Weapons Declassified: Dan Christofferson

Dan Christofferson Header
Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage

After spending the latter half of my friday at Go Media helping set up for WMC, and seeing where everything was to take place, I was beyond excited. Later that Friday night the other interns and I went to the Happy Dog for the WMC Fest Mixer. Though the fest had not yet started, the creative co-mingling had taken full swing. While listening to the bands start up and enjoying a drink, I gazed over to a face I recognized from my research on the speakers. I had quickly become a huge fan of his style, and ability to skillfully execute incredible illustrations, and complex elegant designs. Beyond the crew at Go Media, I had yet to network face to face with any other professionals in my field. After taking the leap, I was immediately glad I did. Dan proved to be an incredibly humble, personable, and badass dude. I got to talk to him a while (at least until I decided to let him eat his hot dog) about what he’d be talking about and the creative process in general. Naturally after our introductions, and pre-WMC creative small talk, I was stoked to see Dan speak.

Dan Christofferson Brief

Here’s What Happened:

Dan dived into his talk right away speaking on how where he grew up, and lives influences his work so much. Also stating that Salt Lake City is a crazy place to live and grow up. How most of the far-fetched stories you hear about the area are actually pretty real.

“Most of you all probably know Salt Lake City from shows like Big Love, or Sister Wives…which is all pretty accurate.”

Dan Christofferson Tarot CardsThe first work Dan presented us was a series of Tarot Cards themed around SLC folk lore to promote AIGA’s next convention there. Each Tarot Card was meticulously researched and used Dan’s own stylized symbology to tell the story in a centralized piece. As he went through each of them explaining the insane SLC tales behind them, I realized the importance of being a good story teller. This was a core trait in Dan that he’d go on to discuss in his talk. Story telling, coupled with being able to talk about yourself has a creative or brand.

Dan Christofferson Death GuildWith that Dan started the main focus of his talk which he titled Flyer The Death Guild. Dan related an anecdote about being at a Big Cartel (where he works) meet up and overhearing a conversation in which someone was asking how they can promote their Big Cartel store. That question, and how to hustle your personal brand in general comes up a lot. Another person in the same area responded to them with the advice that they should “flyer the Death Guild”. In which Dan responded “Absolutely…you do that”. Admittedly at the time Dan did not understand that this girl was talking about a goth night club in San Francisco. The Death Guild’s lobby is always littered with flyers, and stickers promoting various DIY brands, so the connection to the advice became apparent. Its a great launch point for anyone to start their own brand or service.

“Once you decide to build a brand for yourself it has to come from an inner passion. The brands that work come from something that you would be doing if you didn’t have to make money. The stores that I see that make it [at] Big Cartel, whether they are selling or promoting; these kids live eat, and breathe, and drink, and sleep their brand. You have to develop this sense that you wear it as a second skin. You are constantly littering pieces of your brand out there, you are flyering every Death Guild you come to.”

VGBND by Dan ChristoffersonThis advice struck an immense chord with me, and ever since I’ve been trying to implement it into my life at at least 10% of the level Dan was talking about. It’s a hard thing to do, but I really do believe if you achieve this second skin, it can lead to success. This advice may seem targeted specifically to brands but in truth is easily adaptable to anyone who is running a creative service. Because once your brand is apart of you to such a large extent, it will come up in conversations with people who can push your career to the next level.

Dan Christofferson's mural at WMC 2011

Dan then moved on to talking about his ideas on never sleeping. This has less to do with how many hours of sleep you get each night, and more to do with training your mind to always be alert. Alert in the sense that you are ready to receive inspiration from anything possible around you, and that you can store and catalog that inspiration inside your mind.

“Training your mind to hear stories, see visuals, and start to build this organized catalog of images and ideas in your head, that you can start putting together in unique ways. I had a professor when I was younger that just pushed us on that. That said ‘Soak up everything you can. You don’t want to be stuck in a creative rut and be referring to somebody else’s work. Or copy other people’s styles. You want to be better at learning stories from people, and remembering dreams, and studying history, and pulling your inspiration from real world experiences.’”

Dan Christofferson TrichophagiaDan gave an anecdote about one of his own experiences cataloging inspiration. While at an orchestra concert, Dan observed a child compulsively eating his own hair. The actions of the kid were so shocking and interesting to Dan that he had no choice but to go crazy researching it when he returned home. After discovering a condition known as Pica from his research Dan had obtained enough inspiration for months of work. A great example of how little instances in life can influence you.

Dan Bee TeethThe next aspect of advice Dan discussed was the idea of littering the world with your brand. The first way of accomplishing this is in the physical sense. Whether its stickers, or street art, or business cards, its always important to have something accessible to talk about. Dan referenced an artist named Travis Miller as a great example of legally and illegally covering wherever he went with his art. “He made a really good name for himself by just always putting himself out there.” Littering the world with your brand can only go so far in the real world however—its also very important to replicate the same actions online. It’s very easy these days to approach a blog, brand, or company with the work you are doing and try to get noticed. Dan had a great opportunity when he was starting out with his own t-shirt line. Dan at the time had been creating t-shirts with crests based on the stories of scientists and their discoveries. After creating these shirts and putting them online Dan began to email blogs every day with a link, and about his brand. However Dan never heard back from anyone, which is a lot of times the case when people who are busy. However because Dan provided some content for them to use, they eventually got around to his emails. Finally a blog posted about his store and for the next 48 hours Dan sold out of every shirt he had. Going to show persistence pays off.

Dan Christofferson Lend A HandSpeaking up is one of the most important ways to be successful. “You don’t have to be that annoying kid that’s always in people’s face. But you have to be able to talk about your brand enough that when a conversation comes up it feels organic and you can talk about yourself and excite people about your brand.” This how Dan go involved at Big Cartel with his friend who founded it. Dan would have the courage to go around to various art shows and talk to people about whether or not they have their work selling online. And if they didn’t he would inform them about Big Cartel. After Dan said this I immediately thought back to Friday night when I had taken an opportunity to speak with him and how much I felt like it paid of that I did.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. The quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Alex Cornell

Alex Cornell
Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage

Alex Cornell is a man after my own heart, and one I look up to. A young, modern, renaissance man whose creative branches reach not only to design but to film, photography, writing, music, and entrepreneurship. Alex’s work has an incredible level of cohesiveness that spreads through every medium he touches. His success made all the more sense after listening to his talk, and the great amount of wisdom he had to share.

Alex Cornell Playboy Redesign

Alex Cornell Brief

Heres what happened:

When introducing himself, Alex told the audience he used to be a psychologist with the goal of becoming a very famous musician. And as many other designers do, he found his way to design through music and bands. He spent a lot of time trying to become a famous musician, and did a lot of design work along the way. In San Francisco he met Scott Hansen and began writing for his design blog ISO50, helping run his studio, and starting a print shop together.

Alex Cornell ISO50After discussing his history and showing us his work, Alex started his talk by comparing our lives as creatives to being in an adventure video game named Kings Quest 6. Along your journey you constantly find things that you put into an infinite backpack of storage. Maybe some you don’t need now, but look like they might come in handy later.

This acts as a very good metaphor for Alex’s theory of storing “kernels of advice”. You may know that it resonates with you now, but may not know how to use it yet. However you can go back and use it in the future. With this in mind Alex planned to share with us the things he’d found through this theory.

Be Ready:

Alex Cornell PosterThe first kernel of advice Alex shared with us was one given to him by Chuck Klosterman, a pop culture author Alex admires. While Alex was attending his talk at Duke, an audience member asked Klosterman how he reached where he is now. Alex was surprised at his almost annoyed response, when Klosterman said “That’s the wrong question to ask. I can tell you how I got here, I can tell you exactly what I did step-by-step. I can write a book about it, I can tell you every single thing that you need to do, if you want to do what I did. But it’d be futile because it’d be impossible to replicate some of the serendipitous moments that happened to me along the way”.

Instead, his advice was just two words: “Be Ready”. This may seem really basic, but it’s of the utmost importance. At any point in your career you need to be ready to show your stuff. If you’re a musician you’d want to have original songs recorded and ready to let someone listen to. You never know who you might meet thats a fellow musician or has big connections.

