Walking the thin line between Digital Design and Art

I’m Alexis Baydoun, from Beirut, Lebanon. I do graphic design, brand identities, advertising, and 3D Art. Earlier on this year i took a look around me and realized something i hadn’t  really noticed before: I am living a life of complete freedom where on one  hand i am getting paid to do what i love doing: digital design, and on the other i  have space and so much room to pursue further what i’m passionate about:  art.  

I can tell you very clearly and right away that getting to that point, however,  was not an easy thing. And how i got there involved around 7 years of non stop hustling, of non-stop wondering who to work with, where to go next,  what to learn, when to leave, when to say yes and when to say no. For 7  years straight i didn’t work based on making profit, but based on learning,  building an experience and a portfolio that doesn’t make me feel obliged to  introduce myself and explain my character wherever i go.  

To be a designer, i learned, you have to be young-spirited, worldly, vibrant,  talkative, in love with trends and colors and popular culture. I, on the other  hand, I barely speak by default, can go on for 4 days without talking to  anyone effortlessly, and although I am creative it’s not at all in the  conventional digital designer sense. I sleep at 9 PM, wake up at dawn, have  published a book of poetry, take long walks in nature before sleeping and  listen to religious choirs and church music for fun. A character like mine, at  least from my experience, was very easily prone to be vilified in my culture  and especially in an agency’s setting. I was always not strong enough, not  vibrant enough, not hungry enough, not gossipy enough, not political  enough. And so, when i tell you that i had to hustle to prove myself, it was the  “shut-up and take it lying down” kind of hustling. For 7 long years. Day in day  out.  

Last year, at the peak of a depression before stopping full-time employment  once and for all, i got contacted by Accenture digital for a digital designer  position in Berlin, telling me i have an “impressive” profile. It was at that  moment, in October 2019, that life decided to hit me on the head with a large  shoe, and force me to redefine myself and my life experience, and take a look  at my work and my profile objectively and actually “see” it.  

Since then, it’s been both alarmingly comfortable and beautifully challenging. Ever since i started freelancing again life has taken on a full circle and i found  myself landing exactly the kinds of projects i want, working with company  cultures i really enjoy connecting with, and getting paid the average startup  hourly rate for projects i love doing (between 40 and 60 USD/hour). I have  also connected with wonderful people, joked with professionals from all over  the world, rediscovered kindness on a larger scale and actually felt interested  to make friends again, a feeling i can honestly say i hadn’t had for a long time  before 2020.  

Most importantly, there are weeks when i am excited to work 40 hours and  others where i choose to barely work 10, making room for a life of quietly  wandering around, living around trees and snow and plants and fog, reading  about art that inspires me and learning and developing skills like making 3D  music videos. Had it been not a year of lockdowns, face masks and  apocalyptic measures, i would probably be in Ireland right now reading in a  park, visiting a museum or church and cemetery-hopping with my camera.  

If you want my advice to land a job that makes you feel fulfilled and happy,  it’s very simple: work hard enough so you no longer have to defend your  character. Whether you’re too shy, too quiet, too dreamy, too loud, too  vulnerable, whatever it is. Work hard enough so that you will land the job of  your dreams, in the culture that you feel most comfortable with, and will be  respected and acknowledged however you are, as long as you’re not entitled.  2020 has been truly a very karmic year, and if you learn to love what you do,  work with ethics and dedication, and pay attention to digital trends and to  ongoingly developing your creative and technical self, you will sooner or later  have room to explore every curiosity you have, and have great fun while  doing it.  

How was your University time? 

Hazy, full of drugs, friends, and sleeping on unfamiliar beds. Between writing  poetry, painting and wanting to work only with my hands, I couldn’t properly  figure out a way to sit behind a computer and see it as a friend. I was very  confused in my early twenties. As soon as i finished my education in graphic  design i moved to studying english literature for 2 years. At the time, i felt  that digital design was intrusive to the field of the arts, and i couldn’t see  how you can be an artist and accept working with a bunch of computers  serving big company bucks at the same time. Obviously my perspective has  drastically shifted, and I believe with the introduction of AI, bots and VR we have embroidered and crafted a new art form by collaborating,  communicating and connecting with machines. The monument of technology  we are building as a human species is something i’m completely in love with.  

