Evelyn Hernandez

So You Want to Be an Art Director Part I: Evelyn Hernandez

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I tend to have a bias to write about copywriters. Mostly, because I’m one and I think we’re pretty freakin’ awesome. But I’m aware we’re only one part of making a creative department function. So in effort to not keep the aspiring and budding art directors hanging, I’ve wrangled a few of my creative buddies to see what life’s like from their perspective.

First up, we have the very talented Junior Art Director at Geometry Global, Evelyn Hernandez.

Black Coffee Creatives: What’s your background and how has it helped you succeed thus far?

Evelyn Hernandez: I’m a Chicago native. I went to Parson School for Design in New York and I studied Design & Management which is a major that combines business and design thinking. It’s kind of a buzz phrase, but what it meant was taking the problem solving creativity you use in design and applying it to problems that aren’t traditionally thought of as design problems. It forced us to realize that it all really is design, from how a McDonald’s drive through works to the train you ride. That mentality really helped me value my skill set as more than just someone to make pretty things; that’s antiquated and as designers you have to want more.

BCC: Let’s take a step back further, what first attracted you to the advertising industry?

EH: I think I always wanted to be an artist, but having immigrant parents and knowing the sacrifices they made so that I could have a better life, it brought practicality to the forefront for me. When I found out advertising was an industry with careers, like once it clicked that it’s someone’s job to do this, I feel like my life clicked as well.

BCC: How did you break into the industry and what was your first gig like?

EH: Have I broken in? When I left for school, I knew I had to work because going off to New York City was my choice, and I wanted to be responsible for it financially as much as I could. So my first year out I worked in the dorm in the front office. The dorm director promised me the job the following school year, but when I returned she had already hired other people. Low key, she was kind of shady and made no point of concealing how unhappy she was in her new job so she’d try to start up problems just to have stories to tell. I think she thought I was going to flip, but honestly I want to thank her now. It was such an easy, chill job that if she had given it to me, I would’ve never pushed myself to find something that would help me build a career because the minute she was like “oh, j/k I hired someone an hour ago,” I sat my ass down on a computer and applied to a bunch of marketing jobs. I ended up interning at the east coast version of Panera, but what made me legit was three months in my boss left, so I had to become the marketing manager. That role means different things depending on where you work, but at that company it meant I was responsible for anything that was remotely marketing— the design, the wording, awarding production bids, scheduling material delivery, etc. This is a very long-winded way to say that being a 19-year-old marketing manager at a major food chain in New York is what I consider to be my break.  Not just because it looked flashy on a resume, but because it shook me into realizing I could actually do this thing.

BCC: For many aspiring ADs, putting together a book can cause a lot of professional anxiety. What did you do to prepare your portfolio?

EH: I was lucky because Parsons has a designated portfolio class for almost every major around senior year. That isn’t exactly the portfolio I use now, but it forced me to organize all the crap I’d made and realize that there needed to be a story. My professor made such a good point of saying, “these people will get tons of sites and books with cool work, but even amazing pieces of art are forgotten if there’s no substance.” So because my major was pretty eclectic in that I wasn’t just a painter or a fashion designer who had a capsule to show, I had to figure out how to frame it. Which is cool, because now I have my buckets and I have the narrative, I’ll just go back and plop new stuff or cull the old. I know the argument for reinvention, but I think you need to have a solid structure to pile crazy onto.

BCC: What are qualities that you believe showcases what it takes to succeed in advertising?

EH: You have to be fearless and adaptable. You have to have good taste and you have to have instincts and know how to trust them. Creative obviously, but being able to advocate for an idea.

BCC: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

EH: There are two pieces of great advice: Be polite because your mother taught you, but also because it’s good business. My Business of Screenwriting teacher, Doug Tirola, said that to us on our last day. Being polite meaning don’t be haughty or dismissive to anyone that you haven’t actually interacted with.

The other comes in handy whenever I start doubting my choices, my fairy godmother Carol Overby always says, “what would a man do?”

BCC: As we all know we have to be creative on demand, which can be quite the challenge at times. What helps you in getting creativity to strike?

EH: I think first you have to surrender to the idea that you can’t just make it strike. It’s like any other skill because the more you use it and get those synapses firing, the more you can roll with it. And yeah, you’re going to get stuck on a few things, but then you pivot and you start thinking about something unrelated. The point is to keep yourself moving because what you shouldn’t do is “take a break.” It never works the way you think it will because nothing will just hit you and then when you want to get back at it you’re not going to be able to get yourself fired up again.

BCC: It’s my philosophy that while we aim to make our work as creative as possible, we make ads, not art. How do you feed your need to without boundaries (and client reviews)?

