Friday, February 20


"HOW CAN YOU DO THIS EVERY DAY, FOR 20 YEARS?"(by guest writer Amberlyth)

That was a question from my teenager who had yet to learn what would truly give her joy in the workplace. After all, we have to work everyday to earn a living. That's a lot to swallow for an 18yr old, then to figure out what vocation they will be working in everyday for the next 30 years, at least. So I started paying attention to her strengths in 5th grade and steered her in the right direction; she's now a junior in a BA program for International Studies and a very talented writer, now in another language: Japanese. I will put my 6th grader on the same road to joy.

As for me, my path of joy started when I was 4 and knew that being an artist was where it's at. Just loved to draw and did so all of my life. Through the last 20 years all kinds of curves were thrown my way, but regardless of the many hurdles, side tracks, and adversity you may be presented with during your vocational pursuit, concrete drive and passion will always give you joy at the end of the day - every day.

How did I know what made me happy? After embarking on a Production-Illustration degree, it took a few months of analyzing my class assignments and projects, the level of joy, frustrations or talent discovered after finishing those projects to the best of my ability, then putting them in a chart with my goals (short, long, future) up against my financial needs. Plus the reality (in 1990) of a very unrefined job market for "artists".

Along with freehand drawing and sketching, found out that I love to watercolor, but didn't have the patience of a fine artist - knew it would be tough to break in right away and make money if I couldn't stay focussed. Took some photos and thoroughly enjoyed arranging them for presentation: a designer was born. Really got into pencil and marker renderings but was graded down - but not for shoddy work, that was top notch - it was for skipping steps. Since my speed was developing, I would always jump from thumbs to final art. Had a real knack for anything computerized and gained a rep right away for being able to solve software, hardware, communication, network - and eventually, project execution problems when taking any data or desktop publishing class (back then they didn't offer specific application/software classes other than Pagemaker). Problem with that was I do not think in code like some programmers I know: so getting a job in computer science would be difficult while at the same time, canceling out the fun I had designing. Little did I know that code can be beautiful; didn't find that out for another 10 years after pursuing a tech degree ;-) When I finally got my hands on an exacto knife and some amberlyth, my natural talent for color cutting and production work was clear - and those jobs were abundant at the time. Using traditional methods, PMT/STAT cameras, chemical development, clay-coated paste-up boards, galley sheets of text spit out by typesetting equipment so large, it took up a whole room; amberlyth overlays registered by hand with registration mark tape. That's traditional graphic production without computers. Knew that I was on to something when I hung up mechanicals at our annual portfolio show.

My classmates were all jealous because I was the first one to get a job in the field within my first quarter in the program: at a direct mail firm. You know those missing children cards you get in the mail? I used to make those, and the ads that came along with it (marriage mail). It seems like a lifetime ago working part-time at $6.50 an hour. But there was insurance and 401k benefits for me and my children, so staying in-house seemed to be the righ track until my kids are grown. Since then I've read countless books, honed new skills as a volunteer in my community, attended weekend workshops, and signed up for certificate classes to build on my education, perfect my craft and stay current with trends and latest technologies. I went from drawing and painting, to traditional paste-up and pre-digital print production methods, to web programming, SEO for marketing and UI design - while being a master at anything printed; all the way back to discovering fun new mediums for hand-painted artwork and digital collage work. There is no part of the advertising and marketing industry that I haven't explored, including the management side. Thought I would like that, but it's no fun and all numbers - I missed being in the trenches creating the work and didn't mind being behind the scenes. As long as my boss liked it and my paycheck reflects that - I'm good.

Now that college is in sight for my youngest, I will become a solopreneur soon enough, with a business and patent pending that should sustain me for another 20 years or more. But while achieving later solo success remains to be proven, I can share with you what has propelled me to a dream position(and pay grade) I hope to keep until that new journey begins:

do what gives you joy
- day after day, year after year, you'll rely on that joy when the honeymoon is over
- employers change, mergers happen, and budgets shrink - but if you like what you do, it all works out

practice your passion
- with so many sectors in the industry, find a specialty and immerse yourself
- branch out only after you gain confidence in one area and your skills solid

breaking into the biz
- get to know fellow designers through networking, you never know what can come your way
- it helps to be involved with your community and get to know your neighbors

accept "nature of the beast" in this industry
- deadline pressure, heavy workloads, errors, late hours, technical issues, print problems, team woes, time-clocks
- do your best every time and if there is a mistake, make sure to own up to it right away

be who you are, not what you do
- make a decision early on what you are willing to work on as an artist, making sure that certain industries and projects will not put you in a position of conflict so you can make the decision to never work in those industries
- It is totally possible to attain fulfilling employment without compromising your beliefs or expecting an employer to bow to them.
- do not limit yourself by your trade, nurture entrepreneurial aspirations outside of your vocation, while using your skills to keep it in motion

respect your position and those who support you

- always remember that your position exists to make your boss - and the company - look good
- it is ok to help others by sharing tricks of the trade
- frequent communication between you, your co-workers, and your boss will build trust

take the hardest projects
- do not ever get comfortable in your job
- always challenge yourself and become known as the one who will take on the hardest projects; this you cannot learn in school, but can take that knowledge wherever you go

perpetual learning, stay current but remember your roots
- books, classes, seminars, workshops, credit courses, continuing education, video lessons, tutorials, trends, tactile experimentation, forums, clubs, volunteer work
- that degree 5 years ago is already outdated yes, but stay grounded with traditional trade standards and roots, no matter your profession
- I have long believed that it is up to us as designers to be aware of how our products (designs, artwork, prose, images, websites, games, movies, commercials, etc., etc.) can and will be distributed from the inside out.

ignore titles
- pay attention only to your job requirements, compensation and job duties. Do not EVER let it take the focus off your job responsibilities.
- If you agree to the terms of a prospective job without doing your share of interviewing in the process, you may end up miserable and be tempted to complain DON'T DO IT. Bide your time, do your work, and get another job.

know when to jump

- when you do look for another job, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Being able to forecast layoffs, bad mergers, poor management, or lack of growth opportunities will mitigate decisions based on pay, benefits, commute, and overall job satisfaction.

Most everything listed is related to action, but don't underestimate the importance of planning and thinking. Those undervalued actions dictate project success and your career success - always build it into your time.

Amberlyth is a veteran graphic designer who is still taking names. She's also a fellow HOWie. Check out her wonderful blog here -> Howie Haven


Aji said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Juggling Jason said...

Thank you very much Aji!

Shayla said...

This article was jam-packed, overflowing with useful information and inspiring.