Unsolicited Advice: The Whole Point

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Maria asked:   I major in graphic design right now and the more I do it the more I understand that design is what I do best. However, while I know that my ‘design sense’ or what have you is on point (yup), I know that I have so much to learn in the realm of techniques/coding/etc. etc.


Something I’ve been asking myself lately that I’m asking you now is:
How do you find a balance between doing work that you love that is totally ~you~ but still pay attention to other design(ers) and learn new processes/techniques WITHOUT just becoming a copy-paste designer?


Like, there’s design I am attracted to that I would like to be able to make, but then if I make it, am I just copying what I see and not really contributing to the ‘greater good’ of design (whatever THAT means)? Am I thinking about it too much? I just don’t want to be puking out what everyone else is doing, you know? It’s like sometimes I battle between completely ignoring what everyone else is doing or looking at others for inspiration and trying to reach the heights that (I feel) they have reached. Maybe this is okay because I am still learning.

My first reaction to this question when you sent it (over a month ago, I should add) was “omg omg omg omg fuck what do i even say.” It’s important that I own up to that reaction, because this is such a real, honest, legitimate question, and one that we basically all face. But you’re right. It is really hard to know what you should be doing, and the answer is even worse: Trust your instincts.

It is awesome that you know what you love doing. Graphic design is a tough one, because it’s art but its beauty is in its subtlety, and its perfection is often marked by invisibility, making the whole thing pretty hard to wrap your brain around. But it sounds like you also know the truth. Graphic designers have a voice just as much as illustrators, photographers, or any other type of art-maker or artist.

Trusting your instincts is hard when you aren’t sure what they are. You’re already ahead of the game if you know you really love design and are good at it. Add bonus points for knowing you have a lot to learn (because there’s ALWAYS something new to learn). Then sprinkle some more points for struggling with authenticity, originality, and care for the “greater good.” You’ve got points coming out your ears at this point. And that’s the actual point.

Sit down with a pencil and paper, and see if you can write a list of the things that matter to you. Do you want to be a “famous” designer? Do you want to work on “selling things” or “making things” or just “making” without the “things” part even defined? Great design is when the information and hierarchy and message is just all so perfect that it seems as if it all just fell that way. Great design is design that feels innate. Great design appeals to everyone, and sure, other designers like to know who made what, but the average person is just looking for the off ramp or their stop on the subway or the right hospital room to deliver balloons to.

It’s good to want to do your own thing, and good to not want to be “puking” out work. But also sometimes puke is exactly what you put into yourself in the first place. Puke is extra. Am I getting too metaphorical with body waste here? I did start this whole response with “HOOOOOOLY SHIT” before editing for digestibility. What’s all this food talk? Am I just hungry? The truth is, critical thinking matters. Critique your own work. Critique your process. But sometimes, take a step back and stare at the tiny baby you have just birthed and SMILE AT HIS DOPEY BABY FACE BECAUSE HE IS OF YOUR FLESH AND HE IS ADORABLE.

Think smarter and harder, but not too hard. Take a break but not just for coffee or a cigarette, take a break for you. Take ten minutes on the front stoop to look at dirt or trash or count steps or count freckles or stare at the clouds or stare at the sun (but not for too long) or just take a bunch of really deep breaths. And then get back to work, making, selling, crafting, coding, or doing, whatever it is that makes you feel happy. Bonus points if you get a paycheck.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Balancing Out Critiques

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Elizabeth asked: I’m in my last year of school and I still struggle, though slightly less, with finding a balance between what I want to create/what I think will work and what my professors want/think will work. Do you have any advice on striking that balance or should I just suck it up?

It is hard to “teach art.” You can teach technical skills, theory, reason, history and styles, but you can’t actually teach creativity. You can focus, sharpen, and train it to work most effectively, but at the end of the day it’s still some sort of inherent ability. I went to school for design, and there were a lot of people who were learning to be designers. They knew how the tools operated, they understood things like kerning and whitespace, and then they were sort of on their own. Some people were a little more creatively-minded. Others were dead fucking boring and made consistently shitty work that met the requirements of class assignments but was completely disposable. I know that personally I did work that fits both of those descriptions. Nobody is always good. That’s why we go to school.

Striking the balance is tricky, and that’s your challenge. You do need to respect your own ideas. You bring to the table your experiences, background, aesthetic values, influences, personality, and voice. Your professor will ideally see that in you, and help you focus it into solid work choices. So don’t let go of of that vision, and don’t just give up on it for the sake of an easier grade. Sometimes in school it’s easy to figure out what is “just enough” and do that. It is easy to take a solid grade and then move onto something else. It is easy to let your professor win and then use the extra time to get drunk on three warm beers that you stole from a party. I never drank in college. That’s a lie.

On the other hand, sometimes ideas aren’t as great printed at full size. Sometimes ideas aren’t effective when your work needs to actually communicate a message. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what is cool or fun or “you” and then end up with a final product that does not fulfill a project’s requirements. Respect the expertise your professors have. Respect the years of research, practice, and life that they have lived that you have not. Accept what they have to offer, because soon you will be in a big world where people are less willing to offer advice in a constructive way. You won’t even always have the time to re-work your pieces until they’re as great as they can be. Enjoy the opportunity for critique, and try to keep learning. Your last year of college is hard, because you often feel like you already know everything. Surprise, you don’t. I will readily admit that I thought I was good and cool and in retrospect I didn’t know anything at all until after my senior courses.

So I guess my answer here is to back down a bit, review the critique points, and consider ways to better your work. That doesn’t mean giving up and doing generic work. It means digesting the critique and working to incorporate your professor’s advice and requirements into your work. “Your work.” It is still yours. Do this often and eventually you will learn to edit yourself in the concept stage. You will simply have all those fun, awesome, creative ideas, and they will be more effective through your first and second drafts. You will be met with less resistance and you will be creating better work. This process is also sort of the entire point of going to school in an age when a 14 year old can call himself a web designer and get actual freelance work, charging way less than you do. And he might be better, too. Fuck!

None of us are ever done learning. Ever. Learn everything you can, grow from every mistake or wrong direction. Ask for help, ask for advice, get critiques from your peers as well as professors. Their word is not law, you do not need to mimic their aesthetics to get a passing grade. But you do need to recognize chances to get better, every single day, all the way to graduation, and then beyond.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Do It Your Fucking Self

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Creative work is frustrating. You come up with an attractive, useful solution to a challenge or prompt, and your clever design or awesome illustration gets shot down. It’s not the right fit, it’s not what the client had in mind, it’s “too something” or “not something enough.” That’s okay, that’s just the reality of things. Other times work is great and you make a ton of stuff that is perfect and appropriate and you are proud of your accomplishments, but you feel underutilized or maybe a bit bored. Or maybe you’re not even in that world yet and you pay bills by waiting tables at a diner. Dude, I’ve been there for all of this, and here’s my advice: Do It Your Fucking Self.

Sometimes the best way to make the work you want to make is to just make it. Draw, design, photograph and build, whatever the fuck you want, and don’t look back. Find the time for yourself and explore your ideas fully. Share the work on your own. You don’t need anyone! We live in a world where you can publish work instantly, you can get feedback nearly as quickly (“FIRST!!”). With print-on-demand services, anyone can produce prints, books, and other objects in a cost-effective and relatively simple way. I’m not even talking about printmaking, which is not nearly as daunting as it may seem (though it will require supplies, space, and time).

So get started already! Make something tangible. Hold it in your hand and give it a big smile like you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby, because you have. Recognize it as the product of your efforts, and feel warm and gooey inside. That feeling is pride, and it’s just a step away from motivation if you give it the right push. Make more work. Create more stuff. Post something on Facebook and see what your friends have to say. Update your blog. Tweet your tumblr post. You just made a set of greeting cards. “Favorite, like.” You just produced a zine. “Add to cart.” You’ve got a new t-shirt. “Buy later on Svpply.” You can do this, trust me! “Share: On Your Own Timeline.”

When we’re in school, it’s all prompts and problems, studio sessions and short deadlines. In the real world, it’s whatever you’re doing to pay your bills, and then a whole lot of nothing. Nobody’s going to send you a concerned email if you don’t turn in your first draft of a personal project, but you should still be concerned. Stay active! Stay busy! Push yourself to do what you love before you forget how to do it. You have a fucking talent! Make birthday and holiday gifts. Design party invites. “HAVE YOU GONE MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?” (Ron Weasley, noted motivational speaker).

Start off small. Create “a thing.” Then one more. Make what you love (& love what you make, see “given birth” above). Don’t worry about the bigger picture until, if you’re lucky, you may have to. D-I-Y is alive and well and you can get into it! Tap into a network of like-minded buyers on Etsy (and do it right). Grab a Big Cartel shop for your website. Participate in independent craft fairs and meetups happening in your city or bigger ones nearby. Sell small works and zines on commission to local independent bookstores and boutiques. If you’re producing great stuff, people are going to be excited about it, not just because it’s unique and special, but because you are too.

Sometimes I write advice that I should take more of myself, but this time I’m sharing advice that has kept me from going literally insane since graduation. I’ve just produced a new zine, and while I used to work in a print shop, this one is entirely home-grown, printed on my trusty laser printer, cut with the paper guillotine I keep under my bed (seriously), and assembled with my beautiful long-reach stapler. Not everyone has a small army of tools stashed around their bedroom (I’m at “Claudia from Babysitters Club”-levels, seriously), but maybe you’ll get there too. It just takes one project to start.

You can do this, your magic is real, I believe in you.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Creative Tips & Resources – Getting started, getting seen.

Freelance Jungle

Finding a foothold in the creative industries is tough. It’s over saturated, which has it’s pros and cons, but for a budding designer it’s not only daunting, but a lot of hard work to launch yourself into a career.

Just looking around the end-of-course exhibitions at universities you can see the outpouring of creative talent that comes like a wave each year. More and more talented illustrators pouring into the sea of graduates (and self-starters) all bobbing with their portfolios in hand, hoping for their next big break commission.

As I said, it’s tough, but there’s no shortage of tips and advice to help you on your way and get you some work. The main thing you have to remember is not to expect too much, too fast – keep it realistic and don’t feel downhearted if it’s taking you a while to get noticed. For most successful creatives it takes time. You work a part-time job to pay for your hours of late night illustrating. You spend months emailing, promoting, entering competitions and networking but still feel like you’re getting nowhere. You tweet, and blog, and post your illustrations on Tumblr hoping for a flurry of likes and retweets that never come. It might seem hopeless, but it’s not – think of it as planting seeds. Those seeds need time (along with a few other important factors!) to grow into saplings and on into a full blown, flourishing career tree.

If you’ve just graduated, I’m guessing that you’re feeling a little daunted at the moment. The post-grad world is never as easy or glossy as you might have expected in the womb of your uni course, no matter how well they prepared you. The deadlines aren’t about grades anymore, they’re about getting high-quality work to your client, on time and hoping that A: They’ll commission you again, B: That it will lead you onto your next job and C: That you’ll get some rent money soon. You’ll soon start to miss that group support of being in a studio with your peers, and the freelancer loneliness will kick in. In fact, you might be struggling to find any motivation at all.

When I graduated in 2010 from University College Falmouth I had been filled to the brim with professional practice preparation and some great industry experiences (think a week in New York booking meetings with some of the top publishers and agents in the business!) I’m a hard worker, and I had high hopes – so I was all set to go.

The first notable point in my career, or at least a point which gave me some much needed confidence, was at the New Designers exhibition the summer after my graduation. From our course, we each had a board to show off a number of our best illustration works to the hundreds of attendees. I got a lot of interest in my work, with a number of people coming up to talk to me about possible commissions (looking back, none of them did happen though!) and being awarded a Hallmark Cards gift bag because they loved my work so much. Great news for my fledgeling ego. It was also at this exhibition that my first agents spotted my work and contacted me asking if I’d be interested in being represented by them.

My point is, get involved with any exhibitions or events that your uni or fellow graduates are organising. Industry professionals are always buzzing around graduate art shows looking for fresh new talent (think of them as talent scouts) – so make the most of it by making sure your work, professionalism and attitude are tip top from the off set. You never know who might see your work and where that might take you.

Tigerprint have really stood out to me as a company who really take the time to scout out promising graduates and fresh talent. They’re very keen on offering up internships and taking chances on new designers to illustrate greetings cards, wrapping papers, gift boxes etc for some high-end clients.

I spoke to them about this and what they look for in a designer-

At Tigerprint we are constantly searching for new talent that could enhance our already amazing portfolio of design.

Our involvement in college projects, online competitions and sponsoring exhibitions like New Designers gives us a great opportunity to see a great breadth of creatives and the chance to invite them to work with us.  We look for : originality – something fresh and exciting, a strong skill base, diversity, commercial potential, an open mind and a personality to match! (Personality counts for so much, if you can’t talk through your portfolio and get us excited, who will??)

In terms of product type, we look for all sorts so try not to limit your market too much – many graduates that we speak to have not perhaps considered cards as a career, but maybe books, editorial etc but there are many opportunities within our industry, hence I mention keeping an open mind.