Alex Cornell Quote

Being ready will allow you to seize any opportunity that arises. Alex thought to himself “I’ll have my portfolio, I’ll have my online presence, I’ll have all of that ready to go. I’ll have my business card in case I meet somebody. If one of those crazy things happens I’ll always be ready to take advantage of it”. Feeling that was really important. Alex took it to heart and feels that it’s helped him out often throughout his career.

The Ever-Illusive Mentor Relationship:

Alex Cornell Cleanse Your PaletteFor Alex his mentor was Scott Hansen at ISO50, whom he felt taught him more than school ever did. However Alex says that this desired mentor relationship is a hard thing to come by because its a mutual relationship. Scott Hansen is a successful musician and designer and Alex wanted to be the same, so the only way he could think of to do that was to work with him.

“For young designers especially, [a mentor] is a great thing to look out for, and if you’re already an experienced designer, its the kind of thing where you should be aware you really could make a difference in someone’s career by participating in that way.”

In school, everyone can be really nice; people can be almost too nice. Alex experienced this when he began design school. This was an experience I could relate to when I went to a smaller college, and that radically changed when I started attending art school.

“It drove me crazy, because I would come in having no idea what I was doing. I put a piece of work up, and I knew it was terrible. I could look at it and tell you it was horrible, because I either hadn’t spent a lot of time on it, or it was the first thing I’d ever done. And people would look at it and say ‘Yeah looks good. I like the color blue, that’s awesome’. I’d be so frustrated because I was trying to learn and the critique I was getting was so timid and so nice. And while that felt good, I wasn’t learning at all. So I said ‘how can I fix this?’ I will try to critique as I would like to be critiqued. So I started saying ‘Wow that sucks a lot. That’s terrible’. Then suddenly I’m the asshole. Everyone says ‘Woah, woah, calm down! What’s your problem?’. Then I say ‘No no no, it’s bad because that color doesn’t go with this color, and that typeface is Papyrus’.”

It’s more important to be more helpful to be more forward and more honest because it’s just going to help.

The Taste & Ability Gap (Doing More Work)

Alex Cornell InfographicIn art school Alex spent a lot of time doing personal projects. A practice passionately backed by every speaker at Weapons of Mass Creation. Even if you have a 9-5 job your hours spent after work or school can be extremely valuable for doing personal projects.

“When I say personal projects I don’t just mean freelancing, I mean using the time that you have to do something completely insane. I mean that in the truest possible way; something completely fucking crazy. Because that’s what gets noticed. That’s what I want to write about when I’m looking for work to put on the blog. I will say, that I spend a lot of time these days scanning those portfolios and looking online. And I’ll spend sometimes hours looking for someone to write about. It’s not that easy anymore to find, and it’s because not that many people I think take advantage of having the time to do something completely nuts.”

Alex gave a piece of advice that hit home, as I’m a design student and someone who is going to be looking for a job soon. In school, it is important to benchmark yourself outside of your school’s community. For the people that have a job, they should benchmark themselves outside of their office walls. You should really be benchmarking yourself against is the work of the people you respect, and yourself — A sentiment I can agree with fully.

Your school is such a small microcosm of the design world, it’s rather short sighted to care about being as good as people there. In the arena of design education you see a lot of students only caring about their grades. This makes sense in any academic environment, you want good grades, and maybe your parents that put you through college want that, too. And it’s hard to separate yourself from the mentality that having an A means your work is better than someone who got a B. However in design school grades really don’t matter. Alex attested “I’ve been to a lot of interviews and I’ve interviewed a lot of people where the last thing on earth thats ever looked at is their grades. The title MFA, or the title BFA, GPA, any of that stuff, doesn’t matter in design at all. It’s all about your work and portfolio”.

Alex told us his favorite piece of advice he’s ever heard that came from Ira Glass (This American Life). Summing up Ira Glass’ advice; when you start out a creative field you’re probably doing so because your taste is pretty good; however, your ability to make things that match up to your taste falls short. This can be very frustrating because your work usually wont be very good when you start. This can be very discouraging, however the most important thing to remember is that this happens to everyone. At least for a couple of years, maybe even longer. The only way to rectify the taste and ability gap is to just do a lot of work. It’s important to realize the gap exists and to figure out what you can do to fix it.

Alex gave an anecdote about his process of creating:

“These days when I like something I’ll usually like it for probably about two weeks. I have, kind of like a decreasing return on how much I like my work. The longer I like it the better I think it was. Some things I’ll say ‘wow that’s amazing’ then I’ll come back two hours later and actually it’s terrible.”

He further gave the advice that if you become really specific and dissect what isn’t working about what you’re not satisfied with, and if you find out what it is that you really like about work that you admire, you can improve your work significantly.

A great set of three kernels of advice. Ones that I kept with me ever since leaving Alex’s talk.

There are some great questions and answers at the end of the bootleg recording that get a bit too wordy to transcribe. Give it a listen, download at the link below.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. The quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Dan Cassaro

Dan Cassaro Header
Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage

Whenever I’m hungry to look at some great typography, hand-crafted or otherwise, I frequently find myself returning to www.youngjerks.com. Young Jerks is the moniker for the Brooklyn based (yet frequently traveling) designer Dan Cassaro. Though Dan is obviously fantastic at everything from motion design to illustration, it’s his typography work that captivates me most. Often somewhere between computer rendered and hand done, and methodically organized to flowing and organic; Dan knows how to throw-down some letters. That being said I was all the more excited to see his talk and briefly meet him at WMC Fest.

Dan working on his recent Ace Hotel Mural

Dan Cassaro Brief

Heres What Happened:

Dan took the stage briefly explaining Young Jerks as being a design shop run by just him, “just one jerk”, and telling of his excitement to be speaking at WMC in Cleveland, further explaining most of the people in Williamsburgh Brooklyn, where he lives, are from Ohio (a statement I can relate to being from Florida). This Midwestern saturation was the impetus for his God Bless The Midwest journal set, which was inspired by his friend’s mantra and love for Ohio.

“I put it on my website, but I had always felt sort of fraudulent about it because I had never been here. And I’d get written up on blogs about it and they’d be like Yeah Dan Cassaro! Midwest pride! It became really clear that I had never been there when I showed her this one and she said Dan you know there are no mountains in Ohio right?”

God Bless The Midwest by Dan CassaroDan then began the rest of his talk by speaking about how he became a designer. Early on he went to school for “communication” not full knowing what that even meant. Then realized he belonged in an art school all along. “I loved graphic design immediately because it touched everything and was influenced by everything. It was so open ended; I could try anything. I could draw, or paint, or try animating. I eventually settled into typography and illustration. It was a really good chance for me to figure out what my place was in the commercial art world”. Dan had figured out what type of designer he was, and developed his own test for people to know what kind of designer they were as well. Taking his cues from a book that said you can find out people’s personality types from their favorite member of the Beatles, Dan decided that most designers are either John Lennons or Paul McCartneys. Here’s how he broke it down:

If you’re a John Lennon, you are creating work that is message driven, serious, it has an agenda, it’s emotional. But it might come across as pretentious or a little naïve.

If you’re a Paul McCartney, you’d be creating this meticulously crafted, beautiful graphic ‘pop’ design. It would be heavy on style but sometimes it’d be light on content.

Dan continued by saying that either of these approaches can be successful in their own right but when you have the opportunity to utilize both in harmony is when you can create your best work. However, Dan confessed he is more in the Paul McCartney camp, in design and just general loving of his music.

“I’m a huge McCartney fan, I love his music, I love his early Wings albums, all that stuff. I named a typeface after him called McCartney, in Paul and Linda weights.”

McCartney Typeface by Dan CassaroDan began to speak about Paul McCartney’s music in a way that stripped it down to its very creative essence. In that sense you could really relate his music to any creative medium, like graphic design. McCartney’s music is a vessel in which you can conform or expand your own experiences without too much personal detail getting in the way. When artists leave room for the audience to expand themselves into their work it became a much more personal experience. Dan related this to being in love and just needing a song to sing about it, not someone to tell you that you are. This in turn relates to your client work. You have the message its your job to get people excited about it through utilization of appealing style.

