Years ago, while attending one of my college courses (more than likely mildly hungover), I found myself sitting in my 8:00 a.m. design class. I constantly asked myself, “Why in the hell am I here so early?” The piercing fluorescent lights mixed with the stale odor of printer toner seemed to set the mood for such a fine morning.
As I looked around the room, everyone nervously waited for
our instructor to enter the computer lab, as on this particular day, we were presenting our design projects to the class.
As my fellow pupils took their turns presenting projects to the class, we engaged in healthy conversations of compliments and critiques. Our instructor was very pleased.
Well, the time had come. It was my turn to stand up in front of the class and present. I proudly jumped up and got my things situated. I was very excited to exhibit my design, explain my processes and field any questions that anyone had. After all, we all worked hard on these and were very proud to show off our work.
I’ve always considered myself a person who takes chances and pushes the envelope, knowing that if I failed, I failed forward. Whether that be in my design career or in life. There’s got to be more to life than playing it safe. Or else what’s the fun?
I was about halfway through my presentation when my instructor cut me off. He stood up and came to the front of the room. The room grew quiet. So quiet, I could hear one of my classmates chewing on her cinnamon bagel coated with about an inch of cream cheese.
My instructor silently stood beside me, looking at my design propped up on its aluminum easel. He was studying my piece like he was trying to solve the Da Vinci Code and a mathematical equation from a 1996 Algebra 2 hardback book. Everyone in the room seemed confused. Even me. Tapping his foot, hand over his mouth and his eyebrows twitching like a flickering light, he finally spoke.
And he said, “Denny, don’t expect to get a job in the real world designing for rock bands and bikers. Those jobs do not exist, and if they do, you can’t make a living doing so. If you want a real job, you will need to design to proper expectations.”
And that was it. I didn’t finish my presentation. I just sat back down. Confused, frustrated and pretty humiliated, it was safe to say the wind was officially knocked out of my sails. Hell, maybe he was right. I was too young and green behind the ears to know what the real world was all about. I was simply trying to get my degree and do my own thing.
I think I failed that project but ended up passing the class. I never forgot those words from my instructor, though. I thought about them every day, and I still do today.
Shortly after I graduated, I realized my instructor was wrong. I worked my ass off and landed a job in the music industry, working for rock bands, which is something I currently still do on a freelance basis. I have worked with bands that I idolized growing up: Green Day, AC/DC, Killswitch Engage, the Ramones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lil Wayne, Def Leppard and the list goes on and on and on. I created album layouts, retail print deliverables, digital assets, magazine ads and apparel items that were sold worldwide to retailers.
While designing for rock bands — and making a good living doing so — I was given an opportunity to work for a licensee of Harley-Davidson, which I currently still do on a freelance basis.
I eventually gravitated toward apparel design, as I’ve always been fascinated by the screenprinting process. The idea of designing T-shirts was intoxicating to me, so I applied myself to understanding how graphic design properly communicates with physical screenprinting. Understanding the limitations and possibilities of screen meshes, inks, different types of machinery, blends and brands of garments and so on gave me additional knowledge that improved my overall skill set for apparel design. Once you find something you truly love to do, it will consume you.
The moral of the story is: I got a REAL job and made a REAL living doing work for rock bands and bikers. I’ve met some of the coolest musicians and made some of the best friends I still have today. My work gives me reasons to fly to Chicago, L.A. and NYC.
Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do with your life. You create your own future — whether that be in the workforce or in life.
Be honest. Be humble. Be friendly. And, most importantly, be yourself.
About Denny: While working as a full-time designer at Elasticity, Denny also owns two apparel companies that he runs during his free time. One targets the welfare and good treatment of animals www.behumaneapparel.com and the other highlights life moments with friends and how to have a good time. www.wreckedclothingco.com Feel free to check them out: