04.12.18 / Designer Profile / Jenny Grigg

Jenny Grigg 976 607

Jenny Grigg/RMIT

“I drew on everything as a child,” begins Jenny Grigg — artist, illustrator, designer, creative director, academic, lecturer, and soon-to-be-conferred Dr Jenny Grigg [congratulations! — ed].

“I scribbled all through my mother's recipe books and eventually scribbled secretly on the underside of the kitchen bench top where I could get away with it.”

From a young age, as is the case with most of you wonderful creatives, Jenny seemed to have an almost uncontrollable urge to communicate to the world the feelings and ideas bubbling up from her unconscious. Jenny did this by drawing on whatever was in front of her and by creating objects. So, we can now add Product Designer to Jenny’s ever-growing resume.

“I grew up near bushland in Sydney and remember trying to make sandals out of bark and grass thonging,” recalls Jenny. “It was a frustrating exercise because while I managed to tie the sandal to my foot when I tried to walk the bark snapped. I remember this as an early introduction to the challenge of design; getting an idea to function is more difficult than it first seems.”

“We had a large courtyard and spent a lot of time outside making things. We used tools from a shed, my mother had a pottery wheel. We were exposed to many creative experiences: we moulded plaster of Paris, and we made a lute out of a cigar box once. Music was a big part of that [Jenny’s creative outlets] too. I studied classical flute all through school and played in youth sinfonias.” [Add Classical Musician to existing resume.]

However, there came a time when Jenny felt the need to choose one of her passions to focus on. And, lucky for us, Jenny chose design.

Jenny, as we know, was always good at drawing, but not just on tables and walls.

“With hindsight, I can see that the patience and careful observational skills required to render realistic likenesses of things is a useful design skill,” says Jenny. “Successful design takes time.”

Successful design practice also requires a bullish drive for life-long learning and, if you’re lucky and/or persistent, access to a great mentor.

One of Jenny’s most influential mentors was none other than AGDA Hall of Famer and design icon, Harry Williamson. See this link for the beautiful article on Harry by Max Robinson.

“Harry Williamson visited our classes at UTS,” recalls Jenny. “His classes are most memorable to me because Harry shared gems of knowledge quietly but very intently. He once asked me about a project that I was working on: 'Do you need to add something or can you make more from what you already have?' These words still sound in my mind when I design, and now I ask the same question of my students.”

“My PhD draws heavily on Anni Albers' essays and her ideas—as well as the tone of them—remind me of my encounters with Harry.”

[This article from British Vogue is a must-read if you want to know more about Anni Albers’ work.]

“There are many women in academia whom I consider my mentors because they have skilfully navigated fulfilling careers: particularly Professor Harriet Edquist. Like Harry, Harriet's words are few and clear, and I benefitted from listening carefully.”

With such a depth and breadth of personal creative talent, a formidable drive, and access to inspiring mentors, Jenny’s career has been littered with spectacular highlights, and will, no doubt, continue that way.

“I loved working as the Art Director of Rolling Stone magazine [!!!] when I was very young because the company employed active and courageous people and we truly inspired each other,” says Jenny of her time with, arguably, the world’s most famous music publication.

“I learnt a lot about design but also about how to be professional and work within a team. The magazine attracted many freelancers. David Carson visited out of the blue once, he couldn't believe that my car was a VW Beetle with a broken petrol cap: ‘That is the car of the art director of Rolling Stone?’”

“I worked with [cartoonist and illustrator] Adrian Tomine, international photographers and illustrators. Designing covers for the novelist Peter Carey in 2001 is also a highlight because Peter, too, is adventurous and his authority protected these designs from marketing concerns. In fact, Peter once told me to stop fiddling with my designs because he could see that I was over-working them.”

“Non-professionally, designing communications for people I know reminds me of the values that are at the heart of professional design. For example, conceiving a visual interpretation of something we have shared or a characteristic of theirs for them to enjoy is a lot of fun: say, on a birthday card which is not altogether different from creating visual interpretations of novelists’ works on book covers. It is a good feeling when an author reports that a cover design encapsulates the spirit of their writing.”

After working in publication, Jenny’s step toward academia seemed logical. It was, after all, the family business.

“My parents are academics,” says Jenny.

“I decided to undertake a PhD in 2014 because mid-way through my design career I felt a disconnect between the intensity of the act of designing and the degree that I could exercise this in the commercial sphere. It was a good move to take.”

Post-doctoral practice-based design research is Jenny’s direction for the near future. This type of work goes mostly unseen by the greater design community but is absolutely necessary for building a solid base of knowledge from which the practice of design can move forward into the future.

Thanks, (Dr) Jenny,

—QS

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