Today I celebrate the one month mark since I've arrived in Los Angeles with the intention of calling it "home." The question I get almost 100% of the time is, "How is LA treating you?" So I thought I'd give a quick run-down of the answer to that question for any interested parties:
→ I both feel like I've been here much longer than one month and also that I am completely unsettled & new. I wouldn't have guessed how long I would feel like I was in vacation mode. This is made possible mostly by the fact that I am now self-employed, so my time is 100% my own, and it's easy to spend a full day driving around running errands & learning the city or apartment hunting and getting no work done. Having lived in 3 different places in the last month also plays a big part in this. Although the hospitality of my hosts is unparalleled, it's very difficult to find focus when you are a guest.
→ The transition here is much harder than I expected. There's something that happens when you move to a place you've had a habit of visiting & loving. I imagine it's similar to the honeymoon stage of a marriage being over, where you take off the blinders and get to see something for everything it is, for better or worse. This isn't to say I regret my move or dislike LA by any stretch, just that I'm really LEARNING about this city, the ins & outs, the highs and lows, of which there are many on either side. Car culture, learning my way around this city which has zero method, only madness, apartment hunting with incredibly limited knowledge of neighborhoods, the fact that it's near impossible to get food delivered, all very new and strange. But there are lots of great things, like the fact that when you make plans with someone, you tend to spend longer amounts of time with them because they probably drove out of their way to meet up. In NYC, I saw my very closest friends once a month, if that. Here I see them once a week. All very new & interesting.
→ The first week I arrived here, I was contacted by a great agency called Something Massive. Their Creative Director is also a New York transplant, and I've been working with them on projects here and there. Some really fun work in a great office in West Hollywood with a roof where people actually sit and eat lunch...away from their computers...and talk about things...and everyone is really nice.
→ I have a few other smaller projects I've been working on since I've been here, but mainly I just wanted to share some of the stuff I've been workshopping away from the computer. It's been a slow burn to slide out of vacation mode and into a place where I can focus, but I feel like I'm starting to explore some visual styles & less traditional media than before, and it feels really good. Once I find a permanent residence & get set up, things should really pick up.
I've been really disconnected from the conversations of social media and everyone's lives so please get in touch & tell me how you are & what you are up to. I'd love to hear from you. xx
Last week, my friend Jack & I gave a talk at California State University Long Beach to the upperclassmen of the design program. It's Jack's alma mater, and when he found out I was slated to be on the West Coast by the time he would be back to give the talk, he asked me to join him on attempting to impart some wisdom on a few impressionable young minds. I was hesitant at first because I had never given a talk before, and at 28 years of age, what the hell do I know? But then I thought, "What the hell do any of us ever know really?" and agreed.
Jack and I met a few years ago when Jon Contino spoke for AIGA NY. Our mutual type-minded friend, Aaron Carambula, was hosting the event & while we were all saying our 'hello's & 'good job's post-talk, Aaron asked if Jack & I had ever met. We hadn't. And so we did. Thanks Aaron! Jack and I had very different paths to get to where we are, we're in very different places now, and if you put our bodies of work next to each other they could look quite on opposite ends of the spectrum, so when we started preparing for the talk, we had no idea how it was going to go. To our pleasant surprise, when we started brainstorming and comparing notes, we had many of the same things to say. Our thoughts on imperfection, putting yourself out there relentlessly until something gives, and learning how to grow and move through the industry based on surrounding yourself with those you respect & admire (and who you can throw back a few beers with) came together pretty seamlessly. And no rotten fruit was thrown. So I'll chalk it up to a success.
