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A Gentleman and a Scholar

Back in September sometime, I had the honor of being Gentleman Scholar's second ever featured artist. I sat down with Vi Nguyen for a little chit chat.


We're proud of our family of creatives at Gentleman Scholar and we've worked hard to create an environment of risk-taking and growth for our artists. One such scholar is Jordan Lyle, art director and resident ping-pong master. Read on as we talk about everything from Jamaica to his love of typography and the ampersand. 

Where did you grow up and how did that influence you as an artist? 

I grew up in Kingston Jamaica - I'm not really sure how much that influenced me. I was initially on the track of going into medicine or something along those lines, so I was never really "into" art that much. When I went to school in New Mexico, I was studying chemistry and all that and I realized it wasn't for me at all. I had a teacher from South Africa who was an accomplished watercolor artist. He inspired me and I figured, 'Why not see if I can pursue this as a career?' 

Did you always feel that you were an artist? 

Not always. I wouldn't have defined myself as an artist before, but I was always good at drawing, painting, doing creative stuff, making my mom's birthday cards (laughs) - that kind of thing. But I had always thought I was more of an academic than anything else. 

What's your design philosophy?

I think design is the basis of everything in our industry. If you don't start with a plan, your outcome probably isn't going to end up what you want it to be. I can start out with a framework of what I want something to be and from there it can evolve, but I need to have that goal to reach through design. I guess design for me has always been about working smart and not necessarily just hard. Design is intended to have a particular function and form is just the aesthetic. If I could sum it up, design, for me, needs to communicate more than anything else - and then aesthetic comes afterward. You can always embellish afterwards but it detracts if the design isn't communicating anything. 

Has GS helped cultivate your creativity? 

Absolutely. Leaving school, I had a certain mindset of what I thought design was, and what was required of me in terms of my skill set in this industry. I left not knowing as much as I thought I did. Coming here, I was forced to learn on the job - as cliché as that is - by being put into different scenarios. The Wills kind of just put me on everything to allow me to blossom or fail. It's expanded my design sensibility, my awareness, and overall skill set. The culture here definitely fosters that spirit of trying and failing, versus being stuck in a box and doing only what you know how to do. Gentleman Scholar is really good at pushing you to your limit - then moving you past that. 

How about leadership? 

I like to be a voice in many things - whether or not mine is the only one being heard, I like to know that my input is being heard. Here at Gentleman Scholar, I've been allowed to be vocal on projects, which led me to leading projects. The leadership aspect has always been important to me. I was allowed to have a voice, and the Wills were interested in my development as a designer, an artist, and as a director. That was one of my primary objectives - I wanted to move up the ranks and in the design industry. My end goal right now is probably to be a creative director and the Wills were really interested and invested in fostering that path. In doing so, they put me on a lot projects and gave me more freedom and authority, to foster that dream. 

What drew you to GS in first place? 

I came here in 2011 as an intern, but before that, I knew they were an up and coming studio started by SCAD students (where I went to school). The first thing I saw was the Lemon Tree piece, and I was like 'Woah, this is crazy.' 

I was partly in charge of a motion graphics conference, and in the process I was doing some research. I saw that spot and I was like 'Yo, this place... I at least need to get an interview.' I didn't actually get the interview and the only reason I'm here is because I stole somebody's interview spot (laughs). They were like ten minutes late and I was like 'I need to see these guys before I leave.' I showed them my portfolio, ended up going over my time, and now I'm here! After the internship I designed a couple things for them while I was at school, I graduated, and here I am. 

Who or what inspires you? 

Type is a big deal for me, it's not even funny. Typography is my shit (laughs) There're just so many different aspects of typography that just makes it fascinating. The fact that it communicates so much in as little as 26 characters. There's a range of motion you can get across, and that's just with typefaces and fonts. Then you get into hand lettering... That's like music to my ears! 

