Sometimes new clients ask about my design background, whether I have a specialty, or how I came to do what I do. I think of myself as a Jane of all trades (I won’t even delve into all the jobs and industries I’ve worked in that weren’t design-related), but I’ve been a graphic designer since working on my high school newspaper.
In ‘97-’98 we were still using the paste-up method for sending our school newspaper to press. Our layout software didn’t allow us to insert a photo on the page, so we’d just include a big open box that fit within the article. Then, on the printout of the final page, we’d use a wax pencil to label each box A, B, C, etc. and we’d paperclip ACTUAL PHOTOS to the page with corresponding labels of A, B, C, etc. written on the back, along with the percentage the photo should be sized within the box (there was a special tool to help us do the math). If the photo had to be cropped, we used another tool and made those corner crop marks on the front in wax pencil. We had a makeshift lightbox (pictured above with yours truly) and the photography/photojournalism room was right next door, which conveniently included a huge darkroom.
My sophomore year in high school, while attending a conference-style event at the University of Texas at Austin where newspaper and yearbook staff from high schools all over Texas came together, I decided that was where I would go to school and journalism/design was what I wanted to do forever.
I did indeed go on to attend UT Austin for four and a half years, and during that time, I secured my first internship at Celebrate Austin magazine, which was an annual visitor’s guide placed in hotel rooms all over Central Texas (actually, it still is!). Since we had a small staff, I got to wear a lot of hats: writer, designer, photographer, copyeditor, and more. I remember when we had to design an ad for an advertiser, I would be the one to physically drive to the advertiser, pick up their zip disk (!!) or CD of logo files and photos to be used (or worse, pick up an actual business card or large professional photograph of their product so we could SCAN them… and then I’d have to personally return it all, too). I got paid in reimbursed mileage, advertising trade, and fancy lunches where I learned how to order and eat sushi after proclaiming “Sure, I love sushi!” The trade gift certificates ensured my roommate and I actually got to have a social life since we had zero dollars, no furniture in our living or dining room, and ate things like spinach sandwiches and Tuna Helper on the regular. In future years at Celebrate Austin, I did get paid a nominal hourly rate. Another benefit (if you are 19, which I was) was that I was able to secure press passes to any concert I wanted (including the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival), provided I brought back a roll of film from the show. Since it was an annual publication, however, production staff was only needed half the year, so every other semester I would try and find different internship opportunities which included working at the short-lived dot-com Citysearch, and the famed Texas Monthly magazine as an assistant to the assistant of the publisher.
My Celebrate Austin publisher’s best friend was a department head at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and though I’d never been to Vegas before, I accepted her offer after a phone interview, and packed my bags in 2003. After a 10-month stint (and a lot of fun) at Caesars, I felt settled and comfortable in Las Vegas, and wanted to get back to design. I found a job as a graphic designer at Recharger magazine, a publication serving the worldwide toner and inkjet cartridge remanufacturing industry. It’s not glamorous, but it is/was a huge industry, as we were able to fill hundreds of pages on a monthly basis, plus a quarterly bonus publication, and host a massive annual trade show at Mandalay Bay. We even began reproducing each monthly magazine into digital editions in Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese as well. Adding trade show materials to my resume, using stock art for the first time, working with layouts in foreign languages, and transitioning from Quark to InDesign were all skills I developed here, for which I am grateful.
In between things over the years, I freelanced a bit. I laid out newsletters for personal stylists, created postcards for artists to promote their work, and designed magazine ads as a contractor for various publications.
After getting married and moving back to Texas, I found a new job working at Club Marketing Services. We worked directly with brands large and small to merchandise and promote their products in retail environments. We also worked on developing private label product packaging and created buyer presentations to get new products picked up by large retailers. We worked with professional food stylists to shoot products in-house and I added package design and project management to my repertoire.
When CMS announced their intention to shutter their Dallas location and focus all efforts on growing their Bentonville, AR office, I knew I didn’t want to relocate again. I thought it was the perfect time to jump ship and go into business for myself, and I started a monthly magazine for tween & teen girls in the DFW area. It was short-lived because, you know, the whole impending doom of the economy circa 2007-2008, so that was fun.
After Metro Girl, I landed in the role of Art Director at Texas Lawyer, a weekly regional newspaper (plus quarterly magazine inserts, 14 legal books a year, production of the Dallas Bar Association newsletter, and more). I learned so much from this position and stayed here for three and a half years. Over that time, my family continued to grow, life became more chaotic, and I needed to be closer to home and more available than the position could allow.
Building a Custom Life
Finally, my second foray into solopreneurship and my last stop before Green Apple Lane was owning and operating a design brand offering completely custom wedding stationery. For over nine years, we produced extremely high-end, award-winning work that was featured in many publications. I developed watercolor and calligraphy skills (and even taught lettering classes for a while), and I enjoyed working with some of the finest specialty printers in the area for foil, letterpress, and embossing. I dusted off my rusty etiquette knowledge, and addressed and stuffed more envelopes than a person normally sends in a lifetime. While working on these fancy invitation suites, I was also working with businesses on their websites, logos, and promotional materials, building up a B2B client roster and eventually creating Green Apple Lane as a separate design brand/company. Once I felt like I had enough business from business, I quietly ducked out of wedding-land, but I’ll always be proud of this gorgeous work.
Green Apple Lane
I remember, as a teenager, perusing the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble and buying not only an Entrepreneurship start-up book endorsed by Forbes, but also 1001 Home-Based Business Ideas or something like that, zeroing in on the whole “Desktop Publishing” (what graphic design used to be called) career section… I’m not sure those are normal choices for a teen, but then again, it’s not like we had Twilight or Harry Potter in the 90s. And now for all that dreaming, learning, and growing, I am doing what I always wanted since I was 15, and I am happier than I have ever been.