Our designers are requested to be on the ball, ahead of the game and challenged, we in turn look for this in future potential designers – are they interested in trends? Do they look at the market and see what the competition is up to? Do they fill a gap in the market place?

Your portfolio needs to cover all of this and more but especially keep it concise!

Do you see a running theme with this and some of the interviewees from the portfolios article? These clients know what they want, and need to see that you’re really on the ball and heading in the right direction with your portfolio. Keep this in mind in portfolio reviews and email correspondence. Show off your passion and professionalism!

I think we’re very lucky to be freelancing in such an age of social networking. I can’t stress how much it’s helped to develop my career in terms of both finding new commissions and having a social support network of illustrators to egg me on.

Building up an internet presence through not only my website, but Twitter, Facebook pages, Tumblr, blog sites and writing articles like these have opened my work up to a huge audience as well as allowing me to make personal connections with industry peers and potential clients.

I’d seriously recommend stretching out your fingers and sending some well-written emails to some blogs who you think might like your portfolio, and who’s audience is similar to that of your work (I’ll write a list of some that featured my work at the bottom of the post, as well as a great guide to contacting blogs for features and Creative Boom’s 72 places to get your work seen!).

Make sure you do interviews, write articles, submit work you’ve done to online magazines and blogs – all this will get your work seen, and that’s the key.

I mentioned just now about Creative Boom and wanted to take a minute to really praise these guys. Founder Katy Cowan has done a brilliant job in creating a hub for budding creatives to get together, get advice and get seen. I grabbed some quotes from Katy about what Creative Boom aims to do for freelancers and how it started up. 

Creative Boom was established in July 2009 to support, celebrate and inspire creative freelancers and firms all over the UK and beyond. It was an idea I had after realising the amount of talent that was being left undiscovered out there, and I wanted to do something about it.

You see, I’m a trained journalist and run my own PR firm. I’ve got the skills to raise my own profile and attract new customers but not everyone knows how to market themselves. That’s how I hope Creative Boom helps.

We have articles in our ‘magazine’ section to tell the world about different freelancers, organisations and agencies. We have a directory where people can get listed and found. We have a jobs board. We share people’s work. And then we offer extra support by writing tips articles to provide essential creative advice.

Apparently, because we have so many monthly visitors and a big following on Twitter, whenever we ‘share’ things, the person in question always sees a spike in web visits and many have told us that our help has led to new business.

This is essentially what we’re trying to do. Help others to become successful in business.

It’s doubtful you’ll get far in this industry without really focusing on building relationships with your creative peers. It’s all about supporting each other, cross promoting and sharing knowledge. Networking is so important, digitally and in the real world. Meeting people who have had different experiences in their career and sharing your ups and downs will help strengthen your own illustrative practice, and it’s fantastic to make bonds with people in the same metaphorical boat as you- freelancing can be very lonely sometimes! Why don’t you try banding together and organising an exhibition or collaboration – Hey! maybe even go the whole hog and start a collective? Using each other’s talents, secret powers and contacts will ultimately benefit you all – raising your profiles all round and showing potential clients that you’re easy to work with and a good old fashioned team player.

Now, I’ve touched on this before, and it’s a delicate subject which ignites flames of anger in some creatives: working for free, with the promise of exposure. You won’t believe how many ‘clients’ come forth with the glimmer of a fabulous commission but then drop the bombshell of “Oh, well, we don’t have the budget to offer payment to illustrators, but it’s an opportunity for some great exposure!”. It raises some particularly difficult morality issues if you’re starting out and don’t have any other offers of ‘real work’ on the horizon. It’s oh so tempting, and yes, I’ve been tempted into it before – mainly so I have something with a bit of direction to work on. But I have to say in a awful lot of cases I regret it – none of those promises of exposure ever delivered and it seemed like a bit of a waste of time, I could’ve been working on something I really love for my portfolio.

The main problem with clients seeking out illustrators that will work for free is that often they know there always will be illustrators willing to work for free. Post-graduates in this exact situation, like I was, and like you might be now. You’re waiting for commissions and will take what you can get for the exposure and practice – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it does become a problem when clients stop giving out paid jobs because they can prey on the newbies. Just look at these offers with a skeptical eye, weigh up if it’s really worth it and make sure you’re not undermining yourself for future commissions.

Of course in some cases working for free isn’t a bad thing at all. I’m very passionate about using my illustration work to help others through charity. It feels great to be helping others, gets you working to a brief and (without sounding like a cold-souled businesswoman) does often bring in good exposure. I’ve used my work to raise lots of pennies for some great charities in the last few years – I suppose most notably I’m very proud that I raised over £1000 for charity by auctioning screenprints of a clean up support illustration I made following last year’s London riots, and I’m currently working on some illustrations for the 2013 ‘Snowflake Ball’ in Ottawa, raising money for three great charities. It’s good to share the love!

One aspect of freelancing I often get asked about is how to go about contacting agents, publishers or art directors. It’s a tricky subject, and of course there’s no set technique. Different publishers obviously want to see different things – it’s just all about appropriating your work for your intended commissioner and understanding what would make them tick.

As a general rule: keep it concise. That means with both electronic correspondence and good old fashioned snail mail. Most potential clients won’t want to be bombarded with high-res email attachments that crash their computer, or a envelope overflowing with hundreds of print outs, stickers and business cards. Just select a few (say maybe 3-5) of your most appropriate examples of work and for email attach them as 72dpi, low resolution images – and via post put together a ‘tear sheet’ (see an example of one of mine here) or a few keepsake items (say, some nicely packaged, gorgeous postcards).

In terms of writing, stick to that same concise rule. It’s likely that your intended commissioner will receive an inbox full of emails like yours per day (not to discourage you!) – you don’t need to write in the exact details about what grade you got in your degree, or every single one of the fabulous clients you’ve worked for. The point is fore-mostly getting the client to actually look at your work.

So keep the text short and sweet, be polite and professional, but get to the point. Explain who you are, what you do and why you think your work is appropriate for their audience. Do your research and look at what sort of work they commission, use this knowledge to your advantage! I’ve found it has often broken the ice to exchange a few meaningful words on Twitter beforehand – yes, yes, I know a lot of people will scoff at this and think it’s unprofessional – but in my experience it has worked, again this is going back to that building human relationships idea.

In the end that’s what it’s all about. Publishers are just people, as are the art directors for those huge magazines, CEO’s of advertising corporations, your dream client is just a person and so are you. It’s inevitable that some people will listen to you and others won’t, that’s just the way of the world. It’s worth noting though that people like to connect on a human level and will be more willing to work with someone who’s friendly, easy to work with, positive and modestly confident (but of course with that all important element of professionalism.)

