Jonathan Patterson

If you’re a product designer that’s been thinking about striking out on your own in 2024, then Jonathan Patterson is a name that you need to know. As a freelance senior product design generalist, he knows all about rolling with the changes in the industry, and about what it takes to stay competitive.

Jonathan and I spoke not too long after his presentation at AIGA Detroit’s IXD2 event, and he talked about the various projects he’s worked on in the fields of healthcare, education, and AI. He also shared his personal journey growing up with a passion for drawing, transitioning from traditional print design to digital products, and explained why he made the switch to full-time freelancing (and what he’s learned along the way).

Hopefully Jonathan’s story and his work inspires you to carve out your own path for your career!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Jonathan Patterson:

All right, so I guess I’ll give you the elevator pitch. I’m the invisible hand that crafts the products you rely on daily. Often we don’t know who’s behind the things we touch and interact with. And I mean that in the virtual and the physical, you know, whether it’s the buttons you click to play your favorite podcast or the home screen of a service that you subscribe to, I design and make sure everything is where you expect it to be and make it look good in the process. So I’ve got a BSA in visual communications from Kendall College of Art and Design, which is essentially graphic design. And over the years, I’ve slowly morphed my interest and my focus to kind of like pace or sometimes exceed where the industry is headed so I can stay competitive. But these days, I’ve moved completely into product design generalization. So instead of having one focus like user experience design, I do all of the skills that are closely related to design that launching a product or service usually requires.

As a full time freelance product design generalist, my goal is to really have a variety of skills that when you total them up, they make what I have to offer kind of more comprehensive and fine tuned than anyone who’s just doing one part of the product design stack. So, Jonathan Patterson, two decades of experience, first podcast interview. Let’s go.

Maurice Cherry:

Looking back at this year, what are three words that you’d use to describe how 2023 has been for you?

Jonathan Patterson:

I would say revolutionary, difficult. Well, this is not a word or more of a phrase. Kind of par for the course.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. How has it been “par for the course”?

Jonathan Patterson:

Par for the course. Meaning there’s always something changing. Nothing stays the same, which is especially true in technology. Right. And I think any business owner, which as a freelancer, full time freelancer, I certainly look at myself as a business owner. But there’s always a challenge to contend with. So par for the horse means while we have certain types of challenges this year, there’s always a challenge to contend with.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Well, the only thing constant in the world is change, as the saying goes. And I think those three words are a really good way to sum up 2023. I think for a lot of people.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. Everywhere you look online, it’s people posting about the tech layoffs and their job being downsized or eliminated or can you help me get a job? That’s what I’m seeing a lot of.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Do you have any goals that you’d like to accomplish for next year, like any resolutions for next year?

Jonathan Patterson:

I think one of the things that I’ve been sort of indexing on is just starting something, I suppose, of my own on the side. Now, while I have a lot of different fun side projects that I’ve done here and there, I think that’s probably one of my objectives for the upcoming year, is to start something maybe that is more official outside of the full time freelance product design work that I do. It could be a product or service. I have many ideas about what those could be. I keep a running list of things that I’m considering and just ideas that I’m vetting. I think that’s probably one of the focuses that I will put some thought around soon.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you just did a talk recently. There was an event in Detroit called IXD2 put on by AIGA Detroit. Shout out to Carlos and the folks there. Tell me about the event. How did it go?

Jonathan Patterson:

It went well. That was a first annual, we’ll call it…it’s called IXD2, which is the interaction design Detroit conference, and it will be held annually. So I actually talked about how to stop ghosting your side projects and basically I gave five tips that I’ve used to kind of see my projects from start to finish. So it was actually a whole day of different speakers and panelists and workshops. So mine was towards the end of a twelve hour, probably around their day. But it went good. It was well received. It will continue into the coming years, as far as I understand.

So I’d be excited to go back or I was a speaker this time, but if I’m not a speaker next time, or if not involved next time, I’ll certainly be happy to attend it.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, was this a new talk that you created?

