Professional SpotlightSpotlight

When Carpe Juvenis set out to redesign, we knew exactly who to turn to. Spencer Shores, an incredibly talented recent graduate from Cornish College of the Arts, was the person we needed. We were referred to him by Kate Harmer (who you might recognize from her own Professional Spotlight!) who brought him onto her team as an intern and quickly realized he stood out as worth recommending. It’s hard to believe that Spencer is just in his early twenties – he has the professionalism of an ultra experienced pro, and the skill of someone who is able to combine both learned and natural talent to everything he touches. We knew from the get go that we had to share his story and advice with the Carpe community! So without further ado…

Name: Spencer Shores
Education: BFA in Visual Communications from Cornish College of the Arts
Follow: www.spencershor.es

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”

Spencer Shores: Seizing your youth to me is about finding your path. It is taking on an active role of defining yourself. Fail often and what have you.

CJ: You are studying Design and Visual Communications at Cornish College of the Arts. What sparked your love for design and illustration?

SS:
I entered school as print-maker and a painter. My love for design and illustration was something that grew the more I was immersed in the community. I loved that designers ask questions, whether they have the answers at the time. However, they always planned on finding an answer. Design for me is the perfect cohesion of critical and creative thinking.

CJ: What does your creative process look like?

SS: It really depends on the project.  I like to have a variety of projects at any one time. Some are just visual experiments or technique explorations, while others are highly conceptual projects that tend to be very near and dear to my heart. The visual and technique driven projects usually start with a lot of visual references and lots of sketching, it’s a lot less formal of a process. Some of these projects are just weekend posters or things of that nature. The more conceptual projects starts with a lot of reading, writing, and reflecting. The conceptual projects can last from weeks to even years. There are still visuals and sketching phases, however this occurs much later. The visuals don’t become important until you’re about 80% done with the project.

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CJ: You interned at Hum Creative. What was that experience like and how has it influenced your work (in design and/or business)?

SS:
Working with the Hum crew was a great experience. It was really demystifying of the design world. You hear horror stories while in school of what design firms are like. I suppose I’m lucky, because that was not my experience. Interning and later working with Hum was the first job I’d ever had where I wasn’t counting the hours until I could go home. I vividly remember thinking that this was what people talked about when they said work is never work if you love what you do. Since then, I never approached design as a task, or something I need to do. Design is always an opportunity, an opportunity to make something that matters. That’s a really exciting realization.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being a designer and illustrator?

SS: It is an important and valuable skill to be able to see things that don’t work. I consider myself an optimist, but there are a lot of things in the world that do not work, or at the very least could work better. The greatest lesson I’ve learned as a designer is that the first step of solving a problem is asking the question.

CJ: What is the most challenging part about being a designer and illustrator? The best part?

SS: I think the most challenging part is in fact the best part. Something that doesn’t generally come naturally to people is the idea of collaboration. The best part of being a designer is the opportunity to work with people, but more importantly people that think differently than yourself. Whether it be other designers or working with clients. My best work has come from collaboration and melding of ideas in order to solve a problem. This isn’t always easy, but it is always rewarding.

Spencer shores

CJ: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in being a designer and illustrator?

SS: Work hard and ask people questions. You’ll be amazed at how positively people react when you are genuinely interested in what they do. Design/Illustration is a fairly small community, so it goes a long way just to reach out to people. That results in an infinite supply of knowledge and mentorship.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

SS: I try to make a point to ease my way into the week, by ritualizing it in a sense. I make the active choice to get up and get out as soon as possible. I go straight to a coffee shop and get a coffee, being in a new surroundings kick starts my mind. Then I make lists. I love to make lists of things I want to achieve during that day and throughout that week. It’s an important part of my workflow.

CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?

SS: The lists! I make multiple versions of my lists, I keep digital and handwritten copies. Actually physically writing things helps me remember them more accurately. It is also important to have an idea of how much time you can spend on something. It’s a good exercise to time yourself with parts of your day or workflow so you can accurately assess and distribute your time.

CJ: What is a cause or issue that you care about and why?

SS: A point of discussion recently has been the education system. I believe that we systematically approach educating people in the wrong way. This results in the population believing that they are not capable of many things. I believe that people can do anything they want to do. We live in a world where almost all knowledge is accessible and you can learn all about it with the half a second it takes to Google it.

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

SS: I’m really pushing myself to be better about being honest with myself and others. Not in the sense that I am a compulsive liar or any such thing. I am more accurately a relentless optimist. I believe that many things are possible and I’m often right, however, I tend to spread myself fairly thin at times by overcommitting to people. At a certain point it is more beneficial to others if I am not quite so drained.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

SS: I go outside. First thing I need to do is step away from what is frustrating me, which typically is work related and often involves a screen. I constantly need to remind myself to go outside, feel a breeze, and take a breath. It keeps my grounded and engaging my other senses takes the focus off of the one point of frustration. I also write my thoughts. It allows me to stop thinking about so many things at once if I can just get them on paper.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

SS: It is okay to question your teachers. They’ll encourage you to do so. It is totally possible to make money in a creative field. Forget about business school. It is also possible to make things that are important and impactful, not just for you, but for others as well.

Spencer Shores Qs

Images by Spencer Shores

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Mike Curato, author of the popular children’s book series, Little Elliot, is incredibly talented and creative. Mike was generous enough to let us into his workspace to see where the magic happens of making a children’s book and adored character come to life. His shelves are lined with children’s books that serve as inspiration, artwork illustrated by many of his talented friends, and plush Little Elliots. 

Having studied Illustration at Syracuse University, Mike’s passion has taken him all around the country. He worked as a graphic designer in Seattle while simultaneously doing small freelance gigs. Now Mike’s time is dedicated to creating the world of Little Elliot, as well as other creative endeavors. Mike is no stranger to hard work and dedication, acknowledging the fact that sometimes we have to take jobs we don’t want or eat Ramen noodles for months. We are so inspired by Mike’s hustle and for never giving up.

Read on to learn more about the steps Mike took to achieve his lifelong goal of becoming a published author and illustrator of children’s books, where his love of storytelling comes from, and the fantastic list of resources he recommends both personally and professionally. Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the second book in the Little Elliot series, Little Elliot, Big Family.

Name: Mike Curato
Education: BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University
Follow: www.mikecurato.com / @MikeCurato

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Mike Curato: I’m presently in my mid-thirties, which sounds ancient to a 20-year-old (at least I thought it did at that age). I still consider myself “young,” now that I have a broader perspective, and while I’m not “really old,” I’ve been around long enough to experience a chunk of life. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much work it took to get to where I am, not just professionally, but mentally and spiritually. I think “seizing your youth” means not to waste any time living your life. You’ve got stuff you wanna do, right? Find out what you need to learn in order to make whatever that is possible. Live for quality moments. Find genuine people to hang out with. Don’t be content with the status quo. What can you do right now to make a difference in your life and others? Find out who you are and own it. I used to hear “old people” saying, “it will all go by so fast,” while I was growing up, to which I would roll my eyes and grunt, “uhuh.” Now that I am one of those “old people,” I am telling you, IT’S TRUE!

