A design for life
They’re selling milk on the other side of the world and Avarie Graham is buying.
After a three-week trip to Thailand her browser has been seized, feeding her colourful “pop-ups” from South East Asia.
The half-Thai, half-Jamaican graphic designer doesn’t mind. She said her heritage has always had a strong influence on her work.
“Looking back, I would say my culture really has influenced my art and design work,” Ms Graham told Lifestyle. “Ever since I was about six months old my mom has taken me back and forth from Thailand.”
Her bright, tropical aesthetics have earned the in-house graphic designer at Gibbons Company many clients: Studio One fitness; EP covers for Bermudian singer Ben Lusher’s band Third Story and private commissions.
She’s also a regular designer for Solange Knowles’ company St Heron and has picked up work for the singer’s Puma and Nike collaborations as well as a six-month gig for digital publishing agency Travel Noire, a site that focuses on black travel.
“I’ve gotten so many clients based on my Instagram feed,” she said. “The small elements that I capture of island life — a lot of people are looking for that in their brand or their businesses.”
Although born in Canada, she considers Bermuda home.
She moved to the island at age 4, returning to Toronto after high school to study graphic design at Ontario College of Art and Design.
“I’m this package of dualities and I use those contrasting elements in my work,” said Ms Graham.
“I think that makes [it] unique and a little bit more fun.”
She got a lot of attention growing up. Her mother, Anne Burchall, had four siblings — none of them had children.
“I was always exposed to that side of my culture, more so than my dad’s side,” she said.
“My family would buy me these Thai comic books. I had no idea what they were saying but I would always find time to trace the women figures in them. Watching TV, I got accustomed to the different styles of cartooning that I wouldn’t have experienced growing up here or in Canada.
“I’m grateful for having been exposed to that because it’s made me who I am today.”
She would visit Bangkok with her mother every other year. Before her most recent trip in July, she hadn’t been since 2011.
She travelled with her boyfriend Yannick Dill, and her mother and stepfather Myron Burchall.
“Even though we were staying in resorts, we would bunk out in someone’s room and watch TV and have midnight snacks or go to the movies,” she said.
“Having family from Thailand gives me a whole different perspective of the place. My mom and family always made sure that I participated in religious practices and rituals but always made time for fun, touristy activities at the same time.”
Her grandfather was a Thai diplomat.
“My mom was actually born in Italy. They would travel everywhere,” Ms Graham said.
It was a tearful goodbye at the end. The three and a half weeks was “too short”.
“We plan on seeing each other soon, but we don’t know when yet,” she said.
“Life gets in the way but family is for ever. Just seeing them was the highlight of my trip.”
The 25-year-old said there are many misconceptions about the Asian country.
“People think that it’s this Third World country when really everything over there is so advanced,” she said.
“The fashion, the branding, the advertising and the commercials — they’re like mini movies. A few have brought me to tears. As a creative, it’s important to be aware of those trends. I made sure to pay attention.
“Now that I’m back here I’m still getting these pop-up ads for milk that’s being sold in Thailand. The way they’re advertised, I hadn’t seen that before. They’re short but they’re eye-catching and straight to the point.”
Her Instagram is peppered with inspiration from the trip.
“I wasn’t just taking pictures of myself and Yannick and my family,” she said.
“If we’d see a temple, it was the minor details in the architecture. Or even the fine detail of the texture of the leaves.
“When it comes to my design work, I look at the idea of juxtaposition. I feel like it’s truly embraced there. The old traditional side is blended with the new and modern side.
“There’s the serenity of the temples and sanctuaries right next to the city’s hustle and bustle.
“That’s definitely an element of Thai culture that has influenced my work. I’ll pair a rough, grungy texture with a soft pastel colour or an abstract organic shape with a structured typeface.”
Thai culture works its way into her every day.
She takes off her shoes before entering the house. She eats on the floor.
“I was rearranging my room and the end of my bed, where my feet are, was facing a picture of my grandparents, who passed away. That’s supposed to be very rude and disrespectful, so we had to move everything around,” she said.
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