Just keep check of the way you present yourself in the creative realm, consider your actions carefully, support others and above all don’t give up – if you put your all into it, you’ll get there in the end. Enjoy the journey along the way!


Resources to check out -

Creative Boom – 73 places to get your work seen. 

Oh my Handmade – How to ethically & successfully pitch to blogs

Escape from Illustration Island – How to be attractive to an art rep , 15 steps to freelance illustration book

Freelance Switch – Kickstart Guide to Breaking into Freelance Illustration

Anna Goodson Management – How to get started as a professional illustrator

Illustration Castle blog – Getting recognised in the industry


Written by Emmeline Pidgen


Unsolicited Advice: Navigating Your Educational Path

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Hannah asked: I’m currently a Creative Writing Student due to graduate next year but I want to pursue a career in illustration. My university have offered to transfer me to the 2nd year of their Graphic Communication course but it will mean delaying graduating till 2014 as I have to re-take a year. It isn’t a problem financially but I have had a lot of conflicting advice, especially from friends currently studying illustration who all seem to think I could pursue an illustration degree if I am self taught. Any idea?

Navigating the world of arts education is an interesting and tricky thing to do. You’re hardly the first person to rethink their career path while in the middle of a program, and it doesn’t help that programs vary greatly between institutions and instructors. Not to mention different learning styles — only you know just how much you get out of each course you take, what matters, and what you feel like you’re just making your way through.

The truth is, nobody ever asks me about my degree. Sure, it’s come up, but in our visual industry, the work usually speaks for itself. That’s not to say education is irrelevant! But education and training should be inherent in the work itself, so unless you’re doing a specific degree program at a school known for that superior program, where you will network and really benefit from the best minds in and out of the classroom, I don’t know how important the specifics are. I’m hesitant to give you an outright answer, because the right decision is yours to make alone (and sometimes the “wrong” decision turns out to be the right one years later). But what I will say, with 100% confidence, is that your degree does not need to define the work that you do.

Ultimately, it’s the work you have to show that will steer employers and clients in your direction. That work may be of a different discipline, or it may vary greatly from the kind of work you anticipated creating. Ideally, your passion for the work that you are doing will be inherent in the final product, and that’s what people will reach out to you for. So whether you end up with an undergraduate degree in creative writing but have a rich design & illustration portfolio, or if you switch to design but then stay very illustration-focused, you may still find that your work takes on it’s own direction and lead you to another unseen career path. There is no “wrong” answer here.

As always, I will mention that I’m no expert, just someone navigating the real world along with everyone else. So I did what I do best… I asked some friends what they thought! What I heard back more or less echoed my own thoughts — you can do whatever you want beyond the perceived limitation of your degree, clients and employers will look at your body of work. If you want to be an illustrator, illustrate! If you’re good, people will notice.

Jenna Ullrich is an old classmate and co-worker of mine who always found a way to balance her varied skill set in her work. Though her degree focus was in design, she took lots of printmaking courses and that influence has helped her craft her aesthetic:

“You can have your cake and eat it too by taking extra courses that let you illustrate. Use your time in college to have fun and make awesome things. I definitely took advantage of this by majoring in graphic design and minoring in print media with some photo courses on the side too. Personally, I use illustration frequently within my design work so it’s totally possible for both disciplines to coexist in your career. It’s good to pursue things outside of your major as a lot of jobs out there are looking for people who have ‘back of the napkin skills.’ No joke, that was written in more than one job description. Recently, I’ve been designing infographics which require both my illustration and design skill sets. There’s no limit to where your talents can take you and you’ll go further if you love what your doing.”

Bethany Ng is someone I met this year when we interviewed together. She’s a great example of someone who navigated through a complex course system to earn a degree, and then ended up doing something completely different anyway because of the work that was reflected in her portfolio.

“My illustration career sort of happened on accident. I went to school to become a graphic designer, but through the bureaucracy of the state school I went to (they were going to make me retake multiple classes I had already completed at another college) I actually have a degree in Multimedia. This is in the most literal sense though as in ‘multiple mediums.’ I spent a lot of my undergrad in screen printing, letterpress, photography and furniture building. Additionally I took some standard drawing courses and typography as well.”

Bethany carved out her own educational path that included study in lots of different media and ended up well prepared for the surprises life had to offer — she agrees that the specific degree focus may not matter if you have a well-rounded education.

“If you want to be an illustrator you certainly do not have to have a degree in illustration. It is actually extremely rare that anyone asks me where I graduated from and what my degree is in. Instead they look at my style and body of work. I got work as an illustrator because my book was full of illustration, not because I had a degree in illustration.”

“Taking courses in illustration will certainly help you develop your talent and make you a more well-rounded creative. And being an illustrator with design skills is something very valuable and a quality that many studios and agencies look for.”

The truth is, even for those of us who do know what they want to be when we grow up at an early age, and study in a specific program, life often surprises us. Many grow up into the world and find that their careers are based in something they never could have anticipated.

Gemma Correll is a talented illustrator whose charming and clever work has appeared in countless places, online and in print. She echoed the idea that you may not end up doing what you thought you’d do while getting your degree, but that all of your education is relevant and helpful in defining your aesthetic and work.

“I don’t think it’s at all essential to have a degree in the area you end up working in. All artforms are linked and skills you learn in one area are transferable to another. The things you do outside of college work might end up being more important in informing your career choices than the things you do at college. My boyfriend did a fine art degree but is now working as a freelance illustrator. The work I do now is more closely related to the zines and drawings I made for ‘fun’ outside of my assignments that to the work I did at college. There are people working as illustrators who don’t have a degree at all, or one in a completely (apparently) unrelated subject. If you can make a decent portfolio, whether it’s from your college work or the drawings you do at the weekends in your sketchbook there is absolutely no reason why you can’t work as an illustrator.”

There are countless examples of well-regarded designers, illustrators, photographers, and more, who trained in one thing (or nothing!) and make a living doing what they love to do. School should not be about rushing through a program, but new experiences and opportunities to figure out what you love most. Take as many varied courses as you can, explore different media, and walk away with a whole bunch of hidden talents and abilities that you can apply in the future.

Real life is full of surprises, and it’s very hard to predict exactly where any of us are headed. By keeping yourself on your toes, creating work you love in addition to your coursework (or “day job” work), you will continue to grow with your work, build a portfolio of things you love, and others will take notice. As always, it’s hard work and true passion that will define you as an artist, not the piece of paper with your name printed on it.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Creative Tips & Resources – Brushes and Textures

Freelance Jungle

Hi everyone, this month’s post is slightly different to last month’s about portfolios, but very important none the less – especially if you do, dabble, or are thinking of dabbling in digital illustration.

