Updated: Aug 27
In this exclusive interview, Bernhard Amankwah, the creative visionary behind Coffee session Art tells us about working with great African artists and how a dream that seemed far-fetched became a reality while working hard in silence and staying focused on the vision he could see.
Bernhard Amankwah, a visual expert in all facets of creative thoughts and ideas, also serves as the assistant production editor for Lightville Magazine. Benard, who runs CoffeeSessionArt, leads his team in providing excellent art direction services.
His unique ideas have sparked conversation in the short films, advertisements, fashion editorials, music videos, and documentaries he creates. Bernard has also worked with prominent African musicians like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Black Sheriff, Asa, Tems, and corporate firms like Airtel, Fidelity Bank, Club bear, Woodin, and many more earning him and his team a well-deserved spot in the African creative and music industry .
“I’ve always wanted to be an art director. I made that decision in my first year at university. The aim was to have a creative house where I create freely without restrictions while carving a specific identity for my brand and have clients love me for what I represent.”
Here’s what Bernard tells us about his journey as a creative director, the Coffee Session Art team, his creative process, and his accomplishments so far.
Tell us a bit about your background and how it influences your creative process.
I studied visual arts in Secondary school, communication design at University, photography, styling, and set design after university. These are the main skills I posses amongst a few others. Being an art director gives you a broad perspective visually.
So even when I’m tasked to focus on styling only, I still make choices that sync with the
set design and cinematography.
How do you experiment with various materials, people, styles, and skills to bring out your final piece of work?
I’ve never been the type to fit in a particular box and that’s mainly because I love to be carefree and experimental. My entire crew is like-minded. One thing I’ve learned along my journey is to embrace mistakes. They give me a completely different approach to my creative process.
How many people make up your team? How do you function when a part of the team isn’t available?
Everyone is multi-skilled as much as I like to put them in various departments It doesn’t limit their creativity at all. I could easily switch my styling team to assist in the set design department. Also, I do have my core team, but in most cases, the producer already puts the team together and I have to work with them. But ideally a team of 10 or more.
You’ve worked with great African artists? What would you say has been the most challenging project so far?
It’s hard to pick because every work comes with its own challenges even the simplest visuals didn’t turn out to be that simple at all. But I’d say the film for made in Lagos. Because it took me out of my comfort zone at the time. I experimented a lot on that project.
Do you set a target or just go with the artistic flow and theme for that work?
It all depends on my mood and how dedicated and professional the artist and team are. I always have an optimistic approach to every project I’m working on but I wouldn’t push further if I don’t feel creatively aligned with the director and artist.
Walk us through the creative process of being an “Art director”
An art director is a walking visual bible. You should have endless creative references saved in your mind, phone, sketchbook, etc. but the most important thing is to be able to tailor those aesthetics to a director's script it always has to align so it doesn’t conflict. Secondly, executing the idea and bringing it to life will only take a good team. Also, make sure you set up at least a day or hours before the
shooting time so you have enough time to make adjustments when need be. You don’t want the director throwing a fit on set.
How was the work of Black Sheriff’s “Kwaku the Traveller” envisioned and executed?
That video was more of an escape for me. I had just finished working on a film as a stylist for almost a month and I had the craving to wear my art direction hat again. The director David
hit me up right in time. He already had his treatment I just had to flesh it up and we made magic. It wasn’t as straightforward as viewers wanted it to be and that was the whole point.
What was it like working with the King of Afropop, designing the set for Wizkid's “The King of Afropop” shoot, and creatively directing the “Made in Lagos”
It was my third time working with Wizkid. So it wasn’t as nerve-racking as it was the first time. He’s actually a very chill person and brings that vibe on set every time. The director was Prince Gyasi. I was more excited to work with Prince because I had been working with film directors for a while and it was refreshing working with a photographer. He’s never scared to explore colors and I was glad to play in that line. For made in Lagos, it was more challenging because I worked with several elements that were new to me.
Every artistic masterpiece is the collaborative work of a team. What’s the most important aspect of teamwork?
The most important aspect is that you should be very knowledgeable in the craft and have the ability to lead. You need to be in control even when you have people with more experience than your team, you should always call the shots.
What's your vision for the coffee brand? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
The brand would have to expand its borders Beyond Africa and have more international affiliations and work with the worlds leading production houses. I just might create a physical the production house of my own along the line who knows…
“Beauty comes in all forms” As a creative brand, you’ve seen and experienced beauty in its essence, so define beauty from this perspective.
You see beauty when you’ve developed the knowledge that whatever you’ve created needs no addition or subtraction. It is knowing you feel without the influence of anyone's opinion. Just like how God created the universe and knew it was very good and rested.
What’s your most interesting work? And what made it interesting? The artist or the creative process?
I’m always excited from the first call I get to work on a project till the last day of the shoot. It would be the short film with Ebeneza Blanche “the Mathlete” short film. It was interesting because it was the one project that I could see myself in. I went to boarding school at a very young age and it shaped my personality in so many ways. The experiences were endless. Having to re-enact that visually into the project was a great feeling. I’ve always enjoyed working with Ebenezer.
As the lead stylist for Asa’s creative work, “Ocean” what was the creative process with Asa like?
It was surreal, to say the least. She was so calm. Her presence was like a fresh breeze Hahaha. I styled two songs that were quite similar we shot both videos in two days. It almost felt like the same project. She hasn’t released music in a long while and I was so glad I got to tap into
her new rebirth.
Finally, what’s it like being an important part of several great artists' creative works in Africa? Do you feel Africa can be limiting to upcoming artists? What’s the advice to follow through until the big break comes?
It feels rewarding I’ve been nurturing and dreaming about all these achievements ever since.
I never take it for granted. It all boils down to working towards your dream in silence.
Unfortunately, we’re in an age where creatives feel the need to show their little progress and
crave validation. Trust me your journey to success will be longer than you expect. Just
work in silence and know that you’re not for everyone.