CJ: You received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from Syracuse University. Where does your love of illustration come from and why did you choose to study them in a formal setting?

MC: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Many of my childhood memories involve drawing. It made me feel special as a child, and still does. I went to art school because I was ready for challenges. I knew I had the potential to grow as an artist. I also wanted to be around other artists, both teachers and students, people who I hoped would understand me.

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CJ: Where does your love of storytelling come from? What stories have greatly influenced you?

MC: I am the oldest of three, and there’s a considerable age gap. For seven years, I was an only child, and I really had to maintain an active imagination to entertain myself alone at home, making up stories and acting them out. Then, when my sister and brother came along, I liked telling them stories.

Probably the stories that influenced me the most as a child were from a compilation of Golden Books – Tibor Gergely’s Great Big Book of Bedtime Stories. My mother says that when I was little, I made her read me The Little Red Caboose ad nauseam.

CJ: You spent time in Seattle working as a graphic designer. What did you do as a graphic designer and what did you learn from that experience?

MC: I started working in graphic design because it is so hard trying to be an illustrator right out of college. It was a way to pay the bills and still be creative. I started out at the very bottom as an unpaid intern, as I had no design experience even from school. Then, I started doing small freelance gigs for little or nothing while I worked as an office admin at a creative staffing agency. I really got to know the industry working behind the scenes, and eventually, I became one of their hired hands. I contracted at companies like Cranium and Microsoft for several years. Eventually, I became a full-time designer for Geocaching.com, where I eventually became the design manager. From there, I went back to freelance, working for companies like Amazon and Capital Group.

I learned so much being a designer that has influenced the way I make books. I have a strong sense of typography and layout now, which has strengthened my compositional skills. Meanwhile, working in corporate America taught me a lot about how businesses work and how to interact with a team to create a product.

CJ: You were the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Queer Getting Married, a wedding stationery company that provided invitations, save the dates, and more. What were your biggest takeaways from this experience?

MC: The funny thing about our little start-up is that my business partner and I opened QGM as a means to make a living working for ourselves while we tried to get published. However, I got my book deal before we even launched! We just closed our cyber doors several months ago, as both of our lives have changed dramatically since opening. My biggest takeaways are:

  1. If you’re going to start a business, it really has to be your one and only focus.
  2. Advertising and marketing are key. We had a great product, and no advertising money. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but without investors, it’s really hard to compete with the big dogs.
  3. It’s hard to predict what the consumers will want when you’re trying something that hasn’t been done before. We were trying to cater to a niche market, and it turns out that most just wanted the same old invites as everyone else. You can do all the market research you want, but sometimes, you just won’t know how sales will be until it’s out there.

Mike Curato Cover

CJ: Your lifelong goal of becoming a published author and illustrator of children’s books was achieved when Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (Macmillan) offered you a 3-book deal featuring the adorable Little Elliot. How incredible! What steps did you take in order to achieve this lifelong goal?

MC: Well, the biggest and hardest step was creating work for myself that I loved. It’s difficult to come home from a full-time job and commit to doing even more work. But, we have this one life, and so you just have to push through it. I booked a show at a local cafe to give myself a deadline, and then set about creating images for an exhibit, which ultimately became my new portfolio. The show was a success. A month later, I attended a conference by the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. Attendees can submit their work into a portfolio showcase there, which is seen by many art directors and editors in the children’s publishing industry. I ended up winning first place, which got me a lot of attention. Elliot appeared multiple times in my portfolio, and everyone wanted to know what his story was. The next day I had emails and voicemails from editors, art directors, and agents. From there, everything eventually fell into place!

CJ: When writing and illustrating books for kids, what things do you take into consideration? How do you approach word usage, language, and visuals?

MC: Well, making a picture book is much like a dance. I usually start with some rough sketches, then write some words, and I go back and forth for months until a story emerges. Though I think picture books are for everyone, they have to be inclusive of early readers, so much of the story is conveyed via the illustrations. The words are there to support wherever the images need help conveying the plot, which is why my texts are usually very sparse. A lot of redundancies are edited out.

Mike Curato Cover 2

CJ: What is your book writing and illustration process? Do you have a routine or a strict schedule?

MC: I do not have a strict schedule per se. Every book is different. Some days I work a lot, some days the magic is just not coming. Meanwhile, deadlines are great motivational tools for me. I try to break a project down into milestones to keep me on track (and also to feel some form of accomplishment on the long road to the finished product).

CJ: Every day in your life must look different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

MC: Ha! The days of the week are quite abstract to me. I work when I need to work, and I take off when I need to take off. I actually enjoy working weekends and taking off on a weekday. I guess “Monday” is the day I need to get back to work, which can be challenging. I need to trick myself into getting to work. I set little goals to coax myself back into the groove.

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CJ: What should a young adult who wants to be a children’s book author and/or illustrator do now to set him or herself up for success?

MC: Well, most importantly, an aspiring writer/illustrator needs to read as many children’s books as possible. You need to know what’s out there. What are the classics? What is current? What speaks to you?

Then, you have to do your industry homework. One needs to remember, though making books is usually born out of a passion, it is still a business. You wouldn’t show up for an interview at Apple and not know what an iPod is. Look up your regional Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators chapter and try to get to some meetings or a conference. Find out how a book is constructed. Keep tabs on what publishing house the books you like are with, then try to find out who edited them. If you’re an illustrator, start sending out promotional materials to art directors. If you’re a writer, find a writing critique group. If you’re an artist, try to get feedback from an art director (I actually was able to get a lot of feedback as a student from real art directors because I wasn’t looking for work, so take advantage of that generosity while you can).

I would also stress the importance of having an agent in today’s publishing world. It is very hard to get published without an agent, as many houses do not want unsolicited manuscripts. If you don’t know how much you’re worth and how to demand that worth, you need an advocate who will fight for the best deal. Most literary agents take 10-15% commission, but will most likely be able to get you more money than you would on your own. Finding an agent also requires researching an agent to make sure they’re legitimate and a good fit. What authors/illustrators do they represent? What books have they gotten deals for? What houses do they have connections with? How long have they been doing this? Also, do you feel comfortable working with this person? If all goes well, you’ll be together for a very long time.

CJ: What are some books, resources, and websites that have influenced you – either personally or professionally (or both)?

MC: The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators really is the go-to resource for “pre-published” authors, as they like to say.