Ship Wrecks Of The Modern Age by Dan CassaroDan began to talk about his own work and his theories behind expressive typography. Expressive typography brings together two forms of expression. Written word which is used to explain what we can’t say with pictures and visual art which shows things we can’t say with words. In a basic way, expressive type bridges this gap. Expressive typography can also serve to refine phrases, writing, poetry and lyrics into a visual art form. In this way Dan feels that it can revive written words in a way that makes you have the same feeling you did the first time you listened to Stairway to Heaven.

Dan then showed slides of his intricate, illustrative, and beautiful dad-rock influenced typography work. Every slide proving his utter obsession with music and how it influences his work. His passion however is how he drives himself to make rewarding personal projects, like his project named Springstreets.

“I can be a really obsessive person but it works to my advantage as a designer sometimes. At least for my personal projects. About a year ago I was listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, and thinking about what a visual lyricist he is. How he writes his songs like he’s reading them off this imaginary map of New Jersey in his brain. So I thought I should make an imaginary map of New Jersey based off his lyrics. I was just going to do it for Thunder Road, but I wanted to plot the exact distance “of the long walk from your front porch to my seat”. It was sort of cute and fun and I was just doing it for myself, and then I did a couple more songs and then it got totally out of hand.”

Encompassing Bruce Springsteen’s first seven albums and exclusively using direct references from his songs, Dan created a 23×30 inch poster that became a huge success with Springsteen’s equally obsessive fans to which he sold out his first 500 immediately. “It proved to me that when we’re making personal work we should be making this work for ourselves, and trying to please ourselves. We shouldn’t be trying to please this imaginary audience out there because they don’t exist. If we’re making something and we’re really into it, people are not that different so they are going to respond to it.”
Dan Cassaro Pull Quote
Another rewarding project of Dan’s is his ’50 and 50 project’. Initially, it began as a personal project to illustrate every state’s motto. Dan decided this was way too much work to handle alone. So, instead of doing all of it himself, he added another dimension to the project by inviting one designer from each state to illustrate their state’s motto.

“I think people got really excited about the opportunity to represent their home state. They turned out really great.” The collection of type treatments was completed with very little art directing from Dan other than size and color scheme.

New York state motto by Dan Cassaro

Dan finished up his talk, discussing his plans to take his designing on the road. Dan was tired of sitting at a desk with the same view all the time. He realized aside from a few people much of the communication he has with the design community and people is through the internet. And since the internet is everywhere now, he wondered why shouldn’t he be everywhere. Hatching this plan in partnership with his girlfriend who is a scientist needing to travel as well for her research; Dan set out this summer in a mobile camper turned design studio. This notion said a great many things to me. Design doesn’t have to be a boring sheltered process, design doesn’t have to take place in a stationary building or city, design can be a traveling adventure. In a matter of twenty minutes Dan had me inspired to get out there. Seeing his talk provided the proof that Dan walks his talk, lives for adventure, and is born to run.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. The quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Mig Reyes

Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage

If you’ve never heard of Threadless, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this. If you haven’t, head on over to http://threadless.com to get a quick idea.

For years the t-shirt designs submitted on Threadless have been a source of inspiration and aspiration for me. It’s even a place where a few designers and illustrators like Olly Moss have gotten initial recognition. Threadless’ brand has a youthful fun spirit and it seems only appropriate that Mig Reyes is their designer.

It was funny to see him in person because I immediately remembered his face on a t-shirt model I had mocked up a Threadless design on. A man truly involved with his work, and a dude full of great advice. Read on; it’s a long one but it’s worth it.

Here’s What Happened:

After hearing Ken Hejduks’ talk I was put in a very serious mindset about design and how it affects others. This immediately shifted when Mig Reyes took the stage and put up his beginning slide reading “Please enjoy the dance party while we wait.” and played pumping club music. As we all waited I knew I was in for a fun talk—but it was better than I expected.

Mig showed his funny side immediately by leading the audience into false ideas about him talking about Threadless’ business model.

“So I know why a lot of people like to hear people from Threadless talk, right? You wanna know how to do the whole crowd sourcing thing. So that’s fine, that’s what I’ll talk to you guys about.”

He proceeded to show a couple fake graphs, and ramble with jargon with such speed that he briefly had me fooled. He then ended his rouse with: “I’m just fucking with you guys.” And proceeded with a personable message that would show off the bones of his talk.

He then gave a fun anecdote about Jeff Finley asking for the title of his talk.

“I said Stay Scrappy and Make Cool Stuff. I feel like that’s what we do at Threadless, I feel like that’s what I do myself. But, then I thought to myself, “Well, in the spirit of Weapons of Mass Creation I’d rather [the title] be ‘Fuck The Police. Make What You Wanna.’”

Once again, he was making us laugh. But in tandem, we all thought, “He’s got a point there”. I feel this was my perpetual reaction to his talk.

Mig continued on saying that this is true because of the fact that the whole reason people like Mikey Burton and Aaron Draplin were at WMC Fest was because they make things they want to work on. That’s why so many designers like Burton and the women from Quite Strong quitting their jobs and going freelance.

Mig then began to talk about his time at art school — which I took interest in immediately. Mig said that all of his teachers hated him because he didn’t do a lot of the work but loved him because he would still show up with his projects completed.

“This is what I realized. Everything I was working on had nothing to do with school.”

Mig proceeded to give an anecdote about a college experience in which he ignored his finals to learn After Effects just so he could enter a film in the very exclusive film festival at his school. Just because he wanted to show up the film students, Mig, in a few days, motivated himself to learn a new skill.

This was just a project he had done for fun and he accomplished his goal of getting it into the film festival. Little did Mig know that when he put the video up on YouTube to show his friends and family, other people would see it too. This ended up being a great method of exposure for Mig, and got him a job offer. Because of this Mig has become a strong believer in side projects. He continued doing them for a monthly design contest called Word It. He kept the amount of time he spent on them relatively short so that he could just try new things and keep it loose. He would use each short project as an opportunity to practice new techniques, programs, or skills like drawing. As he showed the various pieces from this project, Mig’s passion for learning became even more impressive and inspiring.

“It’s just about playing around, and having fun. And not taking yourself seriously because you pigeon hole yourself if you sweat everything you work on.”

These exercises he did, in turn lead to his invitation to participate in Layer Tennis, a ‘for fun’ contest where two designers exchange a file back and forth, adding on and embellishing to the previous designers work. Because each designer only gets 15 minutes at a time Mig was already perfect for the game. And even though he went up against great designers such as Jessica Hische and Mark Weaver he ended up winning by popular vote.

“What I learned from it was that all the really rapid paced work I was doing in Layer Tennis and side projects lead to me performing at my best at Threadless. At Threadless we do ‘Loves’ competitions where we collaborate with really cool companies. I have less than a day to make one of these. So again — that rapid ‘try new shit’ approach really came into play. I didn’t have any set visual aesthetic I just said, “How do I make something?” If it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t; you can fuck up and try again next time.”

Mig went on to say that this kind of motivation and personal work is not only important to freelance designers but it’s important to companies. Not only does Threadless look for it, but Facebook does too when they are looking to hire someone. “Portfolio includes self-started personal projects”. It is important that people understand you are passionate about what it is that you do.

Mig then proceeded to show off another side project of his, a website called Humble Pied. His old college wanted him to come and give a talk to inspire the students with of all his success and great work he had been doing. Mig then showed his own humility and said to himself:

“Me being really young and fresh out of school I said, who am I? To go to a conference and speak and to inspire people. Who am I to do that? I’m not in that kind of position.”

Instead he got everyone that has inspired him in his life to record pieces of advice. He wanted to make something to share all the advice he had received with everyone. Ambitiously, Mig then started making a site in WordPress—however he didn’t know how to develop for WordPress. So Mig spent a hungover afternoon in a café; once again teaching himself another skill. I found this ambition highly admirable and have been striving every day to get closer to that level.

