I realized I was going to be a graphic designer when I stumbled into a Basic Design class in college. I had zero confidence, but I got a teacher that encouraged me and I followed her advice to take her calligraphy class the next semester. I think having a mentor is invaluable—I lucked out that mine was my professor. You may have to work harder—you should try to find one every step along the way.
I am an artist in the Visual Studio at Hallmark Cards. I am part of an 8 member team of Lettering Artists—our motto is “we bring the words to life”. We all do a range of lettering styles; we also illustrate, design, make prototypes, and teach classes. We collaborate with almost every branch of the 500+ creative community. Hallmark is an incredible company to work for. They offer a limited number of summer creative internships—if you’re interested you should go to Hallmark.com and look under ‘career opportunities’.
When I coach students on their portfolio preparation, I try to get them to make sure it reflects their personal voice. Many college classes have similar design projects. What more can you show? Do you keep a sketchbook or can you show the sketches you did for a project? Can you showcase how you think, how you brainstorm? Besides having great visuals—can you talk about or show how well you work with team members and collaborate? I think most companies need team members that have great ideas but also know how to work together for the greater good.
I am still developing my style after 32 years working in the industry. Which I think is exactly how it should be. I have never thought I was “there”. I keep trying new tools and techniques. I surround myself with design images that I love—some of it I did, some if from friends, and some is research. Two years ago when I joined Instagram I started trying to create something every day. I sit with friends over lunch and we see what we can create in 45 minutes or less. It’s sort of like an exercise program—many days I feel like I don’t have the energy or the time, but once I start I really enjoy it and I feel really good when I’ve created something. Sometimes it’s just doodles from a meeting. But I keep it all in a sketchbook and that helps me see how I am developing my creative voice.
I believe in always starting out with traditional pencil/tracing paper sketches. Sometimes those sketches have so much more life and energy than when I start to refine that I go back to the sketches to recapture what I had going. I think that continually drawing and sketching is critical in developing your eye and your hand. I try to create as much of my art with my hands before going digital. I create a large part of what I do using scissors and cut paper, brushes, ink and paint. But I love having Photoshop and Illustrator as tools to finish off my designs.
The best advice is to be the most sought after positive team player that you can be, whether it’s in a class or on a job. When someone asks you to do something (a project, a piece of art, a presentation), simply ask “what do you need, and when do you need it?” If you immediately start listing all the obstacles and negatives, you risk becoming a person that is difficult to work with. You have so much more to gain by presenting a positive, confident attitude. Then you can turn around and figure out how the heck to get it done.