How did you get your start?

Hey guys!
Super new to the graphic design field and still trying to find my footing in the industry and thought I would reach out in some online communities to get some feedback!

When and how did you get started in the Graphic Design industry?

at 16 years old I made stencil letterings for a railroad company. I still do not know what a /16 tolerance was and was precise that i was told i should not have to worry about that.

I was a physics major in college with the intent of becoming an astronomer, then took an art class and decided I liked art better (more creative, less math). I enrolled in a university fine arts program studying sculpture, which, after the first year, became apparent as a dead end to earning a living. I switched to the nearest program in the same university college that looked like a viable path to a career — graphic design. That was 40-plus years ago.

I had always been interested in art and at the rise of the computers in the 80s/90s, I became very interested in digital art and the software used. My friend’s dad growing up was a graphic designer and let me install a copy of his Photoshop 3.0, I must have been around 10 years old at the time.

Photoshop became an every day activity for me during my middle school years. Then the high school I attended had a trial magnet program that allowed you to drop your elective classes, and instead be bused to a local technical school for training in specific trade skills. I enrolled in their commercial art program and got certified by the time I finished high school.

I opted to “take a break” before going to college and try getting a job in the field. I landed a junior designer position at a small local agency making those rotating banner ads you’d see at kiosks in shopping malls at the time. That was about 20 years ago, and I never did make it back to college haha.

In 1980-something, after working for 6 years on the Production floor for a commercial appliance manufacturer, I took a “company” job in their Service Department, training technicians and answering tech support calls. At the time, it was also among that department’s responsibilities to author and paste up training, service and instruction manuals. About 2 months in, the person who had been doing that was promoted and the tedious tasks fell to the low man—me. Desktop publishing was still quite a new thing, and thankfully, I took to it quite well.

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I think I always knew I wanted to do something graphicy, or illustrative (unless the rock star path opened up). Worked towards that. Did my degree, then did a lot of pavement-pounding, portfolio in hand, in London to get a break. Eventually, did, after a couple of weeks sofa surfing at mates’ houses. Worked for four years until I realised that I didn’t like working for other people, so I quit in order to work for myself. Done so ever since. Still working on achieving part-time rock star status though!

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This is all true:

I graduated from art school with absolutely no computer experience (I feel old now). The week after my last class I pounded the pavement around Boston and found 2 jobs; one full time and one freelance - just by cold calling with my book.

At the end of that week, my house was burnt down by an escaped mental patient. It was the night before my graduation ceremony (the Key Note speaker was Harvey Kurtzman, creator of Mad Magazine btw - so I missed out).

3 days later I was in Stuttgart Germany where I was accepted to the State Aka of Visual Arts. When I arrived at the school, they had no idea who I was AND had lost my portfolio (bear in mind, all my other art was ashes now). I showed them my matriculation letter, they showed me the door.

I went to Tubingen, Germany and got an assistantship at the Zeichen (drawing and painting) Institute at Eberhardt Karls Uni. That allowed me to get a work/student visa and stay in the country until the following semester when I was “re” accepted into Stuttgart aka. My professor was Heinz Edelmann, the creator of The Beatles “Yellow Submarine” film. I learned absolutely nothing from him except the arrogance and anti-foreigner attitude of my classmates. Later, I found out he was the one that had lost my portfolio. I hired a lawyer to write a letter stating the monetary value of my portfolio, and that they owed me that money. A week later, “Ding”, someone found my portfolio.

Apart from school I was mainly doing reproduction work and playing for the local soccer team (very low league). I had paintings touring all over Germany and was selling about 1 ever 2 weeks. Meanwhile, I’d started a children’s book and played in bands.

When I got back to the USA I didn’t sell a single painting worth more than $300. So I started looking for gigs. Eventually, I was unable to continue painting (for cost) and moved further into design and illustration work.

I started a live music recording company with a friend. Through that I started doing promotions and event coordination, logistics, and basically babysitting the talent. The pay sucked. The hours sucked. So I moved to Austin to work for Samuel’s Jewelers.

