The Creative Women series interviews some very talented women to discover what is at the root of creativity and, given that creative thinking is fundamental for growth, how we can all cultivate it for a successful and fulfilling life.
Rachel Delap is a design and art Director based next to the sea in Wicklow.
What about your craft inspires you and what would you say is your forte?
I care deeply about feelings, and how the things that we see can affect the way that we feel – both about what we’re looking at, and about ourselves. I work mostly in graphic design, but I think fundamentally the work I do comes from a place of wanting to put a shape on thoughts and feelings in a way that affects the senses.
I think my forte lies in my ability to pay attention, to try as much as I can to be in a state of noticing. Sometimes that looks like seeing the interplay of colours as they naturally occur in the world, or the way that the space between objects affects how I feel about them. Sometimes it’s noticing the way someone speaks about themselves and the little thing that made them light up.
So whether I’m in conversation with a client about where the idea they have is coming from, or seeing the way the light coming through a tree is making colours skew neon, I think that helps me to hopefully design in a way that evokes a real emotional response.
What have you found most rewarding and challenging in your profession?
I think my answer to both would probably be the struggle to feel like I’m actually doing the thing I want to be doing – to work from a place that feels good, real, worthwhile – that I’m helping my clients to be seen in a way that feels right to them. It’s a good struggle to engage with.
Being self taught has been a tricky thing for me too, never really feeling like a real designer (whatever that is), imposter syndrome is a real thing. One of the most rewarding experiences for me with that in mind, was having my project with Tetyana Maryshko selected for the 100 Archive this year. I’ve been looking at that archive for the last ten years feeling so far away from it, to have my work in there alongside some of my design heroes was really a huge moment for me.
With regards to creativity and design, does your national identity influence you in any way?
National identity doesn’t feel like a fixed or set idea for me – I was born in Northern Ireland to Irish parents who then moved us to Australia, back to Ireland and ultimately to England where we settled. I always felt more at home in Ireland and moved here as a 22 year old. So, I guess I feel Irish, I feel like this is where I am home – but I sound English and that’s what I am deemed to be by others. I probably don’t fully belong at either of those tables, but I’ve learnt to try to see that in an expansive rather than exclusive way.
I’ve never really thought about how that would influence my creativity and design, but if it does, I hope it allows me to view ideas and their representation as fluid and layered. It’s possible for lots of things, even contradictory ones to be true at once – contrast and a small level of ‘discomfort’ is something that I really love to design with.
You have said that you start a creative project by really listening, and ‘I think stories are really important. The things we say about ourselves, the way we think about our lives, the stories that we tell shape the way we live.’
Could you elaborate on this and how do you expand on that first spark of an idea? And if you are having difficulty getting that spark, do you have ‘tools’ you return to?
This goes back to the idea of being in a state of noticing – listening to what someone is really trying to say in their work, or how they want people to feel, looking for what they didn’t say as much as what they did. I’ve found that at its best, putting a visual shape on someone’s dreams can be really transformative – when we see it and can tell ourselves a story about ourselves and believe it, there’s a real alchemy there. Suddenly it’s true.
In terms of tools, I think mostly I’m trying to ask good, warm questions – David Whyte talks about asking beautiful questions, and how asking them will elicit answers in their likeness – I love that idea.
The spark of an idea is a very visual thing for me – I start each process with a client with a brand imagined meeting – a long session with a lot of those questions. I always leave those meetings with a clear picture in my mind of where we’re headed, I can see shapes, colours, typography and the weave of them all – it’s my favourite part of my work.
That’s not to say it’s without difficulty – getting that from my brain to paper is not always easy, and there are briefs that are a huge challenge to translate, especially when the difference between it working and not working can be such a small space to navigate. Those jobs demand a lot of showing up and failing, and waiting until I recognise that the idea has arrived.
Does social and/or regular media stimulate or stifle your creative voice?
Whilst I’m positive that I’m on my phone more than I would like to be, I think that I have a pretty healthy relationship with social media. I get a lot of inspiration from instagram; I love to see how people pull together colour, light and shape whether that’s a personal holiday shot or a highly produced photoshoot.
I don’t feel any personal pressure to present myself in a certain way, or to post regularly, so I think I manage to escape some of the worries that can come with social media.
I keep a folder of Joy Notes going, just images or words that make me feel a thing or have a gut reaction. I think even if I don’t ‘use’ them in any way going forwards, just that act of curation is a stimulator of creativity.
What do you do when a design idea fails or when you receive negative feedback?
Honest answer? I usually need to take a minute to release that this isn’t a tragedy and that they haven’t told me that I’m a totally useless human being. Once I take a minute, I’m a good rally-er and often the best things come from a bit of contention.
Motherhood can make creativity a challenge. What differences did you notice before and after, if any? Did it impact your creativity in a way that you didn’t expect i.e. did you change direction, lose or gain anything, etc.?
I was only working freelance in design for a short time before my eldest daughter was born, so I don’t have a huge amount of experience in my work that doesn’t involve the tension of working around motherhood. Like many parents talk about, I think you gain a wild ability to do a huge amount in a short amount of time – but sometimes it can be a struggle to shift my brain from one mode into the other.
I do really like the large amounts of space it gives me to hold my clients/work in my mind as we go about the day – I don’t have a lot of desk time, but I think it’s actually a better way for me to work to day-dream the work into reality rather than sit staring at my screen. A lot of logo design happens while I’m doing the school run.
I will say though, it’s incredibly hard, verging on impossible to get the tension to a place that feels good to everyone.
What is some good advice you return to?
A few years ago I was struggling with feeling depressed, a friend told me to just stop working and to take a break without trying to achieve anything. That was some really good advice.
And finally, what is the one thing you do every morning to set up your day?
Coffee? Honestly the mornings in our house are fairly chaotic, but something that will always set or re-set me slightly later in the day is taking a few minutes to read – poetry mostly – I love Pádraig Ó Tuama, both for his own poems and his beautiful introduction to other writers too.