Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

It would be fair to say I get around job-wise. Throughout my illustrious working career I have had the opportunity to experience so many roles – some wonderful; some not so much. The following has turned into a bit of a novel so I’ve split it into two: BCH (Before Crap Happened) and ACH (think you can figure what that stands for). Brace yourselves.

I find myself on yet another “step-to-the-right” in the dance laughingly called my ‘career path’ (more like drunken stagger) – still at the same workplace but using a different, more technical skill-set to the administrative/marketing role I’ve been filling for the past 18 months. I’m a little nervous but mainly excited about it but if you look at the experiences I’ve had over the past *cough* wee while, there’s many things I’ve already done that should help me pick it up and run with it fairly quickly.

My working career (outside of the usual after-school shenanigans) started way back in 1991 as a Coles Deli Assistant, working my way up to 2IC (which just meant I got the lucky task of coming in super-early on a Monday morning to get the rotisserie chickens cranking and set up the cabinet for the week and do the scale report to make sure we weren’t diddling the customers). Then we moved to Sydney, added a second baby to the family and I began my library studies, which led to the first twist in my path.

Had a lady haughtily demand EXACTLY 1kg of sausages “No more; no less, young lady!”. My face probs looked like his.

After moving all over the country, we landed in a small town in WA, where (on the second attempt) I became Library Officer at the Primary School two of my three kids attended (yep, quite a gap there between paid jobs). I loved this job dearly and it’s still the longest stint in one workplace in the same role (4 years). It was pretty perfect – school hours and school holidays but none of the responsibilities of a teacher (poor sods – I have so much respect for teachers from my time working with them in schools) as well as the pleasure of scouring through reviews to pick all the books.

I vividly recall reading the review for “Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone” and knew it would be a hit but was unsure if it would be too hard for the kids (poor town; struggling/itinerant families; lots of behavioural issues). I ordered two copies, thinking if nothing else it would be perfect for teachers to read aloud and ended up having a waiting list of kids clamouring to read it and having to buy a few extra copies to keep up with demand. The second time I remember purchasing a book as part of my role and thinking “This is gonna be HUGE” and being proven right was for – you may know it – the first in a 4 part series called “Twilight”.

The cover in the review I read for “Twilight”. Weird, huh.

During this time I also was a casual Woolworths Cash Office Administrator on weekends. I scratch my head at this memory, wondering why on earth I did this, with three kids and already working five days a week – then I remember the expectations and mindset I was living under at the time and it makes sense. Taught me to count money real fast and honed my OCD for all notes facing the same way in neat and tidy bundles.

New town in a new state, and of course the school system was different – I had to be a teacher to work in a school library – and the local Public Library was not going to be hiring any time soon. After a brief and terrible stint as a Learning Coordinator for a state government funded adult learning centre (which didn’t actually have a building for the centre – just a room in another state government funded centre which just made it all sorts of awkward and complicated), I got lucky, scoring a job as a part-time Typesetter/Graphic Designer at the local newspaper, with no prior experience apart from the fact I was comfortable with computers, could spell and had done a module of study in my library technician’s diploma on colour design and basic formatting of promotional collateral.

We hid a coworkers’ Bionicle that sat on his computer and sent him ransom notes with accompanying Bionicle parts as part of regular newspaper office shenanigans. He was most displeased with us.

After a time I did manage to get a position as a casual Library Officer at the local library, covering shifts on Saturdays and sometimes their one late opening night per week. It was a good gig. I was studying for my Bachelor of Library Science at the time (while still working at the newspaper cause apparently I had 35 hours in a day back then), so it gave me great opportunities to put theory into practice and vice versa.

I almost blanked out the three years I spent as Library Technician for the local TAFE college after leaving the newspaper to do some full-time (but short-lived) study for a teaching degree (that’s a whole other post in itself). TAFE was a great learning experience as my manager was a great mentor willing to share her years of experience with me. Sure, she was the quintessential cranky librarian and scared the bejesus out of most people but she treated me very well … and she was so nice to my kids (as well as being a complete push-over with her own. Softie at heart.) that I couldn’t not like her. But working for State Government was a long, slow death and I did not want to slowly evolve into the quintessential cranky librarian.

