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Meet the face behind Yay Abe, the illustrator making big waves

Russell Abrahams of Yay Abe
Russell Abrahams of Yay Abe
Image: Supplied

The Cape Townian illustrator who founded Yay Abe, an illustration studio for artists of colour, is known for his bold and vibrant illustrations. Working with anything from t-shirts, to take away boxes and walls, Russell Abrahams’s designs undoubtedly bring the ordinary to life. For his latest creative collaboration, Abrahams has turned his hand to reinventing a streetwear classic – the bucket hat.

Why did you become an illustrator and how did you get into the industry?

I’ve always had a passion for drawing but initially had no idea how to take it further. I decided to study graphic design after High school. During my 3rd year I became one of Design Indaba’s emerging creatives. It was here where I started to meet other illustrators and some industry folk. Slowly, but surely, brands would trust me enough to work on their campaigns. Fast forward 5 years and I am now running a little studio called Yay Abe. We’ve recently moved into studio space so hopefully this year is a HOT one!

What are your favorite materials to work with when illustrating?

As of late I’ve really enjoyed painting murals. I guess it’s the large scale format that I find intriguing. I use every medium from house paint, inks and spray paint.

How has the industry changed over the years?

I’m seeing a lot of young people take the initiative to create the work they want. This in turn grabs the attention of big clients and allows them to create work that would have taken the youngin’ a lot longer to achieve. I guess the power of social media has come into play. Which is great as it’s allowed young designers access to people who have usually been guarded by gatekeepers.”

How is the response to illustration and design these days?

I’ve noticed a trend happening where illustrators and designers have become the rock stars of the creative world. It’s an interesting dynamic that I sometimes struggle to understand but I guess at its core it’s due to people appreciating good work. It’s a scary position to occupy as one should let the personality overshadow the work.

What do you love the most about what you do?

I get to make a living off my childhood passion.

You’ve recently collaborated with Hunter’s Dry on their “Nothing’s too hot for Hunters” campaign. Tell us about your Hunter’s HOT design and the inspiration behind it?

“For the (bucket hat) design I used my signature ‘A-Okay’ hand which is holding a match stick. I then decorated the design with ice blocks and water droplets to show the cool side of Hunters. The main aim was to create a pattern which took from SA aesthetics but also push a contemporary pop art voice. It’s a happy-go-lucky design that I hope people can have a conversation about and hopefully smile over it.”

Abrahams's unique bucket hat design features his signature ‘A-Okay’ hand holding a lit match stick
Abrahams's unique bucket hat design features his signature ‘A-Okay’ hand holding a lit match stick
Image: Supplied

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