Kansas City Art Institute – Student Interview

A student at the Kansas City Art Institute named Morgan Stockton emailed a while back with a few questions and I figured I’d post my answers here as well. I’ve received some similar questions in the past so this would be a good spot to post my thoughts on certain subjects and for me to shed on a light on what it’s like being a full time freelancer.

 

What kinds of prior experience is necessary for your position?

As a full time freelancer there is no “required” amount of experience to do what I do, but it’s my belief that you should be relatively good at something before you start charging money for it. It’s important to be skilled at your craft and really hone your abilities, but it’s equally important to have some information business-wise before going into this career, like how to write agreements and contracts, and ensuring you get paid for your time at a price that you value yourself at. Don’t ever sell yourself short just to accommodate someone’s budget.

When you were in college, what did you think your career was going to be?

I actually went to the Wentworth Institute of Technology in 2006 for one semester to pursue a career Architectural Engineering. I loved the drafting course, and the lectures were held by informative, interesting professors who had traveled the world and had great insight and perspective on architecture from around the globe. It was an excellent school and a great program, but I felt that it wasn’t what I wanted to do ultimately. Being an architect these days also means being an engineer – I hit my mathematical peak at Algebra II in high school and I just couldn’t cut it when it came to Calculus. I wanted to be the draftsman, not the guy who constructs algorithms that calculate how much weight certain materials can hold on a load bearing wall. I wanted to draw and get paid for it, so graphic design seemed to be the obvious path for me to take even though I knew next to nothing about the industry other than artsy people made money doing artsy things which sounded good enough for me.

Describe a typical work day/week.

For freelancers like me “typical” doesn’t exist, unless of course you have some sort of steady client you work with every week. Some weeks I have only one or two projects, sometimes I have ten or more, and the scope and workload is always different. You have to learn how juggle multiple jobs, manage your time effectively and prioritize. Making a list of what needs to get done TODAY helps. One thing that is always a given for me on any day though is answering emails, giving out quotes and turn-around time estimates for new projects, checking up on social media and engaging and interacting with my audience and peers, and practicing and improving upon my lettering and illustration abilities.

How did you find your job?

I stumbled into it honestly. After getting out of the architecture program I mentioned earlier I went home to NJ and started designing logos and web layouts for local bands I was friends with at the time which was around early 2007. I was big into metal, hardcore, and punk and all of those scenes have a real DIY approach where all of the bands and promoters just get their artist friend to design show fliers, album art, merchandise or whatever else they need done, and I was that friend. After about 2 years I began doing t-shirt design almost exclusively but somewhere along the line lettering really caught my interest, especially the more ornamental stuff from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I was fascinated with it and started drawing out letters on a daily basis and I’m still doing that now 5 years later after I got started with lettering.

What do you find most rewarding about the work?

There all sorts of rewarding moments that go with this job – seeing strides in your personal ability and being proud of yourself for enhancing your skill set is the big one for me though. At the end of the day, I’m doing this because I want to do it, it’s barely “work” to me most of the time, it’s just something I love doing. So when I see myself improving it makes me anxious to see what I’ll be able to do next and how I can apply to future projects. Getting a great phone call or email sent to you from the client where they are blown away by what you designed for them and knowing you exceeded expectations is another really rewarding experience. Also, seeing your work as a physical product on a shirt or a poster or packaging is extremely satisfying. Knowing that something you made, something unique and crafted by you individually is now out in the world for everyone to see and purchase – that’s an awesome feeling.

If you could give me some advice about entering this field, what would it be?

Work hard. Work REAL hard. By that I don’t mean to just practice on your illustration abilities and how well you can draw letters 8 hours a day. I mean be socially active, be VISIBLE, make sure people see your work everywhere they go and that your work is as good as it can possibly be before presenting it to your audience. Each time you post something, there is someone that is seeing your work for the first time – make sure it’s a great first impression. Learn new things as often as possible, design is an adapt or die industry and if you don’t have to chops to specialize and stick to your guns you need to at least expand your capabilities to follow trends and make ends meet. Not that I advocate just going with the flow and blending in, but there are projects that pay the bills and then there are projects that feed your creativity – not all of them can be the latter.