Jonathan Patterson:

It was, and it was relatively in short order too. I think that between the time that I came to understand that they were interested in perhaps putting on some type of event like this, and the time the event actually occurred was just a matter of a couple of months. So I kind of last minute put together some ideas and the presentation ended up coming together. I probably would have talked about something else besides how to stop ghosting a side project. But again, due to the time constraints, it’s just like, okay, well, let me see what I can do that will perhaps resonate with people. And as I also come to understand, I tend to try to get feedback from people after I do a presentation or a talk or something like that, just because it’s always good to be sharpening your skills wherever you can. One of the things I heard was that people liked the variety that my presentation provided. There was a lot of, as you might expect from the title interaction design.

There were a lot of presentations and talks about processes and user experience specifically into the weeds of those types of things. Mine was a bit more general and sort of lighter. So I heard that people like that kind of component of my presentation. And I’ll also say for anybody who perhaps is listening to this and who saw that presentation, that I did put a lot of emphasis on the design of the presentation itself, because so often I find that, and this is just an easy thing for us designers to fall into for some reason, that when you’re doing a presentation, you don’t necessarily design it to your best ability. Rather, you’re just so focused on the content that you sort of let the design go by the wayside. And I’m like, okay, I can’t let that happen this time. This is specifically a design conference, so I’m definitely going to make sure that I put equal focus on what I’m saying, what I’m presenting, as well as what it looks like. So the design, it’s kind of contemporary.

It’s of the times. Lots of interesting typography and visuals to look at us designers are a fairly fickle bunch. We like things to look pretty. So I’m like, okay, this is going to look pretty cool.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you do a lot of public speaking at conferences?

Jonathan Patterson:

I wouldn’t say a lot. I’ve probably presented just a handful of times. Really. I can count in one hand probably the number of times I presented, but I’ve had some local colleges who will ask, like accelerators or programs that colleges have that are related to product design or design will ask me to come and talk to one of their classes or something like that. So I’ve done that a few times. I was part of another AIGA event a few years ago before COVID where I talked about or I presented a case study that was the theme of the event, was like, case studies and case studies projects that you’ve worked on. So I presented then, which was a few years ago, and then, like I mentioned just a few weeks ago, with this most recent one. So not a lot, but I was happy to hear that.

Some of the feedback that I also got recently was that someone said that my presentation flowed very smoothly and they got the impression that I did it all the time. I’m like, well, thank you very much. That’s probably the best, most flattering compliment that I feel like I got this evening. So I was happy to hear that.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. I mean, I hope you get a chance to give that talk at other conferences. I mean, you put that much time into designing it and you’re getting this great feedback, like take it out on the road.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, you know what? Somebody else mentioned that. I think if the opportunity presents itself, I might do that.

Maurice Cherry:

So let’s talk more about you being a freelance senior product design generalist. You had mentioned that before. I was like, that’s a mouthful. That’s a lot. And according to your website, as well as what you just said, you are the invisible hand that crafts the products that you rely on daily. And you’ve been doing it for such a long time. I mean, almost 13 years. That is super impressive.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, thanks. Yeah, I’ve worked in all sorts of industries on all types of projects. Early in my career I worked with on a bunch of apps in the education space that taught kids how to write or do math. I also worked on a project for the brand pull ups where I did a lot of UX and UI for an app that parents use to potty train their kids. Let’s see. Some other memorable projects that come to mind are product designed for a healthcare startup. This is akin to like Angie’s list for healthcare workers. I did iconography for OkCupid, where I created dozens of icons that reflect the interest and the characteristics that people show on their dating profile.

