Yay Abe making waves: The hepcat the hipsters adore

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Yay Abe making waves: The hepcat the hipsters adore

Never heard of him? Best learn because his work is becoming appreciated by people who impress you

Yolisa Mkele


Ever heard of Yay Abe? If not then prick up your ears because his work is fast becoming the kind of stuff your favourite brands and hipsters (are those still a thing?) are gravitating to like planets to a sun.
Fusing a contemporary urban African aesthetic with pop colours and an upbeat mood, his work has become a go-to for brands trying to look fresh and cool. His graphic work has been featured in campaigns for Mr Price, Burger King and recently Hunter’s Dry, and outside of its corporate appeal actually just looks dope.
We caught up with Yay Abe (born Russell Abrahams):
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Bold, colourful, flat and naïve. A contemporary take on the African aesthetic which is influenced by pop culture.
What prompted you to start Yay Abe?
Since leaving university I felt compelled to start an illustration studio, a space where young people of colour have a gateway into the industry. I felt it was a tough task trying to “make it” and wanted it to be easier for the next generation by creating a platform for them. I used to freelance before starting Yay Abe and I learnt quite a bit by helping out at some of the most prestigious studios around Cape Town. I’ve learnt a lot over the past six years and my next challenge is to grow Yay Abe into a force within the design and illustration industry.
What have been the biggest obstacles facing designers of colour trying to break into illustration?
Studying illustration is a privilege. It’s something I learnt after leaving university but really understood once I started working in the industry. I say it is a privilege due to the fact that it’s a career path not many parents of colour are willing to fund. It’s kind of hard sending a child to “study drawing” when the family’s finances aren’t looking too good.
Secondly, the hardest part for POC young designers is making connections in the industry. It’s a little more easy to make these connections if you’re living in and around town. From my experience, most young designers of colour live in coloured and/or black areas. This makes it really hard for them to hang around town enough to meet the art directors or gatekeepers that could give them a stepping stone.
What is the one thing you wish ‘they’ had told you when it comes to following your passion?
I wish someone told me it wasn’t an easy road. I’ve had and still have my ups and downs. The idea that I draw every day is my saving grace. I’m just grateful that the ups outweigh the downs. I really like the business side of design and it’s something that we “creatives” tend to overlook. Sometimes I wish I took the business side a little more seriously in my early days. All young illustrators and designers who make the decision to go freelance should read up on how to quote and how to manage money.
How is your creative process different when working for a company as opposed to creating for yourself?
I haven’t had the pleasure to create for myself in a long time. It’s a sad thought but I couldn’t be more blessed to have clients who give me complete creative freedom. Most of my recent projects have been just like passion projects, so I’m winning in that sense. My creative process is very loose, from sketching to executing the final render. It’s pretty liberating knowing that a brand is willing to let me create the work I want.
Which is your favourite work?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with quite a few brands and they all allowed me to create the work I wanted to. If I had to choose, Burger King’s flaming mural was the project that pushed me the most. The Nothing’s Too Hot for Hunters campaign inspired me the most and really made me want to push into the streetwear scene – this year, perhaps.
Speaking of streetwear, what was your inspiration for the Hunter’s spottie?
I took inspiration from the idea of fire vs water and how there’s a constant balance between the two. How water changes form and is able to put out a fire was a message I wanted to illustrate. The aim was to use these elements to create some sort of a pattern which revealed different scenarios when inspected. The main aim was to create a piece that people would enjoy looking at.

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