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.