“I have the power to make things. I’m going to fucking do this!”

After getting his friends and mentors on board, Mig began doing theses videos as iChat sessions where he asks for one piece of advice. His After Effects skills came back into play as he made the videos into a nice presentation. The result is a simple site full of short clips of advice from incredibly talented and influential creatives.

Mig continued on saying that the more you do personal projects the more you are attached to them. In turn others become more attached to them as well. With that Mig says there are ego checks you must perform on yourself. Every project you get can be potentially great and you should not think about whether or not it’s award winning work.

“First off, who cares about design awards, it’s not helping anybody but your own ego. Second, this is our chance to show people what we’re good at, no matter how cheap or little you think the opportunity is.”

He then related an anecdote about a DJ friend asking him for a new flyer for his disco night. Though a pretty small project for Mig to be working on, he took the opportunity and used it as a way to make another fun project. It made his friend ecstatic and it branded his disco night which became really popular in Chicago. It’s these instances, where you make something for someone close to you that you can have personal proof of the influence your design has. Because Mig’s friend enjoyed it so much he asked if he could do more. Mig agreed to do a whole series, and it not only gave his friend posters, it buffered Mig’s portfolio. Because all of these small projects can lead to more work for you it proves it’s best to not be “above anything”. Accept work that will not only help others, but that you can have fun doing. Whether you try something new, or are just practicing a certain skill set, these small personal projects are unexpectedly valuable.

One of the best quotes I would hear all day would be “perspiration over inspiration”. The only problem Mig has with going to any conference like WMC Fest, is that inspiration, at least to him, is temporary. We listen to speakers, see awesome work, and get overwhelmingly inspired. Then we go home unpack and kind of forget all about it. We go back to our lives without doing anything about the inspiration. Mig encouraged everyone to put in the time and effort to make awesome stuff, because inspiration is a fleeting thing.

“Great work is the byproduct of heart, soul, and sweat. So we can talk about making design, we can read about design, we can listen to speakers. But that’s not making cool shit. You’re just listening to people talk about making cool shit. All of you in here, you all have no excuses because you’ve all seen great speakers today, and more tomorrow. Do something with it, because otherwise why are you here?”

Mig ended his talk on a fun note; showing not only the new designs for the Threadless website he is working on, but hilarious work he did in college. Saying that whenever he sees someone speak he’d always like to know how they started.

Mig took the time to do some questions and answers with the audience. Here’s a few I picked out and distilled a bit.
Audience Member: “Do you sleep?”

Mig: “No I don’t sleep and it’s hard, it’s a struggle. And I think one thing you always hear about in magazines and blogs is how you balance life and work. But I think if you do it in a certain way life and work can live happily. This is important to me, this is important to us; obviously because we’re all in Cleveland listening to designers talk about design. So I don’t know…I don’t sleep and I’ll regret it when I die 10 years earlier than I should.”

Audience Member: “How do you find the time?”

Mig: “I also spend a lot of time drinking IPA’s and dancing. It’s not like I’m constantly staring at my laptop, when I go to get drinks sometimes I get to talk shop with people. That’s why I like going to Quite Strong’s place. We get to talk about design, and drink beer, and eat tacos, and eat Cheeze-Its, all the time. That’s inspiration to me, I don’t have to flip through old design annuals to be inspired. That’s just visual reference, that’s just visual literacy, that’s not inspiration. Inspiration to me is going to a play, watching a movie, and sharing stories with your friends. That’s a part of the process to me, it’s not how do you work, and how do you live life. I try to do it at the same time.”

Me: “What do you recommend to students of design or young designers.”

Mig: “That question sucks because I ask that to everyone else, and I never have my own answer. I really believe in just doing your own side work and your own passion projects, and actually making things. Stop talking about making things and make things. The personal projects like The Lions Roar video, Humble Pied, that’s the stuff that’s helped me get work, that’s the stuff that’s got me jobs. Everything that I did in school was like “Okay you went to this school, I can tell because here’s an infographics piece about the rainforest you and 30 other kids did that. But this Lion’s Roar thing, kid ya got something here.” So do side work and shit that means something to you. Do your own work, work that makes you happy.”

Great advice Mig!

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. The quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Ken Hejduk

Ken Hejduk

Written & Designed by:Raji Purcell
Edited by: Jon Savage
Photography by: Pablo Contreras

How does design set the standards and affect our surroundings? How does this in turn change the overall mood of people? As a designer, what power do I have to influence culture and make the world feel a certain way?

All of these questions I’ve certainly gone over in my head. I’ve heard my teachers gloss over them. My friends and I have discussed them in brief over dinner. But it took Ken Hejduk’s talk at WMC to make me really consider it as deeply as I should have. It’s one of those things you hear a hundred times, but then someone new says it to you and it clicks. Ken made a light turn on it that day. His talk wasn’t a lecture, it was more someone presenting a discovery they had made. We all seemed part of the discovery together.

Ken not only gave a deeply fascinating talk that day, but was very open to discussing pretty much anything and everything with me for what seemed like a good half hour extra. It was great to talk to someone so approachable and really get inside his head. I’ll talk more about how he finds inspiration, and what advice he imparted to me at the end of this article.

Who Is Ken Hejduk?

Ken is a part owner of Little Jacket, a design firm in Cleveland Ohio—where he was raised and eventually attended Kent State for design. His skills range in every medium of design to furniture building, and he’s even been a chef! In a few words I’d say he’s soft spoken, passionate, and wise. Someone I was certainly happy I had decided to talk to.

Ken Hejduk Brief

Here’s What Happened:

It would appear that the Weapons of Mass Creation speakers were doing nothing but getting better and better. I sat feeling like such a child of design, allowing the more experienced and wiser to give me more advice and inspiration than I knew what to do with at times.

From here it only got better. When Ken Hejduk took the stage, he immediately took a different stance by beginning to talk less about design. He referred to design as a thing that people do on their computers by themselves. He talked about it as an entity that influences culture and the masses on every level.

Ken opened saying:

“I thought I’d talk a little about not the general state of design, but whether or not design matters.”

I felt that posing this question seemed incredibly crucial to how this entire talk would influence me. Right away he got me thinking about what he was saying and trying to answer that question for myself. The fact that he too asked himself this often, gave me relief and a commonality I would not otherwise feel with such a design veteran.

Ken continued to explain that sometimes we do work and we kind of wonder what happens to it and whether or not it was meaningful. His conflicted feeling was only augmented further by the cheap feel of advertising. He questioned the impact of design, and what its purpose is.

Ken Hejduk at WMC Fest 2011 from Go Media on Vimeo.

Continuing from this Ken fervently pushed that, “Initiative matters,” and that when, “…you take the time to care, people notice.” At this point in time the talk became very attention grabbing for me as he discussed Little Jackets’ new hires and how zealous they are about their work, going above and beyond by taking the time to really explore problems with each project. Further piquing my interest he talked about discussions he had with various industry professionals about what it takes for a design student coming out of school to get a job.

“A good portfolio is expected, its when you take the initiative to put yourself in situations to make yourself better, challenge the status quo, look harder for an answer. That’s the type of things that other professionals are looking for.”

A good piece of hard hitting truth for me to think about since this will be my position come May.

Diacarta Ken HejdukKen then began to discuss the opposite of worrying about getting hired — creating something for yourself. Such was the case with Little Jacket, which started out when Ken and a few other grad students (including Mikey Burton) decided that they wanted to learn to screen print and make some gig posters. And, like many other designers such as William Beachy and Jeff Finley, this is how they got their start.

“Before we knew it the phone was ringing and we were scrambling to come up with a name, and file papers so that we could legally collect money. In grad school we had started a business. Really it was just a stupid little creative initiative that dictated our path for us. Saying alright you don’t really have to look for a job out of school you just created something for yourself.”

Just another one of the many times I’d hear a story like this at WMC and be frustratingly inspired to do the same. I supposed then that this theme of creating something for yourself or teaming up with friends would become an overarching theme. Maybe a key to success if such a thing exists.

