feature / alumni / advertising / media-design-practices
November 02, 2016
Writer: Hugh Hart
Matthew Carroll by João Canziani
Kathryn Nyquist by Stella Kalinina

Matthew Carroll & Kathryn Nyquist

Serving the client and the muse, two creative minds thrive in advertising while finding an extra measure of freedom in their own work.

He’s an art director and designer who also writes jokes. She’s a copywriter-turned-creative director who makes paintings. For Matthew Carroll (MFA 02 Media Design Practices) of Wieden+Kennedy and Team One creative director Kathryn McFarlane Nyquist (BFA 08 Advertising), rigid job descriptions fail to spark the imagination. Instead, these hybrid creatives spurn right brain/left brain distinctions to produce catchy ad campaigns interspersed with regular infusions of personal work.

Carroll, who specialized in interactive narratives at ArtCenter, joined a Santa Monica digital design firm after graduation but grew frustrated as a “vendor” executing other people’s ideas. “I knew how to design websites but I wanted to work on brand stories and personalities and all that stuff,” he says.

To that end, Carroll dropped off a $1,000 handmade portfolio book at Wieden+Kennedy’s front desk. One year later, he got hired by the prestigious Portland ad agency, but only discovered his true voice in 2008 after a brutal divorce. “It was the first big failure in my life and very hard because it involved a custody battle,” Carroll says. “At ArtCenter and even at Wieden +Kennedy the first few years, I wasn’t humble enough. I felt like I had to impose my point of view on everybody else and that attitude held me back. But when my world crumbled, I suddenly became vulnerable and fearless about messing up, which made me much funnier in my writing. In some strange way, the divorce was the number one something in making me the creative I am today.”

Carroll’s 2-year-old daughter proved an unlikely source of literary inspiration once he started reporting the toddler’s wisecracks on Twitter. Young Morgan Carroll’s utterances found their way to Abrams Image, which this spring published Can I Sit on Your Lap While You’re Pooping?

The book celebrates an absurdist sense of humor that also infuses Carroll’s witty re-invigoration of such familiar brands as Old Spice, Yoplait and KFC. “I just enjoy having fun with language and making people laugh,” says Carroll, who recently teamed with Peruvian-born photographer João Canziani (BFA 01 Photography) on an American Express Open series devoted to quirky small business owners. “If I don’t have anything to do at my desk one day, those jokes might become tee shirts or greeting cards or book ideas, but if I do have something to do, then I’ll use the jokes for Kentucky Fried Chicken or Travel Oregon. For me, it’s a very blurry line.”

Nyquist makes a more structured distinction between her personal muse and the clients of the Playa Vista-based Team One agency led by fellow ArtCenter alum Chris Graves (BFA 87 Advertising). Initially hired as a copywriter, Nyquist proved her versatility early on. “If someone needed an art director on a project, I’d chip in at the same time I’d be writing copy for some other client,” recalls Nyquist, who began drawing at the age of 3.

Wearing multiple hats at Team One, Nyquist supervised a Bradley Cooper shoot for Häagen-Dazs ice cream, illustrated the Jack in the Box “Munchie Meal” box and hired Instagram-famous Pomeranian dog “Jiff” to promote EA’s mobile game Bejeweled Stars. “I’ve always tried to make content that’s entertaining to consume, because today, you can’t just interrupt entertainment anymore, you have to be entertaining.”

Nyquist recharges her batteries by painting and drawing. “When you go to a meeting and all your great ideas get killed, which happens all the time in adverti-sing, it’s nice to have a creative outlet where you’re the determiner of whether or not something is good,” she says. Working out of the Brentwood home she shares with husband, Eric Nyquist, an ArtCenter Illustration instructor, Nyquist produces fine art showcased on her kathryndraws Tumblr blog. “I’ve always been drawn to feminine motifs, fashion, travel, food, all things whimsical,” says Nyquist, who also markets greeting cards, duvet covers, pillows, plates and other merchandise decorated with her illustrations.

Thriving in the viral age of advertising, Carroll and Nyquist tell effective stories by focusing their visual and verbal gifts toward one simple goal. Carroll recalls, “At ArtCenter my thesis advisor Denise Gonzales Crisp taught me to not be swayed by a beautiful veneer but to ask myself, ‘What is it that I’m really making and why would it interest anybody?’ That attitude comes into play at work all the time, because the biggest challenge in my business is to not be boring. You need to have a strong point of view that people respond to.”