On Being a Graphic Designer
You know that person you’ve never met before who stands next to you at a party and, usually condescendingly, asks what you do, while checking around to see if there is someone more interesting to talk to nearby? Saying I’m a graphic designer is very often the kiss of death. For example, several years ago the new CEO of a company I had been working at for 10 years replied to my answer: “And why do we need a graphic designer?” I was so startled that I couldn’t immediately come up with an answer. It is clearly not a job for glory hounds as it is at its best when it’s unseen.
That said, it is incredibly fulfilling creatively. I love the rush of, finally, hitting upon the answer to a difficult problem and then refining it until it’s perfect. All the minutiae involved are challenges that can be very gratifying: the grid (or not); the perfect font (or not); whitespace (or not); fitting everything into one document (definitely); colors, or combinations of colors, or combinations of combinations of colors; finding the perfect photo/image (or not). And, of course, there are the clients. Clients are the ultimate person standing next to you at the party looking for a more interesting (talented, famous, trendier…) designer. And, frequently, they are the ones asking why they need a graphic designer.
I have been making art all my life. My mother had a story about keeping me occupied when I had the mumps (at age 4) by leaving me with a lump of clay on a tray. When she came back I had made a whole zoo of animals that were interacting with each other. One of my earliest memories (again age 4, or maybe 5) was standing at a toy easel attempting over and over to make a perfect circle with my crayon. I got so good that my older brother lied to my mother saying that I made it with a compass. My school life was unexceptional and I only really thrived in art class. (It is tragic to me that art is no longer a part of a school curriculum.) I’m not sure I would ever have graduated from high school if I hadn’t had the solace of hours every week in an art studio.
After I did graduate, and knowing not a word of Italian, I went to art school in Rome, which was an incredible experience. Living in a city, which is, essentially, a living, breathing work of art is beyond description. Every day that I was there was inspiring. I came back to New York and went to the Parsons School of Design. Being surrounded by other people who are also absorbed by the things you are absorbed by is a constant challenge. (AND I got extra credit for going to museums!) I supplemented my bank account with part-time jobs doing paste-ups and mechanicals for small art studios around the city. Looking back I really do remember it as fun and very fulfilling, even the grunt work. No one has to do that kind of physical work now and perhaps that’s a good thing. I have many scars on my hands from exacto knives and waxers. Moving into doing the work on a Mac has been a lot less dangerous.
Now I spend my days staring at a computer screen (or an iPad) and ruminating for hours and hours. Much more solitary but also great fun and all-encompassing. InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge: all tools to play with. I think that I am still that child with the lump of clay, except now I get paid to make the zoo animals interact.