Chili-cook-off Ken HejdukKen continued his story of the origins of Little Jacket, explaining that after they acquired many jobs for musicians they started sending out hand made promotional packets to get work outside of the music industry. As they got new and different projects, design started to take on meaning to them. They were making things around them better, and contributing to worthy causes like an adult spelling bee to raise money for charity. Eventually, much to their surprise they even got Roger Frank, a designer with far more experience than them, to join their forces.

Ken then switched gears to get into the main subject of his talk. Explaining that just after Jeff Finley asked him to speak at WMC Fest, Ken and his wife had made a trip to Toronto, Canada. This is where a revelation grew inside of him.

“It just blew me away… I was blown away by the attention to detail of so many places. I’m in the middle of this dense urban area and there was a field of flowers and it was amazing. I thought to myself, that’s smart, that’s good planning, that’s good design.”

Ken Hejduk QuoteSoaking in the aesthetic quality of the atmosphere of Toronto had inspired Ken and filled him with creative energy. He took to the city like a detective, and dissected what made it a great city to him. He found that it was the little things. The small initiatives that improved the quality of life overall and were a parallel to the kind of qualities that made a good designer in his eyes. Attention to detail, and going above and beyond. As if the atmosphere and well planned out areas for people weren’t enough to inspire Ken, he picked up Toronto’s weekly circular called the Grid. Ken could not believe how well it was designed for something so local.

“This is when it hit home to me that when you set a certain standard, everybody follows. Every last infographic, every little illustration, every block of type, everything was done with so much care. I couldn’t really believe it.”

With this in mind and frustrated by his local design community he decided to move back to Cleveland, feeling as though there was a sort of design renaissance happening there and the standards are being raised.

To further push his point, Ken discussed a collaboration project he did which involved a survey asking younger people what would make Cleveland cool. What he found was that all of these people who weren’t in any way designers really wanted high design things. And what they determined was that smart (design, planning, transportation, etc) was equivalent to being cool. Stating that even though design is a broad field and most of the people in the audience are graphic designers, he felt as though we still make a large impact on what surrounds us. Many feel that they do not have the power to make any change in the community because they don’t have a voice or that somehow the government is surprising their ability to do anything. However as creatives we are the ones that change culture and influence what is around us.

Smart-equals-cool Ken HejdukThe cities where there are microcosms of intellectual, cultural community is where the most design innovation happens. The successful cities are those where the creative class spurs regional economic growth. Embracing the creative class is important, but we as creatives must take to initiative.

“The world around us — even the small world around us, needs to be better.”

It’s the designer’s job to ask, “Do we want to look at something poorly designed or well designed?” We have to say that we’re not going to settle for bad design, we want something more unique or innovative. This creates places where the community wants to gather and that, in turn, makes the environment better.

“That’s where design and initiative do matter. So, you should give a damn and you should raise the standards, because slowly you’ll change the world around you.”

I had the great opportunity to talk with Ken Hejduk after his presentation. It was a great experience for me and I couldn’t have been more appreciative that he took the time to just chat about life and design. We probably talked for a good thirty minutes, but I asked him two questions I wanted to put in my article. I first asked from where he draws inspiration; secondly, I asked his advice for young designers like me.


Ken shared with me that a lot of inspiration, for him, comes from history. Ken told me he is fascinated by anything with a long history, such as a city. And, the cultural stories that come out of that. Beyond that his wife, kids, and the people around him are what inspire him daily. He also often looks at old, simple designs for inspiration.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Just try things. It’s okay to fuck up.”

Thanks for chatting Ken!

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. The quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Bill Beachy & Steve Knerem

Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell

Edited by: Jon Savage

Photography by: Pablo Contreras

This summer, I had the pleasure of being one of Go Media‘s design interns. This, of course, is why I’ve been given the privilege to write the Weapons Declassified articles. During my internship I had the honor of being guided, influenced, and instructed under Adam Wagner, Jeff Finley, and William (Bill) Beachy. Each guided me in their own ways; however, it wasn’t until Bill Beachy sent me an email asking me to take a crack at a client logo revision that I got some of my hardest hitting real-world experience and advice. There is a unique amount of care that Bill takes when speaking with you, even through email, where he pulls no punches or subjects you to brevity, making you feel like he is too busy or too important for you. He has told me many of things I’ve needed to hear as a young designer. Some being:

  • Young designers are slow, and need to learn to work faster.
  • You are not a design God. Learn to collaborate with the client.
  • Be extremely humble in all aspects of your career.
  • Measure twice and proof read. Basically, make sure you are following directions.
  • Be proactive, self-motivated, and assertive.

Bill’s design and illustration are indicative of this same level of care and attention. While guiding me on the branding project that we double-teamed, he consistently pushed me to take care at the smallest levels of details. He always paid attention to detail. He asked pertinent questions, like, “Is this distance around this shape or letter form the same as that one?” rather than a simple, “Looks good, Bro.”

Now, when I met Steve Knerem at WMC Fest, I realized that he was a mirror image of Bill; he provided the same care and attention to detail to all of his work. Steve took the time to talk to me, as did many others at WMC Fest, asking me about my schooling, giving me the advice of finishing strong, and humbly thanking me for watching their talk, noting the important quotes, and tweeting them. All of this was icing on the cake as I was drooling over his intricate illustrations. His work demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that this same extreme focus and attention to detail was vital to quality work. This common ground in work ethic and living made Bill and Steve the perfect duo of speakers at WMC Fest.

Who are Bill Beachy & Steve Knerem?

Bill Beachy is founder of the creative agency Go Media in Cleveland, Ohio. He worked to build an amazing collective of illustrators, designers and coders into an extremely well-recognized, design-community-serving  creative machine. Though I’ve been following Go Media for years, I just recently learned that up until only a couple years ago it was run in Bill’s house. This speaks for itself.

Bill is basically a design Iron Man, who, when isn’t illustrating using his background in comic books, creating finely crafted designs, and making inspirational posts on the GoMediaZine, is probably running a marathon. Seriously.

Steve Knerem is a masterful illustrator, who, when isn’t illustrating — well, honestly, I don’t really understand how he’d have time to spend on much else with such intricate work.

Here’s what happened:

Sitting in my front row seat, I was excited to watch the first panel discussion at WMC Fest. With my experience of Bill’s expertise and recent exposure to Steve’s work in my head, I was in for a great talk. Unlike the previous talks, Bill and Steve set up to have an open discussion where they would take questions about the various topics they’d discuss.

They started the talk out with their own brief bio’s. Bill explained that he has been a life long artist and that he had artists for parents.

“They basically handed me a box full of crayons, and I thought every kid on the face of the planet just laid on the ground and drew all day long.”

He explained that he would be miserable being dropped off for art classes, but then not want to leave by the end of it. Following this course of life-long artistry, he became the guy in class that would always draw stuff for people, a title that I am familiar with. He then went to Ohio State and switched from fine art to industrial design, explaining that he knew how to draw but didn’t know how to use a computer for artistic purposes. This is a great example, in my opinion, of challenging yourself to do something unfamiliar instead of something you know how to do. He launched his first studio afterwards, but found no financial success in just being an illustrator. So, he began doing design work, building GoMedia starting in 1999.

Steve Knerem then echoed Bill stating that he also started young, but in high school was more into sports than art. However, an injury changed his future goal from athlete to artist. He then went into school at the Cleveland Institute of Art for Illustration. Upon graduating, he worked at American Greetings for 10 months before deciding it wasn’t for him. He started searching, developing a style, and trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his art. Knowing he didn’t really want to do cartooning or character conception, he began, little by little, taking on freelance projects and the launching his own t-shirt line.

The talk then turned away from the average talk at WMC into a very personal discussion about whatever the audience had questions about. Bill briefly went over some suggested talking points from how to prepare your portfolio, to what is cheating. Immediately following the recommendation of the cheating talking point an audience member—in a timing that was almost comedic—exclaimed she wanted to hear about that. With a laugh, Bill began to explain that when he first started he had the misconception that the comic book artists he admired were able to draw everything out of their head, the same going for any of his favorite master painters like Norman Rockwell. He later discovered that most of them utilized people as models, photographs, and even tracing paper to composite imagery into a masterful illustration or work of art.

