My very first design gig was in the seventh grade: Commanding a burgeoning proficiency of Photoshop Elements 2.0, I made AIM buddy icons for my classmates in exchange for quarters, which I used exclusively to purchase chocolate chip cookies from the lunch cart. I guess the only thing funny about that story is that I ate cookies every day for two straight years and somehow did not get diabetes.
After finishing college, I had every intention of pursuing a career in branding or advertising — an expectation that in retrospect was probably influenced more by the surrounding creative culture than by any genuine, inherent impulse. There were several large ad firms in nearby Kansas City which would routinely hire from our university, and having watched previous design graduates eagerly make their way into the agency world, I assumed that’s how I’d get my start as well. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado for an advertising internship that I realized how little enthusiasm I actually possessed for brands and their products. I spent most of the summer using company time to apply for other jobs, which led me to Washington, DC, where for three years I worked at Design Army. The studio output was excellent and I was fortunate to work alongside people far more talented than myself, but my interests eventually shifted toward projects of a different nature, and in 2013 I left to pursue an independent practice.
Technically speaking, my parents determined this 32 years ago, as the name under which I operate is simply that which appears on my birth certificate. I’ve considered a handful of quirky monikers over the years (and have registered countless unused domains), but have always found something vaguely inauthentic about a label which could suggest my work is anything more ambitious than the efforts of a single man laboring at a desk. Referring to my relatively modest capabilities as a “studio” feels a bit like false advertising. Working under the smaller umbrella of your own name also attracts projects of a proportionately smaller scale, which I much prefer to months-long campaign grinds which never fail to leave me wishing I’d chosen instead to pursue a respectable career as a garbage collector. I guess you could say the name (or lack thereof) represents a desire to keep things simple.
Editorial work is erratic in a way that occasionally takes some coerced effort to appreciate. Projects arrive more or less at random and often with punishingly short deadlines, so each day ends up molding itself around a slightly different set of conditions which are never wholly familiar nor wholly unique. Generally speaking, though, I’m at the helm by 7, dedicating my time to sketches earlier in the day and piecing together more finished pieces later in the afternoon. My creative faculties tend to evaporate as the day goes on, and I’ve found that aiming the more productive morning hours toward concepts yields the strongest results. Executing an idea that has already been developed is (for me) the more straightforward half of the equation — sort of like building a house after you figure out where the walls need to go. The whole process is, without fail, punctuated by coffee breaks and dog walks, so I guess you could say the only guaranteed certainties are the consumption of caffeine and the scooping of poop.
“You only get hired to do the kind of work you’ve already done.” Michael Beirut said something to that effect during a lecture once, and it always stuck with me. Actually, I think he was paraphrasing a view communicated to him years before by another well-regarded designer, which I suppose says something about the tenacity of the sentiment. Despite sounding more like a catch-22 than an actual piece of advice, that reminder was instrumental in helping me crack open the editorial door — which, after resigning a studio job and having absolutely no relevant illustration pieces in my portfolio, I found somewhat challenging. Art directors, understandably, have little incentive to take a risk on someone who hasn’t demonstrated at least a modicum of ability to create the kind of work they’re in charge of commissioning. The only way to manufacture the necessary body of work was, essentially, to fake it. I spent my free time digging through old magazine articles, creating illustrations in the style and spirit of the work I’d seen published before, and posted my experiments in every corner of the Internet I could access. A handful of these were miraculously posted on a design blog, and the very next day I received my first commissioned editorial assignment. It almost felt like I’d tricked someone into hiring me to create work I had only pretended I knew how to do.
Make it stop.