How I imagine I’d look now if I’d stayed …

So I left full-time employment at a very decent government pay rate and moved onto the local Catholic High School as a part-time Library Officer … not sure how I passed the interview with regards to religious beliefs for that one but somehow I did. It was ridiculously low pay for a fully qualified librarian at $15 an hour but I loved the school ethos – they really cared about their students – and of course, the kids were great to work with.

But then … the “eccentric” (i.e. batshit crazy) … library manager at the Public Library left, which led to my next big break.

As Library Manager in a regional library service – one main branch, one teeny-tiny little room in a very interested area known as the Gemfields – I had the responsibility of managing staff for the first time as well as being accountable for a substantial budget. Exciting, scary and very difficult at times but I loved every minute of it … ok, not the minutes I had to ‘have a talk’ with certain persons for upsetting the applecart every time they walked into the place … but the rest of it was great. Honestly, after the last manager’s crazy antics and passive-aggressive management style, I did not have to do much to look fantastic – and I thank her for that, wherever she is.

Then Peter Beatty did his thing and ruined my perfect little life in more ways than one. This career sidetrack led me straight up Poop Creek and onto Poop city …

That’s not how you flip an entire state the bird, Pete.

After March 15 2008 (yep, I still remember the date), the council I was working for was amalgamated with three other surrounding shires into one giant mega-council. It covered an area of roughly 60,000 sq. kilometres with offices spread out at roughly one-hour-drive intervals from each other. That and the fact each office had its own unique culture made it seriously dysfunctional Due to the necessary restructure, I was offered the role of Manager Community Services. To this day, I’m not sure why. I guess I’d proved myself capable of management to a degree in the previous 8 months as Library Manager.

Just managing the shenanigans of the library service growing from 2 branches to 10 would have been enough challenge. But instead I had to take on Community Services, a portfolio which included libraries, pools (dear god, I shudder just thinking about pools), halls, art galleries, aged care facilities, youth facilities and – best of all – community groups. I want to say it was THE WORST decision I ever made but circumstances being what they were at the time, I felt I had no choice but to accept. Nine months later, I had what you could nicely refer to as “a spiritual awakening” but what most people would call a nervous breakdown. Even though my heart knew I really shouldn’t have taken that job, the advantage of hindsight shows that I actually learnt a lot and grew so very much from that complete and utter personal and professional smackdown of an experience. Let’s just call it a Turning Point and leave it at that.

#Accurate

While I was recovering sufficiently to be able to deal with the stresses of a ‘normal life’ again, Lady Luck smiled upon me and I found myself working from home as a Freelance Proofreader for a friend, proofing advertising collateral for various big name companies. Not a huge amount but enough to give me ‘pin’ money and help my severely battered self-esteem compose itself. It also gave me a taste for the freelance life and I really liked it.

But life was about to deal a few shockers and I was going to need more regular work … (to be continued)

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Little pieces of me

billboard There it is. Loud and (thank the good lord) clear at the edge of town.

I can’t take all the credit as it was such a collaborative piece. I am very thankful that I got to play a small role in it as it has been a real learning curve. Printing something A4 size is totally different to printing something F*%#ing Huge size (pretty sure that’s a technical term right there).

One of the drawbacks of working freelance straight out of … ok, almost finished … Design College is the huge learning curve that sometimes feels more like a tsunami.

I do wish there was an opportunity to work somewhere local as a Junior Designer so I could pickcar the brains of fellow workers when sticky projects come up because my current go-to knowledge base is Google and my study notes. In other words, precious little.

Unfortunately, I believe I’ll have to leave town to get the opportunity to work in an actual agency and whilst that’s not the shittiest idea in the world (I would gladly move southwest – closer to the coast and further from the heat), NIH has a great job and is very happy. I don’t want to shake that tree just yet when I can still get by on doing what I’m doing.

It has been kinda cool to see some of the projects I’ve worked on get finished off and start appearing around town, even if they are just tweaks of original designs (with permission, of course) rather than entirely my own originals. I guess I’m the carpenter equivalent of a handyman – I may not build the house but by gum, I can fix that hole in the wall, no worries.

I’m slowly getting the gist of what I really like doing design-wise. Whilst images are cool and all, my real love is the ol’ formatting of Final_Gone but not forgotten-1documents. Another project I’ve just finished involved a local exhibition to commemorate ANZAC Day.  The design section was quite simple and low-key and it was the formatting of text in the document that took the most time.