Why did you choose a career in this field? 

Almost everything i’ve done in my creative projects has been inspired by  music and/or sound. My initial drive when i decided to pursue digital design  was to create visual art to accompany musical projects. Until this day I still  find myself working on creative projects that are a response to other creative  projects. Although i’m extremely independent in my life and creative pursuits,  I choose to be a student a lot more than a teacher. The idea of an art medium  that’s created in response to another art medium fascinates me, and i’m not  interested in reinventing the wheel or being a brand in my work. 

What was your first job or nuggets from jobs you had that  helped you get to where you are today? 

I was a lot more career oriented than profit-oriented earlier in my career. And  so I forced myself to work with the whole bunch: corporate companies,  creative agencies, freelance independently, and startups, just to learn as  much as possible from all of them. I had plenty of people yelling at me earlier  on. Plenty of people telling me to get out of my shell, to trust in myself and  that i had it in me. I couldn’t let the artist be the driver of my first projects  because I didn’t know how to carry commercial work and pleasing clients on  one hand, and my love for the arts on the other. Obviously i had to spend  more than a handful of nights hustling in order to get there. It wasn’t easy  balancing a commercial career as a digital designer while creating self fulfulling personal art projects on the side, but it had to happen.  

Can you provide some book recommendations? 

I love “Other Electricities” by Ander Monson. Poetry and prose pieces written  about electricity cuts and snow-blocked roads in a small neighborhood in  Michigan. Also love “The Available World” from the same author, a collection  of love poems about junk emails, qr codes and hospital lights. I admire the  clarity of thought of CS Lewis, “The Problem of Pain” and “Mere Christianity”  mostly. “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham was written in response to “Mrs.  Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf. Love the two books. Also love reading books of  thoughts from artists that have greatly inspired me, like butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno, Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski and experimental Buddhist  vocalist Meredith Monk.  

Things are changing very fast in the industry; how do you  keep yourself updated. Please list techniques or  newsletters, podcasts, events, etc. 

I limit consuming distractions a lot. Follow mostly influencial artists, digital  agencies, illustrators and 3D artists on Instagram, and use Behance as the  main search engine to find out trends and iconic projects that are blooming  at the moment. On Pinterest i look mostly for commercial and hip visual ideas  and moodboards.  

Favorite agency’s work: https://www.instagram.com/jessicavwalsh
Favorite 3D artist’s work: https://www.instagram.com/frederikheyman
Favorite illustrator: https://www.behance.net/watanabemayumi
Favorite photographer: https://www.behance.net/guworld 
Favorite installation artist: https://www.behance.net/taoyagi

Any advice about CVs? 

Don’t design it, it’s a waste of time. Let your portfolio do the talking, and  make your CV as clear, brief and straight-to-the-point as possible. If Elon  Musk wanted to create a CV, i’m sure he could fit in everything he’s ever  done to introduce himself and his career in one simple page without any  design involved, you can do the same. Focus on your skills, your passions  and your contributions to society.  

Advice for someone looking for a job? 

Build a body work of work you’re confident with before expecting a reply. In  every project you create tell a story, that’s the most important thing. We are  heading towards a world where AI is increasingly replacing human workforce,  it’s your story-telling that will make a potential client remember you and want  to work with you. Try to avoid generic content and designs. Try to avoid  projects that push you to stay in your comfort zone. Know what you want,  what can make you happy and what can work for you.  

Lessons from jobs that you couldn’t get. 

If you love your work and you put your honest self in your projects, even if you didn’t get certain jobs, the right jobs will come and find you, and  hopefully you’ll get a few compliments and encourgements on the way as  well! 


Also read My Story From Studying Motion Graphics to Becoming an Illustrator and Graphic Designer

Walking the thin line between Digital Design and Art

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