Here are a list of resources we recommend for community involvement, both local & international, continued learning, creative growth, and business tools. In no particular order (except probably for the first one, because TDC has been such an integral part of both of our careers):
• Type Directors Club / Type@Cooper
• Art Directors Club
• The International Printing Museum
• Armory Center for the Arts
Conferences / Community Events
• Weapons of Mass Creation Fest
• Designer Vaca
Continued Learning / Resources
• Go Media
• Secret Handshake
• Pricing & Ethical Guidelines by Graphic Designer's Guild
• Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro (and all of the "A Book Apart" books)
I write to you halfway through my Road Trip from New York to Los Angeles from the beautiful home of my sweet friend, Kathleen Shannon, in Oklahoma City. I feel refreshed after early-to-bed & early-to-rise, having slept on the planet's most comfortable bed. Kathleen's home is probably how I'd imagine my dream home, if I had to imagine it. Perfectly decorated and mostly modern, but with a ton of earthy, rustic pieces that feel appropriate both for the South and for Kathleen's warm personality. I think the trip is serving its purpose, but it's kind of hard to tell. The further I get, the more I feel like I'm in a huge cloud of confusion. There is some type of a mental wall I've felt since I made the decision to make this life change that I haven't been able to completely identify, let alone conquer. The block comes when I've had an idea for something I'd like to do, but once it comes time to put any plan into action, I freeze. I feel like there's pressure to have every move I make be the right one. Like I'm about to make the final three-point shot at the end of a tied basketball game, and everyone's watching as my ball flies through the air in slow motion, headed for the net as the clock runs out... But that's just fucking ridiculous. And what I'm realizing is that everyone, together, has nothing figured out.
Last Saturday, I left my apartment in Brooklyn, drove down to Baltimore with one mom, one cat, and all my stuff. I then dropped off the mom, the cat, and half of my belongings, and shoved the rest of it into my 2003 Hyundai Sante Fe, headed for Shenandoah National Park. As per usual, I was running behind schedule, so by the time I reached Skyline Drive with the intention of traveling the 105 mile pass through the mountains to my destination in Southern Virginia, it was dark and the road was closed. I went the rest of the way the direct route, and spent the first night in a long time truly alone. When I say "alone," I don't mean just without another human. For the first time in a very long time, I had no residence, no city to call home, and no job. I had no landlord, no bills due, no cat to tend to...nothing but the life I had packed in my car and the relentless support of my family and friends. This freedom, however, has been neither easy to realize nor digest. A dream is a wish your heart makes...but when your head as to try to wrap around it, it can be a bit of a trip.
In a conversation with a Twitter design friend the other day, I was confronted with my feelings on Design and my Career. His tweet had me replying with a flurry of deep thoughts like— What does it mean to be a "good" designer? and What does it mean to be a "better" designer than before? I started questioning my love for both the craft and the industry of design. I thought maybe I was so jaded, I had lost my love for it, and I wished I could get it back. However, this reaction seemed a little extreme and unreasonable. I still draw letters as therapy and am filled up when I see sound and beautiful design. I knew I had to dig into this feeling and try to find out what was really going on. On second look, I saw that I still loved design but the things that had thrilled me at 23 years old weren't the same as what excites me at 28. This isn't destruction, this is evolution. And it is natural. Upon realizing I was being a total internet bummer, I deleted all of my introspective tweets and apologized for bringing down the party. This friend showed support for not being afraid to admit I didn't have it all figured out. I said I never would, and he assured me I wasn't alone. "Good," I said, "because I can deal with being clueless, but I couldn't deal with being lonely."
The road block I have felt when trying to make decisions to write, speak, or take on projects since leaving my job, I now realize, is rooted in the fear that as I get older, I have it less and less figured out. But it turns out that I'm not alone. Between the incredibly hospitable & generous friends that have hosted me on this trip, internet friends I've never met, and all the rest of the awesome people in my life, I realize that no one has it figured out & probably never will. But if I establish that here and now, and start from there with everything I do, the massive weight of the big picture is lifted off of my shoulders, the fear I once felt turns to freedom, and the curtain of doubt starts to part. The liberation of leaving my life in New York becomes easier to swallow, and I can start to reap the benefits of this otherwise-terrifying leap. So I'm starting from nowhere. I'm starting from imperfection, and from knowing that the things I say now might sound completely ridiculous in a month or 6 or 12. But we all sound ridiculous to our former selves, and sometimes to each other. But if we start from there, we can all hold hands & make a circle around our cluelessness and keep sharing ideas and making art anyway. Because I can deal with not knowing a damned thing, but I couldn't stand to be without you.
For daily updates on the Road Trip, follow along on Instagram.