Get acquainted with the major publications about children’s publishing:

School Library Journal

The Horn Book

Kirkus

Publisher’s Weekly

Booklist

There are some really great “kidlit” podcasts out there, where you can learn about the industry and hear from working authors and illustrators:

Let’s Get Busy

Brain Burps for Books

PW KidsCast

The Yarn

There are tons of blogs dedicated to talking about children’s literature, mostly book reviews and author/illustrator interviews. These are written by librarians, who are perhaps authors & illustrators’ greatest advocates. This list is the tip of the iceberg, but these are some of the best:

Watch. Connect. Read.

Sharpread

7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Librarian in Cute Shoes

Kidlit Frenzy

Read, Write, Reflect

Teach Mentor Texts

Nerdy Book Club

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CJ: When you’re not working on your next book or other design projects, how do you like to spend your time?

MC: Eating, sleeping, karaokeing, and watching movies – not necessarily in that order, preferably with friends.

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

MC: As someone who works at a desk all day, I have been trying to really take care of my body lately. I’ve been going to yoga and pilates several times a week (luckily there’s a studio around the corner from me), and I’m trying to eat healthier. I also work from home, so it’s important to get out of the house at least once a day for a walk.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

MC: It may sound corny, but “don’t give up!” When you’re fresh out of school, survival is usually at the top of one’s list. Sometimes we have to take jobs we don’t want to do. Sometimes we have to eat Ramen noodles for a few months. But I think it’s important to have a dream to motivate you to better yourself. Working towards the dream makes all the crappy jobs and Ramen noodles worth it in the long run.

Mike Curato Qs

Cover Image by Mike Curato; Images by Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

It is always pure joy seeing a Broadway show. The actors are insanely talented, the music is catchy, the costumes are gorgeous, and the set designs are stunning. When it comes to set design, one show in particular stands out in our minds: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a musical about Monty Navarro, an heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by eliminating the eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. We saw the show last year on Broadway, and not only did the show blow us away with its dark humor, wit, and enjoyable show tunes, but the set was so grand that it was essentially its own character.

We were over the moon when we had the opportunity to interview the award winning theater, opera, and dance stage designer Alexander Dodge. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is just one of the many incredible sets he has designed (also for which he received his second Tony Award Nomination!). Alexander has also designed for productions such as Julius Caesar, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night.

In addition to two Tony Award Nominations, a Lortel Award, a Drama Desk Nomination, and an Outer Critics Circle Nomination, he has also been the recipient of two Elliot Norton Awards, three Independent Reviewers of New England Awards, two Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, two San Diego Critics Circle Awards, and a Bay Area Critics Award. Alexander continues to impress with his attention to detail and incredible designs.

Born in Switzerland, Alexander grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended Bennington College in Vermont, spent a semester abroad in London, and later trained with the talented Ming Cho Lee at the Yale School of Drama. Alexander’s credentials and experiences with stage design makes him stand out above his peers, and even with his continued success, he is a pleasure to talk to and is generous with his time. Also, this September, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder goes on tour! If the tour is coming to your city, you’ll be able to see the amazing set design Alexander has created.

Name: Alexander Dodge
Education: BA in Drama from Bennington College; MFA in Design from Yale School of Drama
Follow: alexanderdodgedesign.com

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Alexander Dodge: Do things you want to do when you can and when you’re young. I have a one-year-old son and I’m focused on getting him to understand the idea of doing all the things he can when he can. You never know what’s going to come ahead in life that will stop you from doing something you could have done when you were young.

CJ: You majored in Drama from Bennington College. How did you decide what to major in?

AD: What’s great about Bennington is that they’re all about learning by doing and want you to dabble in a lot of things before deciding what to major in. Every year you have a work semester so my first year I worked in a gallery in Soho, my second year I worked in San Diego at the Old Globe Theater, my third year I worked at the Young Vic in London, and my fourth year I worked at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. I had these great experiences of learning what was good or what wasn’t for me. After a couple of years of that I figured out what I really liked doing. And we had a great performing arts center there – it was the same size as one you’d find at a major university but for 500 students. That was incredible. You could get lost in some of the backstage stuff, it was really cool.

CJ: You also received your master’s of fine arts degree in Design from Yale School of Drama where you trained with Ming Cho Lee. What inspired you to go back to school to receive this degree?

AD: Going to Yale was great because it was completely structured – in the three years there was only one elective class you could take. Which is great in a way and I loved being at a large university for a while. The campus was awesome, and Ming Cho Lee is amazing. I absorbed so much and it was so important being there and being around the other students who you learn so much from. So many places teach you different skills, and Ming Cho Lee was really about teaching you to become an artist. To really see, and really look, and figure out how to interpret the world around you.

CJ: How do you work with the rest of the crew to create the physical stage that the audience sees?

AD: Unlike architects we don’t have engineering backgrounds, so we’re not required to know exactly how to construct and put things together, but we make suggestions and we’re really only responsible for the look. So there’s a technical director for each project – either based at a theater or based at a commercial shop. If you’re doing a Broadway show there aren’t any scene shops here so everything gets built elsewhere. So I’ll give them a pretty good sense of the technical drawings, and then they’ll really figure out how to construct it. I’ll also give them a color model, renderings, paint elevations and all that, and they’ll then take those drawings and do technical drawings of what’s inside and what’s actually keeping the walls up. You also work very closely with the director to figure out how you can put everything together in the space you have to work with.

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CJ: You are a set and costume designer for theater, opera, and dance. What does it mean to be a designer, and what do your daily tasks look like?

AD: Today is all about finishing up a model and coming up with new designs I’m doing for a new show this summer, as well as reading a play I just got offered. So it really depends. It tends to be office time when I’m in the city, but I fly all the time and it’s a lot of travel.

CJ: When starting a new project, what does your process look like?

AD: Collaboration is the name of the game. I find that the shows I’ve worked on that have been the most successful are the ones that we all work together. I’ve also done shows where I basically hand them the set design and they go with it. Other times it’s a lot of back and forth and figuring it out together, which can feel much more satisfying. Also the director might have a take on the piece that’s important. The text is read first and foremost, then I go to the director and talk about what he or she thinks, then there’s interaction with the costume designer an the lighting designer. Usually costumes and set are what we start with because of the nature of how long those things take to create and build. We have to start right away. Nothing is by chance – everything has to be decided, down to the buttons and the trim on the jackets, the height of the door frame, and so on.

CJ: What is an important skill you need as a set designer?

AD: Trying to carve out time for myself is really good. If I don’t go to the gym in the morning and have my time, I’ll have a million excuses to not go in the afternoon. But it’s time for myself and it’s important for my own sanity. Even though I’m on the road a lot, trying to keep a business routine is really good too. This past year I’ve made a big push to carve out vacation time, because before that it was all about trying to grab a weekend here or a weekend there, and that was kind of it. But the theater is very different where we plow through national holidays and don’t really have a typical summer season because there are always shows going on. I remember once I did a show in Boston and we started technical rehearsal on December 26th and we went right through the New Year – it was a whirlwind of work at a time when you’d really love to be with your family.

