Tu & Lebassis Show Their True COLORS
By Brett McKenzie Posted on Jul 06, 2022
Ahead of final judging, two COLORFUL judges discuss this year's competition and more...
It’s July, and that means we are in the final few weeks for creative professionals the world over to submit their work to Young Guns 20, the longstanding, career-changing portfolio competition for 30-and-unders across a multitude of disciplines. And while hundreds of young superstars are shaping up their work in order to impress this year’s amazing jury, a different jury of past YG winners is already at work, ready to select some individuals who stand to shake up YG20.
Of course, we are talking about COLORFUL: A Prelude to YG20. Co-created last year by legendary designer and YG8 winner Rich Tu, COLORFUL is a competition specifically designed to encourage more BIPOC creatives to step into the spotlight, giving them the confidence they need to enter and perhaps even win Young Guns — and win grant money to fund their creative dreams while they’re at it.
The stakes are higher this year, with more grants being offered, and Rich has tapped Brazilian lettering artist and YG18 winner Leandro Assis, AKA Lebassis, to create this year’s COLORFUL branding, as well as serve on an all-BIPOC, all-past YG winner jury. And as that jury moves into its final round, we had a chance to chat with Rich and Lebassis about COLORFUL's purpose, Brazilian inequality, and just how much can be gleaned about a person from a 60-second video.
Rich, it’s been just over a year since you first came to me with an idea that became the inaugural season of COLORFUL. Thinking back, what were your reasons for wanting to create this platform, both as a diversity initiative and as a tie-in to Young Guns?
Rich: Wow, it has been a year, hasn’t it? COLORFUL started as a one-of-a-kind award and grant program created specifically for early-career creatives from BIPOC communities (black, brown, and indigenous people of color, inclusive of AAPI and Latinx). I felt that the creative industry hadn’t gone far enough in establishing equitable representation behind the scenes and in leadership positions. One of the key ways of getting noticed and advancing within our industry is awards, so I wanted to hit the reset button and do something different. COLORFUL is intended to eliminate the traditional barriers that face young people of color when getting that early recognition, uplifting their best work and preparing them for even more successes.
Connecting such a program to Young Guns only made perfect sense. I know firsthand what becoming a YGer can do for one's career and confidence, so creating COLORFUL in a way that reflects the YG process, prepares young BIPOC creatives to think about and practice gaining recognition.
Honestly, I wish I had this award when I was coming up, and co-founding it with the One Club was one of the most rewarding moments of my career.
What are your thoughts on how that first year went? We had a winner and ten finalists, with that winner and one of the finalists (filmmaker Sean Wang and illustrator Dani Choi, respectively) eventually going on to win YG19 as well. Surely that must’ve been a sign of validation for your original idea.
Rich: The first year went amazingly well. For an awards program that highlights identity, it was important to do things differently but not deviate too far from an effective submission process.
One thing that made COLORFUL different from Young Guns was the addition of having entrants submit 60-second videos introducing themselves and explaining what they’d do with the grant money should they win. I don’t think I had any idea how much of a human dimension they would add to the work. The biggest surprise for me was hearing intentions of how the entrants would utilize the grants. Some were for personal projects and some were for social good, but for the most part, they were all rooted in their identity which I loved.
It was pretty much a no-brainer to do COLORFUL again this year, with one notable difference: more grants for the winners! Of course, Russell’s Reserve is back to support BIPOC creatives, but this time around you decided to also put your own skin in the game, so to speak, by personally sponsoring the competition. Why did you decide to do that? Is this something that other successful artists should be doing — not necessarily chipping in on COLORFUL, but giving back to the industry monetarily?
Rich: I’m really grateful to the Russell’s Reserve team for their generosity; their involvement last year was the genesis of COLORFUL, and it shows that brands can be dedicated to uplifting diverse communities.
This year I wanted to add more to the prize pot because 1) the expectation for me is always to go bigger and 2) I feel more than ever that generosity towards the next generation of decision-makers is important. Winning YG8 all those years ago also helped me join the ADC and now the One Club for Creativity community, where I’ve done Saturday Career Workshops for high school students, judged awards shows, hosted Young Guns and so many other things. Contributing in a financial way to benefit BIPOC communities felt like a logical next step.
"This year I wanted to add more to the prize pot because 1) the expectation for me is always to go bigger and 2) I feel more than ever that generosity towards the next generation of decision-makers is important."
As a POC, a first-generation Filipino-American, diversity in our industry affects you directly. What advice would you give to non-BIPOC creatives who are in a position to be allies?
Rich: Ally-ship is important, especially in the current times we live in. It’s also important to note that the term BIPOC encompasses many communities that can be allies of each other. An important part of ally-ship is listening, and being receptive to change. The creative industry as a whole is re-calibrating the standards by which we deem things “good” and re-assessing our industry’s euro-centric priorities. In marketing terms, that means embracing the needs of consumers. And consumers don’t all look, sound, act, or behave the same.
This year’s branding was created by Lebassis. What did you see in Leandro’s work that made you want to have him involved in this year’s COLORFUL look?
Rich: I’ve just been a huge fan of Lebassis and I was stoked when he signed on. I think he does stellar work that’s energetic, modern, vibrant, and most of all colorful. One of my dreams walking into this process was to have an annual refresh of brilliant artists tackle the COLORFUL identity, similar to how Young Guns gets rebranded each year. Between Tré Seals last year, and Leandro this year, we’re off to a great start.
Let’s turn it over to you, Lebassis. You were named to the YG18 class in 2020. Can you remember how you felt when you found out that you won?