Funnily enough, nothing gives me more satisfaction than perfectly presented text.  I think that’s the proofreader in me coming out.

My next big project is designing the collateral for Queensland Public Library Association’s upcoming conference in October. It involves everything from the initial branding design to creating programs, forms, website and bits and pieces.

Seriously, how awesome is that?

 

Joys of working for yourself

Clown

Clutsy the Clown would like to get paid. Please.

Otherwise known as the “Cashflow Blues” …

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a fan of working from home and being my own boss. Getting to be creative on a variety of jobs from a real mix of clients is great fun. Getting to do it in comfortable (i.e daggy) clothes and no makeup plus getting those mundane household chores done as part of your working day is a real bonus as well.  I can take a long weekend and head off somewhere if I so choose, or stay in bed all day if I’m not well.

Theoretically.

In practice, I can’t really take that many long weekends because the sad reality of modern society is that you need money to do that. Money that I get sporadically at best. And surprisingly enough, I don’t seem to have as many sick days anymore …

But back to the green stuff. I’ve become a compulsive checker, looking at my work bank account daily (sometimes twice daily) to see if by some miracle people have actually paid me.  I mean, I have a deadline to work to. My invoices should be treated in the same manner.  But by and large, they aren’t. Sigh.

I’m currently studying Design Industry at the moment and this week is about contracts.  Now, they suggest doing up a full contract outlining how many hours; what equipment; who holds intellectual property; whose arse gets kicked if certain project markers aren’t met and ensuring you as the graphic designer can use the completed work in your portfolio as future promotion.  There is even suggestions of getting a down payment before any work is done to avoid cashflow problems.

My ears pricked up at that.

The trouble is that I work in a rural area. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the way things work out here but most things are done on a handshake. It would seem strange to go through a five page contract BEFORE any work started, with a hokey little ol’ graphic designer who’s working from home and more than likely gets business because she’s a known entity. It’s a small town. People are very trusting. I am never asked to show a portfolio. It’s very humbling, to be honest.  I’m also cheap and get the job done quickly.

I know it’s in my best interests – protects my finances, ensures intellectual property and makes the deal very clear on paper. But I’m not sure if it would work out here. And to be honest, I’d feel a little uncomfortable doing it. Seems … pushy.

Having said that, I do have a nest egg that allows for the bills to be paid when cash is not flowing inwards so it’s not like we’ll starve or lose the house … but the tightarse in me really really hates using it.

Oh yeah, and that’s my clown. I sketched him then scanned him in and used that as a background so I could use the Pen tool in Illustrator to build a digital version of him. I feel rather pleased with myself.

Signs from the Universe

pinnacles dk photography

courtesy of DK Photography

I woke from a vivid dream yesterday morning that left me slightly troubled and found me questioning where I was headed with all this graphic-design-in-the-comfort-of-shorts-and-tshirt-at-home malarky.

You see, sometimes it feels a little TOO comfortable. Too safe. Lots of time to do things like make bread, make my NIH’s lunch every day, get the washing done, have morning tea catch-ups, grocery shopping and keep the house in some semblance of order. I get interesting jobs but spaced out enough that I’m not having a coronary.  And in this day and age of hustle and bustle and high-octane stress … well, it feels a little wrong somehow.

So my dream had me sitting in a caravan talking to a guy I went to school with about living life to your fullest potential. I had sat next to this guy in our school’s version of “Home Room” for 5 years and, let’s be honest, had a major crush on him for roughly the same amount of time. Sadly, he died last year – far too early and from last photos, looking far too much like my dad’s last days when cancer had found it’s mark. A cruel and untimely death that seems unfair, especially since he was only my age.

In the dream, he was questioning me on whether I was really pushing myself to achieve. Was I growing and developing my skills? Was I reaching my full potential? Would I still be pottering (my brain coughs politely and inserts ‘pretending’ there) with being a graphic designer?  Should I be looking for a ‘traditional’ job with a company or organisation in a design-related area that would improve my skills/develop my experience/pay me more money?