CJ: Is there a cause or issue that you care about? If so, why?

AD: Something I care a lot about is LGBT youth and youth programs like the Hetrick-Martin Institute. There’s also a program called Live Out Loud which provides scholarships for LGBT youth. I also love smaller theater groups like The Civilians – they do a whole variety of investigative theater, which is so interesting.

CJ: What should a young adult who wants to be a set and costume designer do now to set him or herself up for success?

AD: I think try to get out and see as many things as possible is important, especially if you’re close to any major theater area. Even if you’re in a smaller town, take advantage of what’s there. Familiarize yourself with what you’re interested in. Try to travel to places that offer different shows. Seizing those things, especially if you want to do this business, is important. And see a variety of things – see operas, concerts, modern dance, and museums.

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

AD: Being more present and taking more time for my family and me is something that I’m really working on. It’s difficult with work, but I don’t want to be that person where my job is everything. Time with your family is not to be undervalued.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

AD: I would say don’t major in drama – branch out more than you did. I think that I zoomed in on what I knew I wanted to do, but in hindsight I’m thinking it would have been good to take an anthropology class or more science courses. In grad school I decided I wanted to be in a show for the first time, and it was great. I was on the stage at Yale University and it was such a great experience.

Alexander Dodge Qs

Images by Carpe Juvenis

Book PostsYouth's Highest Honor

We are thrilled to share with you the final cover of our book, Youth’s Highest Honor: Your Guide to Earning the Congressional Award and Building Life SkillsIt’s pretty crazy to us that our first book will be released into the world in a little over a month (August 17th!). We loved writing this book and putting it all together. This cover has been through numerous variations and concepts, and it’s been a fun process and huge learning curve.

In Youth’s Highest Honor, we offer a roadmap to optimizing the Congressional Award experience by explaining the Award program areas and guidelines in an easy-to-understand format and by providing real-life examples of what to do – and what not to do. This step-by-step guide – filled with useful tips, advice, and resources to consult when needed – demystifies the process of earning the Congressional Award.

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Travel

Now that we’re far enough into summer, you may have exciting trips planned for the next couple of months. As you research fun activities to do, pack your bags, and prepare for the adventures ahead, remember the words of wisdom from these five professionals. These people have traveled the world and learned from their mistakes, and they know what to keep in mind when it comes to exploring new territory. To read each professional’s full Spotlight, simply click on their photo.

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Image: Jose Martin with graphics by Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

When we first discovered the Scottish Fold cat Shrampton on Instagram, we couldn’t get enough of him and his twin sister, Bunni. It’s hard not to fall in love after seeing just one photo. After a few months of seeing Shrampton pop up in our Instagram feeds, we decided to reach out to the woman behind the photos, Leilani Shimoda. Leilani is not only mama to the cutest cats on Instagram, but she is also the head of the swim and intimates department at Wildfox, a vintage inspired clothing line.

As a swimwear designer, Leilani is in charge of many responsibilities. Not only is she researching, designing, and managing production, to name a few, but she also styles photo shoots and casts models. Despite hearing ‘no’ and being told to quit, Leliani worked hard and was persistent, and it paid off. As Leilani wisely noted regarding being in a tough industry such as fashion, “It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.” Read on to learn more about how Leilani views leadership, how she stays organized, and how Shrampton has changed people’s lives.

Name:​ Leilani Shimoda
Education: ​BFA in Fashion Design from Otis College of Art and Design
Follow:Portfolio / Tumblr / InstagramTwitter / Shrampton
Location: Los Angeles, California

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”

Leilani Shimoda: Sometimes when you’re young you get caught up in socializing and fail to realize all the resources at your disposal. In high school and college there are so many opportunities to get advice and skills from teachers and professionals. Use them. The party will always be there. Free computer programming tutorials and yoga classes won’t.

CJ: You majored in Fashion Design at Otis College of Art and Design. How did you determine what to study?

LS: I grew up with a lot of art influences ­ drawing, jewelry making, and piano. I knew I wanted to do something artistic. Fashion was a place where I could do something creative but it also served a function. I liked that combination.

CJ: You are the head of the swim and intimates department at Wildfox where you manage a team that designs swimwear, cover­ups, pajamas, intimates, bags, and accessories. We are huge Wildfox fans! What does your role as Swim and Intimates Designer entail?

LS: Thank you! I work within the overall story or theme for each season to develop pieces that will fit and help tell that story. Whether it’s cozy pajamas or sea shell bikinis, I research, sketch, design, create tech packs, source fabrics/trims, manage production, conduct fittings, cast models, style photo shoots, organize fashion shows… it’s pretty extensive.

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CJ: What does your creative process look like when working on a new line?

LS: As Wildfox is very vintage-­inspired I do a lot of shopping at flea markets, vintage stores, and on Ebay and Etsy. Paying attention to past trends and paying homage to styles that were influential is as important as creating looks from scratch. Once I know the story (Wildfox is very story-­driven) I work with the team to fit my lines into the overall vision.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

LS: Typically I meet with my team and review all pending tasks. Then I meet with the Creative Director and other Senior Designers to have a creative meeting. We’ll break for lunch and then meet with our entire team in one room and discuss everything we’re working on. A lot of important decisions are made at the meetings and then I have a bunch of emails to get back to and give approvals and relay comments to the factories.

CJ: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in being a fashion designer?

LS: Work hard and be persistent. I was told time and time again that this isn’t a good field. It’s extremely competitive, the hours are relentless, trends come and go quickly, there’s no entrance exam (so you get a lot of unprofessional people in power positions). Despite all that, if you can take the punches and keep designing great fitting garments that girls covet, you will succeed. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.

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CJ: Leadership plays an important role in your job. How have you learned to lead, and what does being a good leader mean to you?

LS: The best way to lead is to be a student. For years I had a range of different bosses, creative directors and leaders guiding me. I’ve had things thrown at me and I’ve been told to quit. I read Diane von Furstenberg and Kelly Cutrone’s books. I’ve taken all the good and the bad and built my own method for leadership. Being a good leader means not letting the constant stresses impact the way you treat your team. It is never effective to belittle someone else. It’s contrary to the greater goal of building the brand and doesn’t maintain forward momentum. Working as hard as your team, the same grueling late nights, getting your hands dirty. Those all inspire confidence and help keep the work environment productive. I also love teaching my team in a fun way by taking them shopping and having us all try things on and take photos of details we like.

CJ: You are also mama to the adorable cats, Shrampton and Bunni. Shrampton’s Instagram currently has 46,000 followers. How has Shrampton and Bunni’s growing online presence changed your life?