Whether you venture out into the world taking snapshots of rusted signs and twisted woodgrains or just download stockpiles of digital textures online; using textures in digital illustration can add real warmth, charm and element of something physical to your digital work.  The use of custom, textured or stamp brushes in digital illustration can evoke a stylistic atmosphere and depending on your choice of brush, can change the aesthetics of the illustration entirely.

There’s always going to be the undercurrent debate of ‘traditional vs digital’ in illustration, but I believe, as I assume many others do, that a happy medium incorporating elements of both is the way forward.  There’s something so convenient about digital illustration, I won’t be the first to admit painting in gouache and having the flicker in my mind to press Ctrl, Alt, Z to undo a mistake– no such luck there. But on the other hand there’s such a beautiful element to physical work, the accidental smudges with your hand, the splashes of ink on the page, the smell of the paint.

Personally, in my illustration work, I use both. Whilst at University I tended to focus more on pure painting, I had so much time to dedicate to experimentation. But now, a few years on, as I get more commissions, tighter deadlines and, ahem, fickle minded clients, I’m finding that digital illustration is an awful lot faster and easier to make alterations to.  I most often paint linework in ink and use digital colouring and textures to enhance and complete the illustration. The convenience of digital with that organic element of textures and paint splat brushes I’ve collected to keep the atmosphere of my illustration work.

Von Glitschka is an illustrative designer, avid photographer of found textures and author of the book ‘Crumble, Crackle, Burn’, an anthology of illustration and the use of found textures within them. I asked Von what he thought the use of textures brings to an illustration and the grey areas using textures have between the ‘digital vs traditional’ stance.

“Even though our industry is digitally driven, ideas are still best developed in analog. A drawn design that is than executed on digitally. Sometimes this move from analog to digital loses that nice tactile quality that a hand drawn creation has to it. Digital art at times risks looking too perfect, too sharp, too clean, too digital. So if you make it a habit of taking pictures of real-world surface textures and texturize your digital art using these real-world textures than you can get an nice authentic and organic quality to the aesthetic that pure digital vector art can’t really deliver on.

The nice thing about textures unlike most graphics in our industry is they’ll never go out of style. A texture you use now will be completely appropriate for a project in twenty years. So if you get in the habit of collecting them you have an endless archive you’ll be able to leverage for a lifetime.”

Kali Ciesemier

So how do other professional illustrators use textures in their work?

Kali Ciesemier works entirely digitally, using textures and custom brushes to add variation and extra detail to her work. She broke down the various techniques she uses into three steps for me -

Textured brushes!

Making your own and downloading other people’s custom photoshop brushes is an easy way to start adding texture to your digital images. I used to only draw with the standard hard-round photoshop brush, but now I draw everything with a subtly textured custom brush that adds a little bit of tooth to my lines and edges. Sometimes I’ll add shading in an image with a rough textured brush, too.”

Clipping masks & texture ‘stamps’!

As you can see in this walkthrough, you can use texture scans or texture brushes like stamps on your work. Clipping masks (or layer masks) can help out a lot here! Adjusting the opacity can keep the effect subtle or bold, however you want to use it.”

Texture scans & layer modes!

Usually the final step in my illustrations involves me placing several layers of scanned texture on top of my image. Then I set each of the texture layers to different opacities and layer modes (Color Burn, Vivid Color, Soft Light, etc.), sometimes adjusting the colors or levels if needed. It helps that I have a big handy library of textures that I’ve scanned myself and downloaded from other sites, so I always have options to choose from, from vintage paper to splattery watercolors to gritty asphalt. Generally I add anywhere from 2 to 6 layers, but I set them all to very low opacities, usually somewhere around the 10% mark, sometimes less. I also try and balance the lightening and darkening effects of each- if one layer is set to the Color Burn layer mode, I’ll likely set another to Color Dodge, so none of the layers really mess up my color scheme.”

There is a delicate tactic to using textures in digital illustration work, it’s not just a case of slapping on a wood grain and expecting the piece to work effectively. I asked Kali what she thought the benefits of adding textures through a range of different techniques can add to a piece.

“Incorporating textures in a subtle way has been the approach that’s worked best for me. Sometimes juxtaposing a very clearly readable texture onto a graphic image has the opposite effect of making the image seem more computerized, because you can clearly identify the source of the texture. For me, adding in hints of texture doesn’t really hide the fact that the image was made in Photoshop, nor does it need to, but it does blur the lines a bit (sometimes literally!), and I think that nebulousness provides added interest.” 

I stumbled upon these great illustrations by Troy Cummings for the “Let’s Take a Hike” card game.  Troy uses custom brushes and textures to evoke that nostalgic aesthetic of 1950′s/1960′s illustration.  I asked him about the techniques he uses and the reasons behind them.

I’ve been experimenting with textures and splotchy brushes in Photoshop for the past few years. My goal has been to develop textures, shading, lines, etc. that feel like they could have been painted with a real brush. I’m a big fan of kids’ book illustrators from the 1950s and 1960s, (Like Mary Blair or Art Seiden). I love anything with flat, kooky shapes, surprising colors, and simplified characters. I tried to bring some of that to the “Let’s Take a Hike” card game. I think those splotchy textures can hint at leaves, fur, tree bark or whatever, while still keeping things loose.”  

I spoke to illustrator Andrew Lyons about his heavily textured illustration work and process.

“To create my textures I play around with ink and charcoal, or pencil and paint on different papers, then scan them so I have a library of textures to pick from. In any one illustration I’ll probably use around 4-5 different textures on different parts of the image, or blend 2 textures together on low opacity.

As I use Photoshop, I’ll normally place a large, sepia coloured paper texture on the top layer, and set to ‘colour burn’ in the blending modes window. This overall texture helps to unite the colours and different shapes of the illustration. 

I’ll delve into the illustration and single out certain parts that need a bit of texture. I’ll lay a texture on the layer above the object, rasterize and then crop it to the right shape (by selecting the shape: cmd/click on the layer, and then inverting the selection and hitting delete when on the texture layer.) Then I’ll play around with blending modes and opacity until it looks right.”

So that’s that!  Basically, just have fun with it.  Go out with your camera and take hundreds of snapshots, play with layers and effects, just experiment!

Here’s some fantastic resources to keep you going -

Downloadable brush sets                                                                           Downloadable textures

BittBox                                                                                                             Lost and Taken

Designm.ag                                                                                                     Texture King

Chris Wahl Art Brushes                                                                                BittBox

Web Design Ledger                                                                                       Mayang’s Free Textures

Stumpy Pencil                                                                                                 Archive Textures

Don’t forget to take a look at the work of the illustrators who have kindly contributed to this article – Kali Ciesemier, Troy Cummings and Andrew Lyons.  Kali has also written some very useful bits about texture stamping techniques and the Photoshop brushes she uses.


