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Kristýna Kulíková Has Built a Body of Work Many Designers Dream of—and She’s Still an Undergrad

Her portfolio is a masterclass in creating a distinct personal design aesthetic no matter the client

Kristýna Kulíková isn’t easy to pin down: we’d been making plans on and off to chat on the phone for two years before we managed it. Back in the heady days of 2018, we were hoping to get her views on acid graphics—that trend which shouted loudly from posters, flyers, and record sleeves in brash font collisions and garish neons, seeping into our collective consciousness in gloopy metallic type. Its prevalence now, in 2020, seems to be on the wane—and acid graphics isn’t a term that Kulíková would actively associate her work with, despite her name often being touted as one of the best proponents of the aesthetic.

But as the Prague-based designer adroitly points out, hers is a style that changes not just over years, but over months—weeks even—and delights in veering from firmly futuristic 3D graphics to basic illustrative line drawings and experiments with pixellated, subtly modified system fonts. You can tell a smart designer a mile off if they—like Kulíková—manage to pull off having an utterly distinctive, recognizable approach across any number of styles or commissions.

Kristyna Kulikova, Lovers Disco
poster for an exhibition in Oslo in collboration with Jan Khür + Marthe Bleu

Perhaps part of the reason she’s been so hard for us to pin down is that since 2015, she’s been attempting to finish her undergrad degree in graphic design at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Brno, her home town in the Czech Republic, which is just shy of 150 miles from Prague. Rather than taking the traditional route of university course/internships in the holidays/perhaps the odd freelance commission along the way/graduation/more internships/dejectedly scrabble for work or borrow a shit ton of money for a Masters course, Kulíková has gone about things a rather different way. In fact, she’s racked up so much work over the past half-decade we had absolutely no idea she hadn’t yet finished her bachelors.

Her first break into paid design commissions came about during her time working at a techno club in Prague where she wound up creating some posters and tentatively showcasing them online. People soon took notice, and began contacting her on Instagram for more of the same. The work she takes most pride in is still largely connected to the more brutal, experimental side of electronic music that she’s into. Over the years this has included a collaboration with Estonian rapper and conceptual artist Tommy Cash, based on the concepts of esotericism imagery inspired by Tarot cards, numerous event posters, sleeve designs and flyers that all strive for “emotional impact” through careful layering of typography and imagery; as well as ventures into designing bespoke merch for smaller fashion brands.

Kristyna Kulikova, merch for Prague based graffiti store Graffneck
Prague based graffiti store

With her musician clients, the beauty for Kulíková is in the close, direct collaboration such projects offer—as well as the fact that she’s often already a fan of their sound. Her process sees her gradually building design systems and typography solutions out of research into the work. She then considers the forms her work might take, whether that’s 3D imagery created using Cinema 4D, hand-illustration, moving image and so on from there. “I work 80% in my head, 20% on the computer—I imagine layout, theme, and most importantly the emotional effect—how the artwork makes you feel,” she says. We asked her to take us through some of her favorite pieces.

1
San Trancisco poster series

“This is one of a series of posters I’ve been making for trance parties run by my friends here in Prague. We wanted to make ’90s rave kind of posters. One of the reasons we chose this format was that the neon paper is cheap to print with. The posters are based on this mobile [phone] avatar—we knew we wanted to have some kind of mascot, so went with that old Nokia phone. 

“I wanted to use a digital feeling in the typography and the illustration; when you look at old rave posters they’re messy and handmade, so I wanted to go dirty! The typefaces are mostly some basic ones—I can’t remember the exact names—that I stretched, but they’re deliberately pixelated here. With fonts, I buy the ones that I really like, but I often use open source fonts like Google fonts, or just system fonts.”

 

2
Poster for Jökull exhibition, in collaboration with Alexandr Martsynyuk

This design, which was created in collaboration with Alexandr Martsynyuk, would seem to be one that most aligns Kulíková’s work with the whole acid graphics thing—something that she sees as being as much about “rave and music” as particular elements of a design style. “I think I’m evolving a lot right now—I’m into more plain stuff and illustrations, but right now I wouldn’t make something in the way that I might have three months ago,” she says. “I’m trying to make things more simple: [acid graphics style] can be super overwhelming, with so much stuff thrown at one design. Maybe it’s nicer to find one element hidden in there and just make it bigger.”

The poster was created for Studio of Intermedia Art 1, AVU, as an invitation to a one-day opening of a collaborative project between the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU), Iceland University of the Arts, and Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno (JAMU) called Jökull—which translates from Old Norse or Icelandic as “glacier.” The exhibition presented student work, including performances, videos, objects and sound installations, alongside a live concert streamed from the experimental JAMU theater Divadlo na Orlí. Across the disciplines, each student’s piece was inspired by the theme of the periodic table of elements and was loosely inspired by sound and media artist Jiří Suchánek’s sound compositions.  

 

3
Catnapp, Break record sleeve cover

“I already knew Catnapp, and she wrote to me I think on Instagram asking if I wanted to work on the release. The type is a collaboration with a friend who does graffiti; we wanted it to have a connection with the streets. He gave me some type and I put it together to make it more simple. I met up with [Catnapp] in Berlin after she was in touch and she said I should do the album. 

“I don’t remember what the brief was supposed to be, but I worked on post production of her picture with some crazy typography. We knew we wanted to have a green screen type thing. The album is called Break so I used the idea of breaking glass as the main focus and in the design of the typography. She had worked with some photographers and I was given around 900 pictures, and whittled them down to about ten. With the one we chose, I like how the hair looks, and it’s really nice lighting.

“When you’re working on designs for vinyl, the object is really an identity of its own. The decisions you make need to be coherent in terms of how the typography should go well with the visuals and so on; and the important details—you can put nice stickers on it for instance, and she makes super nice holograph stickers. For me, it’s the best when you make a whole package, something like the work OPN [Oneohtrix Point Never] from David Rudnick, for instance, was a nice sleeve just because it had so many elements.”

4
HRTL, Yellow Mellow record sleeve cover

“This one is super old [2017]. It’s for my friend who’s a musician, he makes sort of techno, and this album was about how you want to jump and dance to the music—and how he jumps around when he plays. So I made a [bouncy] castle but with spikes, using Cinema 4D. On Discogs, my name appears as Krstn Klkv—I was using that for five years or so as a pseudonym when I was first putting work out. Maybe it was because I wasn’t so confident then, I wanted to be more like a ghost.”

“I think my confidence grew from the progress I was making, and with the more jobs I did and how my work developed. I guess it was about having time to work on something. I’m a perfectionist and I do hundreds of versions until I’m satisfied. The final thing you see is the result of a really long process—at the beginning it’s ugly, but confidence is gained just by time and the jobs I work on.”

5
Merch for Prague based graffiti store Graffneck

“The designs are based around slogans I made up with my friends for their graffiti shop. The whole thing is based on typography you find on trains, inspired by the illegal [graffiti] painting you find on them. The small text is a list of station stops in the Czech Republic.

“I have a lot of friends doing graffiti, and one of them asked me to do some designs for merch for the shop—things like T-shirts, sweatshirts, socks… He made up the slogans and I used the identity of the trains to create the different type.

“When I’m working with friends I think it’s important to say to them that for me, it’s more like an art piece—they should trust me as a designer and not say too much to change it, just as if it were a client with a contract that says how many revisions they can expect. I’ve never had any big arguments about the direction when I’ve worked with friends, though.”

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