LS: It makes me so happy when Shrampton’s followers say things like “I was having a hard day, but Shrampton’s photo made it better.” That’s what I strive to do with my designs. Making people happy is the most rewarding part.

Shramp and Bun

 

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CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?

LS: Being part of Fashion Week in Miami is always a highlight. I like the combination of working toward a very visible goal and also meeting the other designers in a place where everyone can finally show the work they spent so much time designing/producing. The energy and temperatures are high. It’s very stressful and thrilling at the same time.

CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?

LS: I’m a list maker. Putting all the small and large tasks in one place, then checking each thing off is not only helpful but satisfying. I believe in color­coding and post­its.

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

LS: I’m constantly pulled in so many directions between work, exercise, friends, family, Shrampton. Getting to a calm, grounded place is what I’ve been focused on lately – meditation, yoga, reading, me time.

Leilani

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

LS: I usually satisfy whatever food craving I’m having but I try to balance that with exercise, which also helps.

CJ: What is your favorite book?

LS: Many Lives, Many Masters by ­Brian Weiss.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20­-year­-old self?

LS: I would give myself a pep­talk and let myself know that I’m a good designer and belonged at fashion school. That I should be confident and believe in myself because I’m great. To be patient and surround myself with what I loved and learn everything I can.

I didn’t get this kind of encouragement during my college years. That’s why I enjoy mentoring and spreading a positive message to young designers and women that wear my designs.

Leilani Shimoda Qs

Images by Leilani Shimoda

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We fell in love with Katie Evans’ designs when we first laid eyes on them. It’s not hard to adore her bright and colorful designs. Having freelanced, worked at kate spade, West Elm, and Gap, Katie is no stranger to hard work and late nights. Now working as the Art Director at Ivanka Trump, Katie is involved with social media, editorial stories, and marketing. We were very excited to meet with Katie at the Ivanka Trump office in New York City, which is powdery pink and filled with inspirational images and quotes. We are motivated by Katie’s creativity and hard work, and we know you’ll be just as inspired.

Name: Katie Evans
Education: B.F.A. in Graphic Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art
Follow: @heykatieevans / katie-evans.com / ivankatrump.com

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Katie Evans: Taking chances and not being afraid to make mistakes. You’re young and now is the time to experiment with what makes you happy and what doesn’t.

CJ: You received your BFA in Graphic Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art. What sparked your love of design?

KE: I attended an arts magnet middle school and high school where I was a visual arts major concentrating in drawing, painting, and sculpture. In high school I continued those studies and did a crossover into the Communications department to take a graphic design class. CD album covers and booklets were what originally sparked my interest in design. I remember pinning them on my bedroom walls. I also designed a couple of covers for my friends’ bands.

When I was a junior in college, I still didn’t know exactly where I wanted to take my career. A professor gave me an assignment to spend a weekend collecting anything that I was attracted to. The next week I brought back a bunch of Martha Stewart’s Blueprint Magazines, editorial shoots from Lucky Magazine, and a bunch of fashion ad campaigns. My professor was like, “Duh, you should be in fashion.” I questioned her about how I could play a role in fashion as a graphic designer. She told me that fashion companies need graphic designers – they do the windows, the packaging, and the hangtags, etc.

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CJ: You are the Art Director at Ivanka Trump. What does your role entail? 

KE: Ivanka started her licensee businesses a while ago, and she recently hired a small team to revamp and bring new life to the brand. We recently launched our new site, ivankatrump.com, that includes articles on work, style, travel, home and play.

I concept all of our editorial content on the site and our social media channels. Everyone does a bit of everything here because we are so small, which is great because you can be involved with different aspects of the brand. Our team makes all of our ideas come to life. I still do graphic design which I think a lot of Art Directors don’t do anymore. It keeps me on my toes.

CJ: You freelanced as an Art Director, Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Consultant for years while also maintaining jobs. How did you go about securing freelance work, and what advice do you have for those interested in freelancing?

KE: I originally started freelancing because I needed the extra money. I always had a steady job and paycheck to fall back on, and freelancing let me experiment and find out what worked and what didn’t. For my first freelance job, I was paid $500 to design 10 different stationery cards for a new company. Looking back on that now is crazy to me. I want to smack my 22-year-old self and ask what I was thinking! I spent so much time on those cards. It should’ve been $500/per design. When I figured out what I wanted my freelance projects to be, I was able to pick the ones I liked the most. Most of my jobs came from word of mouth with a mix of referrals from social media and LinkedIn. I did freelance as a career for a little bit, and then Ivanka Trump lured me back into the corporate world.

If you’re thinking about going strictly freelance, you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to be a go getter or you will go nowhere. You also have to be organized because now you are a bookkeeper, assistant, answering emails all day, and you still have to pump out the creative. It took time, but I was able to figure out how long projects would take me and account for client feedback to get it all done in time to start my next project. It was tricky to find that right calculation, so being flexible was important.

When I first went full-time freelance, I had nine clients. It was a disaster on my side, but I put on a good face for my clients. I had no social life, I was overworked, and I will never make that mistake again. I think the happy medium was 3-4 clients, with 2 recurring clients and 2 rotating projects. I had to be very strict with my clients about deadlines so that it didn’t interfere with other jobs.

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CJ: How did you stay organized and efficient while balancing freelancing with your corporate jobs as a Graphic Designer?

KE: Google. Google has helped me do everything. I used spreadsheets for my bookkeeping and the calendar for meetings and deadlines. I would have each client assigned a different color so I could visually see the different projects I had. It worked because I could access those files from wherever I was – whether it was on my computer or phone.

CJ: You’ve worked as a graphic and web designer at some amazing places such as kate spade, West Elm, and Gap. What are your biggest takeaways from these experiences?

KE: The biggest thing I learned was that if I’m not passionate about the brand and what I’m marketing, I can’t do my job 100%. At kate spade, I lived and breathed that brand. The projects were so much fun. The kate spade team was very small so I was able to get my hands on everything, from window installations to stationery collections to working on photo shoots. I loved that so, so much. Every day was different and I was building a great portfolio.

The other companies I’ve worked for were much larger and at those jobs I was hired to do one thing and that thing only. They had huge teams to do everything and I realized through those experiences that I thrive better in smaller environments where I can play a part in all aspects of a project. I like to see things from start to finish.

CJ: What is the best part about being a designer? The most challenging part?

KE: The best part is telling stories. Just being able to tell a story about what a girl is doing and what she’s wearing and what she’s thinking and feeling. Finding a way to bring that story to life is the best part.

The most challenging part is finding the balance between making something beautiful but also selling that product. It’s tough to be conscious of both.

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CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

KE: 7am: Rise and shine! Go for a run! #TeamIvanka is training for a half-marathon in April. Most of us are new runners and can’t imagine running 13 miles. So far 4.5 has been my most.

9am: Take the F train uptown. Read theSkimm on my ride up.