I did data visualizations for Brighthouse Networks, which was bought by charter Communications or Spectrum Charter, I believe. But more recently I’ve done work for this company called the Standard, which is this wellness and social networking app. They’re kind of still in this amorphous phase where they’re establishing their value proposition. I’ve helped this company called True Anthem. They’re out of California and they have this AI powered social publishing tool. And basically the gist of it is that large scale content publishers like the Associated Press or Reuters or NBC News give their social teams access to this dashboard where they can automate their social media posts and understand all of the analytics around what content performs the best and when to post it and where to post it to. So it’s this dashboard that integrates with all the popular social networking platforms. You know, Facebook, X, Instagram, et cetera.

Last, I guess I won’t forget to mention Ford. I’ve helped them on and off over the years. I’ve worked on their website, helping to think through different visual concepts to present features and promotions. I’ve also done a lot of work on what they call the build in price section of their website, which is the part where you customize a vehicle that you’re interested in buying. And that area of the site in particular is in constant flux, and they go through many iterations to push out even the smallest of changes. So I’ve helped with the UX and the UI there, as well as, again, lots of iconography for that section of their website. Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of the overview.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve mentioned a lot of different clients here and a lot of different sort of types of product design work that you’ve done. What are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Jonathan Patterson:

You know, I work on B2B and B2C types of projects. I tend to find the B2C ones a bit more, I guess, compelling to work on because the tone that you take in terms of the writing, the UX writing that you do for it, any kind of light copywriting that I might do, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a copywriter, but any of the. I think just the way that you approach a consumer is very different than the way you approach, like, a business product or service. Now, I definitely do both, but I think I probably get a little bit more fun out of the B2C ones. They’re just more room to, kind of…I feel like those apps and services are a bit, just more entertaining, if you know what I mean.

Maurice Cherry:

Is there any type of work that you want to do in the future? Like dream projects, anything like that?

Jonathan Patterson:

You know what, I have always been of this mindset too. I’m like, okay, it could be fun to work on in the entertainment industry specifically, maybe for some type of celebrity website or something like that. But then the more I think about it and the more I see how other industries work with certain types of media, I would imagine that it’s probably a more difficult ask to do some of that work quicker turnarounds, probably projects that you imagine might go a certain way, maybe don’t, because you’re answering to maybe people who have. Maybe my idea of what it’s like is totally different than what it’s actually like. I’m starting to think that that might be the case. So in the past, I’ve always thought that maybe I’ll work on entertainment stuff, but maybe not. I think what I have going for me now, which is a variety of types of work that come my way, is a great kind of mix because at times I’m working on very UX heavy work. Then, at other times, I’m working on very UI heavy work, and I think just the mix of projects is what keeps me most interested. It’s almost like you never get bored.

Maurice Cherry:

So you like to have that variety, it sounds like.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. I think that’s one of the main draws to freelancing, is that you get to pick the types of projects that you work on in the mix. So if you’re ever feeling too much of something, you can say, okay, well, this next inquiry that comes in, I won’t take that, I’ll take this other thing, because my plate’s full in that other area. So, yeah, that’s definitely a plus.

Maurice Cherry:

One thing that we’ve been talking about on the show pretty regularly over the past two years is kind of how a lot of this new tech is encroaching upon the creative industry. Maybe encroach is not the right word, but it’s starting to infiltrate into the tools that we use, the way that certain businesses now offer new services, et cetera. I’m curious…with what you do, have you seen any trends or changes in the industry, particularly as it relates to AI or generative AI or something like that?

Jonathan Patterson:

Generative AI pretty much seems like it’s working its way into everything. ChatGPT has all of the, like, DALL-E and all of those types of services. Photoshop, just typing in something and generating it on the spot. It is totally changing the way that we work, the way that I work. Like many People, I think that we’re in this phase where we’re just trying to understand how do we make our businesses kind of bulletproof against some of these new technologies. I think at times people have this idea about, or this feeling that, okay, I can’t wait till things get back to how they were. They’re not going back. This is kind of like we’re here now. It’s just going to kind of keep on happening, and I don’t want to say get worse, but there’s going to be kind of more of this need to reinvent yourself, to come up with ways to stay marketable and relevant.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, have you been using it any in your wor, or…

