Monday, April 23, 2012

Interview: Graphic Designer/Artist

Are you interested in a career in art? Have you ever drawn cartoons (anime)? Wondering how you could put your talents to use and find work in this field? Check out this interview with someone who began at ARCC..... Read on!
This week, we’re talking to Russ, who works at Mintel Group Ltd. in Chicago as a Graphic Designer.
Name of school where you earned your degree: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Major: Film, Video and New Media
Current Job Title: Graphic Designer
·        How did you choose your major/career?
I chose my major based on a childhood ambition of being a cartoonist of some kind. The schools I attended didn’t offer an actual comics/cartooning course at the time, as I suspect they probably do now, but did offer courses in similar art-related fields. So, while I was going to school I took a wide variety of art classes, including courses where I could practice cartooning, but also other more practical classes like graphic design and visual communication, which were fields I noticed my friends found work in soon after graduation.
·        How did you decide which college to attend?
It took two tries for me to figure out which college to attend. I started out at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and then transferred over to The School of The Art Institute of Chicago after a year, which worked out very well, since most of the credits I earned at Anoka-Ramsey transferred over with me. I switched to SAIC on a recommendation from my photography teacher at the time.
·        What was the coursework like in college?
At Anoka-Ramsey, the art classes I enrolled in were extremely technique-oriented; a very nuts-and-bolts approach to making art, which was exactly what I needed as a teenager. There’s time enough to worry about why you’re making art for the rest of your life, but before that all happens someone will need to introduce you to the tools, technologies and processes so you know how to make art. This was slightly different from my time at SAIC, which was much more conceptual. This isn’t to say that teachers at SAIC didn’t introduce you to new skills and tools, but it was expected that you try to make a body of work that had a focus or purpose that could communicate something larger and more personal to the world at large than, let’s say, a series of exercises in which you’re practicing how to use a given medium.
·        What was the most difficult part of your college education?
Managing my time was extremely difficult for me. I would routinely underestimate how long a project should take to complete and end up pulling all-nighters like many of my peers. In hindsight, a good trick to have used would have been to estimate how long I thought a project should take to complete, then doubled that number.
·        Who is a good candidate for this career? (interests, personality, strengths)
Graphic design is a pretty varied field. There are older, well-established designers who can freelance full-time from their home studio working with a number of different clients, and there are younger people like me who work on-site for a company every day. If you’ve just graduated from college and are looking for work in the practical arts, I would approach most interviews with the question, What skills do I have that are appealing to this company? And then emphasize those skills. Most art school graduates will have to do production work, hammering out somebody else’s vision for a few years, and employers will want to know how your skills can help them. Some might want help creating content while others might want help mass-producing content that’s already been created. Either way, all the soft skills that are associated with collaboration will probably be coveted by employers: listening to people, asking pertinent questions, taking direction, a willingness to revise work you’ve already created, and offering and receiving feedback.
·        Did you begin in this job right out of college, or what was your path to get to where you are?
There was a long line of student employment and food-service jobs in my work history before I got employment with my current company. During my time at SAIC, I worked for the monthly student-run newspaper, F Newsmagazine, which was probably the single biggest boon to my resume, far more than the actual Bachelor of Arts degree I was paying and attending classes for, since it was documented evidence that I could function in a publishing environment similar to the one I was applying for. But after I graduated, I did have to work in fast-casual restaurants for a year while I was applying to various graphic design positions and trying to find the right fit.
·        What’s the best thing about being a Graphic Designer? The worst thing (if there is one)? The hardest thing?
The best thing about being a graphic designer, currently, is that I work with a team of four other designers, so I’m able to collaborate and expand my repertoire of skills through this daily interaction. This wasn’t initially the situation when I started – I was a department of one for about a year or so, and not having any designers to turn to for technical help or peer review was the worst part – but the graphic design section of the company quickly expanded. Since then it’s been helpful that when one of us within the design department learns a new skill or technique, we all benefit from it.
·        Is this career stressful? In what way?
The biggest stressor is that most of the office functions on a monthly deadline, not unlike most places in the publishing industry, so the workload and pressure increases at the end of every month, but I’ve worked this way long enough that I’m comfortable with the ebb and flow by now.
·        What surprised you about this career?
I spend a large amount of time working with people who come from a completely different educational and professional background from me every day.  So, while my immediate co-workers have a design background similar to mine, I also work with writers and analysts who have degrees in business, journalism and economics as well.
·        What are some related careers to what you are doing--what else can you do with your major/experience?
Similar careers to the one I chose are animation (where one could find work at studios in California or New York doing hand-drawn, flash or 3-D animation), creating elements for social/mobile gaming (like designing icons, characters or environments for mobile video games), illustration (most illustration work is strictly freelance for magazines, newspapers or web publications), or graphic design at ad agencies (which are everywhere, and which you would likely be creating print and web content under the guidance of an art director).
·        Is it difficult to find work in this career?
It’s not difficult to find graphic design work so long as you remain flexible and willing to learn new skills or research a new field on the fly. Often, you may be technically proficient with the all the tools or programs required for an available position, but unfamiliar with the type of work you would be expected to produce.  In these cases, there’s nothing wrong with creating new pieces of work for your portfolio to accommodate the job you’re applying for while you’re applying for it. If the opposite it is true, and you’re unfamiliar with certain tools or programs that are in the job description, then is a good resource for designers needing quick tutorials to learn new programs in a short amount of time, otherwise you can check out how-to guides from the library or watch homemade tutorials on youtube for free.
·        Do you want to continue to do the same thing, or something else?
Eventually, I would like to be a cartoonist full-time, but this is a lot like saying that, eventually, I would like to be a poet full-time. Cartooning isn’t a field that most can derive a living wage from right away. Most independently employed cartoonists have day jobs for many years before they’ve honed their skill in enough to attract a reliable client base, or if they’re creating original books, strips or animations – a reliable fan base.
·        What other advice would you like to give?
I would advise people applying for graphic design positions not to get discouraged by the amount of resumes they’ll likely submit without hearing back from anyone. Even pre-recession, an aspiring graphic designer could expect to hear back from one out of every ten potential employers, if that. This is not to mention the amount of fruitless interviewing, either. So cast a wide net and get in the habit of sending out several resumes daily, giving extra care and resume/portfolio tailoring to positions you think you’re exceptionally qualified for.

Thanks, Russ, for a great interview and insights!!

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