Monday, April 13, 2015

High School Career Day: Becoming a Graphic Designer

Me, getting ready to show students my portfolio at Career Day
 Last week, I was invited to speak at Pennsauken's High School's Junior Career day about working as a Graphic first thought was.., "when did I become an adult, let alone be qualified to talk to high school students about my career?!" I've actually been working as a Graphic Designer for over 10 (!) years now, which is a concept too crazy to comprehend. And it has been 15 years since I graduated high school, which makes me "so old", as a student so kindly pointed out after reading the dates written on the pages of my high school sketch book - hah!

Overall, it was a great experience and one that should be repeated at other high schools - so much of what we learn in high school may seem useless, but it actually could lead to a lifelong career. Many of the students asked great questions - ranging from, "how much money do graphic designers make?" to "where do you get inspiration?" and "do you ever get stuck and can't think of a new idea?" (the answer to that last question is "Yes!", everyone gets stuck sometimes, you just need to power through :).

I thought I'd share my journey from high school to graphic designer for anyone who might be thinking about it as a future career....

One of the first drawings in my high school sketchbook,
hands from freshman year.

From a very early age, I have always loved to draw. In school I won a few "art awards" in elementary & middle school and in addition to taking the required art classes in school, I also took classes in drawing and pottery at a local art center (Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown & Collingswood, NJ). In high school, I continued my love of drawing, taking various art classes as electives for all 4 years, as well as taking a figure drawing class outside of school (figure drawing = naked people, which was a shock to an immature 17 year old, however, it was a necessary skill and would be repeated during college, where I got very used to it!). As senior year drew to a close, I knew that I wanted to continue art in college, there was nothing else that I cared as strongly about, but felt I didn't have enough good pieces to put together a portfolio for college review and decided to go to community college first. Community college was a great (and inexpensive!) way to gain more experience - though in retrospect, I probably could have gone directly to art school as well, my portfolio was probably more than adequate for an incoming freshman. Anyway, one benefit of community college was taking all Art & English classes (my best subjects), gave me a high GPA, and I was inducted in the Phi Beta Kappa Honor society - which would have given me a very generous scholarship (at the time, perhaps even 100% of tuition), had I chosen to go to a state school such as Rutgers or Rowen University.

High school, sophomore year drawing,
small object drawn large - close up of a hair clip
But no, being a teenager with no understanding of how college loans would impact me for the next 10+ years of my life, I had my heart set on an expensive private art school, and ended up going to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I don't regret this decision, as UArts was an excellent school were I greatly improved my skills. My credits from community college were all accepted, though only as electives - not as major required classes, so while it lessened my credit load per semester (and got me out of taking Art History I), it didn't save me any time in getting my degree. At UArts, and I imagine, most other private art schools, all visual artists (this included graphic design, illustration, photography, film, animation, fibers, metal, sculpture, industrial design, glass blowing, pottery and any other major that wasn't performing arts, writing or communications), had to take the same freshman year "foundation program", then split off to their desired majors for sophomore year. "Foundation" consisted of basic drawing, painting, and sculpture classes, which could be more tedious then fun. Students who had drawing skills did relatively well, while others with talents in in an area that (seemly) didn't require drawing - like film and photography, often had to tough it out with lots of complaining. It was MUCH harder than my art classes at community college, and about 1/2 of the students in my freshman class didn't return for the second semester or sophomore year.

At the end of the foundation program, I was undecided as to whether I wanted to continue with graphic design or illustration. I met with the directors of both programs, and after learning that graphic design wouldn't require much drawing after the sophomore year, decided to go with illustration instead. I was still very drawn to computers, and followed a "digital track" in illustration. At the end of my time at UArts, my skills using the Adobe Creative Suite enabled me to find a job as a graphic designer fairly quickly, and I've been working continuously since. One of the benefits of graphic design is it can be much easier to find work directly out of school, while Illustration can take longer to get established - the average is about seven years. For me, it has been much easier to find graphic design jobs, and I work much more often as a graphic designer than as an illustrator - though I have also worked on projects that blurred the lines between both titles, and I have found being able to draw has given me a wonderful advantage in finding design work.

If you are thinking about going into graphic design or illustration (or are currently in college) check out my post on Tips for New Graphic Designer & Illustrators.

I'm looking forward to speaking at the next career day in the fall - it was a lot of fun!

Introducing myself to students, along with the other Art & Music professionals at Career Day.

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