EH: Social media. Kidding, but kind of. I’ll find myself making things whether it’s lettering a silly phrase in a fancy manner or editing a picture for a joke to post on like tumblr or something. They’re like little creative hiccups when the energy or idea has no where to really live? It sounds super trivial, but I like knowing I can produce independent of duty.

BCC: As juniors, we’re still in the process of learning and have a bit more wiggle room to make mistakes. How did you recover from you biggest professional mistake?

EH: I think I replied all on an email and like mentioned an in joke which did not read well to everyone else. I just didn’t bring it up, but I made sure that for the rest of the project my work was air tight and that I was early on deadlines.

BCC: What advice would you give to aspiring art directors?

EH: I think what I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with is speaking up. It baffles me because for better or worse I’ve never had reservations about throwing my ideas out there because honestly, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s a bad idea, or people laugh? Cool, laugh with them because you probably also realized how silly it sounded once you said it out loud, or if you really believe in it, fight for it and show that you do have passion for your work. I also think that as art people, we’re usually sequestered into “come in at the end and make this pretty.” That’s bullshit, because like I was taught in school, it’s ALL design and our design thinking is often the secret sauce that’s missing.

5 Things I Learned from My Mentor

My mentor is bomb. She has a quiet, calm energy that commands a room, with a dash of gangster. From the day I met her she’s been a great advocate, and ever since I’ve always been appreciative of her willingness to drop a little knowledge on a youngin’.

drop knowledge

I’m a selfish mentee, and I’m not ready to share her just yet. But I will impart some of her wisdom and hope it serves you as much as it has served me.

Don’t Be Emotional

As much as I try to deny it, I have feelings. And as a woman in the industry, exposing too many feelings in a male dominated field can be seen as being too sensitive or weak. When I approached my mentor about defending work without coming off as something that rhymes with twitch emotional, she coolly shrugged her shoulders and said, they’re going think it anyway. But whatever feelings you show they cannot deny facts. Come with data that supports your work, idea, creative—and there’s no way your emotions will get in the way.

Get Your Coins

Money isn’t everything, but you gotta eat. The first time I had to negotiate my salary, I was afraid I was going to fired. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but it boiled down to: Do you really want to stay at a place that doesn’t value you? I’m usually pretty quick, but I didn’t have a snappy comeback.  So when the time came to negotiate,  I was confident in my skills knowing that if they valued me as an employee I’d be compensated fairly.

On that note, she also advised not to get crazy with the ask. Research industry standard in your city, while equally evaluating what value you add to the agency.

Watch Your Back

Office politics are probably trickier than actual politics. Sooner that later, there’ll be a bus you can find yourself under. Sometimes it’s stemmed from jealousy, others self-preservation. And unfortunately, sometimes people can be straight up assholes. It’s life.

Though #TeamPetty seems to be the wave, it’s much more advantageous to take the high road. She showed by example that grace, talent and hard work will get you in more doors than burning bridges ever will.

Ask For What You Want

ECD. EVP. SVP. Don’t let those three letters scare you. My mentor encouraged me to introduce myself to leadership and ask for what I needed to succeed in the office. If you need training, ask for it. If you want to help on a project, ask for it. If you need the day off, ask for it. The worst thing that’ll happen is that they’ll say no.

Get Away from Ad Folks

By trade my mentor is an art director. At heart, she’s a really talented artist. At the start of my career I got so swept up in meeting the right ad people and making the right connections that I probably missed out on some valuable friendships and opportunities. There are really smart, talented and creative people who have nothing to do with the industry. And honestly, it’s refreshing to have a conversation that’s not full of buzzwords and acronyms.

Do you have a mentor? What’s their best piece of advice they’ve given you?

Score Your Summer Internship this Spring

Spring is quickly approaching and before you turn your clock forward, it’s time to make plans for a summer internship.

Internships offer valuable experience, a chance to network and an opportunity to find a mentor. For some unknown reason (other than I was a schmuck), I always started my internship hunt the closer it was to summer. Bad idea. Creative internships are often competitive, so it’s better to slide your book in early to get a lead on the competition.

Don’t know where to start? Advisors and professors are always a good choice in sussing out creative opportunities. Of course, you know I always got your back, so here’s a few cool openings:

DigitasLBi

RAPP

Publicis Health

Epsilon

Intouch Solutions

RPA

Leo Burnett

Y&R

Weber Shandwick

GSD&M

Wunderman

DDB

LSB

Geometry Global

Boelter + Lincoln

Apply for a few. Apply for them all. Just go out and be creative rock stars. Good luck!