Work inspiration with Rilla Alexander

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Rilla Alexander

Designer, illustrator and maker of books
@byrillaBy Rilla

My name is Rilla and I am a designer, illustrator and maker of books.

How did you get started in graphic design and illustration? What is your background?

Ever since I was very little I have loved to write stories and make books and toys. I ultimately decided what I wanted to “be” at the age of eight when my Dad’s friend made me a gigantic Get Well card that he drew at work.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path for beginners?

I studied Graphic Design in Australia. I worked for firms specialising in Corporate Identity Design for five years before moving to London during the dot com boom where my husband and I designed the first Wallpaper* website. On our return to Australia we formed a design and illustration collective called Rinzen and worked on exhibitions all over the world as well as projects for clients like Puma, Nike and MTV and magazines, museums and artists. We continued to collaborate from different cities and my husband and I lived in Berlin for nearly ten years. Now we live in Portland, Oregon where I am desperately trying to find the time to finish my next picture book.

Everybody obviously has a very different path, but I think it’s essential to regularly look back on the decisions you’ve made and where you are heading and ask if you are staying true to yourself. I am happy that eight year old me would be very happy with what I am doing now.

What is a turning point in your professional career?

Choosing to place a priority on personal projects has been very important throughout my career. I think it is essential to be able to look back on each year and say that was the year of “finishing this book” or “doing that exhibition”. Every self-directed project I have done has been significant in dictating my direction, finding collaborators and clients and making new opportunities.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you work in your studio all day long or mix a few activities?

I think it’s good to work in all different kind of situations over time to work out what works best for you. I have worked in studios of different sizes, with a hand full of other people and with hundreds.

At the moment I am loving my home studio because I have a lot of space to spread out and I like being in complete control of my days.

When I am in the “production” phase of a project I usually work all day long and listen to podcasts constantly with my dog sitting on my lap. Together they keep my focussed and make me want to work for hours and hours at a time. When I am thinking and writing, though, I need to take more regular breaks and wander around, have a read, take a nap or go for a run.

Where are your favorite places in Portland or outside?

I have only been in Portland for just over a year now and I haven’t explored enough to have a true favourite place yet.

In Berlin it was a fairytale park (Märchenbrunnen) filled with statues of Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty and water spouting frogs and turtles. Also, I loved Modulor the best store for design materials and tools ever.

Who are the designers and illustrators, colleagues you admire most?

This is my twentieth year as a designer and illustrator, and as such I have been thinking a lot about people with incredibly long and inspiring careers like Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser and Ed Emberley. I really hope I am lucky enough to be able to keep making things for a long, long time yet.