10am: Write out my to-do’s for the day. Respond to emails.

10:30am – 2pm: Plan our next editorial shoot, pull inspiration, select models, snap a photo of Ivanka for Instagram, and edit videos.

2:00pm: Lunch! If I eat too early the day goes by much slower.

2:30 – 5:30pm: Work with our Editorial Director to plan the next month of stories. Call people and brands that we want to collaborate with, design creative for our social media channels, a little bit of pinning to Pinterest.

5:30 – 6:00pm: Regroup with my creative team to make sure we’re meeting deadlines.

6:00pm: Out the door!

Trump Tower

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an Art Director or Graphic Designer do now to set themselves up for success?

KE: Be multifaceted in your line of work. If you’re a graphic designer, take a variety of art classes and learn as much as you can. You’ll be more valuable to your employer. As a designer, explore print, packaging, publication, digital, and visual. It will set you up later in your career to think about a project holistically.

Also, be nice. It still blows my mind how small this world is.

CJ: What is your favorite book?

KE: I just finished reading You Before Me by JoJo Moyes. I laughed and cried.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

KE: I like to take deep breaths, go to the gym, and shop.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KE: Your career path is going to be hard work, but it’s going to be worth it. And pay attention in your foundation art classes! Find a way to enjoy it and embrace your art style. You may think they’re boring, but they’re teaching you the basics of art that will come up in every aspect of your job.

Katie Evans Qs

Image: Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As a Madewell graphic designer and blogger, Alexandra Yeske is as put together as you’d expect – not only with her outfits, but with her thoughtful responses and the ways she conducts herself. Alexandra became interested in arts and design from a young age, and she went to Syracuse University to further her design education. Post-college, Alexandra worked at Madewell in various capacities, and worked her way up in the company by taking advantage of the opportunities that came her way and accepting new challenges. You know those Madewell emails you receive in your inbox? Yeah, that’s designed by Alexandra. Pretty cool, right?

Alexandra also runs the blog Dreams + Jeans, where she discusses fashion, design, interiors, and other things that inspire her. She emphasizes reaching out to those you are inspired by and learning from them. Whether she’s designing, blogging, or exploring New York City, Alexandra is busy pursuing her dreams and working hard. By following the best piece advice she’s ever received – work hard and be nice to people – Alexandra is going to go far.

Name: Alexandra (Alex) Yeske
Age: 25
Education: B.F.A. in Communications Design from Syracuse University
Follow: Dreams + Jeans / Twitter / Instagram

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Alexandra Yeske: To me, seizing your youth is about taking advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to you. When you don’t have serious responsibilities like a house or a family, you can focus on what you want to do. I encourage young people to go after every opportunity given to them and reach out and network with people that you admire.

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CJ: You received your BFA in Communications Design from Syracuse University. How did you determine what to study and what sparked your love of design?

AY: From a very young age I was interested in arts and design. I learned early on that fine art was not my forte, and it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I became interested in interior design. During high school, I did an architecture summer program at Carnegie Mellon thinking that maybe I would go into architecture. When that didn’t seem to fit, I remember going on the College Board website and looking up different careers and the majors you should study if you were interested in them. That’s when I came across graphic design. When I read about what graphic designers did, I recalled my scrapbooking interest from growing up and the fact that I obsessively knew all of the fonts on my computer. I never realized that could be a profession and from that moment it just sort of clicked.

I had applied to Syracuse University and when I went to visit, I sat in on a Communications Design class and fell in love with it immediately. I knew it was where I needed to go and that graphic design was what I wanted to study – I never wavered with that. The program at Syracuse is very different than most design schools. All of the projects are self-initiated. You take a problem or something that interests you and you solve it visually. In that, you’re able to tailor the major to you and you’re able to do projects that you are truly interested in and passionate about.

It’s a very rigorous program, but also incredibly rewarding. Our class time was to present your work and review/critique it, so all of the work is done on your own time and you really had to manage yourself. These reviews often went on for over five hours, but they were crucial to shaping not only our projects, but our presentation skills and ability to provide feedback. The professors valued our opinions and there were great discussions going on. Sometimes the reviews were incredibly difficult to get through, but in the end it made me a much stronger designer. And I think we all came out with really diverse portfolios, which was great during interviews because you really connected with your projects and it showed when we spoke about them.

One of my projects was an alcohol-infused sorbet and I distinctly remember my interview with Jenna Lyons for my job at Madewell. It was the first project she saw in my portfolio and I had just told her that my projects represented my interests and passions. She said, “Alcohol and ice cream? These are your interests?” Nervously, I replied “Well, sort of…” and trailed off and she immediately smiled and said “Mine too.”

CJ: You are a Graphic Designer at Madewell. What does your role entail?  

AY: When I first started at Madewell, I worked on the web team. I was designing features for our site and all of our emails. After about a year, our team took on all of the print marketing and store graphics responsibilities. I was interested in a new challenge, and I was able to transition onto the print team. Now, I do most of the design for our stores (window decals, signage, postcards, etc.), and I also still design all of the emails that go out to customers. It’s cool that I get to do both print and digital and have my eyes on a little bit of everything. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to work on both channels.

When you work in-house for a brand, there’s an inherent style guide to follow so that everything feels and looks like Madewell. Within that we’re definitely encouraged to explore and look for new typefaces and design ideas. We’re always looking for new ways to visually tell the Madewell story and identity to our customers.

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CJ: You’ve worked at Madewell in many different capacities over the years as a Freelance Web Designer, Junior Web Designer and now Graphic Designer. What advice do you have for advancing in your career within a company?

AY: As I mentioned earlier, I believe that it’s important to take any opportunity that’s given to you and to be excited about it. I’m very passionate about Madewell, and when I came to the position, I was very excited to work on anything. My bosses know how much I love the brand, so even though I may not necessarily be working on certain projects, they still respect any ideas I may have to do something good for the brand.

I think it’s really important to have open communication with your bosses so they know what you’re interested in and can help you plan your path. I’ve been in my current role for about two and a half years now, but I’m constantly gaining more responsibilities and feeling like I am being challenged.

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CJ: You are also a blogger and run the site Dreams + Jeans. What’s your favorite part about being a blogger? The hardest part?

AY: My favorite part about being a blogger is all of the people I’ve gotten to meet through it. I started my blog the summer before my senior year in college as a creative outlet, but also with the intention of it maybe helping me get a job. I saw this awesome online community that I wanted to be a part of, so I just went for it. It really opened my eyes to many new career paths that I had no idea even existed and helped me get to where I am today. I’ve met some fantastic friends through blogging – people that I would never have met otherwise. The first time you meet, it’s a bit like blind dating, but you know that you already have something in common and like similar things. That’s been the best part. You’re sitting at home doing it by yourself and it’s great to get comments, but it’s really rewarding when you meet real people and make real connections out of it.

