-born creative Rachel Hess was studying fine arts at the University of Cincinnati. While she enjoyed playing with mixed media and creating things from scratch, she soon became interested in learning more about typography and working within the digital space. “So I shifted into graphic communication design the following year, taking drawing, screenprinting, ceramics and painting alongside my design courses throughout,” explains Hess.
By alternating her studies with internships it led to a long and fruitful period of creative exploration. “I had the space to figure out what I liked and didn’t,” she says. “It wasn’t until after I graduated and was offered a part-illustration and part-design gig that I saw being both an illustrator and designer as a viable option.”
Now based in Brooklyn, New York, Hess is working at an ad agency, art directing and illustrating primarily for online food services Seamless and Grubhub, though she still makes time to work on personal projects as well.
“When it’s for a client, I try to keep personal style separate from the work and allow the product or service to directly inform the visuals,” explains Hess. “When illustrating and designing for my personal work, it’s more intuitive and dependent on experimentation. I typically pull subject matter from friends and family or recent experiences.”
Hess has a range of creatives she is consistently inspired by for their perseverance to push their work into new territories, such as Bill Rebholz, Julien Gobled, Thomas Hedger, María Medem and many, many others. From these references, it’s clear Hess favours clean, sharp lines with pops of colour, but what’s great looking through her portfolio is there’s still this sense of experimentation.
Whether it’s a change in colour palette, the level of detail or perspective, it seems Hess is still keen to fuse together elements of both graphic design and illustration in her work. “Combining design with illustration can be a tricky push/pull situation,” she notes. “They have to consider one another in order to work well together, and I really enjoy the challenge of finding that balance.”
When working on a client project, Hess’s typical process starts with trying to absorb and learn everything about them before creating anything, but with her own projects it’s a lot looser.
“With personal work it’s sketching, sketching, sketching and leaning into whatever that inspires.” Again this fits into Hess’s experimental approach and she flits between digital and analogue techniques and different mediums, to the achieve a balance between “high concept and high energy”.