Creative Lives — Kitsch, colour and humour: Inside Charlotte Audrey’s whimsical creative direction
From creating the visuals for Ed Sheeran’s lyric videos to art directing One Direction’s album campaigns, Charlotte Audrey’s playful imagery has attracted massive audiences. Although graduating from a fine art degree may not seem like the obvious path to visual communication, for Charlotte, a multidisciplinary approach has helped immensely in her role as a creative director. Here, she speaks about her ability to visually shape popular culture, how teenage girls shouldn’t be underestimated and the importance of being yourself.
Freelance Creative Director for videos and stills (2012–present)
Sony Music, Universal Music, Warner Music, Virgin Atlantic, BBDO, Wieden & Kennedy, Twitter, Conde Nast, Red Bull, MTV, Coca Cola
BA Fine Art, Birmingham City University (2009–2011)
Artistic Curator and Director, Not My Type (2010)
Freelance Graphic Designer, Fluid Design (2010–2013)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a creative director who works across motion and stills for music, fashion, advertising and other entertainment-based companies. I touch on most visual disciplines in my day-to-day practice, ranging from illustration to graphic design, still life photography and motion projects.
It’s great to have variation in your work. I might be working on a live action music video, but also working on an editorial still life project at the same time. The underlying themes to my work would be anything that ticks the kitsch, colour, humour and anything slightly over the top boxes.
“It’s really important for everyone working on [a project] to feel as though they can have a creative voice.”
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I tend to work from around 8am until 11pm. This allows a lot of time for things like content creation and personal work, but when working with a lot of clients who are in the US and also Europe, you have to be available at different hours to take calls. The more you work, the more you learn how to intuitively structure your day – I tend to look at more creative tasks in the morning and execution-based things later on in the day.
How collaborative is your role?
In terms of motion, it’s completely collaborative. It’s virtually impossible to make a video without the input of multiple people. I like to seek out people who share a vision for where a project is going, rather than those who are the most established in a certain field. I think it’s really important for everyone working on it to feel as though they can have a creative voice. That’s why it’s great to work with people from different backgrounds to get an array of views and life experiences into the fibre of the work itself.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love the feeling of creating visuals that weave themselves into the narrative of popular culture, and that could potentially inspire the next generation of creative talent. This was most prevalent when working on the art direction for all of the One Direction album campaigns. It was a chance to make work that didn’t fall into the standard visual tropes that bands aimed at a mass market audience sometimes do. There’s sometimes snobbery in the creative industries around projects that lean towards pop culture, but it’s the best opportunity to make work for such a huge audience.
The least enjoyable would definitely be the way in which women and non-binary individuals within the creative industries are still treated. An incredibly small percentage are creative directors, and it results in some patronising treatment from men within the industry: assumptions being made about your job role, your ideas being dismissed, or being underestimated, which can be really demoralising. This is why I enjoy what I do; the idea of making work for teenage girls who are watching the music videos I’ve worked on, and being inspired to do something like that themselves. As Harry Styles himself said: Teenage girls are the future.
“Know that at some point, no matter how many awards someone has won, they’ve definitely cried into a keyboard at 2am.”
Would you say it allows for a good life-work balance?
Caring so much about what you do has the occasional downside of feeling as though the world might end if it doesn’t transpire exactly the way you imagined it. Sometimes sacrificing balance is key to achieving what you want. I also have a lot of interests, like film photography, which I’m probably exceptionally bad at, that feed into what I do commercially. It’s really important to have visual interests that you might never even commercialise, to really keep the passion going for what you do.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
From working on videos for Foals to the new Ed Sheeran project, it’s difficult to choose! But since it’s definitely the track of the summer (and was just featured on an episode of Love Island), I’d have to say the video I directed for CLiQ’s new song with Caitlyn Scarlett, Double S and Kida Kudz. This was an incredibly fun, ‘Keith Haring meets green screen technical challenge’ sort of a video to make, resulting in quite a unique visual to sit with the track.
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
Curiosity – the ability to think in both a lateral way to generate ideas, and then a logical way in order to follow through on those ideas. Having good taste and curating your own ideas is key. It’s important to be as competent as you can in the technical aspects of work, but I remember Paula Scher saying that it’s most important to have ideas, as pieces of software fall out of favour.
What do you like about working in the area of the UK you’re based in?
Birmingham is totally underrated, it’s produced a surprising amount of creative talent across the board. You can also be quite isolated and just concentrate solely on work if you want to, but it also has enough going on in the way of creative events. It’s quite inexpensive to hire spaces to create work in, or to film, and unlike being in London where commerciality has to be the prime focus with everything, it does allow a little more freedom for experimentation.
“The latest Ed Sheeran album cover was born out of an accident involving my printer and low ink levels.”
What tools do you use most for your work?
One day I could be working on stop-motion projects for Virgin Atlantic that use cut-out paper. Another day I could be photographing a still life set for an editorial piece, or editing footage, or brush painting a load of type for an album cover.
Most things start in some sort of physical media, then translated into digital, but then I have worked on 3D animated videos where everything is done entirely digitally. I am leaning more into using tablets, but sometimes there’s just no substitute for real materials, especially with things like hand-drawn type. The latest Ed Sheeran album cover texture was actually born out of an accident involving my printer and low ink levels, so it goes to show that the unpredictability of using physical materials can be really interesting.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A musician! I was in a few bands, but was always more interested with how photoshoots in the NME looked, and had a borderline obsession with MTV’s Making The Video. I was always completely fascinated by any kind of film, advert, music video, so I’m probably getting somewhere near to where the younger me wanted to be.
How useful have your studies been in your career?
Fine art encourages a completely multidisciplinary approach to visual communication. Having knowledge of wider visual culture and strange parts of art history is definitely useful. Whilst at university, I was involved in making a lot of flyers for club nights and small bands, and then larger commercial jobs off the back of that, like working with the phone network Orange, or Lonely Planet, which is where I learnt the technical skills needed to start working after university.
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
Firstly, working on a series of ‘best of’ compilation CDs for an arm of Sony. It was something that seemingly wouldn’t lead to anywhere more exciting, but eventually it led to the art direction for One Direction. Seeing global billboards with type I’d painted in a small studio in Birmingham was surreal.
The second seismic shift was directing and illustrating the Ed Sheeran lyric video for Shape of You. Saying yes to that was probably one of the steepest and most intensely pressured learning curves of my career (for two weeks over one quite stressful Christmas). But then a year after that, I was working on official videos and starting to direct live action. It’s a great example of saying yes to anything that seems good, but also stepping up to the plate when you do.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Be yourself, especially if you’re coming from a background different to the typical idea of what a ‘creative’ is. This is much better than being just another face. Don’t be afraid to create work that isn’t traditionally within a certain discipline – this is where the magic happens. Know that at some point, no matter how much amazing work someone has produced and how many awards they’ve won, they’ve definitely cried into a keyboard at 2am!