Also, you NEED to be business savvy to the design industry, not being so was my biggest mistake when I started out and as a result it led to me getting taken advantage of and having no legal ground to stand on when it came to collecting payments I was owed. Being that I’m completely self-taught I never had anyone show me the ropes and tell me that I absolutely need to have contractual agreements and signed invoices with my clients to make sure they pay up and that in general my time and expertise is valuable and I should charge accordingly. I learned it all the hard way through trial and error, don’t wait to learn the business end of design until after you’re a great designer, both aspects of your career should grow proportionately.

What obligations are placed on you at this job?

I do it all, I’m a one man show that handles everything from email correspondence to creative direction, consultation, conceptualizing, sketching, inking, preparing files for print, invoicing, mailing, tracking down new leads, posting to social media and much more. There are so many sides to running your own business that it would be impossible to talk about this topic with any real degree of brevity, so I’ll just say you have to do a bit of everything and you have to be quick about it. Delivering work on time, being punctual and hitting deadlines is a must, your reputation depends on it.

What have been some of your biggest challenges as a designer?

Balancing work with the rest of my life. When freelancing you’re never off the clock, sometimes I work until 3 or 4 AM to make sure something gets done. When you work for an agency or a corporation you can clock out, go home, and then just not worry about your responsibilities until tomorrow. With me, work is always on my mind, I can’t shut it off or tune it out because I always have something in the back of my head telling me that I could be working on something right now. However, that’s also one of my favorite things because I get to work on completely different projects every day – one day it could be a poster design, the next could be for a deck of cards, the next could be a wine label, the possibilities are endless as long as you have clients pitching you new ideas and briefs.

What medium do you most enjoy working in?

I love the pen more than anything else. Doing my work my hand more than 90 percent of the time is extremely satisfying because I know that what I’m delivering is something truly custom and unique that can’t be reproduced or faked by anyone else. I like that I have almost completely eliminated the computer from my process and that most of my work can be done anywhere and that I’m not reliant on software to express my ideas. I have tremendous respect for people who can create killer vector graphics and do beautiful digital paintings but I’m a completely different kind of designer and person who just takes pride in doing things manually.

How many of your projects are self directed vs. client based?

Almost everything I do is client based these days, I rarely have time to work on anything for myself but I don’t look at that as a bad thing. When I do end up getting around to doing some work for myself though I always seem to love the end result because I understand myself and my taste better than anyone. It’s nice to get all of that pent up creative energy out you don’t get to express in client projects and craft something that you want to just because you can.

Are there any books you’ve found to be inspirational or helpful?

My office is basically a lettering and design library, so yes, there are PLENTY of books that I could recommend. I have a massive collection of antiquarian lettering, sign-painting, monogram, penmanship, calligraphy, and typography books, but they are all really tough to find and typically carry a hefty price tag. However, Louise Fili and Steven Heller have been making tremendously beautiful and affordable books for the past 15 years or so that have boatloads of inspiring material. Some of my favorites from them are Shadow Type, Elegantissima, Scripts, and Vintage Type & Graphics.

My issue with crowdsourcing among creatives.

For whatever reason, it’s not readily apparent to most people what is inherently wrong about crowdsourcing in the design industry.  Businesses that use this tactic see it as a way to garner a large pool of creative ideas without shelling out any money up front in the hopes that the reward they offer generates enough interest to those submitting content to make it worth their while.  This business model tends to attract a younger designer/illustrator/creative, most often one with little experience whom is looking to expand their portfolio and get a big name client under their belt.

You may be thinking “what’s wrong with taking some initiative and trying to get yourself some recognition in your field – it’s completely your choice and your choice alone to submit content and no one is forcing you”.  The problem is that literally hundreds if not thousand of submissions come from some of these cattle-calls and more often that not only one person will be getting the prize of being selected for the offered reward – which is usually a below standard grade paycheck and a cold, impersonal “thanks for the good work” e-mail from somebody in middle management.

Now where does that leave everyone else who submitted work – work that could have taken days or weeks to complete?  Unpaid, unrecognized, and right where they were when they started.   Dismissed without compensation you put your new work up on your portfolio with a big “unused concept” disclaimer for a client you technically never had to begin with.  Bummer.