Appropriately, this lead into the consideration of a client’s budget. Bill explained that if a client needs something really elaborate in a short amount of time for a couple hundred bucks, he doesn’t have the time to create everything from scratch. He has to find a process that will get him to the end result. He then gave this important insight:

“I don’t think anything in particular is wrong or cheating, so long as you are being to true to the process and the passion behind what you are creating. And that you are transparent about what it is that you are doing.”

Steve, complementary, chimed in, refocusing the discussion on stylistic cheating. He pushed the thought that taking another person’s style and calling yourself ‘creative’ is just lame. However, it’s a different matter entirely to learn from someone. Citing art nouveau and the work of Alphonse Mucha as an examples of influence, he said that he takes what he learns and integrates it into his own style. He further encouraged the audience to branch out and learn from what’s inside themselves. Describing his own creative mantra:

“Close the books, close the internet and everything — what’s in here? Pull from my heart, gut and mind and say ‘What is me’?”

Steve continued by saying that he likes to draw everything by hand to make it as original as possible, but reference materials are still important. Bill continued by saying that even veteran artists use references and props in order to get the right perspective and look, and he had to learn over time not to put so much pressure on himself to draw something out of his head. Steve echoed this by emphasizing the importance of learning fundamentals. The repetition of learning how to draw various things will give you a personal arsenal of things you can draw in your own style straight from your head.

Bill then discussed his views on keeping true to your concept regardless of what reference materials you find. Not letting the fact that you didn’t find what’s in your head change your idea, and sticking to the concept. He also discussed his technique of making a sort of reference collage or Frankensteining as he calls it, in order to save time and money for clients.

William Beachy and Steve Knerem at WMC Fest 2011 from Weapons of Mass Creation on Vimeo.

“How do you react when someone says I want work that looks like Shepard Fairey’s or Ed Hardy’s?”

Bill responded by saying that usually, the case is more of “Make it look like Affliction or Tap Out” — it made me cringe to think about a request like that. Steve said that he has actually gotten the opposite request of no Affliction look, or no wings in the illustration. Steve’s solution for such a request was to simply do ‘your take’ on ‘that look’. Also, never be mean about it, but just push originality and your skill set to the client as much as possible. Saying “They did this, lets make you better or different than that.”

Bill gave a great insight about the fruitlessness of copying some other style, at the end of the day its not going to look as good, and probably is just going to look like what you draw anyway. It’s more important to be transparent about your skill set and say, “This is what my style looks like,” and if they don’t care for it, then you can redirect them to a friend or coworker with a different style. Bill talked about the importance of bringing the client along for every step of the illustration, making sure it’s what they want before you go ahead and fully render and complete it.

Bill then briefly touched upon consistency of branding, a point I found very important. If you are an individual designer or illustrator, with a business, t-shirt line, fine art career etc., it is important to brand them all the same because there is only so much time you have for branding, and it lets everyone know that you are doing all of these different projects. Sell yourself as an artist.

An audience member then asked about boredom, and how they deal with it. Humorously, Steve gave an anecdote about a recent project illustrating a t-shirt with skulls and roses where he felt burnt out.

“I didn’t want to say I’m so tired of skulls, but there is a check coming, so I have to push through.”

Steve gave the advice of looking at many different types of artists in order to get inspired for your own type of work.

Bill confessed his emotional feeling about illustrating has ranged across the spectrum from loving it to never wanting to touch it again. He gave the example of it being like a relationship you have to work at in order to gain success with. That’s just the way it is. You are never going to feel great about anything 100% of the time.

Bill then again discussed reoccurring style and how it relates to branding yourself. The people that get the most work and remembered are those that have a distinct recognizable look to their work. From a business aspect as well as a recognizability aspect, if your style is always different you won’t be as recognizable.

Bill finished the talk off by telling the audience to find time to draw every day, and that he finds time at the office to do illustration because he knows it will get them more work. Explaining further, he said that sometimes he sacrifices high pay for illustration work at Go Media because they want to work on them. This is beneficial because it gets them better clients on their résumé, better projects in the future, and portfolio pieces. I felt like this was important advice to take on as a young designer/illustrator that is constantly taking projects for lower pay, and free in some cases while I’m in school. I know in the end it will pay off, get me more exposure, and diversify my portfolio. This same sentiment would be reinforced by many of the speakers at WMC.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. So the quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Quite Strong

Weapons Declassified Quite Strong

Written and designed by: Raji Purcell

Edited by: Jon Savage

Photography by: Caroline Moore

Until starting my research for these articles, I hadn’t heard of Quite Strong. But, after extensively looking at their work (more than a few times), I developed a strong appreciation for each member’s style. Individually, the ladies of Quite Strong have unique genres and incredible talents. But, as a group, their talents and strengths pull together into a cohesive and balanced aesthetic.

Type Force Posters by Quite Strong

Who is Quite Strong?

Quite Strong is a creative female group who believes in strength in numbers without disregard for individuality. The duality of recognizing them as Quite Strong, and recognizing them as individual designers comes with the territory. Any of these five women could have easily stepped on stage and talked for a full thirty minutes solely about their own work and experiences.

However, they spoke together and shared how their individuality serves the group and community they live in. There is a sense of respectable modesty in that. Their words proved that this modesty, openness, and love for community carries over into every facet of their existence as designers and human beings.

Quite Strong Brief

Heres what happened:

Quite Strong was third to talk on Saturday and they drew in a large audience in the auditorium. As the early afternoon was fading out, WMC Fest-goers started arriving in greater numbers. Designers of all levels began to gather with excitement to see Quite Strong’s collective talk. Mig Reyes and crew ready to support their fellow Chicago designers, had promptly took seats to the left of me, at the front of the auditorium.

Work by Jana Kinsman

Jana Kinsman, the resident illustrator at Quite Strong, took the stage first explaining Quite Strong’s history of formation. Not surprisingly their creation was the product of their community building. The members of Quite Strong felt a desire to have a shared space which could be used for freelance projects, art projects, or hanging out. After a morning meeting over brunch, they were set to go.

“By the end of brunch we had a name and a dot com, mostly because Katherine already owned quitestrong.com and didn’t know what to do with it.”

This entire notion was nothing short of inspiring. Creative friends were getting together to — at the most basic level — create a place for their own creativity to flourish side by side. This was one of the many moments during WMC that I thought to myself, “Why don’t I do this too?”

I was further impressed by the speed at which they passionately started this goal. In two weeks, they had their space. Most of us wouldn’t have finished day-dreaming about this in two weeks; but, the ladies of Quite Strong had it done and started in nearly the blink of an eye.

Jana continued, saying that once they had everything all set, they immediately began thinking about the community. They asked themselves how they could use Quite Strong to be more involved. They pushed this further, contemplating how they could empower other women in their community, and the creative community as a whole.

Jana continued on the subject of community engagement by explaining that the best way to help your community is not to “donate money, or like it on Facebook”, but to be involved with it in person. One of the coolest, most down-to-earth ways Quite Strong does this is with their open studio every third Thursday in a month. And, you can bet that if I lived in Chicago, I’d be attending quite frequently. The open studio is open to absolutely anyone who wants to drop by.

“Beers, Cheez-Its, and tacos are almost always involved in various combinations. The open studio nights are an opportunity for us to meet all the new faces coming, and then for the new faces to meet all the other people in the design community. For a newcomer it might seem like an intimidating scene to get into, but really it’s not. We’re all humans and we all like Cheez-Its.”

Jana further discussed Quite Strong’s openness and willingness to help the community by talking about a recent student portfolio review they hosted along with with Mig Reyes, and a few other designers. This was at the request of a group of students in Ohio, funded by no one, and powered through community. No doubt, it was a valuable, maybe even once in a lifetime opportunity.

Understanding that they are all in the same boat, Jana explained that creating support for one another was more productive than creating a feeling of unnecessary competition, or putting on an air of superiority. Jana closed her portion of the talk by highlighting that their doors are always open, and they will respond to anyone that contacts them — especially students.

