As part of our ongoing series on the Artisan Recruitment website talking to our talented candidates about how they got started in their careers and handled the highs and lows of pursuing work in their chosen field, we recently sat down with Patrick - a Finished Artist - and found out all about the journey he took to get where he is today! We're so pleased to share this conversation we had with Patrick with the Artisan community as he has so many smart and insightful things to share - enjoy!
How did you first get experience when you started out in the industry?
In my first role, I went from an interview that lasted less than an hour, to being thrown into the deep end the following day. It was more luck than anything, but also perseverance. I had received dozens of rejection letters, attended a few interviews that never replied. This was all back before Artisan was a thought-bubble, and most of the legwork was done by the individual. Something that has helped me get through all of the rejection was taught to me at uni. “People will tell you that they don’t like your designs. That is a fact. It is not a personal attack, and its only their opinion. Do not take it personal. If a designer takes the criticism personally, it will destroy them”. Remember, in the industry, no client will like all of your designs. As long as the criticism is constructive, it can help you grow, inspire you to keep learning, and eventually build a relationship with the client, in which you are able to understand how they think and what they expect.
Who helped you, and how?
In the early days, my classmates, friends and family helped me by giving me feedback on my folio. My favourite pieces were not necessarily my strongest pieces. They did not convey my whole skillset. A folio needs to look nice, but it needs to convey what you are capable of achieving. It needs to show what you have completed and how you did it. Even the boring stuff. Logos, typesetting, letterhead, web coding, website design, animation wireframe etc. It doesn’t have to be on paper anymore, mine is digital, as it allows me to update, shuffle pages, omit pages for certain roles, create new pages for others. It also means I do not have to lug around one of those huge A2 folders on public transport!
If you could go back in time and have a chat to the younger you getting started in your career, what would be your advice to yourself?
"Stick with it. Stick to your guns and believe in yourself more. Explore as many side-industries as you can, don’t be afraid of trying new things!" There were several times where I was close to throwing in the towel. We all go through those moments. Eventually, even the strongest of us begins to lose confidence when application letters go unanswered, or interviews don't result in employment. Trying new areas of the industry, or even showing interest and asking the odd question or two of someone in the industry can reveal all kinds of amazing things. Product Photography, AR, Packaging Design, Packaging Conception (Creating new dielines and packaging shapes for a new range, or inventing a new way to package old stock to raise its profile on the shelf, or to reinvent it in a stagnant market), Product Design etc.
What mistakes do you think you made along the way?
Oh, plenty! From not having a Contract in place for freelance jobs (almost everyone I have met in the industry has fallen down this hole… its almost an initiation ceremony for new designers!). A contract is in place to protect both designer and client. It shows that you are a professional, take your work seriously, and adds a small safety net for you, should something go wrong down the line.
As far as career mistakes though, I guess trying to box myself in to a particular area. Not being willing to either expand my skills at a particular role, or decide it was time to move on to a different role. Staying at one place too long can sometimes mean that you get a bit rusty on certain areas of your skillset. An example, at one place I was working, we would design packaging and retouch photography. I almost never opened Illustrator. When I DID open it up, I had no idea where anything was. I had used it for 10 years previously, but not having it there every day for so long, I had forgotten most of it. Keep those skills shiny and new! Practice, do some work for yourself. Do occasional work for a friend.
Another BIG mistake that so many designers fall into the trap of… Working for friends and family for free. Remember, your design time and skills are worth something. YOU are worth something. Never work for free. Apart from the fact that you are worth more than nothing, it opens the gates to being bombarded by everyone wanting free design work. Soon, all of your free time has become work, although your bank account does not know about it. If you must do work for someone and you don’t feel comfortable charging money, perhaps consider a trade. Are they a legal student? Have them draft you a design contract for freelance clients (this is a MUST!! If you have not got one, GET ONE!). A tradesman? Get that stuck window fixed, or those banging pipes. Hospitality worker? Free meal.
What resources could you recommend?