Lebassis: Before I even entered, I was hit with a serious bout of imposter syndrome. I almost didn't even sign up! I decided to try my luck at the last minute. When I found out I was a finalist, it was such an immense joy, so you can only imagine how I felt when I went from finalist to winner
Winning was certainly one of the best moments of my professional life, precisely because I've never been guided by such things. It was a confirmation that I didn't know I needed, and it opened my eyes to enter other things like that, which in turn opened doors. It’s good visibility for those who, like me, are interested in doing projects for clients all over the world.
I believe that I was already having a good professional year that year, and winning Young Guns made it even more so. New clients and projects came my way, and I became a lot more confident about making connections outside my comfort zone.
One curious thing happened after it was announced that I had won; sooooo many representation agencies came to me with offers! I was already in contact with my current reps and didn’t sign with those that came after my win, but wow, I wasn't expecting all of that attention at all!
"One curious thing happened after it was announced that I had won; sooooo many representation agencies came to me with offers... I wasn't expecting all of that attention at all!"
COLORFUL came into existence the year after you won YG18. You couldn’t take advantage of it yourself, but what were your thoughts when you first learned about the initiative?
Lebassis: I'm a big fan of the initiative! Surely if COLORFUL had been around during my year, I wouldn't have thought twice about signing up. It's something that helps you get used to the process of entering awards but in a more encouraging way.
I find that people who aren’t in a minority group are more comfortable putting themselves out there to compete because the opportunities to do so are more common, COLORFUL helps minorities find that comfort. And I was so excited to see the results last year!
I hope that one day COLORFUL will no longer be needed, but until then I believe that the initiative helps to speed up this process.
Here in America, the “B” in BIPOC tends to default to African-American, the Black experience in the United States. You, however, are Brazilian, where my admittedly limited understanding tells me of a different experience for Black people in a largely mixed-race country. How would you describe being a Black creative in a country like Brazil?
Lebassis: I would love to give you a positive answer on that matter, but I’m afraid that I don't have one. Here in Brazil, even though most of the population is black and/or mixed race, these people do not occupy places of power. We do have many organized groups that fight for rights, but they don't make as much noise precisely because we go through a very painful process of recognition. We were the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, and we are not a country that learns from its history, as it is not told correctly and is almost always erased from the books.
Just as you see a change after recent events in the US, I believe that this also had an impact in Brazil. We also had the murder of Brazilian councilor Marielle Franco in 2018. Cases like that one end up making the subject an agenda. But I don't believe it has changed that much. We are heading for a real change, but that will depend on other factors. I think there's a lot more room in the industry for average white creatives than for excellent Black creatives.
"We are heading for a real change, but that will depend on other factors. I think there's a lot more room in the industry for average white creatives than for excellent Black creatives."
And for these Black people to be able to go to college here in Brazil, there needs to be a political incentive that doesn't exist. We have the racial quota system that has greatly improved this scenario, but going to college is expensive, doing design is even more so. It is very elitist from the beginning, and the job market is no different.
By taking on many international projects and meeting many Black people who work creatively outside of Brazil, I see that we are very similar in this regard. Opportunities usually appear in conjunction with a specific date, such as Juneteenth and Black History Month, and are very limited to these opportunities. I'm always asked why I make a point of mentioning that I want to work with various causes in my biography, and it's just precisely who I am — it shouldn't be an issue!
My point is that I believe that we can do everything and have to be present in all types of projects. I still think we are far from that, however, because most of the time it is not Black people or even allies who occupy these places of power to decide what is going to be done and who is going to do such a project. And it must be more than one person, we cannot be a token of these decisions either, because we are plural.
Talk to us about your very, well, colorful branding for COLORFUL. What did you want to express with it?
Lebassis: I really like to test new styles and I think it was a good opportunity to express this new moment of mine. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, mixing other styles of typography in the same composition. It was a really fun thing to do! I love to make very colorful pieces, as you know, and I loved the result.
Both of you are deep into the judging process. All in all, how are you finding this year’s submissions?
Rich: This year, the videos are playing an even more important part in the evaluation process, as some entrants have added more production value and splashes of personality through motion graphics, sound, and editing. It’s great because it adds another dimension to the portfolio. It’s a convergence of the personal, the commercial, and content creation.
Lebassis: I’ve been very excited about the judging process, so many wonderful things! It's great to see people from different cultures sharing their knowledge! I think it was the best judgment process I've done so far! It went by fast, and nothing was the same!
I also loved the idea of having to upload a video. I think it's really cool that there were some candidates who used it as a portfolio piece and managed to present their personality in this format as well. Personally, I don't really like using video to talk about subjects, but going through this judging process inspired me to think about different ways to communicate through video.
Rich, you’re an old-school YGer, all the way back to YG8 in 2010. What message would you give to COLORFUL entrants — all entrants, not just the winners — about Young Guns. After all, this is a “Prelude to YG20”
Rich: One of the reasons we made the entry to COLORFUL free was that we wanted to eliminate barriers to elite awards programs. But you still have to put in the work to enter. The entry process in and of itself is an important moment of self-assessment and taking a high-level view of your work. I would advise all COLORFUL and YG entrants the exact same advice: submit the work that you think represents the best of your portfolio. Also, don’t be afraid to seek guidance from others you trust. This career is a long road, it’s important to maintain a dialogue along the way.
The winners and finalists of COLORFUL will be unveiled on Monday, July 11. The final deadline to enter YG20is Tuesday, July 26.