A Guide to Your First Graphic Design Work Experiences

When starting out in a new career or career path within your field it seems like everyone is looking for someone with years of experience. It’s always a big question, how do you get experience? Whether you are a college student who hasn’t worked, a print designer moving into their first web experiences or a web designer getting into illustration or book cover design … this guide aims to help you get the experience you need.

For all of you working graphic designers, how did you start out? Share your stories in the comments!

Freelancing

There is the always option of starting out with freelancing for graphic designers of any level. This is something much more common in graphic design than most anywhere else. Imagine that you’re a working graphic designer, but you’ve only worked with Quark and have been wanting to add InDesign to your resume and portfolio. Freelance is a pretty good way to get a working project in the new program. If you’re new to web design, flash design, book design, etc it’s great to take a test run before you dive in full time. You may find out that the area you were interested in is less appealing after you have a few projects under your belt. You’ll be much more confident on that interview.

Individuals and small businesses are often more willing to take a chance on you for their projects. Be honest with them about your level of experience and the possibility of rookie mistakes, but emphasize your willingness to learn. If the idea of freelancing for a stranger is too daunting considering you that are inexperienced, start out with a friend.

No matter how well you know the person, use a contract. The Graphic Artist Guild has a sample agreement you can adapt and start from. This is a business and you want to show business savvy. This is standard. When trouble arises, the contract is backing you up. If things begin to go wrong, you can’t just make up late fees on the spot. The contract is necessary to keep both you and your clients on track. The contract should at the very least: define the project, provide limitations on how the work may be used, describe the terms of payment and artist credit, and describe procedure in the case of a dispute.

If an oral agreement is made, writing a simple letter of agreement which puts the project in writing might be sufficient. After the experience, keep in touch with the people you’ve freelanced with, let them know if you are accepting more work, and ask for a letter of reference if necessary. For more information on this topic including a ton of sample contracts, check out the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook.

This is a great time in your career to proactively establish good business practices. It becomes much easier to communicate with clients when you have an established policy that you can quote. Simply saying “It’s my policy to work only after a written agreement is made” can save a lot of trouble. Know ahead of time that clients who have a problem signing an agreement are probably ones who don’t want to follow the terms that protect you. Having policies also helps the client better understand their role and can really make it easier for them as well. Some example policies include:

    • to only work with a written agreement
    • to not accept work-for-hire freelance projects
    • to not work on spec
    • to not quote estimates without time to fully consider the project

The Graphic Artist Guild provides these suggestions and in addition, they emphasize the importance of not signing a clients contract the moment you see it; read over it and consider the terms carerfully.

On your resume, make sure to cite your freelance experience as a professional job. Show why it is relevant, that it is business, and what relevant skills you have used that directly correlate to position you are applying to. Remember that your resume must be tailored to any position you will be applying to.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to work with various organizations and try new things. You may consider doing a project for your school, church, softball league, a friends wedding, your brothers band and any other ideas you can come up with. Volunteer Match is also a great way to search out volunteer experiences to fit your wants and needs. These create portfolio worthy projects, resume worthy experiences, interview ready stories and networking opportunities. Make sure to consider your ultimate career goals and think ahead about how this fits in. Search out projects that will be exciting and will fill in the gaps in your resume. Follow professional career procedures and a letter of agreement outlining the project should still be used to make things flow much smoother.

Switching Jobs

You’re going to have to emphasize how your old skills transfer into your new position. This is true whether you’re a nurse who wants to be a graphic artist, someone who has been doing newspaper layout and now wants to design web sites or even if you’re just moving from one company to another in a similar role. There are skills in nursing, for example, that designers use. The organizational skills and people skills you’ve developed are still just as important.

Ask yourself your strengths and weaknesses. Find examples and stories that prove that you have these skills. Mention them where applicable in your resume, cover letter and ultimately the interview.

More information

Coroflot has an article called Landing Your First Design Job with some great tips. Here’s a summary of the process they describe: Research the geographic area that you’d like to work in, check out the ideal companies and learn everything you can about them. Contact the companies including a cover letter and work sample of the type of work you want to do. Make sure to find a contact name of the hiring manager. Make sure to follow up. Ask if they received it and if they have any questions. Read the full article for more details.