Being a resident of Melbourne, you may know that we are the Design Capital of Australia. Resources are everywhere, and depend on your little corner of the big bad design industry.
Heading to AGDA meet & greets are a great way to get a feel for the industry, rub shoulders with designers from all levels and all walks. If you are a student, AGDA membership is rather affordable, too!
AGIdeas is an annual design conference, with designers from many different areas and countries converging for a few days of completely nerding-out on design. Usually it will cover Animation, Packaging, Product Design and ’new’ areas such as AR, AI, etc.
Melbourne can offer so many outlets of inspiration, and many are free! Galleries, Exhibitions, and one of my favourite, Street Art. Even if its not your area, the street art of Melbourne is world-renowned, and can often spark the creativity muscles into action.
Any and/or all of the above may inspire you to create something new, investigate a different area of design that you might not have even known about, or combine skills to create a truly unique piece that will make your folio shine brighter than all others!
Are you specialised?
I suppose I am, in that, over the years I have worked in many different facets of the industry. A jack of all trades, master of none. That said, I find I do my best work as a Finished Artist. It gives me the opportunity to nit-pick and use logic, and often, I am able to put headphones on and get into my zone, powering through huge documents in a few hours.
As for my more recent specialisation of Digital Archiving, its a specialisation that is so niche, I often need to explain it to people in the industry. It is the laborious task of turning historical documents and photographs into digital files that conform to Archival standards, restoring where required, and inserting all Metadata and background information to facilitate easy filing and file location. Some documents are over 150 years old, in very poor condition and very brittle, so there is certainly plenty of stress involved, but I have the ability to go slowly, as there are almost never any deadlines.
How did you find your specialization?
I currently have two very different specialisations.
Finished Art - This actually found me. I applied for a design position, but when I attended the interview, they informed me that the position was filled. I was asked if I was familiar with Finished Art, or if I had ever used InDesign (This was back when Quark was still ’the thing’- InDesign was up to Version 2!) I had played with it for a few hours, but had not completed any official assignments. Before I knew it, I was a Finished Artist for Australia’s largest power tool manufacturer (at the time!), designing and preparing packaging, instruction manuals and advertising for power tools, destined for Australia, US, Canada and Europe. It was a vertical learning curve for a few weeks, but it was made easier due to my experimenting with the ’new’ software, and having knowledge of the design process, which shares much of its theory with Finished Art (placement, crops, bleed, styles, PMS Swatches etc)
My more recent specialisation is Digital Archiving. This is a niche industry, and almost completely removed from design all together. It involves the digitising of historic documents and photographs, and converting to PDF/A standard backups. All photographs are scanned at archival quality, then retouched and repaired, removing scratches, blemishes, tears and other age-related damage. These skills were learned from my time as a Finished Artist, when occasionally I was required to retouch a photograph that the designer had used, but that did not meet the requirements of a style guide.
Documents are photographed page by page, ensuring that all details on the page are captured and focussed, but also for speed. Some clients will have over 10,000 pages of old, fragile documents, so scanning would take months. Photographing them only takes a few seconds per page.
Did you intentionally start out down the path to this specialisation?
I originally studied Graphic Art, and in my mind, that was the logical path for me to follow. When I first entered the industry, I was thrown into a Finished Art role. I fast learnt that this was an area of Design, but toward the end of the process, refining someone else's work, correcting errors that did not conform to the style guide, and preparing the files for print. Although not as creative as a designer, it is a very important role, and one that holds a lot of responsibility (I am often the last person to see it before 500k prints are done, so if there is an error, it's usually on my head!) I have still kept my foot in the Design camp, but the Finished Art camp seems to fit me better.
Having Finished Art under my belt has opened other doors for me, as some smaller studios expect Design and Finished Art to be completed by one person. Many designers cannot do both, as they might not be familiar with the exact specs of a particular printing firm, or understand about overprint, and even cleaning the files of redundant information (multiple PMS swatches for the same colour etc) Finished Art skills are sometimes viewed as ’nit-picky’, but they are very important, and can open doors into areas of the design industry that may not be accessible to designers. Photo-retouching, document formatting (Annual Reports, Tenders etc) Education documentation, and that sort of thing.
