Shane Grajczyk from ShanesArt.com

I really like books, but I don’t read much. Ok, I really like design books. Things I can look at without being behind a computer. A while back I purchased “beautifulSILENCE” from Shanesart.com.

Shane Grajczyk is a Colorado based designer who’s work displays a wide assortment of talent. As an illustrator by nature, its easy to see multiple influences in his designs; not just from inspiration, but also his techniques.

Shane has a very eclectic portfolio. With commonalities in all of his pieces…some just take a direction of their own. Like most of us, he plays on both sides of the fence: full time designer and full time freelancer. If you know this lifestyle, you know that it can be hectic and sleep depriving. Which is why I’m stoked that Shane was willing to do this interview as well as a piece for the site. Especially considering the questions that I sent to him… So here we go. Shanesart.com

On your site you mentioned your passion for illustration. When did you start illustrating? Did you have any art instruction early on or was it something that just came naturally?

Yes, I’m very passionate about illustrating, in any form, but can’t recall when I started drawing. Just that I’ve been doing it since I can remember.

As for instruction, I didn’t really have any early on. You know, your typical public school art classes that were more or less just an hour or so of goofing off with friends. Every once in a while we’d get a cool assignment and I’d be able to create something worthwhile but most of the time the assignments were lame so I’d lose interest and start drawing something for myself or a friend. Friends would always ask me to draw stuff on their jeans, jackets or notebooks. So every once in awhile when I had an art assignment that I didn’t care for I would ask my friends to come to class and show the art teacher the illustration that I had done for them. Even though it wasn’t the assignment they always liked what I had created and gave me a good grade. I think they were just happy I was doing something creative with my time.

You went to the Art Institute of Colorado for Visual Communications. On your site after mentioning that, you stated that you are self-taught in digital art. Since you have experienced both sides, explain how going to the Art Institute has helped you with your creativity and career?

When I started at the Art Institute, which was then named the Colorado Institute of the Arts or C.I.A., there were no digital art courses as part of the curriculum. It was more of a traditional art school with classes in life drawing, painting, perspective, typography, etc. We had to do everything by hand and the things that would take minutes to create digitally today took us days or weeks to do.

Like cutting frisket paper and airbrushing images for magazine ads and painting book covers with acrylics and laying down Letra press type for the titles. The classes were all based on the old school way of advertising. I remember photographing a bowl of cereal for a mock ad and using glue for the milk because it photographed better than actual milk. The Institute offered an opportunity to be creative without the technology. It required that I viewed things in my “mind’s eye” first and created it from an idea, versus changing or reworking an existing image. I think this allows me to have an edge because many of my illustrations combine these skills. I can take an idea, create an image and “add milk” where necessary.

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In my last semester at the institute they started to change things up and brought in the first computer classes. There was one classroom with about 12 computers. I think they were the “Macintosh Classics”. Even the instructors were still learning how to use them. It took forever to create just one simple vector image. I think that was a sign of the times as the institutes are mainly digital. I hear that they don’t even offer painting classes anymore.

Do you feel like there is a difference between students graduating in some form of design or art vs. those that are self-taught? Pros and Cons on both sides?

Ya know, a Pro would be, I think that having a degree in art or design on your resume can definitely help you when looking for a job but I don’t think it’s the one and only thing that’s going to get you that job.

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Anymore, when I look at the job boards I see that most employers are looking for a college degree or “X” years of experience in that field. Some of the most creative artists/designers that I know do not have degrees from a college. What they do have is a strong knowledge of the creative software. The difference is also like I mentioned earlier, it’s being able to be free with thought and assisted by the tools. It’s about the desire to learn what you – and the software in this case- are capable of creating. Remember the milk.

It’s always nice when someone shows me something new but it’s not until I can apply it to something I’m working on that it has more meaning. Not everyone learns in the same way, some need direction while others prefer to explore. All in all I think it comes down to the your skills, both nurture and nature, the knowledge you have of your software and the quality of work in your portfolio.