Grey Hounds by Katherine WalkerKatherine Walker, a designer at VSA Partners and Quite Strong (the only part-time member) came up next. She began by explaining that because of her need to keep balance and having a full time design job she doesn’t freelance with Quite Strong. However, she gets involved in their projects with a cause.

She elaborated, saying that Quite Strong gives her an outlet to work on projects involving issues she has passion for. Through the group, she designs with a voice for activism in the community.

Touching on Quite Strong’s work for activism, Katherine cited one of Quite Strong’s first projects. The project was for a group dedicated to helping victims of LGBT hate crimes called Out For Justice. This was an opportunity for Katherine to support something she believed in. It was a job for a righteous cause that could be not only gracious, but satisfying.

Actions such as these strike at the core of design. Design goes deeper than simply developing product appeal to attract more consumers. It can serve the purpose of giving a face to cause. Due to Quite Strong’s commitment to community and their open-door policy, they are frequently sought after by non-profits and smaller organizations.

“Teaming up has allowed us to make more of an impact, and in return … my day-to-day has become more meaningful.”

Katherine then switched subjects and fed the general curiosity that comes when you hear the name Quite Strong. She explained that most believe their name is a critique of the female role in design. She did not dispel this myth, but pointed to their name’s true origin — a line in Meet The Parents.

“How’s Your portfolio?”
“I’d say strong to, quite strong.”

At this moment, I realized that I loved the balance Quite Strong keeps between being serious about the design but at the same time not taking themselves too seriously. They have a great sense of humor.

Quite Strong Pullquote

Katherine then introduced Elaine Chernov as “the beautiful lady that connected the dots”. Elaine began her portion of the talk by discussing her time in design school where she became dually passionate about advertising and women’s studies, two subjects she’d come to find almost contradictory because of advertising’s rampant objectification of women. But, instead of just becoming a bystander, she decided to become part of the advertising field so that she could make the difference.

This notion struck a nerve, as a young designers know that one day, they may have to steer an ad campaign in a certain direction. This is exactly why thoughtful people are needed as designers.

Elaine light-heartedly touched on that whenever we hear of female groups, our minds jump to Amazonian women beating men with sticks. She denounced this as their perspective. Quite Strong, she explained, is conscious of cultural imbalance and seeks to change that through collaborative strength. They are aware of the fact that the majority of art directors, speakers at design conferences, and designers (even the ones that target women) are male.

They aren’t getting angry, they are getting equal — which is a vital distinction to make.

They seek to empower female designers to make a change inside and through the industry. Against the convention that has been engrained in society, they are accomplishing their goal. More and more women are becoming interested in design and excelling at it.

“It’s not bitches rule, boys drool. It’s just a different variety of creative work.”

Feist Tour Poster by Elaine ChernovEfferent Audio by Victoria Pater

In order to further promote creative women Quite Strong has, what they call, the Lust List on their website. This serves as a database of female creatives in an array of different fields.

Victoria Pater came up next to discus the power of the design community alongside Quite Strong’s newly found independence for four of the five members, explaining that four of the members are now full time freelancers at Quite Strong and have left their full time day jobs. This is possible when designers support and take care of each other. Victoria also explained that she is able to take on bigger freelance projects because of the available assistance and different talents of the other members of Quite Strong.

Jennifer Sisson, the web developer at Quite Strong, was the final member to speak. Jeniffer’s role in Quite Strong is to bring internet life to the beautiful designs of Quite Strong’s visual designers. Though she expressed she feels like an interloper of sorts on the community of visual designers, she uses her close connection to visual designers as a method to learn more. She urged every designer to engage more with developers.

Jennifer closed out the talk with lessons that they have learned as a freelance collective:

  1. Never take anything personally. Everyone has a different a different opinion.
  2. Know your skills and work it. Collaborating is about using everyone’s unique skills.
  3. Start small-ish. Don’t overwhelm your budget, but dream big.
  4. Just start—any project you might be thinking about.
  5. Support eachother. Engage your community in a positive way. Collaborate.

Jennifer ended by saying “We are Quite Strong, and so are you.”

I had the opportunity to speak with some other people in the crowd about Quite Strong’s talk and WMC in general. It became evident to me that Quite Strong had resonated with a lot of the attendees because even later when I asked people about the person that had just spoke they would say things like “actually, can I comment on Quite Strong?”

Mig Reyes (another speaker at WMC) told me to write in all caps with a period,


Cassie McDaniel a first time WMC Fest-goer from Toronto said “It was refreshing to see women in a [design] conference.”

Amanda Ragusa, another young designer like myself said, “It is nice to see a group of women doing what they do for their community. It’s influential as a young designer to see how far they’ve come.”

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. So the quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Jacob Edwards

Weapons Declassified: Jacob Edwards

Written and designed by: Raji Purcell

Edited by: Deborah Singer

Photography: Caroline Moore

My mind was buzzing with creative inspiration from the opening talk by Jeff Finley, so I was very anxious for another designer to speak. However the next speaker was not a designer but rather the head of a printing company. As most designers know, when dealing with print (or in this case apparel design), a strong relationship with a good printer as well as an understanding of their process is crucial. With this in the back of my mind, I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and valuable the talk was.

Jacob Edwards is the founder of Jakprints in Cleveland, OH. His effect as the second speaker at WMC Fest was nothing short of impressive. For years I’ve been seeing Jakprints ads in Juxtapoz Magazine, flaunting their beautifully technical t-shirt prints. This gave them an almost legendary status in my mind, which Jacob lived up to when he displayed many of their shirts during the speech. Recently, I had the opportunity to take advantage of their services. I was very satisfied with the results.

Here’s what happened:

Edwards began his speech by detailing Jakprint’s range of services for individuals and companies alike, explaining that they have a vast array of products to choose from. He even gave an example of a unique product called a Favicard, which is a social networking business card that looks like a favicon and has a QR code on it.

Jak Prints hoodieJakprints Crew Neck ShirtsJakprints FavicardsHe explained that Jakprints was started due to his personal need for printing. He was in a band and wanted some cool shirts but was turned off by the high cost and mandatory quantity every printer required. Instead of going to a printer, Edwards made his own shirts and created a catalogue that he brought on tour. He eventually spent so much time fulfilling orders from his catalogue that it became his business. Edwards’ mission became supporting the artist and their brand by offering them any sort of printing service they need, with the exception of design.

One of our decisions when we started was to not do any design ourselves. We whole heartedly believe that our job is to support all of you,” Edwards said.

He then switched gears and turned to the real meat of his talk. Instead of giving the whole history of Jakprints he began a show and tell about what JakPrints offers to artists, designers, and bands. He discussed the importance of designing with the medium in mind from the get go. With this, he also outlined the different services that Jakprints has to offer to it’s clients.

You get creative and you can either start smart or just start. And whatever that result is going to be in the end, you or your client will have to deal with it.”

Edwards recommended clients to start by identifying the audience (men, women, toddlers etc). He then recommended identifying the genre of the audience (punk, metal, pop, etc.). After you establish this you can begin looking at the actual object you are printing on. This may seem like a no brainer process because you are printing on a shirt, however places like Jakprints offer 60 different styles of shirt to print on. You then ask yourself what kind of shirt is right for your audience and genre of audience.

After determining who your audience is and the style of shirt you want for your design, it is important to then understand the limitations of the product. Edwards stressed this point and explained a mistake a lot of people make is designing a shirt and mocking it up on a product that it can’t be printed on. Even worse would be the mistake of showing this mock up to a customer and everyone falling in love with something impossible. So knowing your design’s parameters in context to the shirt style/material is important. The most important point that Edwards made was,

“If you can make a shirt work in black and white, you win!”

Essentially saying that if you can make your design work in one color you will have one of the most flexible designs, able to be printed with multiple processes, and on any type of shirt.
Edwards then discussed the eco-friendly side of screen printing which Jakprints also offers. In his opinion, a client is either eco-friendly or not. He feels if you are going to do it, go all the way.

Less is more, and less is always going to have less of an impact.”

He also explained that going green involves doing the math. For example using a water-based ink for 12 different colors is just as harmful as using a plastisol ink.

