Notebook

Lessons Of The Grind

After doing consistent design work for over a decade, I’ve observed many phases of the career. I’ve also come to my own conclusions and basic philosophy, that I’ve also watched evolve over time. Anything that I thought I knew would soon be replaced by a new perspective. So, as firm as I may hold on to my ideals, I also realize how fleeting they are, and that my stance, however solid, is only temporary.

This year, 2013, has been the most transitional year of my life. The hurdles I’ve jumped through for the past eight months have tested every aspect of my personality, and more specifically, how I manage to complete my work.

I could bore you with all of the details in another post. Since the general tone of this blog is design-oriented, I’ll leave the specifics out. The paraphrased version of my year is this:



I started the year, in January, with a goal to put my head down, and to take on and complete as much work as I possibly could. I wanted to stretch myself to the limit, in hopes of pushing that limit – getting out of the year more capable than I began it. That was my only focus. Simple.



In the third week of January, my wife and I found a “dream property” that we could only wish for. Every thing we had hoped that our life could be someday seemed possible on this ten-acre piece of land near our town. However, if we were going to buy this property, we would have to act quickly. So we pulled every string we could to be able to make an offer on the property, but we would have to keep our current house in the mean-time. January is not a good time to put your house on the market.



Our predicament would be to buy the new property, and lock that down. Then, we would move on to getting our current house up for sale. To make matters even more complicated, we would plan an extensive renovation to the small house on the new property — a renovation that we, working from home, would not be able to live through. The only option: move into an apartment during the renovation.



In nailing everything down, in the months of May, June, and July, I found myself with a mortgage payment for our current house, a mortgage payment for the new property, and a lease for the apartment for the interim. My monthly bills tripled. All the while, bouncing from bank, to contractor, to architect, to realtor, to radon mitigation, to roofers, to hvac, to… you get the picture. All of this, while still maintaining the hefty work load that I had challenged myself with. This is the type of stress that goes beyond ramming your head through a wall, to a focused effort to keep from spontaneously combusting. If there were ever a time for me to completely explode, it was this past summer.

But after a long ordeal, we sold our house, quickly, for way more than we paid for it. We found a contractor and an architect for the renovation on the new place, and we found an apartment to live in, for the interim. I am currently living and working in the apartment, while I bounce building plans back and forth with the architect and contractor.



For this entire year, I have somehow managed to work 5-6 days a week with the largest work load of my career.

All this, to focus on what I’ve learned through it all…

When the time comes to shut up and get work done, you find out what type of designer you are. Many of us worry about where we stand amongst some design community, some of us want to be the best designer ever, some of us obsess over our Twitter followers or Dribbble likes, and some of us are terrified and unsure of every single decision that we make. This year, I haven’t had the time to ask those questions, or focus on anything else but the work. I’ve had no other choice but to become a machine.

I’ve realized that at the end of the day, if us designers do not have the ability to silence, and grind work out — then the longevity of our careers may hang in the balance.

The idea of being an artist, or the pride we take in being creative means nothing if we cannot back it up with hard work. Pure, gritty, sweaty, work. There is no squeaky-clean suit and tie in my world. My world, the one that has allowed me to make a good living as a freelance artist, is a dirty pair of overalls, one that’s exhausted at the end of the work day.



In time, I’ll learn how to have a great career AND room to breathe, but for the first decade or two of my career, I want to know that I spent it grinding. I want to know that I’m capable of doing an amount of work that others view as impossible. Before I ever put some suit-and-tie on to accept a meaningless award– I want to know that I pushed myself to the limit to get there.

You’re artistic. You’re creative. You’re gifted. Congratulations.

Now, let’s see if you know how to work.

Thread Council

As most of you know, I’ve been designing merch for bands since I was a teenager. I’ve been doing it as an occupation for the past decade. Band merchandise makes up 95% of my work load, and I’ve been extremely proud to make it my focus in my design career. I’ve worked with lots of people throughout my career, and have tried to establish strong, meaningful connections with all of them. My clients are my lifeblood, and I am extremely grateful for them.

While I love what I do, the reality is that I grind out work, all day, 6-7 days a week for some of the biggest bands and artists in the world. When the art files are sent off, that is the last that I see of the project. I don’t see the tees after they are printed, and really have no way of knowing how well the design sells.

Last year, a group of people in San Francisco approached me about their new idea, Thread Council. Their team is comprised of heavy hitters in the online marketing and retail industries. They’re sole purpose was to celebrate artists like me, who create so much art, that so many people see, but hide behind the scenes of a much larger operation. Thread Council wants to provide an outlet for me to have a better connection with the life of the art that I create. This possibility can breathe new life, and rejuvenate my passion for creating apparel graphics. The merchandise industry is built on the backs of artists like me, and they wanted to do good, and show our faces to the world, while offering limited edition t-shirts with our original artwork.

