Designer and lettering artist Kevin Rooi is having quite the moment. Not only was he selected as D&AD's Top Typographer of 2022, he's also about to celebrate 12 months at leading studio Dentsu Creative. Next month, he's painting a giant mural in Breda, celebrating his roots. It wasn't always so easy, though, as we find out.
Born in the Caribbean and now based in the Netherlands, Kevin moved to Amsterdam in 2012 to study graphic design, and then spent the beginning of his career enjoying internships and placements at various outlets, including for online magazine DATmag. In 2020, he secured his first agency job via MediaMonks, and then later, joined Dentsu Creative. Clients he's worked with so far include TikTok, Acer, and Porsche.
Kevin thanks his roots for his unwavering energy and passion for creativity, and stubborn determination to succeed. His explosive style has caught the attention of many in the industry, too – even being part of D&AD's Yellow Pencil-winning Bookcase of Tolerance last year.
Here, Kevin shares more about his experience of breaking into the creative industry, and how he overcame rejection to eventually find a career he loves.
After quite turbulent times, how is 2023 shaping up for you?
So far this year there have been quite significant changes for me. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and learning new skills at my agency. I'm also making new friends, meeting new talents, helping young creatives, starting to write down new goals and achievements. All these experiences are shaping me, and I'm really looking forward to what lies ahead.
How are you finding AI? You sound like you're positively embracing it.
I understand that AI has been a topic we've heard a lot about lately, I can't tell how many times I have seen AI workshops, online events, or talks posted on my LinkedIn. But I have to admit, it has made my life easier in specific ways. As someone who isn't naturally skilled at writing, it's surprising to say that ChatGPT has actually helped. It speeds up the process and finds the right words for projects in my portfolio or when I'm writing an email at work, searching for the right image or content to use.
But it's important to remember that AI should not be used as the sole end-product. While it can be used for pitching or sketching, it's important to note that the final product may not look the same. This is where human skills come into play, and it's something that AI can never beat. AI is meant to simplify and speed up our lives, not take away our jobs. It gives us more time to focus on the things that matter.
What is it like working for Denstu?
Every day is filled with surprises. Who knows what brand, client, or project I'll be teamed up with next. It's like a never-ending game of Guess Who?, which keeps me on my toes. The best part is that I have awesome colleagues who teach me something valuable every day. They motivate me to stay on my A-game, push myself and explore new boundaries. Working on brand campaigns gives me an opportunity to showcase not only my typography but my visual skills across various aspects of the design process. It's a great chance for me to put my knowledge into practice and add some spice to each project.
Is Amsterdam a great place to be based as a creative?
Living in Leiden, just an hour away from Amsterdam, has its perks. I work, socialise, and attend all sorts of exciting events in the bustling city. As a creative, it's an absolute goldmine for meeting diverse and fascinating people. Whatever your tribe, Amsterdam is a welcoming space.
Of course, there are tourists and those pesky first-timers who swarm the coffee shops for weed. Sure, they can be a bit annoying, but other than that, Amsterdam is a hub of opportunity. There are all of the hidden gems waiting to be explored, which is why I'm seriously considering a future move to this vibrant city sometime soon.
You find time for side projects, too. Why are these important?
Absolutely! Working in a creative agency is like hitting the gym for your brain. Just like you need to flex your muscles to stay fit, you've got to flex that creative brain too.
It's a wild ride, but sometimes it's nice to take on side projects where you have the freedom to be your own client, It's like being your own boss. For example, I create chalk lettering on chalkboards and windows for vintage stores, restaurants, and small businesses. However, I also enjoy working on murals and canvas paintings as it allows me to use my hands instead of just my computer. It's a refreshing change that keeps me feeling inspired and creative.
I once saw a post that said to be a better designer, you gotta dabble in different arts. So go ahead, try your hand at painting, sculpture, or airbrushing. Who knows, you might discover a whole new world of inspiration and creativity. Keep exploring and keep making dope shit.
You sound so positive. What's your secret?
While I may seem upbeat and friendly most of the time, trust me, I also have my moments of doubt and feeling down.
In those days, having a support system is important. These are the people who, after spending time with them, recharge my energy and bring back my positive outlook. It could be friends, a partner, or family members. I consider myself lucky to have found such a community where I can share my problems and struggles. Spending just one day with them is enough to boost my spirits and bring back my optimism.
Was it hard for you to get into the industry?
After graduation, it took me two years of hard work and dedication to land my first creative job. I applied to every creative agency in the Netherlands, traveling back and forth to different cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Breda, just for interviews. Despite doing 70 applications and attending countless interviews, I received 30 rejections, with feedback like, "You don't have enough experience," or "You are too passionate, too focused on concept, illustration, or design." The worst rejection was, "We don't see you as a fit for our team culture".
During this time, I was also freelancing to gain more experience and obtain additional skills which I always heard during interviews. Nonetheless, it turns out it wasn't the right kind of experience. To broaden my horizons, I began networking and attending creative events, which helped me stay motivated and kept my spirits high.
The pandemic ended up being a turning point for me. I joined an online portfolio event, which is where I met Sebastian Scheer, Head of Design at MediaMonks. I felt incredibly nervous when he reviewed my portfolio and was sweating the whole time, but he gave me great advice and feedback. After some months pass, he invited me to an interview, and I initially thought it was for a freelance gig. However, It turned out to be a job interview, and, long story short, the rest was history. I am grateful to Sebastian for changing my life and completely respect him to this day.
What's your next focus? Your next hustle? What are you seeking to address?
I'm passionate about exploring and showcasing my Caribbean roots through my work, especially since I've noticed that our history is not commonly discussed. To address this, I've been thinking of ways to create an art exhibition or a platform that connects Caribbean artists and culture. It's important to me that our heritage is celebrated and shared.
I'm also thrilled to share that I've been selected to create a mural in Breda for two days later this month. The opportunity is both exciting and nerve-wracking as it will be my first mural in a while, maybe hosting some lettering workshops along the way or finally starting with my own merch.
What would you say to creatives hoping to enjoy similar success to you?
Networking is crucial. It opens doors to opportunities such as freelance gigs or finding a job. It doesn't mean you have to be a social butterfly all the time. Find your own way to expand your network, whether it's attending art exhibitions and connecting with fellow artists and gallery owners, having online platforms like LinkedIn to have virtual conversations, or even having a friend to be your cheerleader and help promote your work during an event. Remember, networking can happen both online and offline, so find the approach that suits you best.
Seek out a supportive community. Facing challenges on the path to a creative career can be tough, and it's essential to have a support system around you. Rather than receiving generic words of encouragement like "Don't worry, you'll find a job soon," I believe it's important to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who can understand and relate to your struggles. Finding a community that supports and uplifts you will help keep you motivated during difficult times and remind you of what truly matters.
Your mental health is important. Taking care of yourself comes first. I learned this the hard way when I experienced my first panic attack, which was a sign of burnout. It's essential to focus on healing your mind and body. Doing self-care practices such as going to the gym, spending time outdoors for fresh air, scheduling regular massages, or seeking therapy. Remember, your mental and physical well-being greatly impact your workflow, so prioritize self-care and listen to your body's needs."