Conversations with Ginger's Butler Looney
Join me in a conversation with Ginger's Butler Looney, as we chat about the process behind the illustrations I did for their app, as well as creativity and inspiration in general!
When I rebranded Ginger, I knew I wanted illustration to play a big role in our brand identity. A big reason for that is mental health is largely conceptual. There isn't a stock photo for "mindfulness," and if there is, it's going to be terrible. Illustration was a way to bring some of these concepts to life but also give them gravitas. It took a little while to get the budget and creative direction in place to engage with an illustrator, but when we did, you were the first person we worked with. That said, before we get into some of those first pieces you worked on with us, I want to get an idea about you and your career. It's not like you have a portfolio full of mental health illustrations, so I want to give people an idea of how you came to illustration as a career and what a typical project and client is for you.

I’ve always been drawing and doodling - some of my earliest memories are of drawing! But as a child and even young adult, I couldn’t at all see the path that would lead to actually working with illustration. Being from the University town of Uppsala, a career in law or one of the social sciences was the route  laid out. In my most daring visions of the future, I could at the most see myself working with industrial design or photography. So that’s were my journey started, taking a one year class of industrial design, because I figured that my passion for drawing at least would have some sort of place in that line of work. As a starting point it wasn’t all misguided, since I got to meet people who had a better understanding of the steps to take to get where I really wanted to be. 
As for my typical client and project, I’m happy to say that I can’t really pin that down! I have the privilege to work with everything from packaging, artwork for animated films, gif-loops, editorial illustration to advertising, with a really broad spectrum of clients. This is truly something I appreciate - my work never gets boring, and each and every commission comes with new challenges and joys.

I love that you have a background in something other than illustration and then found your way into the field. Our team is made of so many people that too circuitous routes to their current careers. 
I think it would be interesting for you to learn that your work for us at Ginger really came at a pivotal time: the first major update to our app. For the most part, our app had been primarily utilized as a way for members to chat with a coach. For our first major overall, we added in-app activities that people could use. They covered a range of topics, and we knew that illustration was going to be the best way to visualize things like Mantra Meditations and Collecting Compliments. Illustration was also something we always intended to be a big part of the Ginger visual identity, but this was also the first project where we had a budget with which to engage with an illustrator. Prior to this, we had just done everything ourselves and kept it pretty scrappy. 
Your work really helped elevate the brand, and some of those early pieces really set the tone for what we would do on subsequent illustrations. I wanted to see if you have any memories about that first round of illustrations. I remember the brain motif we gravitated towards for things like Thinking of Your Diet and Escaping Your Past. That just felt so fresh and clever. I also love the wit and simplicity you had for pieces like Choice Architecture or Tracking Your Progress. They're still some of my favorite, and I love it when you post some of these older ones on your Instagram from time to time.
What was it like working through this first batch of illustrations?
Thank you for sharing the process of commissioning those initial illustrations - I didn’t know that they had such an important place in building your brand, and I’m thrilled to hear that they were so useful to you! 
I must say that the first batch of illustrations I did for you is one of my all time favourite projects. Sometimes you just get into a really great flow, and that’s what it was like working on those. I think what appealed to me was the challange of coming up with simple yet on point metaphores, that also would work well visually. Having them all on a solid coloured background allowed me to focus on the core of the image, trying to boil the message down as much as possible.
Also, it took a great deal of brain storming to come up with the concepts. An old teacher at art school held the firm view that illustration first and foremost is an intellectual endeavor. Even though this isn’t always the case outside of the school walls, it definitely was working on these. So for me this project really captured the quintessence of what working in illustration should be like!
I love the "intellectual endeavor" quote, because I feel that in design as well. I often get people saying "you're an artist," but I couldn't be further from an artist. I'm a communicator, and everything I do is in service of a client or an organization trying to communicate better. To me, that's also much less pressure than being an artist. I have a metric to measure success: it gets the message across or it doesn't. I find that very freeing. I would be utterly lost having to just conjure something beautiful from thin air. 
I remember on this project that we had outlined some suggestions in our creative brief, but you found your own way into solving most of these in ways that often made us think "well, that's better than what we had in mind." More often than not, I think we just ran with whatever you were coming up with. I think that's also part of what makes working with a great illustrator or photographer so fruitful: you outline the problem, give some direction and then let that person do what they do best. I think there's a fine line in giving someone the right amount of direction so they can be successful and being open to how they're going to interpret that. What do you look for in a brief or a collaboration? I'm curious what gets you excited about a project and thinking "this is going to turn out great" right from the onset?
This is so interesting!
I also need a project to have boundaries for my imagination to get going. I guess that’s why I’m in illustration and not art, and I’m grateful that my mind works that way - I know a lot of illustrators that are frustrated by the limitations that a brief entails, and would rather just do personal projects. 
The best projects are when I feel certain that the client actively has chosen me for my specific style and general outlook. In those cases the creative spark comes naturally, since I can feel confident that I can follow my artistic intuition (like when I was working with you guys!) The project becomes a collaboration, where client and illustrator help each other to reach the best end result.