While I always want to create band merchandise, Thread Council has proposed a way for artists like me to see the reach of our artwork. This is a game-changer.

I was flattered and honored. Thread Council wants to applaud the work that goes into shaping a visual culture, and reward the workers grinding out work behind the scenes.

So, before Thread Council officially launches, they’ve put together a beautiful Kickstarter campaign. While the whole campaign is extremely well-done, the rewards are even cooler. From one-on-one design counseling sessions, to you art-directing a design, there are a lot of fun rewards that they’ve packed into the campaign.

If you are a fan of graphic tees in general, now is the chance to get involved with a movement that says thank you to the artists who create this stuff, and to applaud their hard work.

I would be honored for you to be involved. View Thread Council on Kickstarter.

-Brandon

Underoath Farewell Poster

I did my first merch design for Underoath a decade ago, while my band was touring with them. Since then, I’ve steadily contributed to their various runs of merch, and have been honored to continually be asked to create more art.

So I was honored to be asked by Tim to design a limited edition poster for one of the shows for their Farewell Tour Artist Series. The poster is available on their site, along with a tee version. Below is my contribution. Also, be sure to check out the various limited edition posters, including art by Invisible Creature, Jordan Butcher, and Steve Hash, to name a few.

uo-farewell

A Year Forward

As the years move on, each go a bit faster. The perception that I had of one year as a child, an entire lifetime, becomes a little bit more visible, and tangible. Statements like “This year, I intend to…” become a little more realistic, as our grip on a single year improves.

Let this post be my year-end rambling. I may have a few things on my mind, and I’d love to get some of them out in this post.

In my freelance career, it has been fun to divide my operation into separate years, and make goals. Many of my records date back to 2002, when I was 19 years old, and first started caring about finding out exactly what I was capable of. At 19, I wasn’t concerned with any annual income. In fact, I was only aware of my annual income when it was substantial enough to be considered a decent year’s pay. Around the age of 22, when I was able to devote most of my time to design, the lightbulb went off, and I realized that “Oh, this is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life?” So thus, my respectable, full-time operation truly gained momentum.

Each year has been progressively better than the last, and working for myself has never felt better. A few years ago, I stopped caring about reaching any sort of number by the end of the year, and instead nestled myself into the comfort of being immersed in my work, and earning a decent living at it.

But even without stressing out over it, each year continues to top the year prior. I’m beginning to think that this is a result of building a momentum and rapport with my clients, but also due to an overall optimistic attitude towards my work and the future.

I’ve learned that freaking out about the future is extremely counter-productive.

For those of you that are afraid to take the plunge into freelance, I want to assure you that all of your concerns are indeed valid. There are always great reasons to NOT do something. But, I can also assure you that the only way to know if you can swim or not is to jump in. I have a feeling that if you want to survive, you’ll figure it out. Your pessimistic panic, however, will result in failure.

Pessimism is simply how you choose to perceive your world. A true pessimist makes a pessimistic assumption, and then seeks out confirmation for their prediction, blinding themselves to the positives from the experience.

Actually, if you’re on the fence about going freelance, let me lay something out that may make the decision easier for you: If you’re a pessimist, you probably will not be able to make it in freelance. Success in freelance requires you to stay positive. If you can’t stay positive, then you may not be the perfect candidate. However, I would love to be proven wrong on this.

Souls May Decay

I met a few new people this year. One of which is a college senior, with a passion for local startups. I was inspired by his ideas for seeking out local designers, developers, and founders, and finding a way to connect them all, and to start a dialog within our city. I enjoyed his passion, as it reminded me of my own, when I had the time to carry out my big ideas. While I’m quite excited that I’ve immersed myself in freelance, which I love, I do tend to wish that I had more free time to carry out every decent idea that pops in my head.

But, there are people out there who are just as excited for these big ideas as you are. While finding them may be tough, knowing them may give you an outlet to see some of these ideas come to fruition.

In one of these meetings with other local creatives (which I was ridiculously nervous to attend, and horribly out of my element) I was excited to meet other people who were doing big things. It was so encouraging to see other people’s passion for their work. This “fire” is contagious, and I’ve learned to be more intentional about seeking out people with fire and passion for what they do, as they can encourage and enrich our work, and in turn, our lives.

I notice the passion, because I also notice the dread. There are so many designers out there who have no “smile” attached to discussing their work. They discuss their job the same way they would discuss a funeral, no smile, no passion, no pep, it’s just “where they work.”

