Based in Houston, Texas, Jennifer is an independent artist and designer exploring various mediums through multiple disciplines. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design and has worked as a Jr. Art Director, in-house designer, freelance artist, publisher, metalsmith, and print specialist.
How did I Become an Artist and Designer?
How was your University time?
One of the most impactful takeaways I gained from University was the process of unlearning a lot of what I’d accumulated over the years. Largely self-taught and in the workforce for many years, I finally went back to school to complete my degree in my later years. The challenges were many, but I pushed myself to succeed in the goals I set for myself, and that was to specifically streamline my current skillsets, improve on what I’d picked up, and work towards correcting mistakes or past failures that held me back. I’ve found that if you have an honest and sincere desire to accomplish any goal you set for yourself in life coupled with grit, you can move mountains. Still, you have to commit yourself and do the work, which means falling many times in the process, but always being able to bounce back and pick yourself up again.
Why did you choose a career in this field?
I’ve always been an artist, and design came naturally to me, enabling me to connect my passion in practical and more purposeful ways. Even more so, engage with audiences more effectively and learn to solve problem-solving for many different situations. When creating art, it had always been something that I did for myself, and entering into the design-world gave me the lessons I needed to be more effective in my work, think outside the box, and having a broader view of different perspectives and ways to communicate for others who held different “visions” from my own. To some, this would seem like I’m selling myself short on my own vision, but I don’t think so. Everything I create has a little bit of me in the creation. Being able to tackle something I’m not entirely familiar with brings new and exciting challenges that enable growth on many internal levels. I learned that helping others through design by visually communicating their ideas and goals made me a better designer and artist because it enabled me to step outside of my own headspace and see areas that needed improvement.
What was your first job or nuggets from jobs you had that helped you to get to where you are today?
I started in the workforce when I was barely 16 years old and slowly worked my way up through tons of low-wage paying jobs to my first job working in a print shop. There I learned about printing first, how to use and work equipment, then gradually moved into graphic design departments because I was interested in it. Learning about print has been invaluable for me as a designer and artist. Understanding the process has helped me facilitate my own projects and professional ones that have given me more freedom creativity because I am familiar and comfortable with the tools and always looking for more to expand and enhance my process of creating and designing.
How did you prepare for an interview?
Have a great portfolio first and foremost. Show your best work, not every piece of work, and streamline it so that it highlights and emphasizes the start of how you approached a problem and the way it was solved in the outcome. For interviews, employers are looking for many different things. Hence, it is also really important to understand what their business is about, what their initial “vision” and core values are, and understand what they are trying to accomplish with their services, which is the foundation for their needs.
Books that helped you.?
I’m an avid reader and collect everything from philosophy, fiction to non-fiction. I have many books on art and design that are conventional and understand grids for layouts and typography, to unconventional books that show how some great designers take risks and break the rules to come up with fresh ideas and creative decisions become game-changers in the industry. I’ve found that looking at many renowned designers’ work can be telling and help you improve your own work. I most admire them because they are willing to take risks and aren’t afraid to move into areas that seem unrelated or irrelevant. Always pushing boundaries.
Things are changing very fast in the industry; how do you keep yourself updated.
To stay on top, I keep up with technology and always try to hone my current skills and read up on new ones. Since communication has evolved exponentially over time, tutorials and ways to learn have become easier than ever. 10 years ago. It was nearly impossible to self-publish anything without going through an established company that wanted to take a percentage of sales, for example. I created a tarot deck in the early 2000s, for example, and back then, the only outlet to publish a project on that scale was to go through a big company which was a huge investment, and it was unthinkable that you could do it yourself without having the right capital or tools to go about it.
Nowadays, independent artists and designers have more options and resources available that will enable them to create their works and put them out on their own. As an independent artist and designer, I’ve been selling my work online for over a decade. The true success I’ve experienced for myself doesn’t come from making a profit, for example, but instead the great pride and feeling of accomplishment. I’ve learned that I’m doing everything by myself without others’ help or relying on them. In many ways, this is the start of entrepreunerialship and not being afraid to put your own work out there and see where it goes.
Please list techniques or newsletter, podcasts, events etc.
For aspiring designers, I’d highly recommend becoming a member of AIGA and keeping informed of events happening through them.
What can you recommend on CV?
For a CV, I’d recommend highlighting relevant experience and skills and how it benefited the company you worked for by what you could accomplish but keeping it direct and simple. In my opinion, employers want to know what you can do and how you were successful in something that produced real results, not what you are willing to do or feel that you are good at.
Advice for someone looking for a job?
Be vigilant and always know that even if an interview doesn’t pan out the way you were expecting, it isn’t a failure because you are gaining more practice and experience each time you engage in one. Don’t be afraid to ask the employer’s questions at the interview and be prepared to know about their company and background.
Why do you think you were selected among other candidates?
My experience in the workforce has been an advantage. Employers will always look at that on resumes. This, coupled with many skills acquired along the way, has helped me open up more opportunities along the way, and having an education has also helped.
Lessons from jobs that you couldn’t get.
Understanding that there’s still a long way to go before I can be at the level they are operating at, but not despairing or giving up hope. Life and learning, in my opinion, go hand in hand, and one should never stop trying to learn, improve and grow. Sometimes a job isn’t the right fit from the get-go. That’s ok by me because it’s helped me better understand what kind of company, culture, and environment I want to be in, along with what kind of work is inspiring and exciting to me. Ultimately, whatever job you seek, make sure it’s something you know you’ll be happy doing and want to do. Please don’t sell yourself short or think that it defines who you are. You are what you make of yourself and your life, and no one else can determine that for you.
Jennifer W. Chen
Also read My Career Change to Become a Fast Fashion Graphic Designer (without a relevant degree)