The hardest part for me is to keep going with it! I balance a lot between my job, freelance work, my boyfriend and friends, and living in New York where there’s so much to do. It’s hard to juggle it all. There’s always something I want to write or post about, and it’s challenging to find the time to do it. Even though I had a rigorous school schedule in college, it was easy for me to blog because it was an outlet. Now I’m at a point where it’s not as high of a priority as it once was. It’s like having another job essentially, but I’ve learned over the years not to force it. If I’m not feeling it, then I give myself a break.

CJ: On average, how long does it take you to produce a blog post? What goes into the creation of a blog post?

AY: It depends. Some posts are harder than others. If I’m doing, for example, an Interior Envy post, it can be a lot faster than other types of posts. Once I’ve found the home I want to feature, it’s about a 15-20 minute process of putting it together and writing the content. My more complex posts, like outfits or my Currently Coveting posts, take a lot more time for creation. I am taking photos, editing photos, finding items, putting them into the layout, and writing the content.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being a designer?

AY: Within working and blogging (and really, life in general), building your network is so important. Maintain good relationships and don’t burn bridges with people. I feel like that sounds so simple, but it can be so hard. It’s crucial to learn that early on. I’ve also found that it’s really important to keep your head down and focus on yourself. It’s easy to get wrapped up in looking at what others are doing and get down on yourself, but you’ve got to keep pushing through and just do you. I’ve also found that I’m so much happier to do work when I’m passionate about it.

CJ: What is the best part about being a designer? The most challenging part?

AY: I like that I’m solving problems visually. I’m a problem solver by nature. Even though I’m not necessarily solving huge problems, I’m finding better ways to communicate to the customer or to promote our brand. I also have to say that as a perfectionist, being a designer lets me have control over a lot of stuff.

I also really love that design translates across mediums. My style and aesthetic has changed so much since moving to New York and it’s exciting to see it come out in other ways than just my design work. I’m currently really into what my apartment looks like and honing in on my personal style. For instance, I used to wear a lot more color, and now I wear mostly neutrals. I’ve started to really learn what I like and what I’m most comfortable in. It takes time to figure it all out, but I’ve enjoyed seeing my evolution on my blog.

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CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

AY: During the week, I get up around 8 o’clock. I would love to be a morning person who gets up earlier, enjoys a cup of coffee, maybe read some blogs, but I am just not the best morning person. Luckily, I live close enough to walk to work, so I’m able to sleep in a bit later. I like to get coffee on my way to work (if I’m not running late) and then I try to be in around 9am. I typically work until 6 or 6:30pm, depending on how much needs to get done. My days are never predictable. Some days I’ll be designing emails all day, other days I’ll be at a store visit or in meetings. Occasionally, I get to art direct a photo shoot for emails, so as you can see, there isn’t really a true schedule! I like that though, it keeps it interesting! After work, I try to meet up with friends a couple nights a week.

On weekends I like to have one or two major plans, but for the most part I keep them open. There are always new stores and restaurants opening that I want to check out. New York puts a lot of pressure on you to stay busy on the weekends – there’s always something to see and do.  You feel a bit guilty when you stay home watching TV or sleeping all day, but sometimes you need that! I also really love taking day trips out of the city – there are so many great places within a few hours drive.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be a graphic designer do to set themselves up for success?

AY: I recommend trying graphic design out in whatever capacity that means for you. Once I decided that I wanted to learn more about design in high school, I took as many art classes as I could and did a summer program at Carnegie Mellon. If you can get an internship or if family members need something designed, go for it and figure out if you are truly interested in a career in graphic design.

I also can’t stress networking enough. These days with the Internet and social media, it’s so easy to look people up and reach out to them. I wanted to work in fashion but didn’t really know how to get started, so I reached out to a lot of people and asked them how they got their start and what advice they’d have for me as someone in the early part of their career. Everyone always says they’re terrified to email people randomly, but don’t be. You’re emailing someone because you like their work and you’re paying them a compliment. And when you’re a student, people are much more willing to talk to you – they usually remember when they were in that same position. A helpful hint: never ever push your resume onto anyone or ask for a job. If they want it, they’ll ask for it.

CJ: What book had the greatest impact on you and why?

AY: During college I read both: If You Have to Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone and The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. Kelly’s perspective on the fashion industry is fascinating and I love her no-bullshit approach to everything. The Cheese Monkeys is about a graphic designer going through school and the experiences you go through. I remember connecting with it so much because I was going through similar things at the time.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

AY: My biggest piece of advice would be to persevere and to just keep going. That applies to any age. Put your head down and do your work and don’t worry about other people. You do you and keep going.

Alex Yeske Qs

Images: Angi Welsch; Lauren Jessen

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

It’s not every day that we see an illustration, design, or logo that makes us feel something. However, when we see Kate Harmer’s illustrations and designs, we are immediately inspired and moved.  Kate drew constantly when she was a little girl and she hasn’t stopped since. After following her passion and enrolling in Cornish College of the Arts, doing internships, getting job experience in design and illustration, and completing graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design, Kate launched her own design studio, Hum Creative, that focuses on creating and developing brands. More recently, Kate illustrated a fun book based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo.

Kate is not only amazingly talented, but she is smart, kind, and thoughtful. We are encouraged by her self-starter attitude, work ethic, and of course, her creativity. Kate not only has the ability to draw and design, but she also knows how to build an incredible team of people with serious creative skills. Through determination, hard work, and learning how to grow a thicker skin, Kate has excelled in her field, and she generously shares the lessons she has learned during her journey. Read on to learn more about Kate Harmer, a true inspiration!

Name: Kate Harmer
Age: 32
Education: BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts; MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design
Follow: Twitter / Hum Creative / Instagram

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Kate Harmer: It’s common to hear successful people look back and say, “We were so young, we were so crazy, we were so brave!” They’re talking about times that were challenging, but they are able to look back and laugh. I try to remember that I’m in that time right now for my future self. Knowing that all of these things won’t seem as hard or scary once they’re done encourages me to take big risks.

Yes, I’m 32, but that’s super young! Someday I’ll hopefully laugh at my failures and be proud of having challenged myself. Both are positive outcomes. To me, seizing your youth is embracing that now is the time to be free and brave.

CJ: You received your BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts. How did you determine what to study?

KH: My career has been a process of elimination. When I was in high school I didn’t know what graphic design was. I just knew that I liked to draw and wanted to do something creative. I went to school for Illustration and worked as an Illustrator for a while. I tried to follow my passion in a broad sense, then tried lots of things to see what I enjoyed and to get more focused.

CJ: What sparked your love of illustration and design?

KH: As a kid I would sit in my bedroom for hours and draw fake advertisements for the commercials I heard on the radio. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was thinking like a graphic designer. I wasn’t super social, so drawing was a natural way for me to process the world and express myself.

