Writing the post on my father made me realise that while graphic design can be explained to most people, art direction is even harder to understand. Funnily enough, I couldn’t find a consistent definition on the interweb as it does mean slightly different things in different industries.

But this is pretty good:
Art direction: the management of the artistic and design elements of a project, esp. in film, television, advertising, or publishing

What it should also include is the concept – very often the original concept is the art director’s own idea and photographers/directors/stylists/etc are then hired to add their talents and shape the project further creatively. Ideas are not the sole domain of copywriters – art directors also have brains which can be used to conceptualise; we don’t just find pretty pictures and arrange things nicely.

Anyway, my art direction is predominantly within the fashion and beauty arenas and I thought I would take you through one of my projects for John Lewis (producing in-store imagery for their fashion brands). I don’t always work this way – it depends on the brief and the product offering. If the product has a strong claim or theme (fashion collections are usually designed around various inspirations like “French Riviera” or “Summer Flowers”) then a story can easily be built around this.

For the first season of JL, there wasn’t a definite theme for their younger womens and menswear – just well-made modern designs. The photography needed to reflect this but pretty much I had an open brief. You would think that this is a creative’s dream but actually sometimes when you can start anywhere, you can find yourself getting nowhere fast. I was a bit stuck until I remembered this book I had seen a few years before on a random inspiration trip to a bookstore. It has beautiful black-and-white photographs of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum extension to the Berlin Museum.

I hadn’t bought it at the time as I “didn’t need it”. I, of course, should have – you never know when you will need some inspiration. Fortunately I remembered that it was an architecture book and had ‘light’ somewhere in the name. Due to the advanced search facilities of Amazon (and their quick delivery service) I was able to find it and order it quickly. Which was just as well because I only had 2 weeks to arrange the shoot.

Once the book arrived, I then started to make moodboards (below). Moodboards use found imagery in the style you would like to achieve, and give the client a good idea of what the final imagery can look like in terms of lighting, mood and composition. My idea was to fuse art, architecture and fashion. Just like the building in the book, I wanted to use slits of light to highlight the clothes, but the set also had to be simple (we wouldn’t have a lot of time to move things around on the day as we had a lot of outfits to shoot) and cost-effective. Once the moodboards were done, it was time to present to the client – fortunately they loved everything (otherwise it would have been back to the drawing board) and I had sign-off to proceed to the next stage.

The next step was to design the sets – one for womens, one for mens. They were simple dark-grey backdrops into which two shapes slotted in and out – round and organic for the womens / more angular for the mens. They were to be mounted about 3 inches away from the backboard with a hole behind to backlight through.

These were also designed with the help of the photographer, Robert Allen – he could advise as to how big the hole needed to be to get enough light through for it to be effective around the shape. A great set-building company, Creea, was commissioned to produce them for me and we were on our way.

I then had to arrange all the model castings, hire suitable hair and makeup artists and book the studio. These elements are normally handled by a production company but art directors can also do this. Once the shoot is done, it is also the art director’s responsiblity to choose the final images with the photographer, present to client, oversee retouching and then deliver to client in whatever format they need it.

These are the final results. You can see more from that project on our website.