Also check out AIGA’s article How to find your first job. They recommend showing only your best work in your portfolio, if there is anything that’s not the type of work you want to do don’t show it. If you’re a student, present your portfolio and resume to your trusted professors for their honest feedback. Just as Coroflot suggested, AIGA suggests identifying the companies, organizations and leads that you are most interested in. Your resume should reflect simple, typographic design. The full article goes into much more detail on the job process.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Publications Vocabulary You Might Not Know

Working in publishing, it feels there are always new terms to learn every day. Here are some terms used for magazines, newspapers, books and other publications with definitions that are a bit more obscure to those outside of the business.

There’s a few about newspaper sizes which have a large effect on perception by its audiences and each format has unique design challenges.

Barn door cover
Also known as a split front cover, the barn door cover opens up with two flaps meeting at the center of a magazine cover with advertising on the inside.

Bellyband
A bellyband is a printed wrapper on the outside of a magazine or book. It usually has an advertisement on it. The name might help you imagine it. It’s usually less than the full height of the publication and must be removed to read the magazine.

Berliner
The berliner newspaper format isn’t common here in the US. It’s wider and taller than a compact or tabloid newspaper and folded in half vertically like a broadsheet. European newspapers tend to have greater innovation than the American market, and they do much better economically than the US industry. This might be attributed to the greater number of commuters using public transport and the more newspapers competing in each jurisdiction increasing the perceived need to innovate. While American newspapers are competing against the internet and other news sources, the publishers seem less reactive in areas where only there is one dominant newspaper.

Broadsheet
This is the largest of the newspaper formats. The page size is typically over 22″ in height. These large newspapers are becoming less common due to the cost of printing such large pages. The half fold of the format is what gives us the “above the fold” term that we use in web. Stories with more importance are placed above the fold for display purposes. Examples of the broadsheet format would include The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun which happen to be my area’s local papers.


“Le Monde is in the Berliner format. The Guardian is in the British broadsheet format, whereas the Daily Mail is a tabloid, and the Times a compact. Berliner Zeitung and Neues Deutschland are of sizes between broadsheet and Berliner. A piece of white A4 paper is placed in front for scale.”

Center spread
The term center spread can refer to a double truck—facing pages of full editorial content, the feature story in the center of a publication which could consist of several double trucks or it can refer to a double truck that “jumps the gutter—there are elements that are printed across both pages including the center margin.

Column inch
A column inch is a newspaper or magazine measurement referring to the width of the text column by a height of one inch. Since these publications use a design grid so heavily, it simplifies things to use column inches to determine story length and advertising space. There are generally about 25-35 words in a column inch depending on the publication size and set up.

Compact
As opposed to broadsheet, the compact newspaper has a much shorter height. The height is about halved. The format tends to have shorter stories due to its size, but it’s also considered much easier to read and handle. Compacts have become popular for publications designed for commuter train/bus travel. These tend to be smaller than even the tabloid format. It’s more common in the United Kingdom than anywhere else. My local compact is the Express which is a news aggregated digest produced by the Washington Post.

Credit line
The credit line refers to the citing of photo sources.

Display advertising
As opposed to the commonly known text based classified ads, display advertising is the more heavily design oriented advertising. Display ads typically should emphasize photographs and design elements more heavily than text. The reality is that clients don’t often understand the difference between classifieds and display, so it is up to the designer and sales staff to communicate these aesthetical differences. Display ads are traditionally placed next to editorial content. Classifieds tend to be sectioned off since they are text which could cause confusion. Billboards and signs are also considered display advertising.

On the web, the term display advertising is more and more often being used to refer to advertising that relies on the traditional print payment scheme: page views (called circulation in print) rather than click-throughs.

Double-Truck
A double truck is two facing pages of a publication that contains no advertising, just editorial photos, design, and writing.

Dummy
This is a mock-up or layout of a page. It could just contain a setup of several pages of the publication outlining what images and text should be put on one page. It could also be a more specific sketch outlining the layout in the page.

[[Folio]]
A folio can refer to a single sheet of paper forming two pages in a publications’ binding. It can also refer to the publication info printed on the bottom or top of a page including the page number. Newspapers and magazines often include the publication name and date in their folio line.

Full bleed
A full bleed is a page that is printed and then cut off to have ink going right to the edge of the publication.

Gatefold
A gatefold is a flap inside of the cover that opens up allowing for a fold out advertisement.

