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

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

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