Because I drew constantly, I had good foundation of skills by the time I was looking at colleges. I definitely think most things can be learned, but you have to put in the time.

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CJ: You also received your MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design. Why did you decide to go to graduate school, and would you recommend it?

KH: I went to graduate school to learn new skills and jump start the next phase of my career, which was more about design than illustration.

I would recommend graduate school, but only for people who are really ready for change and have fully explored on their own first. I don’t think graduate school is required to be successful, and some life experience first is key. You can create a condensed learning experience on your own, but some people need help. I needed grad school to push me.

Graduate school was both awful and great. The workload was almost unbearable at times, making it one of the toughest experiences of my life so far. It was a critically intensive, so I graduated with a much thicker skin. I also made amazing friends, learned a ton, and I felt empowered to do what I do now. It was a full, amazing experience.

CJ: You are the Principal and Creative Director at Hum Creative. What do your roles as Principal and Creative Director entail? 

KH: When I first started the company I was doing a bit of everything – designing, sweeping floors, and writing invoices. Now my role is to think about this entire company as a design project. I am responsible for our overall strategy and goals, getting the best team of people together, and directing the creative process. I also play on our kickball team.

CJ: Before Hum Creative, you were a designer at Starbucks Creative Group. What kinds of projects did you work on at Starbucks?

KH: I got to illustrate coffee bags, draw lots of little croissants and coffee mugs, and help design seasonal merchandise and packaging. I was fresh out of school and supported senior designers and creative directors with illustrative tasks that were needed to fulfill their vision.

I think about that job every day while building Hum Creative. When I was at Starbucks, it really felt like everyone was happy with their jobs and coworkers. A lot of what I learned there has stayed with me.

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CJ: You illustrated the book Tween Hobo, which is based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo. What was that illustration process like?

KH: Alena Smith knows the Tween Hobo character so well. I flew down to LA to brainstorm initial ideas for the book with her, then worked remotely for the next few months. Alena sent me in-progress chapters every couple of weeks. I would read them and keep a running list of possible visuals. We would Skype to discuss and narrow them it down. Most of the process was brainstorming with Alena. I would sketch the illustrations in pencil first, and then once they looked good I drew over them in Sharpie.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an illustrator and designer?

KH: Professional creatives need to be open to criticism and flexible to change, but they also must stand up for what they believe in – when it really matters. Grad school and client work has helped me grow a thicker skin and to understand that everyone’s input is valid. You can’t be too precious about your work – sometimes people won’t like it. That’s okay. Not all battles are worth fighting… when you do push back, it should mean something.

CJ: What is the best part about being a designer?

KH: The best part of designing for me was seeing my work out in the world, successfully doing its job. As a creative director, it is so fun to see this whole group make work that they’re proud of. Knowing they worked hard, made beautiful work, and enjoyed the process is hands down the best part about what I do.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

KH: My day involves a lot of time reading emails and meeting with our internal design teams to check in on projects moving through the studio. I also meet with clients often to present work and discuss feedback. Some days are spent on the set of photo shoots or visiting the printer for press-checks.

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CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an illustrator and designer do to set themselves up for success?

KH: Make a lot of work. We look at a lot of portfolios here, and the people who really stand out have been making up their own projects and designing things on the side. Drew Hamlet, a Lead Designer at Hum, started an online radio station in high school and he designed the branding, website, and collateral for it. I’m very impressed by self-motivation. You learn so much by just being active in your field, even if it’s just practicing. Don’t wait for people to ask you to do something, just do it yourself.

It is also important to have a sense of the design community and what has come before you. Look at blogs, read design books, and absorb a design education as much as possible.

CJ: How do you like to spend your free time?

KH: I work long hours and am a homebody when they day is over. My husband and I love to cook and enjoy big dinners outside, then take our two French bulldogs on long walks.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

KH: Professionally, this team motivates me. The responsibility of having people who come to work in an environment that I make is both very intimidating and very inspiring.

My husband is very motivating and inspiring outside of work. He is a creative that has worked really hard since he was a teenager and he’s done well. He’s always wanting more and imagining fun things he can do. He’s constantly learning and dreaming. He’s a really good reminder to keep your mind open and active.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KH: I’d tell myself to be braver sooner. It took me a little while to start realizing that taking risks almost always pay off in some way. It might not always be in the way you planned, but taking on challenges is the fastest way to grow.

Kate Harmer Qs

CultureEducation

When we come across programs that make us excited about learning, we can’t wait to share and tell people all about it. One program in particular that we adore is General Assembly, a global educational institution that empowers individuals to learn topics such as technology, design, and business. You can take classes, workshops, courses, or immersive programs that last 8-12 weeks. The opportunities are seriously endless.

Last week, I took a class about eCommerce at General Assembly, and just in that hour and a half, I felt like I had a good grip on the basics. The class sizes are small, the instructors are accessible after class or by email for additional questions, and classrooms are clean and spacious. Oh, and there’s free Wifi!

I can’t wait to take more classes at General Assembly. I learned a lot from my first class, and if you plan on taking a course at General Assembly or another program, here’s what you should know!

1. Don’t forget your ticket. If you register for a class online, you will receive an online, printable ticket. Print this out right away and remember to bring it with you to class. This will make checking-in much smoother.

2. Bring a notebook or a laptop. You will be taking a lot of notes. Don’t rely on just your mind to remember everything the instructor says.

3. Do initial research. Even if you are taking a class because you do not know the first thing about the topic, it never hurts to do some initial research before the course. This way, in case the teacher uses terms and doesn’t go over them in class, you will have an idea of what he or she is talking about. Having done some initial reading also allows you to focus on the details that is being presented rather than trying to catch up with the basics.

4. Come prepared with questions. The instructor may encourage questions throughout the class or after he or she has finished the lesson. Either way, have a couple of questions prepared so you get the most out of your course. Remember, there are no stupid questions!

5. Arrive 15 minutes early. You don’t want to be the person stumbling into the class five minutes late and scrambling to find a seat. Plan on arriving 15 minutes early so you can find a good seat, set up your laptop and get out your pens, and review your questions.

6. Sit near the front. Sitting near the front of the class will help you see the presentation slides better, as well as give you a better chance of having your questions answered. You don’t want to be peering over people’s heads just to see what the slide says. Arriving 15 minutes early will help guarantee you the best seat in the house.

7. Introduce yourself. If you are sitting next to someone, say hi. If you enjoyed the class a lot, approach the instructor afterwards to say so. It never hurts to introduce yourself – good things might come out of it.

8. Thank you email. If the instructor offers his or her email address at the end of the presentation, jot it down and make sure to send a thank you email. Thank the instructor for his or her time, what you most enjoyed about the class, and if you have any additional questions, now is the time to ask them.

Have you ever taken a class at General Assembly/a similar program?