Colene Blanchet is an Art Director for Victoria’s Secret Beauty who has more than 10 years of experience crossing the creative borders between illustration, packaging design, graphic design and product design. She teaches a Typography class at Queens College (CUNY) and takes on freelance projects during her free time. She is also happy to carve out time in her busy schedule to answer questions about her varied and exciting career.
When did you know that crafted/mod inspired design was part of your DNA?
The craft part came early. I spent a lot of time making things when I was younger. My parents were ridiculously patient and taught me a lot about woodworking, sewing and details to consider when crafting something. Later, as I began becoming aware of art history and tradition, I started gravitating towards the work of people like Frank Stella, Paul Rand and Saul Bass. The hand quality in their work was so exciting to me and inspired me in a way that was different than other artists/designers.
What have you done to distinguish yourself professionally from other designers?
I think I put myself out there more than a lot of folks. My work is posted on a couple portfolio sites as well as my personal domain (colene.info). I also keep a process blog for sketches and outtakes as well as another blog I use for random drawings and my craftier projects. It's a lot to keep up with, but I think it helps people get a better feel for my thought process and the way I work.
Tell me about what you were doing when Victoria's Secret "picked you up." Had you done anything different to your portfolio?
Around the time VSB approached me, I had recently completed an overhaul of my online portfolio. I realized at some point that it made more sense to show the work I enjoyed creating and was proud of, rather than the work I thought others would want to see. This led to a number of interviews and eventually the position at Victoria's Secret.
What drew you to teaching and do you have any tips for designers that want to teach?
Teaching has always appealed to me. It’s exciting to see a student putting the pieces together, overcome creative struggles, or sharing a project they worked insanely hard on. There is an energy there that often gets lost in the day to day of working life. That being said, teaching is TOUGH! There is so much time that goes into prepping for classes and not every student appreciates or understands that you are there to help them succeed. I've also noticed that the teacher/student relationship has evolved from my college years. With how accessible we've all become (internet!), my students contact me all throughout the week. It makes me happy to know that they are interested in the course enough to seek additional guidance, but it is challenging to keep up with so many other things going on. I would recommend strict office hours and a separate email address for course-related correspondence. That's not something I've actually done, but most likely will implement in the future.
Do you have a process for switching mind sets between vastly different projects or is it just a switch you flip?
I'm usually pretty good at jumping right in, but some days it's a little tougher than others to align myself and really focus. If I can't seem to get moving, I'll pop my headphones on and listen to music that puts me in the right headspace. A couple years back, I had a freelance project where I was working on type treatments for an Elton John candle. I must have listened to Benny and the Jets a thousand times that weekend. It was a lot of fun, but I may have reached my max on his hoppy piano jams.
What does your average day/week look like?
My days really vary week to week / month to month. The constants are that Monday through Friday I'm at VSB full time. I teach on Sundays this semester - which means I need to set aside time on Saturdays to prep. A couple nights a week I work on freelance and design-related extracurriculars. Within all this, my husband and I try to set aside time to make dinner together a couple nights a week. We also try make time for friends and maybe sneak in a yoga class or two during the week. It's been pretty manic for the last year or so, but honestly I work better when there's a lot going on.
Do you have any routines or techniques for keeping yourself energized and creatively productive?
Hanging out with friends, and going to their shows or events is the most inspiring thing to me. Music, art, lectures; whatever. I am lucky to have met a lot of talented people over the years and seeing what they are up to constantly inspires me.
Is there a particular part of your day/week that is most satisfying to you?
Saturday mornings! It's my time to relax and recharge. If the weather's nice we grab a cup of coffee, a snack at the farmers market and sit in the park to watch the dogs run around.
Which project/design of yours do you consider the most successful? Is there more than one that stands out?
I worked on a set of soaps with West Elm that really took off. They sold well in the stores and also got a lot of blog attention. It led to a number of interviews and freelance work.
By contrast, which project or projects are most meaningful and personally successful to you?
Hmm, that's a toughie. I feel like I get something personal out of almost every project. The things I've been working on lately at VSB have been pretty exciting though. I've had a chance to add my hand to some recent projects. I really have no idea if they will make it to stores, but there's something really lovely about seeing things comped up with your personal mark.
If graphic and industrial design didn't exist, what would you be doing for a living?
I'd be an illustrator - is that cheating?
If you could go back ten years, what (if any) advice would you give yourself?