Gradwatch 2022: Jack McKeon, Limerick College of Artwork and Design

Jack McKeon’s portfolio is impressive in its breadth of media (packaging design, branding, illustration, animation) as well as its range of themes. At times, it’s commercially astute and slickly professional, at others, it’s using animation to explore ideas around community and societal division, or examining Irish cultural idiosyncrasies and the country’s deepening housing crisis.

His skill across multiple disciplines is likely thanks to the nature of his course at Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD): Graphic Design Communication. “It was very multidisciplinary from the get-go. LSAD doesn’t segregate graphic design, illustration and motion design into separate courses, so our tutors actively encouraged us to respond to briefs freely and with multiple approaches (photographic, illustrative, purely typographic, motion or all of the above),” says McKeon.

Top image: Laytown soda packaging design; above: Dán ‘n Dog branding

“As a result, it wasn’t uncommon to have multiple ongoing projects that were very different from each other in terms of approach and style. The tutors always pushed me to create work I was genuinely proud of and the course allowed me the freedom to experiment without categorising myself too early on. This is something I’m very thankful for considering how much my work changed throughout my time there.”

Although his work started out with an illustrative bias, relying almost solely on imagemaking, his skill with typography emerged over time and is shown across a wealth of both speculative and real life projects, from soft drink branding, to a concept for a non-alcoholic events company, to theatre posters. The Project Arts Centre in Dublin recently commissioned McKeon to create a billboard reflecting on the current state of Ireland’s capital and what it means to those living there.

“Watching my work scale up from centimetres on screen to metres on a billboard in a very short space of time was quite a surreal experience,” he says. “The support and dialogue generated by the work was far greater than I could ever have anticipated.”

He adds, “As someone with a life-long love of theatre, I was also delighted to be commissioned to design a poster for a production set to be staged at this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. Hopefully the first of many!”

McKeon has also reignited a childhood passion for animation and started to experiment with After Effects. “Animation is always something I have had a keen interest in,” he says. “When I was younger, myself and my brother would entertain ourselves for hours creating Lego stop motion animations. This was a hobby I shelved throughout my teenage years but when I was reintroduced to animation and motion design at LSAD, I jumped at the opportunity to get back in touch with something I was so passionate about when I was younger.”

One of McKeon’s standout projects is an animation titled Act Together, which was created (and shortlisted) for the 2022 Royal Society for Arts Student Design Awards’ moving pictures brief, which asked entrants to create work that encouraged relationship-building and tolerated differences. McKeon used Russian Dolls as a visual metaphor for community and the relationships we have with one another.

Jack McKeon, Laytown Soda Co. postersLaytown Soda Co. posters

“They can prove that we’re all part of a much bigger, cohesive whole and that we have far more in common with one another than not,” McKeon explains. “By paring Russian dolls back to their basic form and removing their ornate decoration, I was able to create a suite of universal, charming characters in Adobe Illustrator. I then brought the characters and transcript to life in Adobe After Effects. The project was a steep learning curve but it taught me a lot about working smart and hard when it comes to animation and motion design, and I’ve been implementing a lot of the lessons learned in my current projects.”

After graduation, McKeon moved from Limerick (which he describes as “Ireland’s creative underdog”) to London to take on internships, but he says that developing “a healthy relationship” with his work has been a challenge. “Throughout college, it’s all too easy to spend ten to 12 hours a day hunched over a screen, particularly in the run into a grad show, convincing yourself that you’re the picture of productivity,” he says.

Jack McKeon, Fression brandingFression branding

And while his London internships have given him his evenings and weekends back, like many people he’s found that London and the design industry-proper have forced him to deal with imposter syndrome from time to time. “I constantly have to remind myself that I’m doing my best and that I have as much of a right to be here as anybody else. As somebody who tends to be exceptionally harsh on myself, it felt weird at first, but it’s certainly getting easier as the days go by,” he says.

In the future, McKeon dreams of starting his own studio, but in the meantime he’s getting as much experience as he can and looking to build up a decent client base that pushes him to create work he’s proud of.

Jack McKeon, billboard for The Project Arts Centre in DublinBillboard for The Project Arts Centre in Dublin

One of the best pieces of advice he’s ever received – which has helped him through that imposter syndrome, as well as his grad show project – came from his grandad, who told him that anything worth doing, is worth doing badly. “Creatives have a tendency to beat themselves up if their work doesn’t come out fully formed in the first attempt and I’m admittedly no exception,” McKeon explains.

“When we look at work presented on Instagram, Behance, etc in all its polished glory, we often believe our own work could never reach the same level of refinement. Consequently, we give up before we’ve ever given ourselves or our work a proper chance. I’ve no doubt that advice will be applicable for the rest of my career. The work has to be bad before it’s ever any good. Thanks grandad!”