After almost 2 years, today marks my last day working at AKA NYC.
For those of you who may not know, AKA is one of 3 agencies in New York City that specializes in Broadway & theater advertising. My experience here has been one rich with highs & lows, but such is any experience that shapes you and leaves you with a book full of lessons. It's been surreal to work on Tony-nominated and Tony-winning Broadway productions with big-name actors, such as The Glass Menagerie with Zachary Quinto & Cherry Jones and All The Way with Bryan Cranston. It's been exciting to work on sassy Off-Broadway shows based on movies I love, such as Heathers: The Musical, and see my work all over the NYC subway system with people really engaging and reacting to it. And it's been really special to work with smaller operations, such as Vineyard Theatre, where I've had the chance to really get to know the teams & actors, and even be so lucky as to become friends with some of them. My takeaways from working in advertising, on Broadway, and New York City in general will make themselves clearer and clearer as I get further and further away from this phase of my life and move into a new one. A 10-day road trip is going to afford me a LOT of time to think & reflect, and as I begin my full-time freelance career, there are going to be things that I include from my time here, and things that I decide to leave behind. But for now, as I'm closing this chapter, there are a few notes I'd like to share with anyone who is considering working in advertising, or specifically Broadway advertising [Disclaimer: There's no real way to generalize this information, so, as with any advice you get, please regard it as a reflection from my specific background and set of circumstances].
Working in advertising isn't for everyone,
but it is for someone.
Six months after I graduated from college, the recession hit, and it was the beginning of a large wave of advertising folk getting laid off from their jobs. For some of them, it was a godsend. They had been miserable in their jobs, and this was the first time they were able to really assess their lives sans advertising (or sans a full time job). Many of these people went on to start their own businesses of some sort, and a lot of these people gave started giving talks for professional organizations. Recent graduates like myself would attend these talks in hopes of hearing some speck of advice we could utilize to build a career for ourselves, but much of what I heard was, "ADVERTISING IS THE DEVIL. RUN!" But rarely did I hear any type of actual analysis of what it was that made people say this or where the individual was coming from.
Having now been pledged & hazed through my own set of circumstances, here's my take: Advertising is an industry full of tight deadlines & large budgets, which equal a lot of pressure. Some people live off of the adrenaline rush you can get from crunching so hard on a project and winning the business, selling the idea, and/or seeing the work you spent so many late nights on used, loved, and engaged with in the big wide world. Some of the demands of the work can be so intense that some personality types may not be able to flourish or even withstand this type of pressure long enough to reap the rewards. While I do find certain challenges in the intensity, I will miss the crunch, the win, and the rush.
Visual design is not dead.
At my previous full time job as the only visual designer at a digital marketing & content company, I had a lot of friends who had really cool UI/UX design jobs at start-ups. I desired the flexible schedules, casual, fun work environment, and creativity that start-ups seemed to offer. So I thought that in order to have that type of job, I had to become a UI/UX designer. Web design was not my strong suit, mainly because it wasn't my passion. Typography was. I wanted to draw letters and make beautiful visual work. But I was surrounded by people in my professional community who insisted designers needed to code and that if you didn't focus in screen design as your main profession, there was no money and potentially no jobs...and definitely no "cool" jobs where you could potentially break some ground & have eyes on your work.
I fell into my job at AKA. I got a call about the opportunity from a friend & headhunter the day I got laid off from my previous job at the digital company & within a week, I was jumping in the deep end designing some early key art exploration for the newest Broadway production of Macbeth, starring Alan Cumming. I spent the day making lettering that looked like blood. "THIS IS AWESOME," I thought, while simultaneously being super intimidated of the incredibly intense work environment around me and my future new teammates & boss. They were soooo cooool & really good at....ya know, design and stuff. Broadway is an old industry. It's full of history & the bulk of people who buy tickets to shows still check their mail. So posters, printed mail pieces, and everything else that is informed by key art and visual design is still king. It was then that I realized how lucky I was to find an opportunity where I was able to create art for an audience that still appreciated it, in an environment that was vibrant & exciting. I will always know my basic HTML & CSS, but I do not need to be a developer or UX designer...because I would much rather work with someone who has devoted as much time to getting great at those specialities as I have at visual design. And I will always feel lucky to have had the opportunity to become confident in that belief.