By Emmeline Pidgen

Note! All images used with permission, it’s the right thing to do.

Photo c/o Ben Schlitter. Images: I – Kali Ciesemier. II – Troy Cummings. III – Andrew Lyons.

Unsolicited Advice: Interview Tips

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Ashley asked: Hi Adam! I was wondering what advice you’d give to someone who doesn’t know quite what to say when applying for jobs. I feel confident about my work, but I’m not the best at explaining why I want to work at a studio and I worry about not sounding interesting enough to get someone’s attention. Thanks!

Interviews are tricky. You want to be yourself and “be real,” but you want to be professional, collected, and easygoing, too. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re, you know, hoping the people sitting across from you want to have you on their team and also give you money, opportunity, access, or a sense of validation when your grandmother asks what you do come Thanksgiving. (“How’s the band? You do something with music, right?”)

It sounds to me like you have a really good grasp on your situation, Ashley. You feel confident about your work, which is important! It is hard to sell a product you don’t believe in. That being said, at an interview, you yourself are also a product… so feel confident about yourself too! Why do you think you’re “not sounding interesting enough?” If you’ve got solid work and a good head on your shoulders what else do you need? Look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you’re awesome, even if you don’t believe it yet.

You said you’re not the best at explaining why you want to work at a studio, but clearly you must have reasons, right? You might feel like “I’d love to work in a busy environment with a lot of different challenges” isn’t “interesting,” but if your true goal identifies you as someone who is a good fit, that sure sounds interesting to me! Also consider that a lot of us spend most of our time on computers nudging pixels around. Sometimes that’s not the most “interesting,” but we all know the value of that kind of meticulous work ethic.

Here are some more tips & thoughts:

Know yourself — Interview styles vary, but at the end of the day you know you’re going to be asked some basics. Specifically, you’ll be asked for a little information about you, your work, and schooling (for recent grads). Know how to answer these questions! For some, talking about this stuff is easy, but if that’s not you, sit down and think about a few key details so that you don’t end up having a brain fart moment and seeming stupid when you forget your own cat’s name.

Know the company & position requirements — The biggest part of knowing WHY you want to work somewhere is knowing about the company, studio, firm, agency, whatever. You already know you want to be there for the opportunity, but what specific things have you seen that you really like? What about the job is most exciting to you? In addition to proving that you didn’t just roll out of bed and show up, you prove a bit of loyalty from the get-go, which is important because your interviewer knows you may be working late hours and possible weekends to meet deadlines down the road.

Have some useful & relevant anecdotes — You will, without a doubt, be asked about working in a group environment, juggling multiple projects, and working with short deadlines. This is because you will undoubtably be doing those things if hired. For many recent grads, there hasn’t been too much practice with this stuff, so think about times when you did have to collaborate or did have to turn around a complete design and assembled mockup in 24 hours, and be ready to tell that story (in a few sentences) and apply that to general practice.

Be personable — Part of being a team member is working with a team, so in addition to being a good candidate on paper, you’re also probably being viewed as someone who may or may not mesh well with a group. Especially in a small studio setting, you as “a person” are as important as you as “a person who can hang out with others.” So be cool, be you, be fun… but not too fun. You can save some of the more exciting bits for happy hour or your future “work BFF.”

Dress the part — Just like your resume should reflect the type of work you want to be doing, your general appearance should reflect the job you want and who you are. Does that mean a suit and tie? Probably not. Not in our industry, unless it’s appropriate for the company. Find a balance. Guage based on the company’s attitude and atmosphere. If you’re unsure, you can always play it safe with a collared oxford shirt or blouse that reads as both clean cut but not like you just got crammed into a dress shirt for school photo day.

Don’t sweat it — Seriously, take a chill pill, don’t have a cow, etc. The best way to do well in an interview is to be calm, confident, and easygoing. So try to relax. You know your work is good, you know they are looking for someone because they have a position to fill. They want you to be a good candidate as much as you want to be a good candidate, because that means the candidate search is over. So do your best! Also, literally, don’t sweat it. Arrive early enough that whether you’re nervous or it’s just the middle of summer, you can take plenty of deep breaths, wipe your brow, and get ready to kick ass.

Appreciate the opportunity — I think the most important advice is to regard every interview and every meeting as an opportunity. You may not get hired for the job at hand, but you just never know what a connection may bring. You might get contacted about freelance work down the line. You might meet a current employee who wants to collaborate on a personal project. Your interviewer may have a friend hiring at another firm that you’re a better fit for. Don’t kiss ass, because nobody needs that and it’s transparent, but be genuinely appreciative for opportunities at hand because they can often lead to something more.

It seems to me, in my limited experience, that a lot of jobs happen by accident. I have now stumbled into several of the jobs I’ve held since college. I have been hired for one thing and then done another. I have been hired by people who have not seen my portfolio at all. I have been asked for a resume very few times. Truth is, a lot of jobs are a case of being the right fit at the right time. That’s the best way to think about “rejection,” too. It’s not always going to work out, but sometimes it doesn’t work out for reasons completely unrelated to you. Keep your chin up and keep doing what you love. Keep creating, keep learning, keep growing, by taking on small freelance gigs for friends and bands and small businesses… love what you do and never stop.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Personal Branding

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Last time, we talked about resumes specifically… But what about your personal brand as a whole? I remember being a nineteen year old college junior, staying late after class to talk to my professor about managing a personal brand when i could barely figure out how to brush my hair. It’s sort of an odd thing to have to worry about, but we do really end up packaging ourselves into digestible bites.

Some schools build this component into their curriculum, some don’t. You take your initials and create a typographic form that serves as a logo, which you think is really cool for the duration of freshman year. You work on a traditional branding system for yourself as a business entity. You build yourself a portfolio website and you stylize your name… and then you use the same font on whatever resume you scrape together. Or you don’t.

Ultimately, whether we want to deal with it or not, we do end up needing to brand ourselves. So instead of dealing with it on a case by case basis, take a step back and thing about it. Figure out what your needs are, figure out what you have to offer, and decide what you want to accomplish.

Some of us are pretty straightforward. We need some print pieces for interviews, we have a traditional print portfolio, and we’re interviewing for jobs, until we land one. Others manage larger web entities, from a portfolio site geared towards freelance clients, to a small press, to an online shop, blogging platform, and more. What category do you fall into? Where do you want to be and where do you see yourself?

Some things to consider:

What is your voice? – Are you more straight laced or a little goofy? All business or a little personal? The answer might be in your work — do you do clean-cut design work for more corporate clients, or are you polishing a signature style doing editorial illustrations and occasional etsy prints? Get an idea of where you’re trying to steer yourself as an entity so that you can design branding elements that reflect that goal.

