I suppose I can recall some important moments in my childhood that contributed, but undergrad at Mississippi State is where things really clicked. I’m pretty sure I fell in love with graphic design while in my first class with Kate Bingaman-Burt. Prior to that class, I had a very limited understanding/exposure examples of graphic design. She introduced me to everything—from zines to Milton Glaser to branding systems to hand lettering to contemporary illustration. I started making a lot of work outside of classes. A lot of weird drawings, watercolor paintings, and screen prints. I also started deejaying ridiculously themed parties where I would do installations and make merch for each show (i.e. “Sweatageddon, the sweat that ends all sweat”). That was a really important time for me creatively. It helped shaped my voice, experiment with style, and diverse my interests.
I was considering graduate school, but had no idea what I would do and also received sound advice from several people that it would be best to have a few years out of undergrad to let life happen before diving back into academia. The plan was to marry my childhood sweetheart and move to Portland in 2009, but due to economical reasons we ended up in Austin after the honeymoon. There wasn’t a real plan. I did some freelance work while in undergrad that carried over through graduation and it snowballed into a career. This is not a path I recommend to students. It’s best to go somewhere and get experience! About 3 months after graduation I was fortunate to meet some guys working independently in the creative industry and moved into a shared studio with them (Public School). This is where I started to learn about business—project management, invoicing, taxes, contracts, running meetings, etc. Collectively we grew together and found our way into the creative community through running a blog, throwing parties, and group exhibitions. Individually paths diverged and developed into strong careers over time.
At first I was looking too closely at too few of people. I would suggest anyone to develop a broad range of influences, especially outside of the industry you’re interested in, and constantly be experimenting. Challenge yourself to grow. Your style & voice are going to mature over time, but ONLY if you’re making a TON of work. Ask yourself questions like “why do I like this?” and “what about this illustrator doesn’t do it for me?”. Remember it’s okay to not like things, but always try to be a positive influence.
This summer I’ve been working on a series of illustrations (animated gifs) for Adweek covering a wide range of topics. For the past two summers I have had the pleasure of working with the awesome team at Nick Jr. on title treatments and illustrated assets for TV IDs. I have a few apparel designs in multiple Quiet Life collections—one launched this summer and more will be releasing next year that I’m stoked to see!
I will be speaking this weekend about Public School, alongside Cody Haltom and Keith Davis Young, at ICON The Illustration Conference in Austin, TX. In August I have a solo exhibition of new paintings and sculptures at Companion in Austin, TX. At the end of August I’ll be in Huntington Beach, CA for another mural project with Rudy’s Barbershop. The rest of the time I’ll be hustling on client work to pay the bills, personal work to keep me interested, and hanging with my family as much as possible to keep me grounded.
Being positive, honest, and curious will get you pretty far in life and whatever is next after graduation. Also, keep in mind that you’re likely going to work a lot of jobs that are not your dream job—whether that’s in-house, freelance projects, or part-time. But you should be eager to take on new experiences to figure out what it is that you want to do with design—it just takes time.