Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali

Graphic designer Jay Vaz on designing for music and visualising the sounds he loves

Graphic designer and visual artist Jay Vaz’s passion is rooted in music. Drawing inspiration from old record sleeves, people, and his heritage amongst other things, Jay co-runs creative studio, The Mannequin Collective – a six-person collective he started whilst studying at Leeds Arts University. After his first opportunity came from none other than Bradley Zero, founder of record label, Rhythm Section, Jay has been commissioned to create visuals for some of the biggest names in British music right now – including Jorja Smith and Celeste. Here, we speak to Jay about the world of music, recent projects, and the trap of comparing yourself to others.

Jay Vaz

Jay Vaz


Job Title

Graphic Designer and Visual Artist

Based

Leeds

Selected Clients

Alicia Keys, Blue Note, George Riley, Rhythm Section

Education

BA Graphic Design, Leeds Arts University (2016–2019)

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance graphic designer and visual artist, predominantly working in the music industry. I co-run The Mannequin Collective, which is a design and motion graphics studio; we have also recently launched a discovery platform called Dreaming Vinyl.

Can you tell us a little more about Dreaming Vinyl and how it came about?
Dreaming Vinyl is an arts and music discovery platform that celebrates musicians, record labels, and designers. It originally started as a passion project to visualise sounds we love, through animated vinyl stickers. We now premiere exclusive music on the channel and have also been commissioned to create visuals for artists such as Jorja Smith, Celeste, Jordan Rakei, Nicola Cruz, Anz and more.

We aim to create a community of music and art lovers that can utilise this platform to promote creatives’ work. We hope the audio-visual experience engages our audience within the first few seconds and they support the musicians by purchasing their music.

Jay Vaz graphicdesigner Creative Lives 06

Blue Note Reimagined

Jay Vaz graphicdesigner Creative Lives 05

Blue Note Reimagined

Jay Vaz graphicdesigner Creative Lives 04

Blue Note Reimagined

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Old record sleeves, people I meet, paintings, films, poems, my heritage. I’m usually inspired by subjects that make me pause and think for some time. I find that brief feeling of escapism refreshing, especially when everything seems to be so fast-paced.

One of my biggest influences is graphic designer Reid Miles, particularly his work for the jazz label, Blue Note. I love how every sleeve design visually narrates each record perfectly, and as a series, the covers effortlessly harmonise into something special.

If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
(Below) A lot of my best ideas come late at night, which can be problematic...

Chosen meme

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
Directing my first music video for London-based artist, George Riley. The music discusses important topics that are translated visually within the music video.

We created the music video over lockdown, filming everything with a laptop webcam. 3D designers Ollie Inglis and Harvey Wise then transformed our ideas into a 3D sculpted universe. Everyone involved in the music video is a close friend of mine, which was enjoyable as we just had a lot of fun with the process. This allowed me to experiment with ideas that I wouldn’t necessarily have the chance to do within a commercial project.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you graduated?
In my first year of university I started a creative team of six under the name, The Mannequin Collective. Working in a team encouraged us to learn technical skills from each other and have the confidence to approach bigger brands and projects as a group.

Having some commercial and industry experience during those three years took the pressure off when diving into full-time freelance work after graduating. I’m fortunate that I co-run the studio now with Lawrie Miller, where we help each other out.

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Cooking – I went through some wild meals during my time at uni; grapes and baked beans is one of my creations. However recently, I found taking the time to cook a healthy meal really beneficial. It forces me to take a few hours away from technology, and a useful way to switch off from work when I’m home. Recently, my mum and I had a two-hour phone call where she taught me how to make one of her special Goan recipes. I find these moments therapeutic, and also inspire my work subconsciously.

“[Cooking] forces me to take a few hours away from technology... [it’s] a useful way to switch off from work when I’m home.”

Apple Notes app – I use the Notes app for everything; scheduling my whole week, ideas that come to me, a quote from someone within the day, memories, and records I want to buy. Everything is colour-coordinated, so it looks a bit hectic, but it all makes sense and works for me. It helps me stay on top of all my projects and organise my ideas.

Flock Together – I’ve been super inspired by Flock Together, which is a POC bird-watching collective that is combating the underrepresentation of POC in nature. Co-founder, Ollie Olanipekun has been a general influence in everything I'm doing, from starting one of my favourite creative studios to making a positive change within the industry by facilitating important conversations.

Personal work
Nubya Garcia single cover
Marcos Resende and Index album cover
Catching Flies artwork

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
The first couple of months of freelancing full-time, straight after uni. Financially it was a big step; I had to take on triple the amount of work for the start-up costs of purchasing new work equipment and moving into a studio space. However, it was definitely worth it, as I love the excitement each day freelancing brings.

How did you go about landing your first clients or commissions?
I designed a selection of reimagined artworks of my favourite records and posted these weekly on Instagram; these pieces began to gain attention and press from magazines such as Its Nice That. The founder of Rhythm Section, Bradley Zero, saw my reimagined cover for his label (below) on social media and got in contact. This led to Bradley commissioning my first artwork, which also happened to be for one of my favourite bands 30/70.

At the time I had considered dropping out of uni due to a lack of confidence in my practice, however, this was the assurance I needed and it all snowballed from that moment. I’m forever grateful to Bradley for crediting and supporting me on his platforms, as it was the catalyst to push everything I was working on.

“At the time I had considered dropping out of uni due to a lack of confidence in my practice.”

Bradley Zero tour poster

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice youve ever received?
“Don’t compare your work to others”. It’s so obvious, but it has been essential for me. Social media has caused a lot of self-doubt for creatives, especially when it acts like a showreel of highlights. Focusing only on my work allows me not to overthink too much, and helps me to produce work that I want to make. Creative projects are a lot more fun when you’re in your own world and not having to feel like your work needs to look like something else.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
Experimenting has been vital for me to develop creatively – whether through working for friends or personal projects. In hindsight, personal projects were so important for me; all the mistakes I made within those projects prevented me from repeating them later on for commissioned projects.

Networking is key. A lot of my work has come from word of mouth and starting conversations with creatives I’m inspired by. Never feel like you're annoying someone by asking for help or advice.

Finally, individuality and having integrity. I think it’s important to never feel that you have to change yourself as a person to fit a certain role, as there will most likely be an opportunity around the corner you could be the perfect fit for. This also goes for creative output. I find it’s more interesting to create work that is personal and relevant to yourself as an individual; it feels more genuine and unique, and an exciting talking point when presenting your work to new people.

Work for Crack Magazine

Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali