Advertising is a funny business full of brilliantly creative people that can also use the left side of their brains too. I barely can get either side working in tandem, but somehow have learned through working professionally, and with professional people, that both can be done daily. Now, an ad agency isn’t always that linear and more often than not, the amount of mentally damaged employees tip the balance on the “Creative” (a noun) side. So far, I have spent my professional career there.
My first agency job was at a then-powerhouse local agency that eventually got rolled into larger and larger national and international advertising conglomerates. I had a great and terrible time there, learning the ad biz and burning the fuel of youth fast and hard. We worked savage hours and got paid dirt, but most of the time it was good work at the grindstone, or in my case, affixed to my computer or in the art room cutting and mounting stuff. The book With All Its Faults in the picture above was one that was getting thrown out of the art room one day and it ended up being a pretty good read, since it had obviously been forgotten and surely nobody had any time to actually read anything, except maybe to pilfer ideas out of the latest Communication Arts or Lurzer’s Archive. I didn’t do any design work at that shop, but learned a valuable lesson that would need re-learning later, the lesson being there was the best training in the world of design right in front of me that no school or even an internship could teach – being a production artist on other people’s work. You can pick up a ton of tricks and tips essentially by going backwards – resizing, replacing, re-setting stuff and being guided along the way by the Art Directors themselves. Most of us in the Studio (the old school called it the Bullpen) just drank a lot and blasted music loudly all day to crank through and hit the expensive-if-not-met deadlines.
I got an opportunity to move along to another agency, as a designer, and one that was far cooler in terms of culture and clients, so I jumped. Most people I work with here in town are refugees from another agency and we are like a hugely dysfunctional family that gathers every couple of years. I do love the work though I’m reflexively anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, and against pretty much anything that is popular in our “culture” here in America. I’m not against things because they are popular, I am because most of it garbage. Anarchist at the Ad Agency, President of the Anarchy Club! I was never a very good anarchist anyway, and thought it funny that every designer in town, myself included, had a blast at a speech given by the honchos from Adbusters, the most anti-advertising magazine around. Anyway, the work was fun, the shop was cool, and I was having a great time, until one of the clients pulled their retainer, 9/11 hit and a bunch of us were issued pink slips one morning. It was one of the worst days of my life, even though common in the field. Us newly unemployed and everyone else went across the street to drown our miseries at the bar.
From there I lost my mind, gigged at a few other agencies, tried tattooing, built ads at a newspaper, and went over to the “client side”, which is kinda seen as failure coming from the design world. I ended up there for almost 5 years, nearly losing myself and my fire, but getting a good salary and hanging with some nice people. It did temper me professionally and I learned to write proper emails brimming with protocol instead of expletive-laden speakerphone barks and throwing pennies to get my coworkers attention, which comes easier to me.
Things change and my family became the most important consideration. My scenario is such that I can now work from my home office when I have contracts and occasionally go out for onsite gigs when needed. I can’t complain though and I often have some good, consistent client work and am getting to the point where I don’t have to pitch for projects. In fact, this year was one of my best for work and I even had to turn down a few fun music-related opportuities due to scheduling. Next year, I plan on focusing more energy into my personal work and being selective with some of the album projects. You can’t replace the frenzy of the workplace though and I do miss speaking with adults. (OK, it is advertising, so adults might only be chronologically correct). Not bad so far for a punk kid trying to hustle some doodles for a living.
Yes, I have actually read all of those books.