Now, graphic designer jobs are few and far between where I live in rural Central Queensland. But I do know that there are a couple of jobs I know I could do and have a pretty good chance of scoring with a previous employer. However …

  • I work on contract for an association that requires me to travel to Brisbane once every 2-3 months and I’d have to ask permission for time off
  • I would have to ask permission to take holidays and we’ve already planned one biggish one and a couple of mini’s (can you tell I hate having to ask for permission?)
  • I still have 3 units to finish of my Diploma and trying to do that with full time work and still doing jobs on the side would be crazy
  • I know the current situation at this particular workplace and let’s just say it’s a rather noxious environment at the moment with nil morale and leave it at that
  • What about my morning tea catch-ups and card games?
  • I’d have to get dressed every day
  • And be on time to work

As you can see, the list is a little on the weak side …

I’d more or less convinced myself by yesterday afternoon that all I needed to do was pull my finger out, start being a grown up and actually print some business cards and start a Facebook page to advertise locally.  And that’s about the time that the Universe decided to cement the deal and drop me a very clear and concise message.

I received an emailed remittance advice for an invoice I’d resent to this particular workplace because it was way overdue. Great … except that they’d paid it to another person with the same name as me. I mean, I can understand initial confusion with the name but my address and bank details are on the invoice. You would think that would be checked – I certainly used to when I did it – but no.

So after my expletives were spent, I took a deep breath and thanked the Universe for letting me know that I am on the right path, old ground and past workplaces should be left where they lie and as long as you’re managing to pay the bills, there’s nothing wrong with having time to perfect the art of baking bread.

Outside the comfort zone

DGDAD12002

Who else but Jesus to market bum bags?

I’ve landed a big job and it’s kinda freaking me out. Not that it requires a great amount of graphic design finesse or will take up a huge amount of time to finish – it’s just BIG.

As in billboard big.

And I don’t know why it freaks me out, apart from the fact I’ve never actually done one ‘for real’ before.  Sure, I understand the theory of it:

No more than seven words – check √
One large graphic – check √
Contrasting colours – check √
Clear fonts (preferably sans serif) – check √

I completed the advertising module of my diploma with no problems. To be honest, I quite enjoyed it. I enjoy the psychology of marketing – it’s the commercialism and competitiveness that leaves me cold and guarantees I’d never go into the industry full-time.

However, to actually do a design for a company and have it stuck up at the entrance to town in all its 8 metre x 3 metre glory for the next who knows how long? That’s a totally new experience and one that has me over-thinking.

Usually along the lines of “But what if it sucks?”.

At the same time, I recognise the benefits of stepping out of my comfort zone. Nothing signals great leaps in learning and personal/professional growth than saying “Yeah, sure! No problem!” to a job then walking out the door wondering how the hell you’re going to deliver.

My quoted price for this job doesn’t cover the time I’ve spent researching my old study notes and website how-to’s – nor any analysis of the ultimate message they want to convey, usually done in the wee small hours of the morning whilst trying to get back to sleep! But what the hell. If I’ve undercut myself, it only seems fair since the experience I get is well worth it.

When asked how he managed to achieve so much in his lifetime, Peter Brock was once quoted as saying “I took on more than I could chew, and then chewed like mad!”

I’m chewing like mad, Pete.

 

Designing a logo

Souzou Designs blogOtherwise known as “What in blue blazers do I want to call myself that doesn’t sound cliché or pretentious or dorky?”, it’s a process that hasn’t been very easy for me.

After much internal debate, internet searching and musing in the wee hours of the morning, I decided to focus on something Japanese, since both my better half and I have a bit of a love affair for the country, its people and philosophies.

Souzou in Japanese means ‘imagine’ or ‘imagination’, which I thought was rather fitting since I need to use so much of it with some of the jobs I do. I chose cherry blossoms, or Sakura, as they only flower for a very brief period of a few weeks (we were so lucky to time our week trip right at Cherry Blossom time this year!) and are thought to represent the ephemeral beauty of life. Hopefully the fleeting nature of its flowering won’t in any way relate to my business!

I drew the cherry blossoms with pencil then traced over with felt tip pen. I scanned the design into Photoshop and painted the colours in. I had to buy the Japanese calligraphy for ‘souzou’ but it was cheap and worth it to make sure it was legit!

I really like it – which is rather important since this is my ‘brand’ now. Funny though – it’s one thing to come up with a logo but entirely another to register it as a business name and then start using it. I guess it’s commitment to myself as a business entity and the logo is a rather large chunk of me up on display. Very personal and a little unnerving … but they say that growth only comes when you step out of your comfort zone.