Gutter
This is the center margin where two pages meet in a publication.

Jump
A jump is a split in a story. Whenever you see a newspaper or magazine say that a story is continued to or from somewhere else in the publication, that would be a jump. The actual text explaining where to go or where you came from is a jump line. Jumps can be due to ad placement or just to place more stories closer to the front of the publications. Newspapers can fit more stories on their front page by jumping them.

Kill
This is when a story, part of a story or an advertisement are removed from a publication and will not be printed in a future edition. If it’s going to be printed in a later edition, then it would be “held” or put on “hold”

Masthead
While many people mistakenly think that the masthead is the logo of the newspaper, the term refers to the editorial staff box.

Open Page
This is a page in a publication that has no advertising, just editorial content.

Tabloid
Tabloid is a small newspaper size like a compact. They can be as large as 17×11″, but there are smaller formats as well. The company I work for just released a new tabloid format the almost square size of 11.5″ tall by 11″ wide. I’m designing the “Back to School” publication through the company at this new size this fall, in fact. The tabloid format is traditionally reserved for weekly publications and less breaking news. However, with the cost of newsprint becoming increasingly prohibitive the tabloid format is catching on

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What your daily newspaper can teach you about design

While everyone feels the newspaper industry is dying, we can still learn a lot from the way they are designed. Part of my duties as a designer was once layout out several newspapers. I’ve learned a lot that has helped me with other projects ever since I’ve started on that. So maybe these tips will help you just a bit.

Newspapers love bold headlines

A lot of “bad” designs are cluttered. There’s too much going on. There isn’t any emphasis or too many things appear emphasized. The idea of a headline, subhead, and body copy can extend to many forms of design. Try keeping the body copy consistent in size and type style. The headline might even be in the same font. A headline is an opportunity to use a second font, but ask yourself why you think this is right and be critical of the results.

Photos and captions

Newspapers often have to deal with different shapes of photos and fit them into various spaces. In the past few months that I’ve done a few days of newspaper layouts each week, the more I see that the layout is a puzzle. Everything has to fit just perfectly. It’s more challenging than it may at first appear. On top of that, you don’t want the captions don’t want to get mixed in with the body copy. Using a rule, box or just enough white space can separate the caption text from body text Keeping photos near their headlines/copy is one tip. Another is to give a lot of space around them. This can work for all kinds of design objects in your layout.

There’s a lot more that you might learn from newspaper design. Look at some strongly branded and well thought out newspapers. Ask what works and what doesn’t

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Download These Free Public Domain Drawing Books for Artists

Learning to draw? The library is probably your first stop if you’re on a budget. But the internet has its own answer with public domain resources such as Project Gutenberg, OpenLibrary.org, Google Books and Archive.org, you have a collection of free drawing books at your fingertips. You can view these online or download it to your Kindle or eReader of your choice.

The Practice and Science of Drawing

The Practice and Science Of Drawing by Harold Speed. This book originally published in 1913 takes an expected classical approach to drawing that holds up amazingly well today. Although the techniques are classical, you can benefit from the discussion presented no matter what style you ain for. This is the kind of title that reminds us the power of a well-consolidated book as opposed to the quick-fix approach of internet tutorials. (As valuable as those are.) It’s filled with beautiful sketches to study and serves as both a starting point and a reference book.

Pen Drawing

Pen Drawing, An Illustrated Treatise by Charles Maginnis. Pen and ink drawing continues to astound and amaze the average artist. This bible on the subject would be of interest to the modern comic book inker. The author here has you create a light pencil outline to plan your composition and then you create amazing detail straight to ink. Various styles are discussed and dissected. For the price, it’s worth checking out and playing with the techniques.

Pen Drawing, An Illustrated Treatise by Charles Maginnis.

Pen Drawing, An Illustrated Treatise by Charles Maginnis.

 

The Elements of Drawing

 

The Elements of Drawing by John Ruskin. Hailing from the 19th century, this book is written in the poetic language of the time. It’s a practical guide that mentors the beginner or advanced artist in how to improve their skills. It lacks in step-by-step illustrations but instead tells you how to discover and view the world with your own eyes. This book is also available for free from Google Books.

 

Blackboard Drawing

Blackboard Drawing by Frederick Whitney This one takes on a different subject, blackboard and chalk drawing. And thankfully it’s filled with images to illustrate the unique look of this type of art.