Who is your audience? – Are you creating branding pieces for interviews and professional purposes exclusively, or are you styling your personal blog? Figure out who you want to be primarily viewing your content before you figure out how to package it. If it’s all business, keep it more straight-laced. If it’s a little more party, have some more fun with it. This is pretty obvious but it matters. Your 90s throwback green slime .gif logo is fuckin’ sweet, bro, and I will totally buy a 5-panel snapback from your big cartel shop, but i’m not totally sure I want to hire you to do that custom wordpress site for my specialty pet food business.

What do you actually need? – Think about the full extent of your needs. Logo treatment, business cards, resumes, portfolio site, letterhead, blog
design, twitter icon, product packaging, email newsletters, stickers. Some logos are harder to reproduce, some colour schemes aren’t convenient for all purposes, some typefaces are less versatile across print and web applications.

Put it all together – Get your pieces down and then start to apply them and see what happens. Experiment a little bit. You know you have a logo treatment, primary typeface, and colour scheme, so if one day you realize you want to make stickers to distribute at an event or with print orders, you have the pieces to put together something quick.

Ask for help! - Not everyone is a graphic designer, but chances are you know some. See if you can trade your illustration/photography/etc skills for design services, or even crazier, even pay for them, because your brand is going to represent you before you even get a chance to, and it might be the deciding factor in whether or not you get considered for a work opportunity yourself. This matters so invest in getting it right. If you do create it all yourself, get some outside opinions from friends and peers. It’s no secret that it can sometimes be hard to see yourself objectively. Seek constructive criticism, and don’t be afraid to make changes.

It’s also important to remember that nothing is permanent. You are not the Walt Disney corporation. You do not have a 100 year legacy. Your branding can evolve as you do as a creative type. Your portfolio will grow and need to be redesigned. You will wake up and realize you cannot possibly maintain several single-topic blogs anymore and consolidate into one general purpose design/lifestyle/soapbox tumblr. Your style will grow and you will sneak new elements into your bag of tricks until you realize that once smaller pieces of your branding have actually become the most consistent and unifying. Your branding, just like your own personal style, will evolve as you do. So don’t sweat it.

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice: Resumes

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Colin asked: I was wondering if you might be able to give me some advice on writing my resume. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to think about it but I need to produce a new one and I don’t have the faintest idea of how to begin. I know it’s not an easy question but any thoughts would be very very greatly appreciated!

A friend emailed me for some resume-writing advice. No clue why they asked me, because all my jobs happen by accident or dumb luck, but I collected some thoughts together in an email and sent them his way. Feel free to reply with your own advice or thoughts on the subject, especially because I think it really varies based on the industry!

Click to enlarge
Randy’s resume reads left to right, with most basic details in the first column. Secondary information floats outward. View larger.

Black and white — This is probably outdated thinking, but I’ve always believed it to be true. People load up their resume with colour and while I don’t think it’s detrimental, I do think there’s something to be said for a traditional black and white resume. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done up in other ways, like a coloured paper maybe. But not that linen “resume” paper with your type set in Garamond so it looks like a “Microsoft DIY Printables” wedding invitation or restaurant that isn’t as high-end as it’d like to be.

Hierarchy — This is most important, see I’ve already fucked it up by not including this one first. Name and contact info need to be at the top. You want them to contact you and if it takes even five seconds to find your information, that’s five less seconds that they even bother looking at your other content.

Be a little clever — There are ways to inject your personality into your resume, you just need to think about who you are and what you want to portray. I did a pretty “cool” but simple resume for a friend who wanted a job at a popular store that gets dozens of applications a week. I printed it on the white backside of a neon pink paperstock… It was still black and white, like I prefer, but with a twist. Though his experience is the reason he was hired, I’m sure the resume didn’t hurt his chances of standing out in a pile.

Short and sweet — Giving some detail on what you did at past jobs is good, but long, full sentences aren’t necessary, I don’t think. A few bullet points written in a way that shows action should be good. “Worked with design team to create new branding system,” boom. This really goes for the whole resume — don’t overload it or reading it will be a chore, and that’s the last thing you want.

Paul-William’s work experience was relevant and extensive, but he needed to stand out in a pile at a popular retail store.

But don’t be too clever — I think personality is a good thing, but I feel like those long paragraph resumes that try to incorporate everything into a written, quirky paragraph are just obnoxious. “Oh hello there I’m Adam and I am a photographer, designer, artist, blogger, and social media enthusiast!” I don’t even want to hang out with that person so I can’t imagine what someone hiring would think.

Play up your specific experience — Focus on the experience that matters for the job you want. I have foodservice and retail experience, but that’s not on my primary resume because that’s not the kind of work I’m looking for. When I had less work experience I did list some of my earlier “teenage” jobs, but focused on the relevant tasks, like office management duties, basic computer skills, and customer/”people in general” interaction.

Education and grades — College graduates (at least in the US) often include a GPA with their educational information. I think after your first “real” job, you can ditch that. If you have a degree, include your school name and city, maybe your graduating year, but I don’t think you need to break it down. I have an Art History minor that hasn’t been mentioned on my resume maybe ever, and a Media Studies certificate that says I basically did the entire program save for three credits. Does anyone actually care? Focus on what matters for the job, and don’t spend too much precious space on this stuff.

Click to enlarge
Dustin Maciag‘s resume doesn’t fit with much of this advice but it’s PERFECT for him and his work. Go ahead and do your own thing, just keep it legible! View larger.

Objective and References — I feel like these things are filler for lighter resumes. Some people do them, some don’t. I think it’s pretty obvious that if you’ve worked for several years, there are people who can vouch for your work. If a job wants some references, they can ask (or will have asked) for them. Your objective is more useful for retail jobs or internships maybe, where your reason for taking them on isn’t necessarily obvious. You can tell a high end boutique about your passion for the fashion industry and your hopes to work amongst decision makers or some bullshit, maybe that will matter. Most of the time this stuff can go in a cover letter.

Fuck resumes! …maybe? — To be honest, and I don’t know how accurate this is, but I feel like resumes hardly matter. I mean, you should have one, sure, but I really think my own resume has been requested maybe four times ever, and only one or two of those were for actual design jobs. Being good at what you have to offer is more important than the perfect resume, at least in creative fields, I think. Of course, a really awful resume is a big warning sign — as designers, we’re expected to manage content well.

Obviously I’m not the expert, and there are tons of awesome resumes that don’t follow with much of anything I’ve said. Figure out what works for you, tailor your resume for the type of job you want, and just make sure your contact information is readily available.