The mindset of my parents also inspires me. My parents are very driven people. I adapted that mindset very early on. They're calculated risk-takers. It was a risk for me to not be in the academic world and be in the design world instead, because in Jamaica at the time, that meant nothing. They were one hundred percent supportive. When I was planning for school, they were like, 'We really think you're good at this advertising and design thing, and we're going to send you on your way.' That was a risk for them, and for me - and it paid off. 

What's your design style? 

Very adaptive. We get thrown on so many different things here, and you just have to kind of ask yourself, does it need to feel organic, more structured, does it need to be live action or type based? Over the course of my design career, I've learned to just fit into different molds and to communicate what needs to be communicated. The design aesthetic I personally like though, is very organic. 

Most fulfilling project? 

Definitely Motionpoems. It was one of the most creatively satisfying projects I've worked on since I've been here. It was challenging, freeing... something not selling a product. It was art for intrinsic value, but it still communicated something. The technique we developed was the most satisfying aspect. I helped to R&D that technique and it was like "Oh snap!" once it was developed. In the beginning we knew we wanted to have a painterly quality to it, and it goes back to my design philosophy: working smart and not just hard. We tried to figure out a way where we didn't have to kill ourselves to do this, while still giving it the feel we wanted it to have. Usually I'm afraid of too much freedom, but with Motionpoems it was good to let go and just run wild with it. 

When have you felt most challenged as an artist? 

The most challenging thing (in a good way) is the amount of work I've been put on. Constantly having to be focused on several different things, and making sure the quality of each is the same. It's a difficult task, but one I cherish because not many places will allow you to lead a job, and I think I've risen at Gentleman Scholar so quickly that I feel honored to even be able to lead several different things. Honestly, that's one of the biggest challenges but I cherish it so much - I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

How do you get creatively re-energized? Do you have any special routines? 

You know how people say 'Don't speak to me before I have my coffee?' I say 'Don't talk to me until I've gone through my Vimeo feed.' Honestly, it's a thing, because it helps me constantly stay aware of different trends, and what to stay away from. I think it passively re-energizes me by knowing what's out there and what's available. It pads my mental resources, constantly looking and never really being satisfying with what I know. 

If you could pick someone to design a typeface named after you? 

Jeez, that's a hard question. Well, there's a Australian designer, Gemma O'Brien. She's dope. I like organic-feeling things that still have a straightforward design sensibility, nice negative space, and nice composition. Her work is really gritty and handcrafted, but so precise and deliberate. That's it - I like when things feel like they were intended to feel that way. Her work does that really well. She embellishes a lot of stuff but her embellishments offer a lot of character to something that already has meaning. I would like to think that I operate like that, I've got my base first - you see and understand it - and all the extra little details are like the flavor. 

Favorite character?

My favorite character of all time is the ampersand. I want two tattoos - for duality. My parents have this saying that you can only get 'and, or' - not 'and, and'. I'm like 'What you saying that for?' If I work hard I can get 'and, and'. If that makes sense. I'm going to get two ampersands on my wrists - one a really ornate version, and another that's plain, straight-up sans serif. I was thinking of using Miller Banner Pro... it's really ornate and doesn't feel like it should belong in the English language as a character. That's why I like them. The other one would probably be something like Avenir - something simple and straightforward. 

Why do you think the ampersand is such a well-loved character? 

I think it's almost too special of a character for the language, The origin was an 'e' and a 't' and it evolved into something completely different - the shape. Whatever the placement, there's never a question of what it means. I love that it's an amalgamation of two things - it represents the coming together of two different things, like a conjunction. 

If you could fly anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

I'd be on my way to Brazil right now! I don't know why, but I identify with that culture so much. I mean, I don't know anything about Brazil apart from what you see on TV, but Portuguese is one of my favorite languages. It's one of the sexiest languages out there, it's just beautiful to me. The culture also ties closely to Jamaican culture... the music, the food, the drumming. I'd definitely pick Brazil.

Jordan LyleComment