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On your Linkedin profile you mention that you do web development along with design. What got you started in web development? Do you feel that web development is something designers should incorporate into their skill sets? Why or why not?

Just to be clear, I am not a web developer (the backend, coding and such). I on the other hand, design the look and feel, the layout of the site. Coding sucks and I give props to anyone that can do it. A friend of mine use to compare it to looking at the Matrix code and seeing a house or a car. I do think that most designers will benefit from having at least a working knowledge of how web development works. You’ll can only make the process easier on yourself and help out the actual web developer when it comes time to create the graphics for a site.

How long have you been freelancing? Do you feel the market for freelancers has changed across the various industries over the last few years?

I’ve been freelancing in one form of design or another for about 15 years. The market has definitely changed in that time. Creation time and deadlines have become shorter while getting the end product to the client has gotten quicker and easier with digital formats and larger bandwidths. The competition is no longer local it’s global, and with more and more companies downsizing there are now 3-4 times the amount of freelancers on the market trying to get the same clients you are. The competition is no longer local it’s global, and with more and more companies downsizing there are now 3-4 times the amount of freelancers on the market trying to get the same clients you are.

You currently work full time and freelance on the side. What are the key differences between designing for a company 40hours a week and freelancing the rest of the time? Have you ever thought of going full time with your freelancing?

Doing corporate work 40+ hours a week isn’t so bad but it does get pretty hectic from time to time. Even though we try to push the corporate creative limits it’s nice to be able to step over those boundaries with my personal or freelance work. That’s the main reason why I like doing freelance. It opens up new areas of design and lets me get even more creative. It kind of keeps me sane. I’d love to go full time again with the freelancing but for now I really enjoy knowing when my next payday is coming and that my health benefits taken care of.

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Working full-time and freelancing: how do you balance the work? How many hours do you spend designing during an average week? Do you ever burn-out or have creative blocks? What do you do when that happens?

It definitely feels like I’m constantly working on something. I’d say in an average week I put in 40-50 hours for my day job and sometimes another 25-35 in personal or freelance work. The nights can get long but that’s the saving grace about having a day job, especially one I like. I can pick and choose which freelance jobs that I want. I’m not always hustling to get the next client and bending over backwards to please that random pain in the ass client just to pay my bills.

Working those kind of hours I can definitely hit a wall when it comes being creative. So when those moment come I generally get annoyed and cuss a bit, but then try to get away from the project for awhile and when I come back hopefully have a new perspective on the direction I was going. I also find that it helps to ask family and friends what they think and most of the time they will see your dilemma in a completely different light that will hopefully open up a new avenue for you to take.

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You are extremely talented with a pencil and a pen-tool. Add all of your other skills and you can see a vast diversity in your portfolio. You have even illustrated a children’s book. With illustration being your core passion, how much of your daily work is in illustration vs other areas of design?

It’s about 50-50. Most of my work starts with a rough pencil sketch that then gets scanned and colored in Photoshop or vectored out in Illustrator. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests for unique lettering for tattoos and find it easier to sketch stuff out than to try to go through all of my fonts in illustrator and then try to manipulate them. It’s also nice to be able to sketch something out while your on the go using a pen and pencil or even onto my iPad.

What is it about design and art that you like the most in regards to freelancing and your career? … what things do you like the least?

I just love being able to create. Plain and simple. It’s something that many want to do but few can. The only thing that bothers me is when people ask me to draw or create something for them in my style but then proceed to change everything about it to match someone else’s style.

What/who are some of your biggest influences in regards to your work?

I pull inspiration from all sorts of things like T-shirt designs, graffiti walls, tattoos, comics, movies, music, you name it.

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A few of the people that inspire me with their skills are: Hydro74, BJ Betts, Maxx242, OG Abel, Mark Wasyl, Martin Abel, Skottie Young, J. Scott Campbell and Svetlin Velinov to name a few.

