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by Emerson Welch  |  August 31, 2023

Creativity Without Boundaries: Mathieu Desailly’s Journey as a Veteran Graphic Designer with Cultural Inspiration

Dive into the world of Mathieu Desailly, a veteran graphic designer with almost four decades of experience. His innovative designs, fueled by his passion for music and literature, redefine visual storytelling. From igniting artistic ideas in the heart of Paris to crafting mesmerizing visuals for theaters and festivals, Mathieu’s work is a fusion of culture and creativity, all powered by the dynamic capabilities of QuarkXPress.

In this Q&A, we delve into how Mathieu’s career journey skyrocketed, his anthrological designs which were inspired by culture, and what valuable advice he offers to younger designers and creatives.

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Can you tell us more about your design world and career?

My creative spark ignited during my time at a school in Paris, where I studied architecture and got hands-on with wood and metal work. These days, my focus lies in crafting posters, book covers, brochures, and flyers for theaters and festivals. I also work with page layout, photography, and illustration, often based on my own concepts.

I’m a part of a collective known as “le jardin graphique,” operating across France. As an artist, I’ve spent the past decade cultivating a personal venture called anima(ex)musica, where I work as a visual artist and a graphic designer. This project, to some extent, stems from my graphic design explorations. Collaborating with two other artists, we breathe new life into musical instruments by transforming them into arthropods.

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Why do you choose instruments to create your arthropod insects?

For quite some time, I’ve worked in the music scene for various festivals (like Printemps de Bourges, Pianoscope, Festival de Lanvellec, Festival Bel Air), working with orchestras and live performers. Animals have often been a recurring theme; they serve as a fitting metaphor for humans, sometimes embodying their essence more effectively than the individuals themselves.

I once crafted a logo for Févis (a federation of specialized vocal and instrumental ensembles) that depicted musical instruments as insect-like forms. Arthropods became an obvious source of inspiration for me, with their exoskeletons resembling intricate mechanisms. It was a no-brainer for me!

Arthropods became an obvious source of inspiration for me, with their exoskeletons resembling intricate mechanisms.

What was the inspiration behind the name of the anima(ex)musica project?

The name of the anima(ex)musica project is a nod to the “deus ex machina” technique used in theater to conjure divine appearances from the ceiling mechanically. In our project, our arthropods are articulated and mobile – a mechanical phenomenon.

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Before they became creatures, they were instruments at their core!

When it comes to content design, what is your creative process?

I manipulate graphic elements, photographs, and illustrations – be they figurative or abstract, but above all I want them to “make sense”. I’m the “sender” and I want the “receiver” to understand and translate the message I’m putting across! A graphic document needs to be understood if it is to communicate information or emotion. What am I being told? What are the spaces and directions?

For me, graphic design is like architecture: where’s the entrance, the kitchen, the staircase? How do I get around inside? What emotions do I experience as a function of the spaces I pass through? A brochure or leaflet can be of similar experience.

I’m the “sender” and I want the “receiver” to understand and translate the message I’m putting across!

Why do you choose QuarkXPress over other software?

First and foremost, it’s the software I began with… I’ve built and developed myself over the years with it! I’ve been using it for nearly 35 years. What I love about QuarkXPress is its simplicity. It’s like my workbench, with all my tools in their rightful place! I like the rigor of this software: it allows me to structure my thoughts.

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It’s a bit like a spinal column upon which I can hang photographs, illustrations… I’ve even designed a children’s book. I sketched my illustrations directly in QuarkXPress and later refined them using brushes and India ink to bring them to life in a sensitive way.

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What inspires you in music, theatre or film?

Whether it’s music, theater, live performance, film, or literature, the common base is culture. To work on the form, I need to align with the content! Listening to music, going to see a show or reading a book seems to me to be some of the most enjoyable and necessary human activities. By crafting a graphic universe that’s both accessible and poetic, I invite future spectators and readers to partake in their dissemination. That’s what always drives me!

When it comes to inspiration, the question is difficult to answer because each subject presents itself as a unique visual metaphor. Taking a step aside, poetizing the subject and sometimes a little humor are certainly ingredients that can be found in my creations.

Poetizing the subject and sometimes a little humor, are certainly ingredients that can be found in my creations.

Why did you go from working for others in different companies to working independently?

I started my career in set design for theater, television and film – where you work in companies and productions. When I began my role as a graphic designer, being a freelancer was a natural choice. Freelancing is very widespread in France. It offers flexibility both financially and in terms of working hours, it’s up to each individual to find their own rhythm and way of working.

In my opinion, graphic design is a solitary sport. I gradually left the world of commissioned work to develop my own creations, thus becoming a freelancer. I embraced the role of an artist. I became much freer in my choices and the direction I wanted my work to take.

graphic design

Today, commissioned work nourishes me both literally and figuratively, but I try to be an artist associated as much as possible with the venues for which I work in, to retain as much freedom as possible in my graphic and design choices. Graphic design is an author’s job, not a simple service. When you choose a designer, you’re also choosing a world…

What advice would you give to someone at the very beginning of their career in design and digital publishing?

I’d tell them to nourish themselves with other topics apart from purely graphical ones! I’ve often nourished my graphic creations with subjects other than those associated with graphic design; reading, traveling, meeting people, visiting museums, seeing plays, going to the movies are all possible sources of inspiration! There’s a whole life before the computer, which is useful in the final phase, but before that “real life” is vital. To build your own graphic universe, it takes time to find yourself, and that’s exactly what I did!

Working as part of a team also seems important to me, as it allows for diversity, cross-pollination of ideas, and positive debates. It’s also important to diversify the range of clients you work with, to have flexibility of mind. And each subject covered feeds the next. Finally, graphic design is in a way a political act: choosing who you work for, and for what purpose must be a permanent question, and all the more so today given the international context and the urgency of climate change.

Graphic design is in a way a political act: choosing who you work for, and for what purpose must be a permanent question…

Thanks for reading! You can find and connect with Mathieu on LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from you, so let us know what you liked or what you would like to read more of in this series? And, if you would like to be featured in an upcoming post, get in touch! Contact us at qxpsales@quark.com

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