Up Close and Personal with Turkish Art Director & Graphic Designer Aksel Ceylan
For ages, those with an affinity for art, design and creativity have tirelessly pursued careers in the creative world of as aspiring art directors and designers. And while this continues to remain a popular career endeavor, only few ever prevail to success. Though for Turkish art director & graphic designer Aksel Ceylan, his path to becoming globally recognized for his work wasn’t exactly something he chose. Instead, at a young age, the artist felt that creativity is a passion that somehow manifested within him, causing him to find his way and turn into his career.
Since then, Aksel has been recognized numerous times with awards domestically and globally, including his collaborations with Coca-Cola, Vodafone, Axe, and his work on an award-winning album cover designs in Turkey, and recently, for his work in Miami on The Raleigh Gardens branding design. Even though he’s only lived in the United States for a few years, Aksel has already been met with great opportunities to expand his portfolio. And though he’s yet to fulfill his childhood dream of illustrating a cover for The New Yorker, his future is looking bright —so much so that a dream like this just might one day become a reality for him.
We recently sat down with Aksel to discuss his career as a growing art director and graphic designer, what keeps him inspired and what he’s looking forward to doing next.
What do you find inspires you? Can you describe the narrative of your design style?
Life itself. Cities I live in, decisions I make, patterns I follow, murals I see, typographies I admire and so on. Almost everything I observe, goes into one shelf within my mind. I think I’m a good collector. I collect all things I experience, process them somehow, then use them whenever/however needed. I believe that designers are some sort of tools. They basically connect one thing to another.
When and how did you begin your journey as a designer? What inspired you to pursue a career in graphic design and art?
When I was a little child, drawing was my escape from reality when I found life hard to cope with. I was an introverted kid, so drawing was a solution for almost every problem I had, which I guess led to expanding my imagination accordingly. But honestly, I never thought that drawing something and communicating with visual ideas would be a profession to earn a living until late high school as I didn’t have any relatives who studied graphic design –or even fine arts at all. So I started to study to get into a college for psychology, but I couldn’t help but draw every time I had spare time, instead of studying or being able to do anything else. Somehow, I always think I wasn’t the one who picked this profession, I was almost directed by a part of my inner self. So, I ended up getting accepted to a university in Florence, Italy first, then by one of the best graphic design universities in Turkey where I had my bachelor’s degree.
What was it like to work on The Raleigh Gardens branding?
It was a project that I’ve been waiting to get since I came to the U.S. one year ago. Actually, I didn’t think I could be the one to get the chance to design the branding as there were great creative studios involved in the pitch, besides the fact that I was alone, –acting like a creative team. But I guess my presentation stood up among others then an exciting process started.
What was most rewarding and most challenging about The Raleigh Gardens project?
The most challenging things were; all materials were expected to be delivered in a very short time, all the art pieces were being delivered from different locations of the world, so I didn’t have any solid assets to create the branding. In addition, The Raleigh Hotel didn’t have any existing branding and there wasn’t a creative and assisting team to help me throughout the process. I was alone handling everything, also as the opening was at the same time with Art Basel Miami so there had to be some kind of differentiating aspect to it. First, I created the Raleigh Hotel logo inspired by the old Raleigh neon sign, from there I decided to draw every single piece of sculpture and turn them into the main characters of the exhibition and used the main content of the exhibition as the main communication asset. Using these drawings of the animals (sculptures) we covered the whole Miami Beachwalk with banners and flags during the time of Art Basel. And the most rewarding thing was to see everyone satisfied with the result -including the art authorities that visited the exhibition, who might be very difficult to please and expect to see high quality work.
Which project or work over the course of your career has been most meaningful to you?
Back in my days in Turkey, I used to work for the top creative agencies within very talented teams which I always feel lucky for. I had the privilege of getting involved in great productions and creating works for global companies such as Axe, Coca Cola Company and Vodafone but one volunteer job stood up among all others. One day my copywriter brought in freelance work –a branding design with a campaign for a movie festival called “Palto”. Me, my copywriter Taylan Özgür Akçam and my art director friend Efe Kaptanoğlu put together a campaign named as “Person who just came out of a cinema”<https://akselceylan.com/11-palto-film-gunleri-11th-palto-film-days> based on a well-known Turkish novel. It was a totally voluntary work, but we managed to persuade a lot of Turkish celebrities related to Turkish cinema to be a part of the campaign. We were also able to produce a TVC with zero budget. All were made possible by the people who believed us and our idea. Even though it was an independent agency-free project, it received many awards including “Best Cultural Entertainment Campaign of 2018” and “Best Integrated Campaign – Jury Special Award”. That was and still is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done. I still keep those awards on my desk at home.
Can you take us through your creative process? What does that look like?
Actually, it’s almost like an AI, imitating the human mind. I don’t believe in muses I guess, it’s more like an equation needs to be solved. I’m pretty much a solution-based designer so I always start with the problems and try to dig out a creative way to solve them using my toolbox. It’s sometimes just illustration, sometimes just typography, sometimes a TVC, sometimes a campaign idea or sometimes all of them but it is all a part of a problem-solving process. So, it might look like an equation.
What has your experience been like taking your career from Turkey to the United States?
In my career in Turkey, I was happy with the creative people I worked with and the big agencies I took part in. I received many awards and got recognition domestically but my ambition to be a part of bigger projects and my curiosity to see my potential working abroad, I really wondered how it would be, so I had to try and experience it once I got the chance. I don’t like comfort zones however it turned out to be more challenging than I thought to almost start over again, but life is these challenges. I think there is still a lot to do and create, so I’m looking forward to it.
Could you share one or some of your goals that you have as a designer / artist? What do you aspire to in the coming years? What do you want to achieve?
My main goal is to achieve much more than I achieved in Turkey and get global recognition. I also would like to be in environments as creative as possible, to be a part of the world’s most talented teams, to create memorable campaigns, to design timeless brandings and so on. Besides all these, I had a dream when I was in high school. I used to dream of drawing the cover of New Yorker Magazine someday. It was almost an unrealistic dream back then, and felt like a wish that was impossible to achieve yet. But now I live in New York City for the last couple of years, becoming a New Yorker and being recognized by press with my work, giving interviews to the publications based here in the US –like yours. So even though my main profession is graphic design and art direction, I still think I might be getting closer to that dream somehow, who knows.
Presented by: T1