My Journey into Graphic Design

Hello! I’m Sean and I am imployable’s very own coffee-swilling, furry-faced creative homosapien. My job title should probably be ‘Professional Creative Dude Who Does a Bit of Everything That Features a Screen of Some Kind’ but I suppose we’ll just shorten it down to ‘Graphic Designer’. 

My journey into the creative industry has had many twists and turns and whilst Graphic Design is what I do now it wasn’t always the case! Where to start? At the beginning when I was about 4ft shorter I guess! 

The Early Years

Bit of a bumpy road for myself really. As a kid, I always had the knack for illustrating or sketching, which originally was sort of a comfort hobby for me, due to difficulties within my educational and personal life at the time. It was my escape from the world. I suffered with epilepsy very early on whilst dealing with the everyday struggles that comes with traits of Aspergers, communication difficulties, and ADHD. So, I was very much a wild child, often lost in thought in my own imagination. I was either restlessly running circles around the place, fidgeting nonstop, or absolutely zonked out to the world in the classroom corner due to seizures. My energy was either all-in or all-out at the time, there was no in-between – truly a handful for any poor teacher or my parents.  

I wasn’t doing the best academically, as like anyone who has Aspergers themselves could relate to, I had very obsessive interests/hobbies and nothing else really mattered but that. Illustration, therefore, was everything to me, being my first passion in life that helped me escape the frustrations of everything else. I’d rabbit hole my way through visually studying all the countless comics, encyclopaedias, art books, Microsoft Encarta, taxidermy displays at school, and any art tutorial books my Mum used to buy for me; enriching my knowledge and raw ability to project what I saw in my imagination. Didn’t matter if it was myself, flying in the air swan-diving off the moon with a cartoon super-dog sidekick, or chucking banana peels at Two-Face’s feet to spin him out of control Mario Kart style; there was always something wacky that would spawn another questionable wacky idea.  

It sparked my creative, curious and studious sides (albeit picky in those early days, which would broaden and fruition in the years to come). Ironically my traits of ADHD would come in handy with art too – rarely did I complete drawings, but rarely did I ever stick to the same style or medium too! I wanted to do it all! School play props, paintings, charcoal and chalk, calligraphy, comic art, realism, abstract… the list goes on and on. 

The Teenage Years

Entering my teenage life, my epilepsy had long since said ‘sayonara’ by that point! Interests and exploration in art expanded a lot more as I picked up constant new things, be it product design, photography, textiles and more! Renaissance-Era art completely blew me away at the time, from the talents of Leonardo Da Vinci for his sfumato technique and golden ratio mastery, along with Hans Holbein the Younger for his somewhat minimalistic approach in sketching recognisable faces, in as little linework as possible. It was these masters who inspired me, though I grew a love for watercolours and ink too. This resulted in gradually forming my own style, where I had the oily ink linework you’d see from the likes of Street Fighter commercial art, mixed with a Western focussed approach to realism, regarding proportions and anatomy. 

William Parr, Marquess of Northampton

I had a couple of visiting experiences with Plymouth College of Art & Design (now Arts University Plymouth). The first time was when I was about 11 years old, where I was one of a lucky few artists chosen in my school to spend a day learning at the College, where we produced paper mâché dioramas. My second learning experience opportunity with them happened in my mid-teens, where I worked in Printing, and they tasked me with designing a magazine spread. Much to my own surprise, I quickly grasped this task paying attention to the details with typography, and this really was the first taste of Graphic Design I had. The Art College was so impressed that they offered me yet another week’s work experience. 

Upon leaving Plymstock School, my next venture in the art world was in the world of motor-mechanics… on a bit of a tangent there, but not entirely. I’d always been advised by my dad that working in a trade would guarantee you a somewhat stable career, as the work is plentiful if it’s a service that everyone needs, so my idea was to put that with art together; customise cars and do custom paintjobs. Safe to say it wasn’t the best choice for me as I had zero interest in vehicles outside of custom paintjobs, yet here I am repairing 20 year old Volvos on a TVC course changing tyres, using axles, getting my hands dirty from oil, and seeing the odd naked adult model here and there, in the numerous FastCar magazines my classmates used to buy and show during our lunch breaks. I completed my course and got my qualification, but this wasn’t the environment for me, and the course was a bit of a far cry from what I envisioned it would be like. 

Starting Higher Education 

The arrival of my early 20s featured a very familiar place to me, as a proper student there for the first time – the then newly renamed Plymouth College of Art! Home sweet home, and damn it felt so great to be back! My life felt like it was back on track. I’d earned an unconditional offer and could not wait to start a 2-year Illustration & Graphic Design course. Thanks to my explorative and studious nature in art and media in the past, I felt really excited entering this course as you can imagine. The course eventually abandoned the Illustration aspect in the title, and it became wholly Graphic Design instead; where I had a lot of first-time experiences such as using laser cutters, attending life drawing classes, and doing clothing designs. I excelled in the practical aspects though I still struggled somewhat with the academical research parts. 

As may be the case with anyone on the autistic spectrum; communication wasn’t my strong point. I always referred my mind as being a very large bird’s nest, albeit a clear one for myself personally. It wasn’t the forming of ideas that I struggled with – it was sharing these. Knowing which strands of thought to say first, and presenting in a structured way, without going off on tangents, stuttering, or boomeranging in a confusing manner. Why does this matter in this case? It’s because this was what held me back in this course. So, whilst I did greatly in the quality of my practical work, there would be big leaps and bounds in the written side. So, I passed this course too but not with the level of qualification I’d have liked. Just like school, I needed helpers to guide me along the right academical tracks. Therefore, I knew I needed to mature as an artist before achieving what I wanted, with something academically higher. So, I took a couple years out of education to grow. 