Constructive Anatomy

Constructive Anatomy by George B. Bridgman. Learning to draw the human figure? This book tells you how with over 500 illustrations showing you exactly how to build a figure. This is a must read for the serious portrait artist and one of the most useful and visual books in this list. It’s one of the few books of this type that details and discusses the wrist, movement of each bone and muscles in excruciating detail.

 Constructive anatomy by George Brant Bridgman


Constructive anatomy
by George Brant Bridgman

 

Composition

Composition; a series of exercises in art structure for the use of students and teachers. by Arthur Wesley Dow This one may be self-explanatory by title, so I will emphasize that your drawing is only as good as it’s composition. Good composition can elevate stick figures, while bad composition can ruin what would otherwise be a technical masterpiece.

The American Drawing Book

The American drawing-book: A manual for the amateur, and basis of study for the professional artist. Especially adapted to the use of public and private schools, as well as home instruction by John Gadsby Chapman. Speaking of self-explanatory titles…

A Progressive Drawing Book For Beginners

A progressive drawing book for beginners by Philip Henry Delamotte. The first half of this book is text and the second half illustrations for careful study. Perhaps a good place to start if the other drawing books mentioned are overly advanced or technical for your taste.

The Essentials of Perspective

The essentials of perspective with illustrations drawn by the author; by L.W. Miller Perspective is a must no matter what you’re drawing.

“I CALL this little book ” The Essentials of Perspective,” because it seems to me that it has as much information about the science of which it treats as the artist or the draughtsman ever has occasion to make use of, except under the most unusual conditions. “

Book of a Hundred Hands

Another free drawing book is George B. Bridgman’s Book of a Hundred Hands which I recently reviewed. Bridgman writes: “It is the purpose of this work to present the hand not only to the eye but to the understanding.”

Human Anatomy for Art Students

Human anatomy for art students with drawings by Innes Fripp & an appendix on comparative anatomy by Harry Dixon. From the introduction: “The object of this book is to give the shortest description of human anatomy compatible with the interest of the artist and essential for his work, and to burden his mind as little as possible with names, with technicalities, and with those details which do not bear directly upon the surface forms.”

A Handbook of Illustration

A Handbook of Illustration by A. Horsley Hinton who writes “Every artist or draughtsman, be he beginner or expert, must draw for himself and according to his own feelings and promptings. In every department of art the successful have had their imitators, and these again their imitators, and at each successive stage the further one gets from originality, the more trammelled, the more impotent and hopelessly beyond the possibility of really great work.”

There are also several drawing books available as online only versions at Open Drawing Books.

Know of any other public domain artist resources? Let us know in the comments! I’d love to keep adding to the list.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How Gratitude Maintains Connection: Artists and Designers Networking Guide Part 4

Artists and Designers Networking Guide: Part 4 embraces the power of gratitude. Networking means connecting with other people. Everyone wants to be around grateful people. Jump to the other posts about networking:

Gratitude is the key for easily maintaining connections in all of your relationships. I was originally going to write this part of the guide focusing on “connection maintanence”. Not only does the idea of maintaining relationships like a car sound cold and fake, it’s not accurate. We don’t just fix and replace our relationships just so they’ll keep working for us. We help others because we care and want to contribute to others happiness.

Whether it’s with friends, family, coworkers, former coworkers, client or other professional contacts, the one easy way to connect, reconnect or reach out is to give thanks. Who doesn’t appreciate a simple thank you note? Even if it’s for something that was a long time ago.

In the first part, I talked about how our network is our friends and family. Introducing those connections to our art and design work is a key idea in networking. As artists we strive for creativity, authenticity, and a sense of sense. Understanding our role as a kind of friend to those at work and in more professonal contexts is key to become an amazing networker. In part two, the focus was learning how to talk to others no matter where we go. In part three, there were ten tips to following up with your existing or new friends. How does gratitude factor in at the point of maintaining a connection?

Networking has a sleezy reputation that’s based in the realm of “I need something”. Sending a simple thank you note when you need nothing is not only the way to make your relationships more human, it’s also just a nice thing to do. Attach a thank you note to an invoice, and add sentence expressing thanks to more emails. When you express that you’re thinking about the other person’s point of view, they’re more likely to help you. When you don’t know what to say, there is always something to say thank you for.

