Studio interviews Anne-Laure Carruth, a travelling designer-turned-creative explorer

Not all jobs in the design industry involve an office. Anne-Laure Carruth believes that travel can enhance creativity and result in better work.

Anne-Laure Carruth on her recent visit to Iran.

Anne-Laure Carruth has never quite felt comfortable being labelled as a ‘designer’ or ‘architect’, despite her award-winning work in both roles.

Since graduating with an MA in architecture from the Royal College of the Arts in 2007, Carruth has lived in eight countries and established herself as an inventive and multi-disciplinary creative. But it’s only over the past six months that she’s felt confident enough to leave her 9 to 5 behind and take to the road with one single mission: to explore.

“I’ve always been trying to fit into certain boxes of being an architect or a designer or an artist — all these different things — and actually, I think my interests and the things I want to do in the future cross lots of different areas,” she explains. “I quit my full time job as a designer in December and have been focusing on becoming a creative explorer. This year is for me to explore, and to work out what that actually means.”

The journey so far has been fascinating. As she speaks to me on a bright but chilly afternoon from her home in London, Carruth has just arrived back from spending a month in Iran, an experience she describes as both inspiring and enlightening.

“Travel for me is about connecting with other creatives in different countries, which I was able to do with architects and artists in Iran,” she says. “I think connecting like that is a valuable way to get a better understanding of a culture from people who are on the same wavelength and share similar interests. Those kind of experiences really enrich creative work.”

In Shifting Sands, a collaborative project with fellow creative Lucy Engleheart, Carruth drove a 1971 Land Rover anticlockwise around the Mediterranean with the aim of experiencing and documenting everyday life in North Africa and the Middle East. Despite searing heat and numerous breakdowns, the two women managed to complete their journey and capture the stories of ordinary people they met along the way.

“The only country we didn’t visit was Syria, for obvious reasons,” she says. “We were able to tell positive stories of the region through the eyes of people who haven’t got an agenda. We weren’t aid workers or journalists or mercenaries, and that was important. We wanted to capture the ‘everydayness’, that sense that we’re basically all the same.”

During this trip, Carruth drew a picture every day as a way of keeping herself engaged and healthy despite the many challenges of travelling in an old vehicle across vast terrains. What started as five minute sketches over coffee in Marrakech had turned into six hour drawing sessions by the time she reached Istanbul. In the same vein, her illustration project “A Peek Inside: 365 Days” aims to capture her moods, emotions and struggles as she carves out and transitions to a more flexible and fulfilling career path. She hopes it’ll inspire others.

“If people build up the courage to take that first leap, quit their job, and do all these things, there are still going to be real ups and downs. From a few people I’ve spoken to, they’ve said that actually looking at the Peek Inside drawings helps them realize that, oh, other people have gone through that kind of emotional turmoil, or roller coaster, or these dark feelings, or things like that.”

Carruth’s latest project, Urban Art-Venturing, focuses on showcasing London neighbourhoods in a new light through beautiful illustrations. “It’s an idea I had at the beginning of the year. Having quit my job, I realised that actually I’ve been living in London for quite a few years, but my existence here has been kind of restrained — I haven’t taken the time to explore,” she says. “So I wanted to see if there was a way to explore London through other people’s eyes, and capture these totally different visions of London.”

To kickstart the project, Carruth invited ten people to commission her to go to specific locations in London and draw there. At the end of the two week project, she created a mini exhibition of the drawings and asked people to write to her explaining why the different places are important to them. She plans to continue the series as part of her creative exploration.

Studio has been working with Carruth for more than six years now, and her fascinating career journey so far is an inspiring example of what’s possible for creatives in the 21st century design industry. “It’s always a giggle when I’m speaking to Studio about jobs. Most people say they’re looking for this kind of sector, this kind of salary,” Carruth grins. “But I’m always looking for a nice office that’s light and airy with lots of plants, nice people, maybe a dog. Studio is the only agency whose judgement I trust in finding the kind of places I’d be happy working. I always know it’ll be a good fit when I get the call.”

She may never feel comfortable being labelled as a designer or an architect, but in carving out her own creative path, she’s learning to infuse all of her projects with the distinctive approach of both disciplines. “From the other people I’ve been speaking to who are trying to find their own route, I think the future of work is more about fluidity and less about structure,” she explains. “The way I see it, it’s about finding a rhythm, but not a routine. It’s about moving away from that drudgery of the day in, day out of having to produce creative outputs only at certain times of the day.”

Carruth’s Urban Adventuring exhibition will be launched at the Proud Archivist on the 5th of May, and will run from May 2nd — May 8th. Email to get on the guest list, or check out her Instagram @AnneLaure_Creative_Explorer.

This story is part of a series of designer profiles by Lucy Painter of Studio, an agency specialising in design industry recruitment. Follow Lucy on Twitter @studio_lucy.