Tag Archives: education

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

21 Questions In An Unsettled Time

Abandoned 1920s Billboard, N of Mojave CA. 1989

Abandoned 1920s Billboard, N of Mojave CA. 1989

I was contacted recently by a student who is going to be graduating this spring from Brooks. She included a survey and asked for answers so she could figure out her next move.

Tell me about yourself and your business.

Self-employed freelance print-production expert, with a sideline in photo

Where did you go to school?

Ohio University

Why did you choose that specific school?

A complicated story. There was no choice in the matter–my dad taught photo there, and with a faculty discount I paid (you’re not going to like this part) $79 a quarter (1973-77). However I had to cover all my own school expenses, while working nearly fulltime at his wife’s boarding stable. Much, much later I discovered that my grandparents had salted away money for my education…

What was your major?

Graphic design

How did you get started after school?

Looking for entry-level jobs. Got a job as a paste-up guy at a tiny magazine for $4.50/hr

Did your schooling prepare you for the industry?

Not really.

What are your most effective methods in growing and sustaining your business?

Being adaptable, learning new skills, learning old-school techniques and processes. Showing up on time. Meeting deadlines. Not being a dick.

What was the greatest challenge in starting your business?

Overcoming the terror. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Is there any particular methods you would target and approach clients?

Be honest. Get a mentor

What are your favorite strategies of promoting yourself and your business?

Word of mouth. Social networking via LinkedIn/facebook. Its not surefire, but it helps.

What is your branding method or strategy?

Selling my experience.

What is the job market like in your market for new college graduates?

Really bad

What is the competition like in the industry?

Fierce

What is the competition like in your geographic area you promote and operate your business in?

Same as above

How do you determine your pricing?

1/ not being a CraigsList low-ball dick.

2/ realistically cover your costs, because this is a business

What would be your advice to a recent grad from a photography school about art direction for a career?

An effective art director is somebody who understands that looks alone are not going to make truly effective or interesting advertising.

I had a teacher who observed that fashion advertising is a world where the rules of gravity are suspended. I read W because the photography is alternately wonderful and horrifying, and gravity-free. Like the recent Marc Jacobs stuff where models are in a swirl of what appears to be mustard gas. Those are somewhat interesting images, but missed opportunities for art direction and design. By contrast there were some Chanel ads that were brilliant in their understated strength.

Are you growing as a business or entity?

I′m trying to grow my business as a specialty photographer using vintage cameras and film. Since my work is not insta-deadline driven, its a set of techniques like an illustrator

Would you recommend going to marketing classes or seminars?

depends on who’s teaching them. Get on a photo/designer list, ask questions, poke and pry. You’re trading money for talk.

Do you attend seminars?

Yes, very selectively

How is changing technology affecting your business?

Too numerous to mention. Suffice to say I watermark every image I post. Yes, its a dick move, but until I get paid for that image, its there, at 5% opacity, and meta-data’d as well.

What advice do you have for a student photographer desiring to enter the business?

Get ready to work very, very hard. Some joy, a fair amount of heartbreak. The stuff you thought was soul-deadening in school will probably pay your bills.

CODA

I mentioned my dad taught photography. Every quarter hed review the numbers for his Basic class:

450: annual number of students in Basic Photo [150 x 3 quarters]
100: number of students accepted into Intermediate, annually
25: number of students in Sr Class
10: number of students as graduate students
1: number of students making their living in photo, 5 years after graduation

This did not take into account the photo-journalism shooters, which was a different program. The numbers may have shifted over the years, I don‘t know.

I sincerely wish you the greatest success in your efforts. I really do. Hopefully the soundings I offer will help in some way, and not be discouraging. If I can be of any other assistance, let me know.

Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop

hammer on anvil
Hammer and anvil at work. Autry Museum, Summer 2004.

Education has been on my mind a lot recently.

Earlier I mentioned that late one night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up, and that eventually led me to Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. It took a lot more than a casual “gee, I think I’ll, like, go to night school, and…like, you know, work on my book…?

I had crashed into the side of the professional mountain. Completely. My Dick-n-Jane book was a symphony of tin cans tied to my tail. Every piece screamed AMATEUR BARNEY. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t getting any art direction work. I was getting a lot of horrifed looks.

In desperation I begged an appointment with Adrienne Lowe, one of my Art Center at Night teachers. I showed up early. She took one look at my book and curtly told me to “broom at least half of what’s in there”

As in “throw overboard”.

You cannot imagine my relief. It did suck! What a load off!

I thanked her profusely, left her office, and renewed my professional links with temp agencies. I wanted every shop that had seen that crappy book to completely forget they’d even heard of me. Ever.

Now I had a burning reason to get past that. And a copywriter I knew told me about the Bookshop.

The first Bookshop class I sat in on in late winter 1998 had me hooked within an hour. But I was holding out for additional evidence.

The next week I went to the 1998 International Student Show, hosted by the LA Creative Club. I was floored. The Bookshop took about 40% of the prizes, including Best of Show. Ahead of Art Center, Portfolio Center, VGA, Creative Circus, NYU. All this from a peripatetic night-school operation that met in an agency conference room once a week.

Now I had 2 big hooks in my mouth, and I was swimming for deep water.

From the git-go, writers and art directors were teamed up by assignment. Mike would hand out creative briefs. Typically we’d crunch through three projects in the course of the twelve week term.

The classes were a cross-section of designers, art directors, copywriters, post-college types, character actors, ex-70’s punk musicians, AE’s, some debutantes and poseurs who hadn’t tumbled yet, ex-service post-GI Bill vets, and working production professionals like myself. Everybody in the room was hungry. Everybody wanted to buid a book and get outta whatever dead-end they were in.

It was an intensive flame-off process. Concepts had to stand up to critical scrutiny, and frequently the slings and arrows of your peers. Nothing was sacred. I burned through more crap and dead-wood in my inventory than I imagined. Finally the decent concepts and executions began to emerge.

This also applied to working relationships. Some people didn’t understand that Mike was replicating the agency structure. Have a problem with your partner? The smart choice was to work out any personal beef behind closed doors and get through it. I’m sure people went to Mike over the years with one ache or another. I’m also sure he took notes. Maybe not.

Bottom line: the client doesn’t care about your problems, you are there to solve their problem. Oh.

And so it went for the better part of two years. When I finished in March 2000, I was exhausted. I’d gotten my equivalent of an MFA. More importantly, I had a marketable book. I got that art director job I’d wanted for so long.

That lasted as long as it needed to. I was laid off 10 weeks after 9/11. The ad business was in a tail-spin. I also remember looking out the window and seeing new Escalades on the dealer lot near the office. I thought Detroit had lost its mind. They did, but the blow-back took six years to hit for them.

Its been several years since I was an art director. However the education I got from the Bookshop has proved highly useful in other areas of my work and life. Thanks again. I continue to use it to this day.