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Switching lines for the right design: Canvas Group

If you don’t believe the saying that the universe will open doors to you once you shut the ones that are holding you back, Jorge Castillo’s story might force you to see things in a different light. After 13 different positions across advertising, design and web agencies, he got so fed up with complaining about his job that he decided to go ahead and LEAVE his job. One thing led to another and he now co-directs one of Sydney’s leading creative agencies, Canvas Group, which just goes to show that sometimes you won’t get anywhere without a giant leap of faith.
Of course, you might not want to bother taking that leap of faith unless you’re supremely talented. Canvas Group’s portfolio of print and digital media is a visual delicacy, and it’s not just our eyes that feel that way, either. With multiple awards gathering dust behind the keyboards, Jorge, his wife Rosemary and his sister-in-law Alison were able to strike gold because… well, they were able to produce gold.

As Jorge puts it, it all started because of one simple, unarguable fact:

“I was a terrible employee.”

”I worked on many campaigns across different industries – some of those included brands such as Sony Music, Columbia Tristar, Cathay Pacific and Westfield. Looking back now I think this was a huge advantage because I was able to make lots of contacts and develop a range of skills, which definitely helped us to set up our own company.”

the Canvas Group website

With an unhappy working relationship with his creative director, his first bad work review and a dead-end career steadily approaching, Jorge decided to throw in the towel and eventually started to thread his own.
“[My wife] Rose was able to pay the mortgage and I became a man of leisure until I found a new job. Well, that was the initial plan, anyway. It turned out that I was unable to get a new job but started getting lots of freelance work instead,” says Jorge.
“It wasn’t too long before Rose and I were asked to launch the global press kit for the Mazda 3. Rose left her job and we started Canvas Group on 01 May 2003. Soon after, Rose fell pregnant and we had to move out of our spare rooms at home and into a shared office space. After a year of sharing we moved into our own studio in the city.”

Given that all he wanted was to be happy with what he was doing and to win awards, it turned out that starting his own company was just a bonus – actually, make that a lottery win. Don’t worry, we’re seething with jealousy, too.
To date, Canvas Group has worked on more than 3000 projects.
“I have different levels of satisfaction when it comes to work. Even though some projects might not be as creative as others, the fact that they meet the client’s requirements and are successful makes me extremely happy,” says Jorge.
Nonetheless, he will list his favourites if you ask nice enough. This year they include Andreas Smetana, Oxford University Press, Object Gallery and Market City.

pages from the Andreas Smetana website

One look at Canvas Group’s work and it’s clear that Jorge’s childhood in the Chilean Atacama desert has had a huge influence on his perspective of design.
“I have fantastic memories of amazing light, colour and night skies while growing up. It was so vast, desolate and clean, and I still use these elements in my design process," he says.

“I really believe less is more and things should only be there for a reason.”

a brand package for the suiting company, Who Are You?

It took him until year 12 to discover that he could make pretty things with a pen and paper, but he still had no idea what he wanted to do. His brother recommended graphic design, and after he shot down his other career options he decided to go for it.
“I considered cartography! Which everyone laughs about considering I have the worse sense of direction in the world. I also tried freelance illustration for a while but found it very lonely,” he says.

In an industry as competitive as design, Jorge says he sent out piles of applications without hearing back – which is why he now replies to everyone who applies to work at Canvas.
”I called up lots of agencies until I found one which was interested in giving me 10 minutes of their time,” he says.
”The creative director for the agency liked the fact I could also illustrate and commissioned me with my first project.”

print design for the Oxford University Press

In a job that provides both variety and public appreciation, it would be hard to complain about what’s bringing home the bread and butter. Being as right-brained as he is, Jorge says the biggest challenge would be putting on his business hat and making sure his employees are constantly happy and motivated, and let’s just say it makes us happy to know that such a desire is at the forefront of his mind.
And what do they do when they’re creatively blocked? One word: Brainstorm.
We think it works.

words: Seema Duggal


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