What is your position on spec work, creative crowd sourcing and design contests? How do you think it affects freelancers like yourself?

I’m not a huge fan. I can see submitting something good for the occasional contest but do it more to help out your portfolio or get recognition around the community. There are a lot of good designers out there that may have a better design. I’ve seen a couple people submit for these kind of jobs totally expecting to get the contract or prize but winding up being devastated. There’s nothing worse than busting your ass and doing a ton of work for a pat on the back.

Can you tell us about your best and worst experiences with clients? What things have you learned along the way that has helped you the most in working with clients?

Early on I was asked to create a game board and all of its 150+ components. I was really excited about the job and needed some extra cash so I talked to the client and told him my fee. He came back with the old “I don’t really have a big budget and blah, blah, blah”. So after a bit of back and forth we agreed on a flat fee and it wasn’t until later that I realized I had completely under bid myself by thousands. So after realizing my stupidity I came to the conclusion that I was going to make this one of my best portfolio pieces and leave it at that. Soon after that job I worked up my new rates and have never looked back. I’m actually really proud of the way it came out but looking at it makes me feel ill inside. So I guess you could say that was my best worst experience.

In regards to having a lucrative career, doing what you love, what are some things that have worked well for you in helping you move forward?

Taking part in online discussions and forums really helped me. I use to participate in a few design and illustration challenges that also helped to push my skill level up a notch. Also, having your work out there for the whole world to criticize can be a harsh reality. Be sure to take the good with the bad and grow from it. Your designs will only get better.

Also, making sure you know what your time is worth and stand your ground when it comes to getting paid. A good contract can help help you with this just make sure that you have the client sign off on it before you start.

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Do you think there are any unwritten rules regarding design and freelancing that beginning designers should be aware of?

Make sure you understand the brief and the clients direction before you start. It’s better to ask to many questions than to ask to few. Remember that it’s a job for someone else and not a personal project so take their comments and criticism lightly. Their just trying to get the best outcome for there company so try to be nice when telling them that there idea doesn’t really flow and show them how it might look better.

What do you do in your spare time when not behind a computer? Hobbies, interests, etc.

“Spare time”, what’s that? Seriously!

If I came to you and told you I wanted to do what you do, what would I have to go through to get there? What advice would you give me?

Practice, practice, practice! The more time you spend developing your skills and learning your craft the more confident you’ll be when a client hits you up for a job.

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What does 2011 hold for ShanesArt.com?

Hopefully some R&R. Their are a few personal projects including a few paintings that I hope to get started on so once the work load lightens up a bit I can start on them. It feels like I haven’t created anything for myself in quite a while. I’ll be posting everything so keep checking out the site for the latest.

Links you should check out:

Shanesart.com
Shanesart on Behance
Shanesart on CG Society
Shanesart on Linked In

Thanks again to Shane for hooking up the interview. Look for more of Shane’s work on his site and in future articles on Book of Lions.

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3 Comments

  1. Brittany wrote:

    “I’ve been getting a lot of requests for unique lettering for tattoos and find it easier to sketch stuff out than to try to go through all of my fonts in illustrator and then try to manipulate them. It’s also nice to be able to sketch something out while your on the go using a pen and pencil or even onto my iPad. ” Im so guilty of being one of the people who sent you one of those emails :o ). I am very fascinated with your work and your lettering, i love visiting your site to see what’s new. Just out of curiousity, the pic of your tattoo going across your arms that says “Shanes Art” is that one of your fonts you manipulated or one you free handed?

  2. Dickie Jones wrote:

    Hey Brittany, thanks for the comment. I’ll forward this on to Shane. As for myself, I can tell you that I do a bit of both, sketching and butchering fonts. I have also learned that doing scripts and calligraphy with the right pen is much easier than creating it on computer.

What are your thoughts?