Where does creativity come from?

live large

I always need a push when it comes to leaps of faith …

At the start of every project, almost without fail, I look at a blank screen and wonder just how the f*#k I’m going to come up with something decent. Does everyone concerned with creating something feel the same way?

Back in the good ol’ days of full time yet tedious and incredibly stressful work, I used to relish doing the monthly report because it didn’t require creativity.  You ran a few reports on the computer, you added up visitors/circulation/amount of money spent on internet (divided by 4 to get number of hours total), you put calculations into a spreadsheet and set up the chart to work automatically … and voila! The monthly report.

Methodical. Formulaic. Safe. Fantastic for control freaks.

Nowadays, I don’t know if I’m going to be busy next week or be twiddling my thumbs (actually, I still have heaps of assignments to get done so technically I should NEVER be twiddling my thumbs but procrastination seems to be my middle name). I don’t know what type of job will be coming in or even if I’ll be able to handle it! Of course, in my more gentle, less critical moments, I realise that I always find a way to get it done. It may take longer than I thought (and I never charge the client for my own  ignorance!) but I always deliver in the end.

It’s just the process that is a struggle. I’m always super-sensitive to infringing copyright and would never blatantly copy someones work and pass it off as my own, but when I get stuck I go web surfing. I guess back before the internet, people massaged their creative juices by looking at the world around them.  I bet the first caveman didn’t worry too much about intellectual property when he fingerpainted that deer onto the wall of his cave.

Perhaps you can already tell I am procrastinating over a job.  It should be simple yet because it’s slightly left of what I usually do, I’m struggling with it. So much so that whilst I thought I had solved the problem and come up with something creative that the client would like, my brain woke me up at 2am with a loud and clear message that by changing it to a jpg file (as they’ve requested), the background that I don’t want filled in will, in fact, be filled in and it will look all boxy and now I have to come at it from a different angle.

Sigh.

I think it’s time to do a little surfing …

Turning points

Print

Turning points … almost like a rebirth

It’s always easier looking back and seeing the turning points in our lives. We rarely see the corner coming and odds are we never accurately predict what that corner will bring.

The big ones are pretty easy to recognise and semi-prepare for – leaving home; getting married; having children.

I never saw the dissolution of my first marriage coming … although looking back, it seems pretty goddamn clear that it was years in the making.  Likewise, my second marriage was a bit of a surprise but a really good one.

However, it’s the almost inconsequential happenings in our lives that often bring the most surprising results. Take as an example the story of how a dedicated librarian turned into a graphic designer …

We moved often in my first marriage – partly because he was in the Army for the first 7 years of it, partly because the man could not sit still to save his life. And library jobs are hard to come by. As any good librarian knows, you have to wait for someone to die or leave town before an opening comes up (preferably the latter … otherwise it’s just awkward).

Hence, in my not so huge working career (three kids are a handful on their own without a work schedule demanding your attention as well) I have completed a Bachelor of Library Science and a Graduate Diploma of Info/Library Science plus worked as: weekend Cash Office for Woolies; Learning Centre coordinator; Barmaid; Canteen convenor and Casual Typesetter/Graphic Designer for two local newspapers (not at the same time) in between the rare and precious library jobs in a primary school, private high school, TAFE college and public library.

I think the varied experiences and different locations made me a better librarian – at least, I was able to relate to people from many walks of life!  But who would have known that the first stint in a newspaper doing Graphic Design (which I got because I’d done Colour Theory and basic brochure design as part of my library technicians course) would, 12 years down the track, put me on the path to being a qualified Graphic Designer?

And the second step in that road would be feeling trapped in a library management position plus the misery of multiple miscarriages forcing me to find something to distract myself with and looking into online study courses.  Initially I was going to do Bookkeeping (methodical, controlled, useful) but Graphic Design popped up … and that was that.

I’m struggling to finish the Diploma in time as I’ve had a wedding and a long honeymoon in the middle of it to totally distract me, but there’s the option of extension and I already have clients that are happy with my work. How awesome is that?

If someone had told me 18 months ago that I would be happily married, out of the management role, working freelance and enjoying all aspects of my life, I would not have believed them. But looking back … well, it seems inevitable.