Karl-Raphael Blanchard on Turning Inspiration into Limitless Creativity
Brooklyn-born creative Karl-Raphael Blanchard has maintained an impressively versatile portfolio. From designing to DJing, to becoming the Brand Director for the tennis and lifestyle brand Arthur Ashe, Karl's creativity is limitless. We spoke with Karl to learn about his sources of inspiration, his passions, and his personal connection to protecting the legacy of Arthur Ashe.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you currently do. Lovely to chat with you! My name is Karl-Raphael Blanchard. My friends call me Karl. I'm a DJ and Designer. I currently work as the Brand Director for a tennis lifestyle brand called Arthur Ashe.
Where were you born and raised? I was born in Brooklyn! My family is from Haiti but most moved here in the early 70's. The full path of where I'm from is: I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens as an infant, moved to Haiti from the age of 2 through 6 then lived most of my life in Valley Stream, Long Island. When my mother sold her house in Valley Stream I lived in Forest Hills, Queens for 5 years and now I'm back in Brooklyn. Full circle moment I guess! How did your hometown inspire your work? Funny enough my hometown of Valley Stream had a lot of amazing creatives. I was always surrounded by people whose aspirations pushed their creativity. Where I grew up is suburban and predominantly black, specifically West Indian families. I grew up around a lot of kids whose parents were hard workers. The children of these hard working parents lived in a community well enough that we didn't have to look over our shoulders which I think spawned a hub of stylish and creative individuals. It's nice to know I'm connected to a lot of these people too and love seeing them grow. I can try and list all of them out but I'd feel horrible if I forget someone haha. What artistic pursuits did you have growing up that sparked a creative career? When I was younger I really loved video games. I grew up an only child to my mother so other than the friends I made I found companionship in that. Fast forward I got into Anime and superheroes and comics and I started to draw a lot. As much as I enjoyed that indoors I loved to be outside to see my friends. This included biking then eventually skateboarding which I did for most of my life heavily until I started playing soccer in highschool. Skateboarding brought me all over and I met a ton of people. I embraced the style of it all and I especially enjoyed skate shoes and tees. From there I learned about design and eventually graphic design which is what I went to school for. I received my BFA in Design from the School of Visual Arts. You're very multi-faceted. How and why have you persisted to maintain a versatile portfolio? Creativity as an outlet is all I know what to do. This is where Djing comes into play. Music has also been at my core for as long as I can remember. Music is always my center point and DJing is my way to creatively work with it. Learning and finding new music is huge for me. I keep that close to me as much as I do finding new projects to work on. My portfolio consists of a lot of dream projects I've had when I was looking up to people I idolized in the scene of music, arts & design. I keep this versatility to remind myself what Karl at 16 years old aspired to be.
What is your favorite project that you've worked on in your career? Strong tie between the Kith 10 year anniversary book and the Aminé x Arthur Ashe photoshoot. What are some common themes and messages we can see in your work? When it comes to music there's a deep care for finding new music and pushing my listeners into the new genres I've been listening to. When it comes to my design there's a simplicity in the work with a careful and compelling care for imagery and typography. Tell us about your work for Arthur Ashe and what it means to you? Knowing that I'm working on such an icon's legacy sometimes doesn't hit me until I sit down and think about it again. Arthur Ashe was more than just a tennis champion. He represented a whole lot more. So my work on the brand is a careful balance of being relevant and tapping into newness and exciting ways to promote the brand while still remembering to keep his legacy within the roots of it all. I have a sense of understanding of Arthur Ashe. A black man, breaking barriers, entering new spaces, being diplomatic in his actions while keeping his composure. I draw parallels between him and I. There's been a frequent amount of times where I've been the only black person in a room and I think to myself how I can move up to move more people of color in.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming creatives? Draw from inspiration, do some research, and remember why you started doing it. It'll make your work stronger!
Keep up with Karl and his endeavors on Instagram @karlblanchard_.