Mikel Benhaim, the art director of cult art and fashion magazine, King Kong, shares his tips for moodboarding – from ensuring originality and spontaneity to setting achievable goals
Moodboards are a vital step in the creative process, across all visual fields. From graphic design to marketing to publishing, making a moodboard at the start of a project is one of the best ways to streamline your own ideas and set the visual tone for your collaborators. Where clients are involved, it is both an important pitching tool and a means of showcasing your vision for secured projects to allow for feedback and refinement before the real work starts.
You can make your moodboard the old-fashioned way, by printing out references and getting handy with the glue and scissors, or present it using a dedicated online platform (why yes, Picter is the perfect tool for this – we wouldn’t miss the chance for a little self-promotion now, would we?)
For Mikel Benhaim, the art director and co-founder of independent art and fashion magazine, King Kong, moodboarding has been integral to establishing the bi-annual publication’s famously unique aesthetic. Benhaim, whose background is in architecture, shuns traditional modes of graphic design and the widely-held belief that a magazine layout needs to be consistent, instead dreaming up the look of each story according to its content. Each issue of King Kong has a loose theme, like “worship” or “fame”, and every edition has its own distinct visual feel, while always adhering to Benhaim’s fondness for organized chaos, with a post internet slant.
Benhaim’s approach to moodboarding is similarly instinctive. “I’ve always seen a moodboard as a guideline for what’s possible,” he tells Picter. “It’s a bit like a map that you give to a fellow creative – but they are free to take another route should they wish to. The end destination is marked out by me, but there are many different ways to get there.”
With cover stars ranging from Catherine Deneuve and Janelle Monae to Aweng Chuol and Wayne MCGregor, King Kong has garnered a cult following in the five years since its inception. It’s as much a collectors item as it is a magazine, and remains ad free, meaning that its visual flow isn’t interrupted. Benhaim sees it as “one big moodboard for inspiration” in and of itself. Who better qualified then to share their ultimate tips for making sure your moodboard hits the mark?
First off, jump on a call
“Moodboards are safe havens for some creatives; you know what you will get. I find it more productive and inspiring to just get on a call and talk before making a moodboard. Admittedly, there are times when an initial moodboard can give direction or serve as a starting point for when people don’t know what they want. But if you start with a conversation, the possibilities feel endless – in a positive way. It’s essentially a brainstorming session and, by the end of the call, hopefully there’s an understanding of what to expect on both sides. I often start the creative process with a call and bounce ideas from the magazine to the creative team, then we all collect references that could suit the mood we’ve spoken about.”
“I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the moodboard at times, and I think the issue comes from the fact that moodboards are often sourced from the same places on the internet, whether that’s Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram. Since the internet is predominantly full of late 90s and 00s imagery, a lot of people seem to have the same selection of go-to references no matter what the creative is! Old Vogue Italia references, McQueen, Lachapelle and Meisel seem to be very popular moodboard must-haves at the moment.”
Try taking things offline
“As such, I try to avoid seeing what others are doing. I tend not to use many references from other fashion editorials. Granted, most things have already been done before, but the chances are very high if you are restricted to the moods of other people’s work. I want my moodboard to be properly researched, and to leave the realms of the internet. I occasionally visit libraries to go through old books, which are a great place to source fresh inspiration. I’d say most of my references come from films and art. We have a rule at King Kong that we never want to include imagery that’s been made recently.”
Focus on establishing a central message
“What I try to convey in any moodboard is the main message, or mood, I want to get across, but allowing the creative team their own freedom to interpret it. I feel the magazine now has a language that you either get or you don’t. The people who want to shoot for us get it, but also see it as a chance to unleash their own creative ideas.”
But don’t be too prescribed…
“For commercial clients, it makes sense to be more specific with your moodboard to address their needs but I think for editorial moodboards it shouldn’t be so prescribed. For example, I usually try to stray away from moods that are heavy-handed when it comes to angles, lighting and set design, make up etc. It’s important to leave some elements out, to welcome the energy on the day of the shoot; sometimes you’d get a really random, crazy idea on set so I’d advise people not to follow their moodboard too religiously.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
“I think the best ideas come through an open dialogue with the whole team; I see a shoot as everyone’s vision, not just the magazine’s and not just the photographer’s or stylist’s. It’s a group effort so keep your moods loose yet evocative, rather than overly descriptive.”
Don’t overcomplicate, do curate
“Creating moodboards can be very time consuming – I’ve seen some beautiful moods in the past five years: 18 page PDFs, outlining every nook and cranny. But that can often end up as a case of ‘great idea but how realistic is this – is it achievable?’ Like you’re shooting in the desert, but there are references of the ocean! We live in a generation where people like to collect nice images, but logistically they don’t make sense in the context of a moodboard. I think that’s to do with how deep your moodboard internet search can take you – you lose sight of the main goal.
Teams are happy to receive references, but sometimes less is more. One painting, for example, could encapsulate what you’re looking for. My main advice would be to let the process develop as organically as possible, which hopefully will mean that the end result is a little more unexpected and original.”