Edwards closed the talk by advising the audience to keep in mind how costly it can get to have a variety of products. He explained that designs should be kept simple in order for them to be produced on different products.

I definitely walked away from his talk with insight about t-shirt printing that I never had before. I feel now, as a designer, I can make wiser decisions next time I design a t-shirt. Edwards’ talk really helped me consider the planning that should be involved with designing apparel.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. So the quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Weapons Declassified: Jeff Finley

Weapons Declassified: Jeff Finley

Written & Designed by: Raji Purcell

Photography by: Pablo Contreras

This is the first of many articles to come in a series of write-ups on the talks given at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest: Weapons Declassified. With this series, I hope to distill the essence of each speaker’s talk and give an insight into what it was like to attend an amazing event such as this.

Here’s what happened:

Still early in the day, just around noon, the Reinberger Auditorium was beginning to fill with eager WMC Fest-goers; all waiting to witness Go Media’s very own Jeff Finley officially kick off the fest. Jeff walked on stage right at his scheduled time, stated his name, welcomed everyone, and asked “How many people really couldn’t sleep well last night”, not forgetting to include himself.

Admittedly, I also could hardly sleep the night before. As if it wasn’t enough to meet such awesome designers during my internship at Go Media; I also had the pleasure of meeting a handful of the other designers who would be speaking and displaying their work at Wall Eye Gallery this year, and was about to meet other heavy-hitters from all over the country that I respect very deeply.

“I’m an artist and designer. I would call myself a Weapon of Mass Creation, because that is what I live for. Every single day I am creating something.”

Parachute Journalists Jeff FinleyFest 7 Poster Jeff FinleyFunk Rush Poster Jeff Finley

Continuing his speech, Jeff expressed his excitement (which rivaled, if not surpassed my own) and showed off some slides of his amazingly meticulous and textural illustration and design. He told of how he got his start in the rock poster scene and how that, in turn, inspired the fest’s co-mingling of design, art, and music. Jeff has attended, sponsored, and volunteered at many different festivals from South by Southwest in Texas, to the Fest in my home-state of Florida. He explained to everyone that he didn’t want to just do the same thing, he wanted to make it his own by bringing in his favorite bands, artists, and designers to Cleveland.

“Inspired by DIY Punk Rock culture, I said I’m just going to do it and do it my way.”

Elaborating more on the criteria he used in picking the speakers and designers at WMC, Jeff outlined the roles of a Weapon of Mass Creation: Artist or Designer, Developer, and Entrepreneur.

Jeff Finley Pull QuoteHe pushed this concept further, by urging everyone to get out and meet other designers in order to collaborate. He cited the efforts of such designers as Jessica Hische who create their own side projects not for money, but for notoriety (a suggestion that would be echoed by nearly every speaker to come). Jeff stressed that, though “we’re all in the same industry, and we’re all competing for the same clients, we should still collaborate and share secrets”. He spoke about how more established designers should share with up-and-coming designers; whether this be in the form of a tutorial, or just being a mentor. He expressed that WMC Fest is a great opportunity to do just that: to meet designers and become their mentor, or collaborator.

I feel that he couldn’t have been more dead-on about this.

Over the course of two days (not even including the mixer the night before) I met designers that I had previously only known because of their amazing work online – people that many outside the design community have never heard of, but that I treat as if I were meeting Picasso.

According to Jeff, designers like myself and the others around WMC Fest meeting will help grow our design community and economy.

“I feel like the economy within the art and design community is so prosperous…we all support each other’s businesses and each other’s projects. We’re all supporting each other’s economies just within the design community.”

Jeff praised the WMC community for being full of self starters that take matters into their own hands, regardless of their job situation, and encouraged others to do the same. He said his personal catch phrase is “Defy the hand you’re dealt,” pushing for others to not wait for opportunities- but to make them! This was such inspiring advice right off the bat. Especially for me, being one of those up and coming designers- nearly graduated from school and looking to establish myself in this arena of design. I felt very motivated to do more with my skill set.

Jeff continued to speak about his aspirations for growing WMC Fest and the possibility of it being twice as big next year. He sent us off with the declaration that we should use the fest as an opportunity to party and celebrate each other and each other’s work. With that; it was official.

I had the opportunity to speak with some other people in the crowd about Jeff’s speech and WMC in general. I met Andrea Knapp, a high school student and aspiring artist/designer. She told me being a follower of Go Media, the tutorials in the GoMediaZine and the Arsenal, she was really inspired to see Jeff talk.

I also met a college grad and fashion/craft blog owner named Amanda Johnson who felt it was “inspiring to be with other self starters.” She also felt motivated “to work on all the things in the back of her mind.”

I felt a common bond with Andrea and Amanda in that I was just like Andrea in high school eagerly making art and following Go Media. Amanda made me remember that I too should be thinking about all those ideas I have in the back of my head too.

I started feeling that creative hunger that I love. I could tell this was the start of a great series of talks.

Listen to the Talk

As I watched every talk, I kept Garage Band open on my MacBook and recorded everything I could. So the quality of the mp3 below may not be the best, but you can get an idea of what it was like from my perspective in the front row. Bootleg version!


Newbie’s Guide to Beautiful T-Shirt Mockups

Newbie's Guide to Beautiful T-Shirt Mockups

So you want to make beautiful, photo realistic t-shirt mockups? This is a tutorial for newbies or beginners on using the t-shirt mockup templates we provide at Go Media’s Arsenal. Note: this tutorial was done with our Tri-Blend Templates, which features a removable tag layer. This feature may not be included in older templates.

Place Your Design

Step 1: Open your desired t-shirt template in Photoshop

Step 1

Step 2: Make sure your top layer (or layer group) is selected so that your design is placed on the top layer. Older template products might not have a “tag” layer, so just select whatever is the top most layer.

Step 2

Step 3: Go to file, then place.

Step 3

Step 4: Select your art (a flattened JPG file works best) and hit place. It will show up on top of everything with a big X on it. Those are the transform controls in case you wish to resize it. Just press ENTER to finish placing your art. There are a variety of ways to get your art onto the template, but this is a simple method. You can always copy and paste it from another Photoshop document too.

Step 4

Step 5: Your artwork is now the top layer. This will make selecting your design’s background color easier

Step 5

Grab Your Shirt Color

Step 6: Use the Eyedropper tool (I) to select your designs background color. This is your desired color for the shirt and will be used in Step 9-10 to create the correct shirt color.

Step 6

Mask Your Design

Step 7: Drag your design below the layer named “Your Art Here”. This will automatically create a clipping mask that confines your design to the edges of the shirt template.

Step 7

Step 8: Your design is now masked onto the shirt. Time to change the shirt color to match.

Step 8

Change The Shirt Color

Step 9: Expand the group called “Shirt Color”. You will see a variety of pre-set default colors. Simply select the color layer on top and move onto the next step.

Step 9

Step 10: Use the Paintbucket tool (G) and click on the layer to change the shirt color to your foreground color (the color you selected in Step 6).

Step 10

Resize and Arrange Your Design

Step 11: Select your artwork’s layer again.

Step 11

Step 12: Use the Free Transform Tool (Ctrl + T or Cmd + T) to resize and arrange your design. Hold down shift while resizing to keep your design in proportion. Feel free to move it around, even off the edges of the shirt. You’ll see the template won’t allow the design to bleed over the edges of the shirt. That’s because of what you did in step 7!

Step 12

Step 13: Hide the guides (Ctrl + ; or Cmd + ;) to take a look at your design.

Step 13

Looks so real. You’ve learned well Grasshopper! That’s how most of our templates work. However, some older templates might have a slightly different layer setup, but the basic idea is the same. You place or paste your artwork into the template, drag it under the “your art here” layer to make sure it doesn’t bleed off the edges, and change the shirt color to the same color as your design’s background.

Pro Tip: If you wanted to change the above design to a different color t-shirt you can. But you must change the background color on your original artwork first. So save out your art on a red background first, then place it into the template and change the shirt color to the same red as your artwork’s background. Awesome!