I feel for these people. I am slightly annoyed by them, but I’m more concerned and interested in what exactly destroyed their soul. It’s not their fault. They went into a design job, wide-eyed, and slowly, without knowing, someone began chipping away at their soul. It didn’t come down like a guillotine, but just a little bit at a time. Their great idea gets shot down. They feel unvalued. They eventually become a part of the machine, a machine that doesn’t smile, a machine that doesn’t speak positively, and a machine that attaches navy blue coveralls to the word “work,” as opposed to the pride that they once had for their own “work” of art.

Your soul may decay. If you let it go for too long, you’ll just find yourself completely out of smiles. You’ll forget how to talk about something that you’re excited about. You’ll become a pessimist, and it won’t necessarily be your fault.

Just decide, someday, to have a major life-change, and to turn that pessimism off.

Up to you.

The Early Bird is a Machine

I’m no stranger to freaking out. I am often sat before a mountain of work, trying to figure out who is to blame. I get annoyed, irritated, frustrated, and grind my teeth, until I simply admit and realize the fact that that day, because I have all of this freelance freedom, had chosen to sleep in.

My annoyance and frustration may have been coupled with a bit of grogginess. What felt like the beginning of my work day was actually the early afternoon, and the rest of the world were responsible enough to be winding their work days down.

I just felt like the lazy slob that woke up at 11:30.

So I decide to do the one thing that never fails to change my complete perspective on stuff. That evening, I get in bed around 9:00, and wake my lazy butt up at 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00 am the next morning.

Seriously. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up at 3:00 am. When I do, it’s like I’ve woke up in the Land of Oz, and everything is in bright colors. My brain just works in the most efficient manner possible, and I get 2-3 days worth of work done in 5-6 hours. By Noon, I’ve conquered the days tasks, and then some, and have the rest of the day (and daylight) to clear my head. I become available for my wife, and for my friends that want to have lunch or coffee. I start breathing in the extra oxygen that I’ve allowed myself, and wonder why I was such a lazy piece of crap yesterday, and vow to never sleep in again.

I then go on to imagine what would be different if I could wake up at 3:00, Monday-Friday for an entire year. Would my entire life get better? Would I double my income? Could I start a new business with my afternoons?

I don’t know yet. But you’ll be the first to know if I can actually pull it off.

But, alas, when the early-bird streak ends, and I sleep in, again, on a busy day, I know that I can always correct this again by waking up early.

So if you’re finding yourself unable to work diligently and efficiently, and in turn, getting frustrated, I would recommend waking up ridiculously early.

It’s worth a shot.

Machete Monday!

I’m doing a Cyber Monday sale, calling it “Machete Monday!” Visit The Racing Machetes web store and enter promo code MACHETEMONDAY to get $10 off any tee. Get There Fast!

 

My Talk At SAA

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of doing a talk at SAA. I had a great time speaking to, and interacting with the students. I feel like I was able to cover quite a bit in this talk, and sum up my philosophy behind design, work, and freelance. They also went the extra mile and put a great video together of the talk. Sit back, relax, and watch my talk: Spend Your Life Creating Something.

Dark Collar Branding Elements

Thank You Pagebreak Podcast

Lately, I’ve been scouring the internets for a good collection of Podcasts to listen to while I work. One of the podcasts that I came across, last week actually, was Pagebreak Podcast.

So imagine my delight when I check my twitter mentions, and see that their recent “Snippet” is a discussion about one of my recent blog posts, Fight To Stay Excited.

I want to give a huge thank you to Liz Andrade and Niki Brown for their conversation, and their take my article. I’m honored.

Listen to the podcast here.

If you haven’t discovered Podcasts yet, they have proved to be an amazing way to hear other people’s take on the creative work lifestyle that we all experience. You can obviously find podcasts on iTunes, but I would also recommend the iPhone app, Instacast – which allows you to find and subscribe to nearly any podcast.

SAA Conversations Video

A couple weeks ago, I did a talk at SAA. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and was asked a few questions after the talk. Here’s a quick interview on my opinions on my own design work, and the school itself.

Fight To Stay Excited

For a recent talk, while compiling slides, I found myself coming up with quick phrases that I would then elaborate upon. Many of these could be considered the title of the specific tangent, much like the title of a blog post – a quick title for a quick idea.

I was delighted to have come up with several titles that had a certain “ring” to them, and would probably lend themselves to a worthwhile future blog post. I fully intend on developing many of them into articles, as I realized that my talk is a collection of ideas that I have and will express via this blog.

One of my favorite phrases was:

Fight to stay excited.
The world wants to bum you out.

Plain and simple.

I find myself gravitating towards authors and personalities that realize this fact. Books, podcasts, and websites can all draw my attention if we have this commonality established. We prioritize excitement, and realize that there is a fight to keep it this way. Continue reading 

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