Interview with Jordan Jelev aka The Labelmaker for Fifty-Five Magazine
If it is true that a picture speaks a thousand words, then a wine label would be the equivalent of a business plan in images – including the area of activity, the marketing plan and the financial projections. Figuratively speaking – about a thousand pages. Actually, when it comes to figures, Jordan Jelev is an expert in talking in images. Officially, he designs labels in and outside Bulgaria. If you don’t know him – he is among the most interesting faces in the wine industry, though wine is not exactly his specialism. If you do know him – then I hope you will discover something new about him in this interview.
What do you do?
JJ: I’ve been trying to do credit to my pseudonym, The Labelmaker… for just over 20 years now. I learn how to understand the people I work with, so I can build a connection between them, their product and their customers. Complex relationships, but thankfully united by a common denominator – wine. In less pretentious terms – we create wine brands and design wine labels.
How do you approach new projects?
JJ: With attention and respect – like all else in life. If I don’t see the future of a project within a split second – its success, its reflection on the others, the horizons it opens – I call it quits before I’ve started. Not all new things have the energy to become a successful beginning. I have developed an instinct to spot that and I tend to trust it.
What is the main part of your work – digital or intellectual?
JJ: Frankly, I don’t know. I’d like to say intellectual, but that’s not true at all. You sit quietly on a night, with all the leisure you need to come up with something clever, it actually works and you go to bed happy. You get up the next morning and get down to it, and then you realise it’s the daftest thing ever. All the ‘intellectual’ heroics disappear into thin air and you turn into one very digital animal indeed – out comes the shovel as you desperately try to save yourself from your own hare-brained ideas by sheer hard graft in front of the monitor. Thank goodness it works for me… At the end of the day, it all comes down to who you are dealing with – our work and we ourselves are a reflection of the people who come to us. The more charged they and their ideas and desires are, the more rewarding the final result.
How do you add value to what you do?
JJ: Once I see myself in a project, I am in gear to show everything I’m capable of. The space between calligraphy, typography and photography is where my designs truly come to life.
Do you sometimes get a creative block?
JJ: Why, sure! Who doesn’t? I get blocks on a regular basis, but it doesn’t faze me because I know how to pull myself out of it. I resent those moments, they do bug me, but they have their restorative benefits as well. Perhaps for some people they are just hitches, I’m not keen on them either, but I’ve learned to turn them to my advantage. I distract myself with something totally different which would occupy at least 50% of my mind. The remaining resource keeps tossing the subject around though. This often untangles the situation. Blocks make you think and analyse and give you a comprehensive view – you can see where and what is tripping you up, so you push it aside and then there’s no stopping you. At least that’s how it works for me.
Does your work change with time?
JJ: Yes and no. It changes in my take on the details, on the philosophy, in fact on everything but the basics. They are the same everywhere. You always start there and then each project takes its own course. They are the visual denominator which unites all my designs. I try to keep up with the times and the technology. This often brings untraditional results, but a closer look will tell you that every one of my designs rests on the same foundations.
Would it be fair to say that labels have changed your life?
JJ: When I was little I wanted to be a rubbish collector or a minister – I ranked them the same. Then, to everybody’s dismay, I took a long time studying to be an accountant. At the same time, I was making my first labels – I was drawn to it! And so, thanks to them, I knew where my life was going. You could say that labels, wine and design pretty much set my direction. Then came the family, kids, the usual ups and downs, but the labels remained. I happily rise up every morning to give them my all. I don’t know if they have changed my life, but I certainly owe them a lot. The best thing is, I feel like I’m only now starting out. Just finished warming up.