It’s basically a voluntary form of internship sugar coated in promises of industry fame wrapped in a blanket of false hopes.   It’s where you get paid nothing and you submit free, creative, innovative ideas in hopes that maybe…just maybe you’ll get that job if you work hard enough.  All of these hundreds or thousands of people who submit work get no compensation and the business in turn gets countless man hours of legwork and creativity without having to hire a professional studio or agency.  So not only are under-informed and under-experienced creatives being taken advantage of, but established and respected entities in the industry as well.  As more and more companies move towards crowdsourcing, less and less guaranteed paid work is coming across the desks of professionals while lower pay and lower standards are becoming the norm and not the exception.

Yet still you say “well alright – I can see how it’s unfair to compensate a single person out of many…but it’s still their choice to enter so your argument is invalid”.   You would be 100% right there, but as more and more businesses are adopting this idea the worth of our industry declines.  As if most people don’t see it this way already – design is being looked at as a hobby more so than a true profession.  The world used to have pride and respect for such a craft where now it’s relatively under-appreciated and nearly ignored in most instances.  If you want proof just go look at your local shopping district – where beautiful hand painted signs once hanged above the displays over the shops, you now have pre-purchased, vector-pack garbage done by a kid in community college.  The point is to pay the artisans, the ones who know their craft better than they know themselves and you will have in turn purchased a timeless piece of artwork that speaks to your customers and demographic for decades.  Sure the expense may be higher for that one skilled individual than it is to just vacuum up a wealth of mediocre work from starving artists, but the return of income will be that much greater if it’s professionally done.  You wouldn’t take your car to be serviced by the freshman class of the local vocational school so why would you leave you brand image to same breed of designer?   First impressions only happen once – pay to have the best one possible.

The bottom line here is that crowdsourcing is lazy, cheap, unprofessional and above all just flat out insulting.  Companies thinking of utilizing this business model for their branding/image/etc. should really think again.  Do your homework, hire someone who fits both your budget and more importantly, your vision.   Don’t waste the time of hundreds of people you know you won’t be compensating for their efforts because you are too incompetent to do the heavy lifting and find someone who fits your needs.  Creativity is a skill believe it or not – much like athleticism, and it should be compensated accordingly.

Music Mondays Part 4 – Long Overdue.

The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten (Mercury Records, 2012)

 

“Handwritten” is a major step up from “American Slang” in my book and sees The Gaslight Anthem taking cues from their older material and turning up the energy level on these tracks.  Their last record felt like a slump into a twilight years Bruce Springsteen era effort – so I’m glad they restored some of their youthfulness in this new release which is partially reminiscent of their killer “Sink or Swim” album.  They show their maturity here without losing what them great in the first place.  Here is the single they selected off this album, it’s a great track.

 

Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Ame

Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Ame (Prophecy Productions, 2012)

 

Alcest is a shoe-gaze/post-rocky kind of band that for some reason gets a lot of love from black metal fans – go figure.   I guess I can see the draw from that crowd as they carry a dark feel and have the same general guitar tone.  Anyway, they are pretty heavily driven by atmosphere and layering their music very densely which somehow manages to sound very light and free somehow.  The vocals are more-so another instrument than anything else on this record – but it works extremely well.  Check out the closing track on this album an get lost it in for a while.

 

Music Mondays – Part 3

Every Time I Die – Ex Lives (Epitaph 2012)

 

I was pretty late getting on the Every Time I Die fan bus – but that doesn’t negate the fact that I’ve acquainted myself pretty thoroughly with their entire discography within the past six months or so.  Now, I’m probably being a bit bold in saying this but “Ex Lives” just may be their bets release yet but it’s the truth.  Few bands manage to sound so viciously raw and abrasive while being so catchy, memorable and polished – yet they do that effortlessly here.  As if there was any doubt previously in my mind – Every Time I Die has now solidified their hard earned place in my steady rotation with this LP.  I’ll leave you fine folk with two tracks instead of one this time because I can’t be a big boy and decide which one I like better.

Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space

Revival Mode

I think I may actually do something a bit softer next week on here and mix it up, but I doubt it – we’ll see.

Music Mondays – Part 2

Suburban Scum – Hanging By A Thread EP (2012 – 6131 Records)

Arguably the best EP put out in the hardcore community not only this year, but in the past five, “Hanging By A Thread” is a vicious little 5 track record kicking the genre’s ass back into shape.   Suburban Scum is a band that has consistently outdone themselves time and time again and this is no exception.  Great riffs, impassioned and from the heart vocals and an all around HARD sound that comes off truly genuine.  Check out the title track from this album, it’s a doozie with one of the meanest breakdowns closing it out I can ever remember hearing – and get this, it’s done tastefully and with purpose!