Digital Archiving was a sea change for me, as it was something I could do in my own time, working around my daughter, whom I care for a few days a week. It is an industry that does not have such strict deadlines, and often the work can be completed after dark, when the house is silent again.
How did you transition?
Various roles have had job-creep, in that a design role has asked for ‘a little web design’ or ’some social media design’. Before I knew it, I was including Digital Designer on my CV. Another role asked if I had any camera experience, and next thing, I was photographing their entire product range. I now include Product Photography & Photographic Retoucher in my skillset.
These skills have all added to my skillset, but have also given me the ability to explore further, finding my current roles as a Digital Archivist.
Did you have to start from scratch?
As a Digital Archivist, yes. I had my own DSLR, but required lighting, a light rig, various props to assist in the photographing of documents (a book cradle, a backdrop) even small sandbags were required to hold some stubborn pages down. For the most part, I have built this by hand. Sandbags are actually Rice bags, hand-stitched and filled. Rice absorbs moisture, so a few are thrown in my camera bag, preventing lens fungus. Lighting Rig was built using PVC pipe, clamps and other hardware. Book Cradle was made with timber, and backdrop sewn from Black Calico. Building the items myself means that I get exactly what I am after, but also, I save thousands of dollars. Thankfully, my design roles in the Power Tool industry, Hardware industry and even handcrafts, have all assistedin the creation of my current business in some way!
Have you ever applied for a job and been declined because of your experience?
Anyone that tells you that they have never been knocked back is either lying, or is so amazingly awesome that they have super-powers. Honestly, it's a part of the industry. Every studio, every corporation and every design team have their ‘ideal’ person. The studio is often a very close-knit environment, and is usually under a fair bit of pressure. If someone is to work within the team, they need to ‘fit’. This can come down to individual personality, but also, to the specific skillset.
Many studios are made up of a small team, and only hire new blood if either someone is leaving, or if they require someone to expand on a particular area. The candidate needs to be flexible, have either the exact skillset that the person leaving has, or be willing to train to their level. Ideally, you will have even more skills that the previous person, allowing the studio to expand their ability to get the work done. Imagine, two designers with identical training, same amount of time in the industry, even working at all of the same places in the past. But one has been studying coding, AR or Web Design as well. This person, although they have not worked in those areas, would probably be placed higher on the pile of CVs, as they have potential to assist in other areas. A Designer with 12 years experience does not always outrank a Designer with 2 years experience, that has also designed web, touched on Fashion Photography or animation.
What was the reasons given when you've been knocked back for a role you've applied for?
The good places will tell me bluntly that my skillset does not match what they are after. Unfortunately, there are many places that may try and sugarcoat it. I would much rather know the reasons directly, and be given the opportunity to elaborate on an overlooked skill, or even the chance to expand my skillset for future opportunities. I have had experiences where I have presented my folio, answered their questions, and thought it was all going great, then at the end of the interview I have been told that unfortunately the position was filled, but they will keep my CV on file for future reference. Another interview was for a Part Time position in the CBD. Once at the interview, I was told that the position did not exist, and that they were after a Full Time Designer in Bayswater. Not cool.
How did you deal with this?
I take it with a grain of salt. Look at it a different way. Would you want to work for a company that is honest with you from the first instance, or one that evades confrontation, or outright lies to your face? Essentially, the bad ones have done your job for you. The good places often will give feedback, answer questions, even recommending ways to fine-tune your folio for future positions. I always remember the advice that a designer or creative is ALWAYS worth something. Learn to take criticism, especially when it is constructive. Always remain polite and courteous in an interview or when representing yourself or your agency, but do not become a doormat. Learn from the rejections, improve your skillset or your ability to sell yourself, work on your confidence if you need to, and get back out there!
How fantastic was that?! We're so grateful to Patrick for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with us, and pleased to be able to share his words of wisdom with you.
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