Dearest Readers: This was set to be my column this week, but it was declined for being too graphic. Just changing the word “pecker” to something less offensive wasn’t enough of a compromise to get the article published, so I wrote something else and elected to publish this only here for you loyal few. I hope you like it, oh best beloveds.
For many years, I worked in marketing and advertising as a professional graphic designer. In fact, I’m the schmuck who does the layout for your weekly Island Moon Newspaper. It’s really not a big deal. Graphic Design is a job with ups and downs – just like any other, but folks seem to have some very incorrect ideas about my profession. There is a definite perception out there that we’re all super talented, and that our jobs are utterly romantic – involving wearing all black haute couture clothing to gallery openings where rock stars casually converse with the ghost of Andy Warhol. This concept is pretty far from the truth. Back in art school “real” or “fine” artists would shout insults like, “SELL OUT!” at poor Graphic Design majors trying, slavishly, to conjure attractive 3-D packaging concepts out of pasteboard and a glue we affectionately called “elephant snot.”
“At least I’ll have a job, you stupid ceramicist,” was often the response. Even at our most idealistic – we knew we were essentially the cost accountants of the art world.
Graphic Design, like all other art forms, is fundamentally about communicating ideas and emotions. However, most of the time, graphic artists aren’t telling our own stories. We make other people’s thoughts look good by using rules that are the equivalent of psychological hacks. What we know is how color, text and spacing have impact on visual dialogue, and that’s important if you only have two and a half square inches to sell a product. However, since we’re rule bound, primarily about marketing, depend upon client approval, and since we have to start every project focused someone else’s need to tell a story, we don’t get the prestige of “fine artists.” Fewer of us starve, though.
People often ask me about being a “creative.” “It must be so cool to make stuff all day long!” they exclaim, looking at me like I don’t deserve such a “fun” career while they have to slave away at being a “financial consultant for a mid-range investment firm” – whatever that is. What they don’t understand is that my profession is just as limiting as theirs. I had a client who hated the color blue – not just royal or Prussian or aquamarine, ALL blue and every secondary color involving blue (every green and purple). After I spent two days designing the day spa logo, trying to keep things calm and natural, I gave my presentation. “Oh,” the owner responded, “I hate brown, too.” Logo work can get expensive.
Once, while getting a haircut, my stylist got literally teary eyed in admiration. “It must be so amazing,” the nearly twenty year old exclaimed, wiping her face with the back of her hand directly before tackling my bang trim.
“It’s nothing of the sort,” I said, trying to save her from her illusions, “unless you think those chicken benches at bus stops are the height of beautiful functionality. Somehow, I don’t think Frank Lloyd Wright is too worried about his legacy.”
“What are you talking about,” she asked, distractedly snipping.
“We mostly work on marketing campaigns for small businesses. I often design advertising for bus stop benches. Right now, you’ll see a lot of pictures of fried chicken. Sometimes, I get to do billboards for strip clubs. It’s a noble trade.”
Honesty may not always be the best policy. My bangs ended up looking like an emergency room doctor cut them in order to stitch up a head wound after a car wreck. The truth isn’t always popular.
Newspaper design is new to me. Although I’ve been with the Island Moon for a little over a year, I’m still learning. The Moon office is great fun – but it lacks the elegance that is so often (erroneously) associated with my job.
Here’s a look at a Wednesday two weeks ago at the Island Moon:
I went in to work at 8:30 or 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Moon is press day, which means we build 18+ pages on deadline. Jan and Dale Rankin (Publishers/Editors/Sales Directors/Bookkeepers/Computer Technicians/Writers/Photographers) usually arrive at around 10 a.m. with the office dogs (Greeters/Alarm System/Crumb Vacuums), Lizzy and Sugar.
Dale has long since succumbed to the regular dust storms from the Great Sahara Development across the road. He coughs and honks like a goose in distress every time the wind comes up. The resultant cacophony sounds like cold and flu season in the COPD ward. It’s awesome.
Jan, my office mate, has decided that she’s going to have an aneurism after falling off the side of her pool onto the other side of her pool. In truth, the left side of her forehead does look a little like a cantaloupe that got dropped off of a roof. She is deeply concerned and has been spending a greater portion of her day than usual on WebMD researching aneurisms.
“Mary, look in my eye and tell me if my brain is going to explode,” Jan begged Dr. Mary Craft, Optometrist – who was occupied, at the time, with writing the Moon’s Business Briefs.
“Jan, I CAN’T SEE YOUR BRAIN THROUGH YOUR EYE,” Mary firmly replied, trying to figure out when Dragonfly’s happy hour was.
“THAT’S NOT TRUE, MARY! YOU TOLD ME YOU CAN SEE TUMORS AND STUFF!” Jan forcefully argued, waving her finger in front of her own face, following it with her eyeballs, trying to trick Mary into an impromptu examination.
“I think it starts at 5,” Mary said calmly, continuing to type as Jan made strange faces, testing for hemorrhage.
Dale coughed and wheezed his next door, diligently checking our first proof, and ignoring the panic attack coming from our side. He may be immune to our antics at this point (very strange snippets of conversation float his way for most of the day — I imagine the air in his office heavy with wafting questions like, “How much to do think a monkey brain weighs?”)
“Do we really want to put in this picture of a horse with his pecker out?” Dale yelled (hoarsely).
“What are you talking about? It’s not like he has a boner,” Jan yelled back, one hand over her left eye experimenting with her homegrown “stroke check.”
“Would you like me to fix it in Photoshop?” I yelled back.
“Yeah, just get rid of that,” said my valiant editor-in-chief.
I scrawled the words “pecker edit” on my little yellow legal pad and went back to trying to spit clean a ketchup stain off of my Admiral Akbar t-shirt while minutely adjusting the kerning in an ad for air conditioning repair.
Some days, I can hardly stand all the glamour.