A quick note about plagiarism in the design industry.

For the first time in my career I got ripped last week – for those of you unfamiliar with the term, it essentially boils down to work of mine being (nearly) outright stolen and passed off as original content by another “designer”.  It’s a recurring problem that is more frequent than most people imagine it to be in an industry built on the premise of creativity.   Being on the receiving end of the plagiarism for once instead of sitting in the bleachers  as a spectator to the all too common thievery put the situation in a new light for me.

What I felt could best be described as anger with a side dish of disgust.  I was angry that someone had taken my original content I created, and  then re-purposed it for their own monetary gain (who wouldn’t be?).  The one thing that truly sets a designers profession apart from the rest of the world is the ability to develop ideas in a creative fashion into something that communicates emotion through imagery.  Conveying a certain feeling, or evoking a nostalgic moment that connects a viewer/consumer to something related to your product or a product you create for a client is not an ability that comes overnight – and to be perfectly honest it is something that most people can’t say they have perfected either; it takes a tremendous amount of time to hone a skill like that to an immaculate state.  So just know that when you see a designers work, what you’re seeing is not only a piece of artwork – you’re seeing the culmination of all their efforts up to that point in time in which they have developed a certain skill set.  The skill I am most proud to possess is my ability for hand lettering and type design –  a skill that is ever in progress and being perfected and refined constantly, yet the level I am at currently is something I’ve worked for years to achieve.   So when my artwork was plagiarized they weren’t just biting a style or ripping off a single design, they were robbing years of hard work and research from me to make a quick financial gain in the hopes that I would never notice their little heist.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – but I’ll have to disagree in this instance.  There is a major difference between being influenced by something and outright mimicking it.  Every designer pulls inspiration from somewhere no matter who they are, and I would never tell anyone they are wrong for being inspired or motivated to work in a certain style outside their comfort zone; experimentation and learning is part of the game, but never take the work of someone else and claim it as your own just because you like it.  A fervent work ethic and much practice will eventually bring you to whatever level you aspire to attain in this industry.  Everyone struggles, everyone hits creative walls – but stealing work because of that conflict is downright lazy and weak.

Stay hungry, do great work, and be original – that’s all anyone can ask of you in this business.

 

Music Mondays – Part 1

No Trigger - Tycoon (2012 - No Sleep Records)

No Trigger – Tycoon (2012 – No Sleep Records)

Welcome to the first installment of a little thing called “Music Mondays” that I’m going to be posting weekly.  Music is a big part of who I am and it’s shaped much of my worldview through lyrics that hit home for me and their delivery.  I’ve always been attached to the more abrasive/aggressive sounds of metal, hardcore, and punk – but as you’ll all find out my taste is pretty diverse.

The first record  I’m throwing up on here for this week is No Trigger’s sophomore full length album that took six years to put out.  It’s a solid piece of melodic hardcore that is easily an early candidate for album of the year in my book.  These tracks have tons of energy, but not in an overpowering sense and show real maturity in their songwriting and their ability to craft a great hook.  The vocals are served up Hot Water Music/Make Do & Mend style more-so than the shouted style of bands like Comeback Kid and With Honor.  Check out this track here and get hooked on this banger of a record.

JASONCARNE.COM – Officially launched!

So here it is at long last, a brand new site for a brand new man.

After some long consideration and weighing my options heavily, I’ve decided to ditch the alias of Mainframe Media which I’ve attached myself to for almost half of a decade.  Being more straight-forward and transparent with my work is something that has become more important to me than it has been before.  I never really liked the moniker I had all too much, but being a “faceless company” essentially allowed me to project myself as encompassing something bigger than being just an individual freelancer.  Over time I increasingly felt more and more that having a corporate sounding name seemed deceiving in a way – as if I was a bigger player than I really was.  This new site and the departure from the Mainframe Media name feels refreshing, more honest and like a back to basics approach to the game where I can now be more personal with the people I work with moving forward.

I’d like to thank Trey Cook at Adamant Art & Design for developing this killer site and putting up with my obsessive nagging and little late night coding nightmares.  This aesthetic overhaul was long overdue on my part, and I hope you all check back often for all of the new work I have coming out soon that I’m rather excited about.  Enjoy!

-Jason Carne