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.

How to stay inspired when what you really want is to take a nap

Blocked.

We’ve all been there. The point where we’re staring at a blank page and nothing comes to mind. Whether it’s burnout, lost mojo or someone put a hex on your skills; deadlines often don’t allow us the luxury of time to wait for inspiration to strike.

Fortunately, like most blocks, with a bit of work they’re possible to break through. I don’t have all the answers, but here a few tips I use to reignite my inspiration.

1. Work Through It

One of my favorite quotes is by the brilliant artist Pablo Picasso, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Admittedly, most times I find myself in a creative block, I procrastinate. I push whatever I’m working on, personal or professional, out of mind until I can spread the lie that ~I work best under pressure~. Then it transforms itself into general laziness.

The first thing that lands on the page may not be right, nor may the second. But getting something down is only the first step.

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2. Take a Break

Conversely, sometimes we’re to close to a project that we can’t see the big picture being too focused on the minute details. Take a walk, blasts some music, have some lunch. Take an hour and just unfocus for a bit. Your project will still be present in the back of your mind and ready for any creative spark.

Fun fact, 80% of great ideas are birthed in the bathroom. Funner fact, I completely made that statistic up.

3. What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

I, like many other creatives, am a perfectionist (I also attribute my perfectionism to my ‘Yoncé-like Virgoness.) That can create a lot of internal pressure that can halt beginning or finishing a project. One thing I like to do is face that pressure head on and visualize the worst possible scenarios. Usually they aren’t that bad, and never life-threatening or altering. So forget perfection for a moment and go back to number 1.

4. Prioritize

Feeling overwhelmed can create a busy mind and cause a lack of focus. Being creative is hard and requires a good amount of attention. If you have to attend meetings, organize your emails or made too many commitments – find a way to block off times to work. Sometimes that means talking to your boss or project manager and sometimes that means no multitasking (catching up on Netflix while working is not focus.)

Hopefully, these help you next time you head dive into your desk. They have definitely saved me from a few creative meltdowns. What are some ways you help breakthrough creative blocks?

What Makes a Good Partner and How to Find One

A few days ago marked mine and my partner’s anniversary.  I don’t know if she remembers…or if we should exchange gifts.

Not Every art director and copywriter  becomes “official.” From what I’ve observed ride or die creative teams are becoming less common. While I’ve worked with my share of art directors and copywriters, I always come back to old faithful.
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My partner and I met in the basement of a bar – I promise it was at a networking event. We were both looking to get into the industry, she had just graduated from portfolio school, I on the other hand was bagging groceries at Whole Foods. We chatted for a bit, exchanged information and sent really awkward emails.
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Fast forward a couple of weeks later and the next time we see each other is in the lobby of our internship.

Finding a partner won’t always be this easy. In fact, before my current partner I’d been taking out Craigslist ads and sending Twitter S.O.S’ searching high and low for someone to create spec work with. I was lucky to bump into Ariel.

Having a creative partner is very much like dating. You’ll learn each others weird, creepy habits. You’ll develop a comfort level where you’re able to share your off-the-wall ideas and not care if they think you’re batshit crazy. You will challenge them and they’ll tell you when your idea sucks. They’re there to help you defend ideas and have silent conversations with in status meetings. And they’re there to support your cool, non-work-related projects.

Personally, having a creative partner is lit.

The best advice I can give on finding a creative partner is networking and looking within your circle. Look at people you  work with, even if it isn’t in your desired field.  At Whole Foods I worked with so many artists, writers, designers and even passed my business card along to a few customers. I just so happen to meet my partner through an organization where we were both members. Consider joining a group or club (AAF has tons of local chapters) where you can meet interesting people if your network is small.

You’ve connected someone who wants to create some awesome stuff, how do you know it’s a good match? Again, like dating, you have to get to know each other.  Even if it’s a friend you want to work with,  you may have dissimilar work ethics and professional goals. Having different life philosophies and outlooks are fine, and even encouraged, as they’ll challenge you creatively; but a good creative partner will want to achieve the same goals.

Alright, you’ve found your creative soul mate the only thing left to do is get to work!

P.S. the best thing about creative partners vs IRL partners,  open relationships aren’t taboo. So feel free to switch around and mix it up.

Portfolio 101: Mastering Spec

Ah, spec work. Short for speculative work, it’s the first step into the world of advertising. I remember my first spec ad was for a prison-learning program. Very deep stuff, I do not recommend. Learn from my mistakes. Here’s what you need to know when creating your ads.

 

BIG BRANDS DON’T NEED HELP

Got a cool idea for the iPhone 7? Great! Save it. A groundbreaking idea for McDonald’s? Awesome! Nobody cares.

Big brands are big brands because they have the best agencies and best creatives working on it. Nike may be your dream to work on, but if you can make shoelaces look as bad-ass as the shoe, you’re well on your way.

 

Which brings us to our next point…

 

CHOOSE PARITY PRODUCTS

An ad for Marty McFly’s power-lacing shoes would undoubtedly be a dope piece. But when was the last time you saw a cool ad for rubber bands? White bread? Hemorrhoid cream? The “boring” stuff is your gold mine. Creating interesting and original ideas with a product with a dozen competitors will get you noticed.

 

UNSEXY IS THE NEW SEXY

My favorite medium is guerrilla. Many creatives appreciate the shock and awe of a well-done guerilla campaign. But can you bring that same element of surprise to direct mail or point of purchase? Explore some of the more humble, unsexy media and take your ideas to places most people won’t.

 

MAKE SOME FUN

I wish I had appreciated my spec ad days more. You have all the creative freedom in the world now – before tight budgets, creative briefs and client feedback. You can make anything happen in your spec work. Be careful not to get caught up in the execution that you ignore the idea.  Always lead with the idea, simple, clean ideas work best.

 

Creative Roll Call

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Chances are if you’ve found this blog you’re interested in being a creative. Not being creative, but being “a creative”. Small change, BIG difference.

There’s a few different creative roles that go into creating an ad. So just so we’re on the same page,  if you’re a student, junior or in accounting who realized numbers aren’t your thing;  let’s get into the different creative roles in an agency.

 

Art Director

Art directors are responsible for thinking up and creating visual concepts for campaigns. Masters of Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, art Directors take the reins on the look, layout and feel of an ad. One-half of a creative team, art directors usually work with a copywriter in concepting the big idea.

 

Copywriter

The other half of a creative duo, copywriters are responsible for creating ideas and writing any words used in ads. From tv scripts to funny lines on the back of Chipotle bags, copywriters use words to express the story of the campaign. No special programs needed here, just pen, paper and a good idea.

Designer

Designers, or graphic designer if you want to get technical, are responsible for creating layouts, logos and other design detail. The designer will often work with the art director to execute visual ideas and pull together the campaign.

Creative Director

The person in charge! A creative director supervises the art director and copywriter, making sure the work is strong and on target. The creative team can seek the CD for direction and get creative feedback. But don’t think you can shoot from junior to CD, one usually has a long background in art or copy. Unless you’re a celebrity, then you maybe be able to skip  a couple of steps.

But until then, study up and work hard on your book!

 

What creative path are you taking?