The independent NEW! Agency in Lithuania won an illustration Gold at the Epica Awards. We spoke to the creative director and the illustrator behind a mission to aid a literary landmark.
It’s tempting to begin with the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. But when images are used to help a beloved bookstore, you can’t deny their value. The bookstore is Eureka! in Vilnius, Lithuania, and the images were provided by NEW! Agency, working with illustrator Justine Shirin.
NEW! Agency creative director Aistė Jūrė takes up the tale. “Eureka! is very small, but probably the most beloved independent bookstore in Vilnius. The people behind it are literature experts. When you go there it’s not unusual to see well-known writers, critics and even philosophers drinking tea and discussing books.”
But the pandemic and the first lockdown hit the bookstore hard. “They posted a very sorrowful story on their Facebook account saying that they might even have to close.”
The store’s alarmed customers – “fans” is a better word – began sharing the post, which quickly went viral. “When the news reached the agency we were very touched by it, as many of us are bookworms,” says Aistė.
The agency had already been involved in a number of projects that encourage reading, including the “Become someone else” print campaign for used bookstore Mint Venetu and the national “Book Start” initiative, under which new parents are given their child’s first book.
The agency itself was founded in 2011 and is now one of the country’s most successful, working for clients across the Baltic region. Its social media and branding agencies (SuperYou and Godspeed) sit alongside the main creative agency, bringing total staff up to 60.
Aistė has worked there since the very beginning, initially as a junior copywriter but rising through the ranks by learning from her colleagues, notably co-founder and strategic consultant Tomas Ramanauskas, whom she describes as her mentor. “When I arrived I knew zero about advertising – I was just a person who was keen on writing,” she says.
Appropriate, then, that she helped save the soul of a bookstore. “We know the owners of Eureka! personally, so we sat down with them and decided to draw on the classical insight that you can always travel by reading, even if you have to stay at home.”
Aistė immediately recalled Justine’s work. “When you look at her illustrations you feel as if something has happened, some kind of scenario or story. So you try to imagine what went on. They are full of mystery and even a hint of crime. Although they are static, there’s a sense of a narrative.”
Picture: Justine Shirin (l) and Aistė Jūrė
Ironically, when she got the call, Justine was wondering whether illustration was the right path for her. “I started my career as an architect and interior designer, but reached a stage where that kind of job wasn’t bringing me joy any more. Luckily I was able to take a break during my maternity leave, which lasts two years in Lithuania. I drew my first illustration four years ago. Then I became a freelance illustrator.”
Her art draws on her passions, combining modern architecture and contemporary design with mid-century furniture. “I’m also a real drama queen at home, so I add some drama and double meanings to my drawing. My style hasn’t evolved that much yet, but while my compositions tend to show furniture and objects, without people, now I’m bringing people and characters into them.”
She describes her technique as “quite old-fashioned”. “I use the lasso tool in Adobe Photoshop and cut shapes from textures with it. We have two tablets at home – but I prefer my mouse.”
In the case of the Eureka! illustrations, the deadline obliged her to complete each drawing in a week, although sometimes she can spend a month on a drawing. All artists struggle, but it seems likely that the campaign will bring her work to the attention of a wider audience. She’s recently signed with an international agent.
The illustrations were part of a wider content project. The agency selected six destinations and twelve books for each. Then the store’s fans, including art critics and movie directors, wrote descriptions of the experiences “travellers” would have while reading the books. These were posted on social media along with the images and a link to the store’s online shopping site. The campaign was a success.
Aistė says: “We were in touch with the bookstore throughout the project. After the first Facebook post went viral, they were very quickly obliged to work every weekend packaging books to send out. Since then, they’ve found themselves in very good shape. I would humbly say that our campaign isn’t entirely responsible for that – but at the same time I’m very glad they won’t close!”