Dan Vencatachellum (or -Dan, as many of you know him) has made a career out of vintage aesthetics and clever typography. Dodging the pitfalls of cliche retro graphics, his designs ring true for breweries, smokehouses and other clients looking for branding rich in heritage.
Hailing from the small island of Mauritius, Dan has built his freelance career from the bottom up with the help of 99designs and today runs his own boutique studio, UTC Designs. We chatted with him about his creative roots, where he finds stylistic inspiration and his favorite project so far.
Name: Dan Vencatachellum
99designs handle: -Dan
You’re from a really interesting place. Could you tell us a little about your home?
Indeed, Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean that used to be a French, then English colony until obtaining independence in March 1968. The historical Battle of Grand-Port which happened in August 1810 relates the worst defeat against the French for the British Navy in the entire Napoleonic War. Mauritius has a multi-ethnic population as both the French and British alike brought laborers and slaves from Africa, Madagascar, India, Tamil Nadu and China.
Our native language is the Mauritian Creole which is a watered-down French with some English influence if I may put it in these terms but truly it is a beautiful and simple language. We obviously speak English and French among a few other languages.
The Island has some of the most beautiful beaches and hotels being a highly prized destination by Tourists. My hometown is Curepipe, it is situated on the highest, coldest and rainiest district of the Island.
The town was named “Curepipe” as the French would stop by the small town to clean their smoking pipes whilst on their journey to Mahebourg, a harbor-port of that time. Curepipe is also known as “La Ville-Lumière” in French which means “City Of Light” as it was the first town to receive electricity.
How did you get into graphic design? Was it something you always wanted to do?
For a good number of years of my life I wanted to be a Civil Engineer. However, during my years as a student in high school, I learned the basics of graphic design and mastered Photoshop which landed me a few jobs with music bands but I never seriously considered doing that for a living.
After finishing high school with an HSC in Science, there was this subtle pressure from people, parents and friends to pursue a course and graduate. I was very unsure about my future and professional life at that time. I then did something that shocked quite a few; I enrolled full time for one year at Bible School. During that year, I heard of all kinds of funny rumors because of this decision I took, but on the other hand I couldn’t be grateful enough for making that choice.
At some point, I realized I was not really interested anymore in becoming a Civil engineer. So, I routinely started looking for projects to work on and learn new skills as graphic design was the job that gave me the satisfaction and freedom I enjoyed. Then, I found 99designs and started participating in various projects which contributed in making me a much better designer. I started my own little studio, “UTC Designs” working from my home in the morning and attending bible school in the afternoon.
You clearly love vintage aesthetics. What got you into that style?
Yes, my love for anything vintage comes from my passion for handcrafted and unique products be it food or a motorcycle. This passion grew more as I got the privilege to work for artisans and craft-breweries.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s things were simpler and involved way more human interaction. I admire work that has got this handmade feel and “soul” to it. And for obvious reasons, classic design has this sense of pride and timelessness that really intrigues and gets me all the time. My greatest works were for brewers and distillers as it offered me the honor of putting great heritage and history into visuals.
Is there a place you usually go for inspiration?
Yes. I do sometimes feel inspired when visiting places on the Island, be it a beach or nature park and when I happen to bring my little sketch book along; I doodle. When I need a little boost in my inspiration during a project, I usually hangout with some good friends and have good food in my hometown. This one never fails.
What usually draws you to a 99designs contest?
Whenever I’m free or looking for a project, I’ll browse for anything that relates to vintage or modern design. Sometimes, the prize is my least of concerns. I always inspect firstly the brief to see if I’ll be comfortable to design and whether the contest holder has realistic goals.
Then, I go on to check on the entries, if there are any, as this gives me an idea on the taste of a client. I always stay away from contests with clumsy designs getting high ratings. Overall, I always love contests that pertain to me provided they have a decent amount of feedback and a good brief.
Do you have a favorite design or project you’ve worked on?
Definitely. My greatest and favorite would be the complete branding I did for Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine Distillery. From their logo to the website and labels, I had a blast designing! I was given freedom and time to fully express my skills.
The best part about all of this is perhaps the story behind the distillery itself, the Hatfield & McCoy family feud is well known in the US. And being given the privilege to design for a company with such an heritage brought me to a whole new level and passion.
Moonshine logo for Hatfield & McCoy
I saw my designs being used in the most fantastic ways, and the website even appeared on a News channel ! This project has really marked me. I have to thank the friend who recognized the skills I have and handed me that project trusting me fully.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a designer?
What stands out the most among the many things I’ve have learned would be, keeping things true, clean and simple. This has astonishing truth in life as well. I sometimes had this admiration for a great designer or role-model and I often tried imitating their styles but then I felt that was not really what I stood for with respect to my mindset about design itself.
It’s good to keep up with trends and being updated with the design world but I found that being myself in all simplicity brought more satisfaction, adding a supplementary layer of distinctiveness to myself with each project I handle if I can put it like that. That’s how I develop my style. Besides, If I never decided to pursue a style of my own, I’d probably not be where I am today.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not designing?
An old hobby of mine is fishing and body-boarding at Tamarin Bay which is my favorite beach and surf spot. However, I’ve not been really doing it lately, so, I sometimes just play my guitar and get to know more about classic motorcycles. Something which really intensified as I recently bought one. Another thing which I really like to do is hangout with a fellow designer and his family, they are people very dear to me.
Anything else to add?
I’d like to thank 99designs for the great opportunity to share a bit about myself and for genuinely caring. As for me, I’m fully confident and excited for what lies ahead. Art is a never ending journey and I barely started. My goal is to leave a proud legacy for the generations that will follow the footsteps of innovators and world changers, we, creative thinkers are.