Well, I didn’t really choose graphic design as a career. Let me start at the beginning: I’ve always drawn. At age 12 I got my first drawing published in a German fanzine and I was hooked. From then on I kept looking for opportunities to put my work in print and that continues today.
After that first drawing, I gradually took over that fanzine one column at a time. I was on my way to becoming an illustrator. At age 16 I had a falling out with some of the the editors. That suddenly left me without a way to get my stuff seen. I had to find a new way to get my regular ink fix.
I took the ugliest ads in the local paper and redrew them—to the same specs, with the same basic information—and went to see the various store owners. I offered them a new and improved version of their ad at bargain basement prices—usually around $50, though I later went up to a whopping $250. After a while I had quite a few regular clients around town. I even figured out how easy it was to get flat artwork made into slides to run at the local movie theater. I was a mini ad agency.
After I graduated from high school I wanted to study in Los Angeles and chose Art Center. The hard working “I’ll smack your fingers with a ruler if you don’t do it right” vibe felt very comfortable to me, and I loved the shiny black building.
I wanted to be an illustration major at first, but was intimidated by one of the paintings in the catalog—a photorealistic self-portrait by a first term student. “I can’t compete with that!” I thought. Had I done my research, I’d have found out that that student had a prior degree from another college and was also a bit psycho. But I didn’t look into it and decided to go into advertising instead. I thought “Well, I’ve already produced all kinds of ads. I know how this works. This way I get to write, design, draw, and take pictures.”
Which isn’t really what it turned out to be. Advertising is very conservative and narrow in its thinking. It’s all very segmented. After four terms I decided to switch to Graphic Design, but the financial rules at the school made that impossible. So I stayed an ad major. I just took all kinds of graphic design electives.
After graduation, I was recruited as an art director at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland. Working on Microsoft. I thought “Maybe advertising will be fun again if I go to one of the top creative agencies.” I went against my instincts and I paid the price. They’re an amazing group of people, but it wasn’t the right fit. They needed things from me I couldn’t deliver, and they didn’t have what I needed, either. As hard as we tried to make it work, I had a miserable (and thoroughly soggy) year. After that it was finally clear that I needed to be a graphic designer. That was back in 1997.
Today I’m moving away from being solely a graphic designer, and back toward being an illustrator once again. But even that is only a temporary stop-over on my way to being a full time maker of things—kind of like being an artist that doesn’t make paintings or sculptures, but books and posters, and little movies and toys, and whatever else I can think of.
—Question by Amanda Sprague