Back Home

Once I returned home to Plymouth, after backpacking Australia for the whole of 2013, the next step was updating my portfolios. I applied for a BA (Hons) Game Arts course starting in 2015, as I had a much stronger desire to succeed in art, and this time excel as a student. I impressed the tutors during my interview, as they could see my interest and passion for art, but also for characters too. I’d grown up not understanding people very well, so psychology was always something that intrigued me. Whether it was the mind of a parent, a war-time survivor, an elderly person struggling with the changes of modern times, a serial killer, etc. This showed when discussing what makes an interesting antagonist/protagonist. Add in my love for illustrating, travel, and diving into other cultures, meant I was then an aspiring Character Artist.

Alana M

This time, not only did I succeed practically, but I did so academically too! The time away from education gave me more moments to reflect and adjust, and it paid off. I’m not really sure how, as I’d lost my dear Nan during this time period, whom was like a second mother to me. But despite battling depression and grief, I was able to come out of that course with a 2:1; which felt very fulfilling to me, as I’d finally been able to live up to my inner untapped potential as an artist. It was during this course that I first experienced 3D modelling, sound production/editing, JavaScript, level-building, InDesign – when making a book cover illustration project of “Of Mice & Men”, and a few animation basics too, amongst more. 

Starting My Career Journey

Upon graduating in 2018 I wasted no time in my career pursuits, so I was already applying everywhere and anywhere I could. Even going as far as to do voluntary experience. Newton Abbott was where I gained approximately 4 weeks of work experience, as a Designer for a design company called Wilton Bradley. This was my first real test in the doors of the creative industry. It was here that I was tasked with illustrating Volkswagen designs for their merchandise; be it t-shirts, mugs, towels, posters, snapback caps… you name it I probably gave it a go! I worked with 2 other illustrators and adapted quickly, upon realising how they both had a very clean vector art style to their work. So, I adapted by doing the opposite – my own unique oily style of digital drawing I mentioned earlier, which contrasted design-wise very well. It was an amazing experience that made me want to pursue a Designer career even more. POA Learning over Dartmoor Prison in Princetown was another place I had done some free work, just to give myself that bit more of an experience edge when applying for full-time jobs. I ended up having a tour around the historic prison itself and designed a couple of POA’s monthly newsletters too. 

2019 came around quickly, and my work coach Stephen at Devonport Jobcentre Plus was impressed by my proactive approach to job seeking. As not only was I doing personal art projects, but I was also working voluntarily for Burrator Reservoir in conservation projects, still helping out POA Learning, and actively seeking any critique/tips that could help my employment opportunities. I didn’t care if it was up in Scotland, Poland, Wales or Spain! I was happy to relocate to anywhere for the right job. Stephen then approached me one day with the most unlikely of opportunities to cross my way, wherein he said “I don’t know if you’ve seen, but there’s a start-up company based here in Plymouth who are advertising 6 weeks internship for a Graphic Designer. Would you like to get in touch?”. Despite applying for a few roles locally here in Plymouth at that point, most opportunities were up in North Devon, Bristol, the Midlands, and London. So, it was a no-brainer for me! Yes please! Have you guessed what company it was yet? If you guessed imployable then get yourself a brownie for guessing correctly! 

Settling In imployable

I had an interview with a lovely, now-former, colleague called Lorna, who was the Marketing Manager at the time, and Denise who was the Project Manager. On the day of the interview, I was naturally a little nervous as Lorna was looking for someone who had experience in a lot of areas. Though this was luckily something I ticked the box with, as you can see that I ventured in many art areas and never specialised purely in just one. I met Co-Founder Kieron towards the end who explained to me what imployable, as a company, did, and what they were aiming to do. I fell in love with their mission of wanting to make employment far more accessible for all. During my internship I did a number of things to help Lorna and the rest, such as new iconography for their phone app, animated newsletter graphics, and leaflets to help the Marketing and Sales departments. Paul Vice approached me one day and asked if I could pass along any staff avatar illustrations that I had done, to put on some surprise gift mugs for the entire team. So, early on there was a sense of family among colleagues, including myself, despite just being there for work experience. It was in early October that CEO and Co-Founder Pete Kelly approached me and said how I’d given him a problem (in a good way) regarding the work I’d produced for him and the rest. So, that was the day imployable hired me full-time as their Graphic Designer. 

It’s been 4 years now since I joined the team, and that time has flown by! The projects have been many, whether it’s leaflets, videos, conference banners, podcasts, events photography, and even website designs. There’s even been the exceptionally different ones, such as our company advert on a football stadium LED banner! Bit nail-biting when it’s an urgent 4-hour task, and due in first thing in the next work-day morning, but to see it during a SkySports game is surreal, nonetheless. Having this adaptable ability with such a diverse range of work is what keeps my Graphic Designer role fun and fresh, as there is always something new to learn and do. Probably not ideal for those who prefer a simpler systematic routine with few tasks, but it’s brilliant for a mind for detail that enjoys constant change like mine. My projects almost serve as an ever-refined version of themselves, so ironically no project is truly ever finished as there is always a new reapproach to take, that will aid in the next creation! The digital world and art itself are always developing in new ways, so I look forward to many more years in the creative industry, and I look forward to a tonne more new stories I’ll get to share as time marches on. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *