Husband and wife team behind The Great Discontent, Ryan & Tina Essmaker, never really had any formal training in design. Ryan fell into it all through music and Tina’s background is in social work – but here they are – and what a lovely thing that is. We talk about working hard, embracing your curiosity and their new live event series TGD Live.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. We’re Ryan & Tina Essmaker, the husband-and-wife duo behind The Great Discontent, a print and online magazine that interviews artists, makers & risk-takers about the paths they’ve chosen and the risks they’ve taken along the way. In addition to the magazine, TGD also hosts a live event series in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and publishes a podcast in iTunes. Our work is about uncovering what it really means to pursue a creative path.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what led you into design? Tina: Well, I’m not a designer, but I joke that I married into the profession because Ryan is a designer. My earliest memories of creating were mostly related to language. I loved reading anything I could get my hands on and made regular trips to the library to rent books. I also enjoyed drawing and painting, and I took art classes throughout school.
Ryan: I remember drawing a lot as a kid, building tree forts, and imagining wild adventures like many do, but music is ultimately what led me to design. I taught myself guitar in my early teens and when gig posters needed to be made or album covers created, I just naturally gravitated toward it. A lot of that stuff was physical collage work or drawings that were scanned into a computer at my local library and duplicated. In my late teens and very early 20s, I worked as a technical writer for a company that built machines for auto manufacturers. The manuals I made were essentially websites loaded onto CD-ROMs. That taught me the basics of web design/development and everything kinda evolved from there.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs? Tina: My background is actually in social work. I have a Bachelor’s of Social Work from Wayne State University in Detroit, and I spent 12 years working with runaway and homeless youth in my Michigan hometown. I started to dip my toes into editing and copywriting on a freelance basis about 8 years ago—I’m self-taught—and then Ryan and I started TGD as a passion project while we kept our day jobs. Prior to all of that, my first job was making pizzas (at Hungry Howie’s) and I also worked retail at the mall.
Ryan: I never went to college. Everything I do was self-taught and refined over many years. Some of my earliest teenage jobs were fast food (for a bit) and then a lot of retail. I’ve also worked as a technical writer and professional house painter, and I’ve done quite a bit of production work and live sound engineering.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way? Here are the top 5, in no particular order:
1. Learn to be content in your discontent.
2. It takes more work than you imagined and it takes longer than you thought it would.
3. Consistency is key. Do one thing consistently for a period of time and you will learn and grow.
4. No one really knows what they’re doing.
5. Be afraid, but do it anyway.
What advice would you give students starting out? In addition to our top 5 lessons, we’d tell students to embrace their curiosity throughout the course of their careers. Seek out what you’re interested in. Find a way to work your interests into your day job, or pursue them during off hours. Doing this has helped us learn new skills, feel more fulfilled, and challenged us to explore new mediums as we continue to grow.
What’s the big goal in the next five years? TGD turned 5 last August, so it’s exciting to think about where we’ll be in another 5 years. Last year, in addition to the online and print magazine, we launched a live event series called TGD Live and a podcast. For us, it’s all about continuing to challenge ourselves to try new things. Hopefully in the next 5 years we’ll be doing a lot more of what we’re already doing, but also continuing to evolve into new mediums and formats.