In With The New: Emer Brennan

In With The New #3

14th January 2020
by Emer Brennan

Next up is Dublin-born Emer Brennan who studied visual communication at IADT Dun Laoghaire and recently completed a masters in graphic design at the Glasgow School of Art. She is currently teaching art in a secondary school in Glasgow, facilitating a project based on her own design practice.

Like many of the other designers we have been speaking to, Emer always knew she wanted to work in a creative field. “I never felt I could draw well and my naive young brain ruled out studying fine art. By collecting posters and packaging I began to develop an appreciation for design - particularly typography. It made me realise that graphic design was something that I could do as a career without having to rely on draftsman-ship. The course at IADT taught me so many different techniques and covered so many areas of design – everything from print, spatial, web design and UI/UX.”

Pride Protest Party Project completed by Emer as part of her masters. “The typeface was designed by taking elements from both protest and party. It was used on signs carried at Dublin and Glasgow pride parades.”

Emer loves Dublin and would definitely like to settle down there eventually. However, she decided to move to Glasgow to continue her education. “After studying VisCom at IADT I unexpectedly wanted to keep studying. I felt young and wanted another year of making and developing as a student designer.” The (MDes) Graphic Design course in GSA appealed to her just as much as the city of Glasgow. “The course has a lot of freedom and an emphasis on building your own personal practice. Also, the facilities are amazing. There’s a great sense of community in Glasgow even though sometimes it feels like a big city. Having your own practice or studio is really encouraged. Spaces are cheap to rent and I feel like there’s collaborations happening all the time.”

Pride Protest Party Project. Photo book recording Dublin and Glasgow Pride. Photographs taken by Josh Byrne and Ben Soedira.

The high-paced work ethic that Emer developed in IADT was really beneficial when it came to the independent-learning aspects of the masters. She focused on identity design for her masters because it meant she could choose to explore any topic she wanted. “I spent the year forming a group in response to pinkwashing at LGBTQ Pride. Pinkwashing is a term used to describe when a company promotes gay-friendliness in an attempt to benefit or to downplay any negative aspects of the company.” Emer’s undergrad thesis is titled ‘Queer Expression in Irish Nightclub Flyers.’ The research methods she developed while working on the thesis really played a significant role in the developmental stages of 'Pinkwashing.' As the project developed Emer found she was conducting a lot of interviews, attending events and being invited to participate in conferences. “There were so many different parts to the project: writing a manifesto, printing pamphlets, creating signs, t-shirts, badges, stickers and banners, and organising groups at Pride parades, both in Ireland and the UK.” She also developed a typeface specifically for the project. Overall, it was a success in that it actively addressed a problem that Emer had personally encountered. The project celebrates the roots of the Pride Parade, while challenging the sincerity of corporations that claim to care about its’ issues. “Having the skills to be able to visualise this issue is amazing. The project involved so much interaction with people, both inside and outside of the LGBTQ community. It was so satisfying to speak to and work with so many great people. I love that Glasgow School of Art encourages you to bring your work into the real world and get involved with the city. Hopefully it's something I’ll continue to do for many years to come.”

Pride & Pinkwashing pamphlet – A risograph pamphlet documenting research into Pinkwashing.

The most important thing Emer has learned so far is how versatile the creative industry can be. “I’ve only just realised what a lucky position we’re in as creatives. We don’t have to be one thing or follow one direct career path. We can be so many different things: designer, teacher, researcher, artist, speaker, etc. Sometimes the most rewarding parts of being a designer can be the most unexpected. As creative and critical thinkers it’s so great that we can collaborate with different fields and across different disciplines.”

A teaching position came up in Glasgow shortly after Emer had finished the masters and she went for it straight away. “It feels great to be contributing to the art and design scene in Glasgow in a way that I didn’t expect. I find the student's enthusiasm so rewarding. My 1st–3rd year classes will exhibit their typography projects now in the new year.” Outside of teaching, Emer also does some freelance work. She has recently started working on a branding project for her twin sister’s future brewery. “She’s currently studying Brewing Science in Copenhagen. At the moment the brewery is just a future dream so it’s all up in the air really. When we start making beer together and testing it, the ideas will all develop from that.” So far, the project has been both enjoyable and challenging because it’s such a personal project for Emer and her sister. “I want it to be absolutely perfect, which means I’ve started over a few times. The brand takes inspiration from the Dublin Canal, where we grew up, so it’s incredibly meaningful.”

Identity design for Cúpla Brewing, a future beer brewery inspired by the Grand Canal, Dublin and named Cúpla, after the word for twins in Irish and playing off the phrase

“I love how I think about the world in terms of how things are made and how we’re always surrounded by design but we don’t always notice – a sign of successful design. It’s cool to see a poster, video, website or 3D sculpture and think about how you would have made it.” Inspiration can often come from unexpected places. For the last three years Emer has been collecting fruit stickers. “Every time I go to a shop I gravitate towards the fruit and veg because there’s so many wonderful stickers on them: bananas with sunglasses or dancing mangoes. I’ve filled a few notebooks at this point. Whenever I have free time, I scan the pages, separate the stickers and upload them to a website. I think it’s a project that I’ll be working on forever. Friends even send me stickers on postcards. I’ve got about 1,000 of them.” When she’s not collecting fruit stickers, Emer is photographing the little men on wet floor signs. “They’re hilarious and all so different.” You can check out that project here.

Posters for the La Finta Giardiniera opera in the Samuel Beckett Theatre. “The text includes quotes from the opera, character names, information and dates. The contrast of scale and the sporadic layout echoes the scenes of chaos and madness in the opera.”

At this early stage in her career, Emer feels that the financial difficulties of getting started can be particularly challenging for graduates in the creative industry. “Myself and a lot of my friends have to work a few jobs just to be able to live comfortably. We’re making the work we really love and have always wanted to do, but at this stage we can't sustain ourselves financially with that kind of work alone. I think when you reach a point where you’re financially comfortable and making work that you love, then you've won at life.”

Once Emer’s teaching contract ends she is hoping to find work in a design studio. “If I’m lucky, it’ll be somewhere that focuses on branding, copywriting or typography. Branding for food and drink would be very exciting because people love food and the scene is always changing. Working on a project that was so involved with the LGBTQ community made me realise that I want to continue to contribute to communities like this. I want to be a positive voice for a group of people, whether that’s the queer community, environmental activism or something else that I’m passionate about.”

We love the passion and energy that Emer brings to her design work. If you want to check out more of her projects, please visit her website here.

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