The Art Director vs. The Letterer
Coming from a lettering background, my learning curve on how to work within the advertising process was great. "Last thing first" means conceptualizing & then quickly composing posters to communicate the ideas to either clients or teammates. Some of you may be familiar with this process but I was not. My default was, as my boss calls it, "noodling in the details," where you want to dig in and spend time to make everything perfect. Breaking myself out of this habit, or knowing when to engage noodle-mode vs. looking at the big picture, was an incredibly painful process, I can't lie. I had to break out of my comfort zone & shoot to the complete other end of the spectrum. It was hard & there were times where I thought I wasn't going to or didn't want to make it. But after a while, I got better and better at it, and today I think I've passed the test. And I believe it has made me stronger, faster, and more versatile than I ever thought possible. Additionally, knowing both sides of the coin & understanding both mindsets I believe will be incredibly beneficial when working with art directors from the freelance side. I suppose if you don't accept the challenge, you never reap the reward.
My experience working in advertising, in Broadway, and at AKA NYC has been a roller coaster ride, but I will always give thanks for having the opportunity to work in an industry that is so much older & larger than myself, for an audience of people that are much different than myself, in an environment full of highly creative individuals that are driven to break ground & make the best work they possibly can. Being able to learn and create here has never seen a dull moment, and I thank everyone who has contributed to the experience. I'm looking forward to bringing every lesson I've learned in my time here forward with me into my freelance practice, and with that, I close this chapter.
Friends, Co-horts & Internet Peeps of all Walks,
I'm about to go on a roller coaster ride of a life change, and I wanted to share it with you. On November 1st, I will be packing up my car & relocating to Los Angeles. After more than 5 years in NYC → Brooklyn → Williamsburg and my entire life in the Northeast part of the United States, I feel like it's time for a change of pace on a number of levels, and LA could be just what the doctor ordered. Along with the move, I will be leaving my job at AKA NYC and diving into a full time creative practice, focused on lettering, branding, and art direction. In between, I will be packing up the car & road tripping across this great (but also kinda weird) country of ours.
I tend to be mystified by designers who write/blog. It's kind of like that Mitch Hedberg joke (RIP) about acting when you're a comedian. But in the last few weeks, in conversations with people about the move, I've felt more support for the idea than I am sometimes able to muster myself. (This shit is scary!) So I feel I owe it to those who have been so kind, sweet & supportive, and anyone else who may be interested, to share whatever awesome, beautiful, weird, crazy, disturbing things may occur between now and...some span of time in the future from now...through this blog.
To begin with, some of you may be wondering why? Why the other side of the country? Why LA? Why start your own business? Why now? Well, the short version is that it's just time. The longer version is that: 2 years ago, I visited LA for the first time. One of my nearest & dearest from college had recently moved there, I had been going through some tough life stuff, and he had been bugging me to come out, so I decided - why not? Within 20 minutes of arrival, I immediately felt at home. I felt peaceful and comfortable, but also something vibrant was buzzing in the air. I imagine it's easy to feel this way when you escape the NYC where you've been battling stress from a failed relationship and an advertising job, but there was something beyond the sunshine & palm tree-lined streets that felt right to me. That feeling lasted the entire trip, which lasted through the entire next trip the following year, which has persisted over time...so much so that once my landlord informed my that he sold my building, the idea of relocating immediately popped into my head.
This could all be a horrible mistake. I could get to LA & realize it's not for me. Maybe I'll be back in New York in a year, maybe I'll be somewhere else. But the fact of the matter is that I'm doing something terrifying that is making me feel alive. I'm forcing myself into a very new situation in order to force growth & change upon myself instead of getting too comfortable in the go-go-go of this wonderful, ridiculous, soul-crushing city. And I hope you're with me, because I need you now more than ever. I will be sharing my road trip and process of getting set up out West, and I would love to hear from anyone who has gone through similar transitions and has any advice or suggestions. I am an open book, and it feels about as exciting & terrifying as waiting in line for a roller coaster...so here we go.