When I was in college I can’t tell you how many times the subject of “what makes art–art” came up. Everyone had his or her own ideas and theories some of which I agreed with and some not so much. Of course there was the occasional “non- art major” who belted out with ” How can someone call that art?” when viewing a slide of one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings or my all time favorite – Mondrian. So what does make art, art? Well I have my own theories, one of which I discovered years ago when I came across what has become my all time favorite quote. It is something I have molded my own business and design theories around. Whether it would win an argument in the war room we used to call Art History 101 or not – I don’t know. But it has proved successful in turning an overnight freelance designer into a very successful design agency.
I took a huge risk for the sake of making art six years ago. After graduating from College I worked several years in design firms, including a magazine, a recruitment advertising agency, a design/printing firm and lastly as an in-house Art Director for a very large restoration company in Fort Worth, Texas. In my years as a designer for firms, I learned a lot about what makes the industry work and what doesn’t. It was a major time for me to become more than just average with the tools used to do my job. However, one of the greatest things I learned about advertising wasn’t the applications, or how to work under great demands and crazy deadlines. The most valuable lesson I learned is how quickly the design business can become mundane and no longer fun. Even more importantly how marketing under the direction of someone else can become nothing even resembling art. While I value very much my time spent in agencies, I know that my real learning experience came once I set out on my own.
When my family was transferred back to East Texas I had two choices. I could work for a small town ad agency struggling to make the “mom and pop” businesses’ of the world seem more than just mundane. Or, I could demand more of myself by setting out on my own, and take the chance to try to be successful creating real art for advertising the way I felt it should be. I chose to utilize the contacts and relationships I had built while in the industry in Dallas and Ft. Worth and get them to take a chance on me. Of course, the first year was scary, and many times I asked myself if I had lost my mind. However, after I got into the swing of things I realized without a doubt it was the best bridge I ever jumped off.
The thing I liked least about working for an agency was that I was given a certain set of customers to focus on, or in-house I was working to market the same business with only limited ways to sell. Trying to be creative and artistic in a redundant world was very smothering. I now have a client base of over 40 companies, ranging from investment firms to high fashion couture designers–and everything in between. Although some of my customers are, what you could call, “limiting” on the creative end, those who aren’t limited open up my mind to possibilities that carry over to those who are. There are no limits now to what I can do out from under the restrictive agency thumb. I can take risks and make mistakes all day and my boss will not fire me because “she” knows that from that will come art!
It has been six years now since I set off on my own and I have almost tripled my earnings from the agency days. I now have two programmers and two print designers contracting to me to take the overflow of work. Most importantly I am the only person I know that loves to go to work every day. So with that being said, I guess the term ” works for me” is appropriate when speaking of my theories of art.
I not only took the risk of venturing out on my own, but I use this theory every day in running by business. This is how I feel my company has become as successful as it is today. The most important thing to remember when designing–whether it is for your own business or at an agency– is… MAKE MISTAKES! Be free enough in your design to venture into new areas. Try new things, from new applications to new design techniques. Don’t steal ideas- that is lame–BUT do watch and learn from other designers, especially if you are on your own.
There is nothing like a brainstorming session to bounce things off the brains of other designers. If you are on your own, you may not have this luxury, so network with other artists and designers and search the web. Scouring the sites of other great designers, you can create your own virtual brainstorm session. Again do not steal designs. That is an insult. Use their work of others to inspire and spark fresh ideas of your own. Many times over the years customers have asked me. “How do you always come up with so many new ideas – I would have run out by now.” and the answer to that is that I make mistakes. I record everything, concepts, ideas, thoughts,–even if I may look back at them one day and say, “what was I thinking?” It is worth having the other 10 thoughts that may rock. Taking risks can create the most beautiful works and brilliant concepts.
The negative to working for a large firm or growing fast in your own design business is that you don’t have enough time to be creative because you are too busy cranking out the work. Never let this happen! Then you become a production mill and not a designer – definitely not an artist! Give yourself time to give your customers the “Best” you have. How do you know what is the “Best” if you don’t take to time to have some “Worst”? Not once in the last six years have I pitched concepts to a customer that they did not choose the first design out of the box. Why? Because every time I concept, I take the most risks on the first design. First, I try something new that the customer may or may not choose, but that I would choose if I were the client.
Then there is the trick of deciding what is worthy of putting your name on, and what isn’t. Some may say, “Why spend time creating something you won’t pitch?” That is what being creative is all about. I make sure nothing leaves my “outbox” or is posted to my betasite that is not what I consider the best I could do. Now I will admit that I look back at old work periodically and question my choice at the time? But this is because I am constantly studying, researching and forcing myself to take the time to learn new techniques and software, and venturing out into new areas of design. I feel that if I looked back and loved everything I have done in the past that I would definitely NOT be following my own theory of taking risks to make art.
This brings me to the inspiration behind my madness…
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams.
And for all the Mac addicts reading this – I typed this article on my Iphone while traveling from Texas to Georgia over the Holidays. I too am a Mac addict. Of course that is a whole other topic!
Arnold Graphic Design