Zac Jacobson is a illustrator, while also working as a Art Director at Boelter + Lincoln. He explains why its important to have variety and passion projects throughout your portfolio, and why spending time to do personal work is in your best interest.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
I think what naturally got me into design was skateboarding. I loved to get the CCS and Active Ride Shop catalogs in the mail just so I could look at and study the graphics on skateboards and t-shirts. What was so interesting to me was how brands curated a certain look for their own brand using both design and illustration. I loved seeing how a brand created a look that was consistent. Although I skated blanks because they were cheaper, some of my favorite graphics came from Toy Machine, Alien Workshop and Zero.
Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?
I went to Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Going to MIAD was the best decision I ever made. The professors not only taught me how to refine my skills, but also showed me that you really have to work hard to get ahead. After I graduated I feel like I never slowed down and it’s just second nature to hustle each day.
My first job was a paid internship at Harley-Davidson Motor Company in the Creative Services department. I worked on a variety of different things for the brand, but mostly was a lot of in-house work. I honestly went in for the interview not caring a single bit about motorcycles and after I left a year later, all I could think about was when I was going to get my first bike, which I now have.
My first real job out of school after my internship was as a graphic designer at Moore & Scarry Advertising. My sister works there now, which is pretty cool. I mostly worked on newspaper ads and mailers for car dealerships. It wasn’t the most glamorous job, but it taught me a ton and I met some really cool people, including Joshua Noom who’s a friend of mine to this day. Insane designer/illustrator. Check him out if you haven’t already.
What do you look for in a great portfolio?
Variety and passion. You can’t really pigeon-hole yourself into doing one thing and one thing only in design, unless you’re known for your style and you’re so good that you can freelance. You need to know how to do a variety of things and show that you can adapt for different clients using different styles. You have to show that you can be an asset to an agency or whatever you are pursuing, so that you can be used more than for just one thing. I think it’s important to do personal work on your free time to keep expanding your ability and skill. You should include personal projects in your portfolio to show what you are really interested in and what your potential is.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?
Practice. Practice. Practice. Study stuff that other illustrators are doing and see how you can do it in your own way. Don’t be a copycat. I still feel like I’m developing my style. The thing with me is that I don’t ever want to be stuck to doing one style of illustration, so I will always be trying to evolve. Also, you have to be passionate about the stuff you’re creating. If you don’t like what you’re doing, then don’t do it.
What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?
Milwaukee, WI is a pretty great community for creatives. There are a ton of agencies and design firms all over and I feel like a lot of people outside of Milwaukee don’t really know that. It’s close enough to Chicago, so if there are other opportunities down there, it’s just a train ride away. As creatives in Milwaukee, I feel like we all know of each other. People hop around. Some don’t. There’s a great thing called the United Adworkers. They organize events for agencies and creatives to get together throughout the year doing things like bowling leagues, softball leagues, trivia nights and so on. It’s great to network and connect with other creatives around town. They also host the Milwaukee 99 awards show every year where agencies submit their best work and it’s judged by outsiders from agencies outside of Wisconsin. It keeps everyone competitive in a fun way.
I would say I fit in right where I want to fit in. Right now it’s at Boelter + Lincoln as an Art Director. We have some very talented people who not only push themselves, but help push others to be better every day. It’s cool to see a similar passion in people as I do for my work. We’ve got a good crew.