Pitching Horseshoes and Clients: Part 1
If you're over 30 I suggest you stop reading this right now and scroll down to the next post by one of the other members of the blogging community. That's right, the words that follow are not for you. You've already started building a career in the graphic arts with a clear trajectory. But if you're just starting out, or better yet still in design school, blissfully ignorant of what will befall you the day you walk out the door of your alma mater for the last time, then the meandering rant that follows is for you.
Here's the jist of it. While your head is no doubt full of dreams of glory, in which riches and fame are showered upon you for single-handedly igniting the brand of a multi-national corporation with a campaign that leads to a brilliant, award-winning career... those are indeed dreams. Worthy ones, no doubt about it, but dreams nonetheless. Let's be frank. There are many things that actually are in short supply in the world but designers aren't on the list. No, it's something of a buyer's market for designers. Fact is, design school is a cool way to put in a few years. But good plumbers are harder to find than competent designers.
Now, don't get mad at me. The creative services are great, you made a good decision to devote yourself to a truly useful field of endeavor, with an illustrious past and a sustainable future. But there's a lot of you out there. So, what's a young, ambitious designer-to-be to do? At the risk of sounding like Old Father Time, let me tell you a bit about my experiences following five years at the Ontario College of Art and Design. I'd already put in a couple of years in Paris studying lithography and life-drawing, so after snagging my OCAD degree, I was keen to get on with it. My approach? Get outta town!
Toronto, the home of OCAD, was and remains the agency capital of Canada. No end of good possibilities for a talented, ambitious youngster. But it's expensive, gray, relentless. I decided to head to the country, where the overhead was trivial, and buy some time to figure out what direction to take. I'm not recommending this approach, I'm simply laying it out, because I don't think I've ever seen it mentioned as an alternative to immediately flogging one's inevitably-naive portfolio in the streets of the major cities of North America.
I wound up living in a rented 100-year-old farmhouse in the depths of the Ontario countryside, within a few minutes walk of the nearest village. It had a general store and gas station, and was named after a breed of cow. Since there are typically very few jobs in the countryside, you have to be inventive. Sure, I heated the house with a wood stove, had a garden, even some chickens, but how do you survive? One approach is part-time jobs, which leave you with enough room for your own work. I'd worked the graveyard shift in an aircraft factory during the OCAD years, so I hit the light manufacturing sector, but the furniture factories weren't hiring. I was lucky enough to land a gig as part-time custodian for the newly-built senior citizen's home in the village-named-after-a cow. Even better was a summer spot as curator of the local history museum. I think they must still speak about some of the wacky exhibits I came up with. With both those jobs in place, I could eat.
Of course, at this point I was simply working on my own stuff in the big brick house I used for a studio. What was missing was a platform. And that platform came to me one day in the form of a very old, heavy, offset printing press, rusting away quietly on the dirt floor of a neighbor's house. It turned out this marvel of obsolute mechanical intricacy had been used for cranking out the magazine for a goat fancier's society. But they had wised up and were now jobbing it out. With the enthusiam of youth I volunteered for the mission and backed my Found On Road Dead up to the porch. I tied a rope to the press heavy enough to moor the Titanic and with the aid of friends, neighbors and some two-fours of 50 (Canadian reference), dragged the poor thing, complaining and blinking, into the light. Thus began a love-hate relationship with my metallic companion that would last until the inevitable return to the big city. I had the technology!
Well, sort of. My first step was to find a suitable home for the press. In the next village over, which was named after an island off the coast of India, I rented a tiny room in an impressive empty building which, I was told, had started out as an inn before winding up as a whore house (I have the feeling they always tell city people like me that kind of thing). The rent was peanuts, partly because before being able to locate the floor I first had to haul many a load of debris out of there to the local dump with my trusty Fix Or Repair Daily.
Which provides the desired segue to end this first installment with a critical lesson for those planning a similar Green Acres-esque venture: may your pickup truck never be a Ford.