This article originally posted at jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk.com/post/19792600045

Let’s talk about art, design & whatever “real life” is…

If you are in need of somewhat-unsolicited advice, you can email hello@adamjkurtz.com or ask right here! Your question may be answered in a future blog post, and if chosen, you’ll receive a surprise in the mail from me too!


Who is Adam J. Kurtz?

Adam claims to be a “graphic artist & media designer,” but that could mean basically anything. He graduated from UMBC with a degree in Graphic Design in May 2009, and has worked for some awesome clients since – but you’ll probably know Adam best from the internet (he’s all over it). He runs a killer blog, shop, and you can check out his portfolio here. If that wasn’t enough you can follow him on flickrinstagram too. He didn’t write this bio, but I did edit it. Oh, oops.

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Unsolicited Advice from Adam J. Kurtz

Anonymous asked: such a tacky question, but what’s your advice for someone who’s interested in pursuing graphic design as a future career?

Not a tacky question! I am going to answer with a bunch of thoughts based on my own experiences and those of my friends, but there are a lot of designer friends who follow this blog so maybe they’ll chime in too.

  • When I was in school a lot of people in my classes said shit like “I like art but wanted to be able to get a job.” That is crap. Not all artists are graphic designers. Many are definitely not graphic designers. I “know of” plenty of photographers who are like “oh I have photoshop! i can be a designer” and then they cover their beautiful photos with ugly watermark “logos” that they make for themselves. Illustrators who do amazing pieces and then screw them up with bad type. Graphic designers are not artists. Design is organization. Designers arrange content in meaningful ways to effectively communicate a message. A lot of those artists from school who wanted to be designers were really not very good. Decide if you are an artist or a designer. If you’re both, make sure you understand the difference. I think I am a pretty decent designer sometimes but I am only an adequate photographer, and I can’t draw for shit. I also make a lot of little things and post a lot of bits & pieces that I wouldn’t necessarily refer to as “my design work.”
  • Design jobs aren’t necessarily easy to come by. In a lot of ways, “designers” are as ubiquitous as “DJs” and “waiters.” People think they can just moonlight as designers, and in a lot of cases I think they really can get away with it. There never seems to be a shortage of designers and you just have to hope that you’re good enough to stand out. What do you have to offer beyond your knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite? Do you have typographer leanings? Are you obsessed with printmaking? Can you bind books in ten different ways? Master of the pen tool and vector illustration? Coding genius? Make sure you have some tricks up your sleeve.
  • As the print industry changes and, you know, everything moves online, more and more people want a true double threat. If you’re starting out, now is the time to take coding classes. It might suck, but you’ll be glad you did it later. Learn as much as you can. Not just the basics. Take a PHP course. Pick up as much as you can because that’s going to really help in the long run. I am not the best at coding but I’m not the worst, and that’s how I primarily make my living. Sure, you can get a job just doing mockups and pass the coding along, but if you can work on a project from sketches to live sites, you’re golden. It’s also really great to be able to do things for yourself. Portfolio site? No problem! Lots of designers and artists have great work that gets lost in crappy portfolio sites (mine is a maze of shit right now but at least I know it). You can spend a lot of money paying for a portfolio hosting service and a webstore and whatever else, or you can buy some server space and do it all yourself.
  • You have to really like this. I have a lot of friends who got “real” jobs after graduation. They’re in-house designers, they work with the marketing team, they work for local magazines or companies. I am thinking of specific people when I say that I have friends who tell me now that they hate design. They have steady jobs with benefits but they don’t even want to look at photoshop when they get home. They don’t do personal work. It’s just a job. I don’t think that’s necessarily the worst thing… after all, most people have a job, do it, then go home. That’s how life is. But designers also end up working tons of overtime, have crazy deadlines, and you know, it’s not necessarily an extremely high-paying industry. This isn’t mechanical engineering. You are not a surgeon. If you don’t love this stuff you are going to hate your life pretty soon.
  • Freelancing. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh freelancing can be great or it can be horrible. I am the wrong person to talk to about this. I am still in my “CAN’T BE TAMED” phase and am actually freelancing right now, going on six months with one company. I’ve been offered salary a few times and I keep turning it down because I like the flexibility, but in reality, I know that I’m pretty safe so it’s easy to say that. Other times you can really get fucked and end up with no job. It’s scary. Taxes are a mess and I won’t even pretend to know how my accountant does everything. Freelancing for random people is a whole ordeal too. I infrequently take on individual projects and really should have a contract written up but I don’t, which is dangerous and stupid. It’s also hard to be your own boss when you’d rather nap and there’s a new episode of SNL on Hulu. There are probably lots of resources on this elsewhere online, but freelancing in the industry is a real big deal and it’s important to know about this stuff. I think a lot of design programs encourage taking a business course as well. I wish my program had prepared us better and if you are just starting out, do yourself the favor. Learn how to sell yourself and learn how to cover your ass when it comes to taxes, contracts, and tricky clients.
  • You really really need to take time to create for yourself. I talked about people hating their life at jobs they don’t love, but there are also plenty of my design class friends who don’t currently make a living doing design work, and they also never make anything for themselves. You don’t have to sell prints or do freelance, but you need to create SOMETHING, SOMETIME, or you will lose it. You can have a blog and you can put some shit up. It doesn’t have to be serious and it’s not a portfolio, but in the same way that illustrators have sketchbooks, you can have your little bits and pieces. I think the best way to not hate your life as a designer is to just keep making things. You might be a designer full-time, but work on extremely boring and unfulfilling projects, because you know what, nobody is going to pay you to do a cool type treatment of a quote from Parks & Recreation. But at 11pm on tumblr, that shit is pure gold.
  • Keep current. I am shitty at keeping up with design blogs. I know I’m supposed to be obsessed with SwissMiss and stuff but I sort of fell off of the Google Reader bandwagon and it’s hard to get back on. Instead, I follow lots of cool design folks on tumblr and see things through their filters. It’s important to know what people are doing so that you can be inspired to try new things, shape your personal style (though good design is invisible and you need to know when to keep your own aesthetics in check), and know when something is dead. Keep Calm and Carry Nothing. Be extremely careful with Futura. Sure, I am not the expert and I can get caught up in trends, they’re trends for a reason, they’re cool and exciting. But know when things are moving along and try to keep up, in addition to learning the fundamentals in your courses.
  • Learn how to talk about design. Know about kerning, leading, and tracking. I don’t think anyone gives a fuck about picas but you know, that’s unit of measure that exists. Why is that poster “nice”? Why is that logo effective? Your design education will be what separates you from the coding genius who gets stuck doing web design too or guy who got photoshop for Christmas and got a gig doing club flyers.

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