Gratitude creates win-win situations

An article in Fortune titled “Why gratitude is good for business, year round” tells the story of how a limousine business held a lunch for the secretaries and coordinators who contact them for services. Usually they are the ones who get to watch their bosses and collegues attend events. A simple one-time event of gratitude became one of the biggest selling points for the business. Now by using this particular limousine company instead of others, their bosses were able to get the side effect of giving those who assistant them a cool event.

This also is a great reminder of how much more meaning we can give if we thank people who are never thanked. The actions we deem with an entitled notion that what was provided is not extraordinary. Therefore less worthy of thanks. Without their service, what would your life look like? If they all went on strike or vanished in the next rapture, what would you do?If you lived in a country or situation without them or were trapped alone on an island never to have help again, what would that feel like? If they were hit by a bus tomorrow, would you care even a little? When looked at it that way, showing appreciation for the existance of others is one powerful thought that too many people never allow to cross their minds.

Gratitude the opposite of expectation

Why say thanks to people for doing what they “should” be doing anyway? The real truth is that no one is obligated to help you. Inducing fear, obligation, and guilt are network killers. Even if you’re not inducing those qualities on purpose, if you don’t cultivate gratitude it can appear that you’re only connecting to cash in down the line. The goal is to provide emotional support, not just receive.Seperate messages and emails of appreciation from ones you are in need. Do you only send an email to your coworkers when you’re asking for something?

“Learn how to be respectful to your friends, don’t just start arguments with them and don’t tell them the reason, always remember your friends will be there quicker than your family. Learn to remember you got great friends, don’t forget that and they will always care for you no matter what. Always remember to smile and look up at what you got in life.”  Marilyn Monroe

How gratitude helps you feel good

Thinking about others can be a very positive experience. When you realize all that they’ve done to help you, you’ll realize how much support you have. When you’re having a bad day, write thank you notes for all of those who contributed to your success.

In the TED Talk “Remember to Say Thank You”, Laura Trice discusses how asking for praise is a form of vulnerability: ” I’m telling you where I’m insecure. I’m telling you where I need your help. And I’m treating you, my inner circle, like you’re the enemy. Because what can you do with that data? You could neglect me. You could abuse it. Or you could actually meet my need.” Letting others know that you will appreciate them can be scary!

We let them know we do our best to meet their wants as much as it works for. We often don’t show praise for the same reason, it is vulnerable to trust and desire from others. What we cultivate by being appreciative is a world where it is easy to give and receive. When we do need to say no, doing so graciously and with thankful kindness is still a powerful act.

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.” Oprah Winfrey

You might even decide to write notes that you won’t even send or to people who are no longer living. Writing a note to your departed grandmother for teaching you about perserverence provides you with a role model who you would strive to be more like. Psychologists found that those who focus on gratitude felt better about their lives; they also exercised more, became physically healthier and had a healthier general sense of well-being.

Other studies found relationships built on appreciation are more positive and  were more in working through concerns. Instead of showing your middle finger when a car honks, why not say to yourself “Thank you for being patient!” When you go through a crowd and say excuse me, why not add “Thank you for letting me by!”

How to respond to gratitude

When someone says thank you, we are taught to say “You’re weclome.” Other variants are “No problem”, “My pleasure” and “Of course.” In short form, the polite or common answers allow us to move on with our day. On Psychology Today, Adam Grant, PhD wrote about alternatives to “You’re welcome” providing a few reasons to give us a more thoughtful response. We can cultivate further gratitude rather saying that we’re happy to give. He suggests finding your own way to say “I know you’ll do the same for someone else.” That phrase let’s them know that you value appreciation as an idea in general. In the context of networking, friendship, and connection, we can imagine how we are more willing to do more for those who we know will appreciate it.

Thank people publically and privately. Sound grateful to people who aren’t even present and might not hear your words. One of my favorite things to do is when a friend or coworker comes up, I say a few things I like about them. Even if the person I’m speaking to doesn’t know my coworker, it shows that I think about how other people contribute. This tells my friend who is listening a powerful message that I will appreciate them too. They’ll imagine that I probably go around saying nice things about them too. It’s like positive gossip. Instead of social anxiety, this emphasizes social confidence.

Thank you for reading my post! I know you didn’t have to and I appreciate you giving these thoughts a chance.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.