Unknown to me at the time, the entire art department (5 people) were just fired for working on personal projects at the office and stealing equipment.

For the first year I worked on average of 70hrs per week. I ran 3 computers at a time to keep up with the needs of the 150+ stores as well as produced all peripherals, signage, translucencies in-house in addition to the 7million catalogues per promotion (8 per year) through a Flexo printer. Over 3 years I streamlined the entire process so one person could run the whole department. Therefore, I asked for a raise. They said no. I walked.

Update: Samuels has recently gone bankrupt because the owner, and diamond suppler, was overvaluing the stones through an “independent laboratory” that was anything but. He is now in prison for fraud and I am waiting to see if anyone from the Federal Court wants to speak with me about all the diamonds I made prettier in the catalogues (thinking, as it was my first big gig, that this was a normal process).

Realizing I was at a dead end and hating the corporate atmosphere, I decided I needed a change and looked into law school. I applied to 20 schools and went to the best one I could get into: Tulane Law School. I moved from Florida to New Orleans and started. Two weeks later, Katrina hit and I was back in Florida. I eventually finished TLS and went on to work in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. though I was able to work in Amsterdam, Berlin, and The Hague, I hated it.

After 3 years of that crap I decided to be happy instead of rich.

Now I make stickers - I have a great job, my freelance is booming, and I can see I will be making more money in the next 10 years than I would have made in law.


OK. That mirrors my experience too.

Here’s where we part ways. That was DEFINITELY NOT my experience. Geech! That’s some awfully bad luck. At least you got to spend some time in Germany working and was eventually accepted (again) into the school. It’s amazing how Herr Edelmann miraculously found your portfolio when faced with a law suit. That’s quite a story.

I wrote all that crap for a reason.

If someone can get knocked down as many times as me but is still standing, then they can too. But it’s no different than any other work. You have to be committed to it, be good at it, and always learning more.

I don’t ever want to hear from anyone that “it’s too hard” to get work. I lost everything I owned twice, including all my art supplies and work stock.

Please write a book! Lots of crazy and relevant experience there.

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I started out taking my general education courses in college with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I don’t think there was ever an “aha!” moment where I realized I wanted to be a designer, but I enrolled in my school’s design program. The restaurant I was working at got bought by a family who also owned a winery. They were looking for a new designer after having trouble working with a family member. My manager at the time told the new owner that I was in school for design and we set up a portfolio review. At the time I only had student work to show, but it was good enough. I got hired while still in school. I got my degree and have been at the same job for two years now.

I hate to say it, but I fell ass backwards into this job. It just goes to show that it pays to network and speak passionately about what you do. You just never know who will end up needing someone and thinking of you to fill the position.

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i think he just did write a book in that post

I did that also. I went to a local community college @ $66/class hour lol. Took drawing courses, all my electives, a couple drafting classes… When I took the career guidance tests I was told I should be 1. a circus clown, 2. a musician, or 3. a lawyer.


If you could combine all three that’s pretty niche …

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Instead of Unfrozen caveman Lawyer it will be “The singing lawyer-clown”. But that might be redundant. :slight_smile:

I was always drawing when I was a kid. Then when we got a computer (back in 1985), my father taught me how to do things in DOS. Since I was creative and techy, I wanted to graphic design in college.

A mis-guidance counselor in high school, however, told me I had to take French because “all the artists are French.” (They’re not, obviously, and my fave was Dalí). I was already taking Spanish and so I added French, but then when I got to college, I decided to pursue a BFA in graphic design and a BA in foreign languages.

My computer science teacher in college asked if I’d want to change my major to that, because I picked up HTML quickly. (This was when websites were first being built.) I thought about it for a second but kept on with my original plan.

I interviewed for design jobs before graduating and got something lined up to start two days after that. Ironically, I never finished my design degree. So I took my foreign language degree and a graphic design job at a nonprofit.

Helping nonprofits ended up being the focus of my own business, as I had built up that client base from connections from that first job and onward.

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