Jonathan Patterson:

No, I use ChatGPT for sure now. I tend to have it refine my work. So if I’m writing something, whether it be some text for a website or for anything, I like to use ChatGPT to refine my work instead of just be the kind of creator of it. I’ll say that one phenomenon that I do notice is that I tend not to recognize my writing. If chat GPT kind of manipulates it too much, and I think that might be, like, a phenomenon that people may start to realize. I’ve experimented with it, for example, commenting on a blog post or some type of medium article that I saw, where I’ve experimented with using ChatGPT to write my response haphazardly, type something out, pop it in a ChatGPT, have it, rewrite it, make it sound good, and then post it. Then go back and read it. Like a month, two months later, I’m like, okay, did I actually write that? I don’t remember writing that.

So that’s this phenomenon that I’m noticing with ChatGPT. So I use it, and I’ve learned to. Obviously, it’s still fairly new, or I’m new to it, but I try to use it more sparingly so that the work is my work, and I recognize it as such. But in terms of design work, not as much there. I’d say more in the lines of text. Right. I don’t feel like the image generators are exactly up to kind of the level that I would want them to be at. They’re helpful if you want to maybe change something small in an image, but they all had this overly smooth look.

If you try to generate an image from scratch, I’m sure that’s going to change in the future. But for right now, I don’t use it extensively in the kind of visual work that I do. It’s just not capable.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, we’ve had folks that have come on the show before that say they use it kind of like as a mood board or as inspiration. Like, it’s a great way to help spin up ideas. If you have maybe some ambiguity on where to start, it can kind of give you a nudge in that direction. But there still has to be discernment from humans, of course, the ones that are going to be using that stuff to decide how it should be used, if it should be used at all, if it should be changed, et cetera. So it seems like you have a pretty kind of discerning nature about how you use it.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, most definitely. It’s going to change quickly, I might add, too. I think that there’s always this kind of impression that, like, oh, this is far off. Well, technology is kind of exponential in many ways, so while it’s not there yet, it’s probably going to be there faster than I expect. So I guess fingers crossed. I’ve got a little bit more time to be employed.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, let’s kind of switch it up a little bit here. We’ve talked a lot about the work that you’re doing. But let’s learn more about you, about the person behind the invisible hand, so to speak. You mentioned before we started recording you’re in the metro Detroit area. Is that where you’re from originally?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, I’ve always been in this area. Went to school in Westland. I had a class in graphic design. I was, I guess, early on, though, I was kind of always interested in drawing by hand. That’s kind of where it all started, drawing on paper. Mortal Kombat characters. I remember when the Lion King came out, I got a computer. Then I started drawing in, like, Microsoft paint.

Lion King characters. Yeah. So I grew up in Westland or which school in Westland, rather. Then I went over to the Grand Rapids area for school for my degree, and after I graduated, came back and started working at this. I worked at J. Walter Thompson, which is this worldwide advertising agency. They have offices all over. So I was working on regional advertising campaigns.

That was technically an internship, but it was after I’d graduated and I was actually making money and working on projects. So it’s kind of strange, but that was an internship. It was after I graduated. So I did that for a year and then I started working. Once that internship ended, I worked at this full service ad agency, which is again, in the metro Detroit area, and I was doing all types of things. Any creative task that came through the agency, I had my hand in it. So they were full service. They did out of home, digital, print, radio, TV.

So I was the senior art director there, and I did that for about six years, and I decided to kind of break off and do my own thing.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, before we kind of get into that, I want to just kind of step back a little bit to talk about your time at Kendall, because I’m sure if you sort of had this sort of talent as a child where you really were drawing and into this sort of stuff, and then you wanted to pursue it enough where you went to school. Do you feel like your time at Kendall kind of prepared you for getting out there in the world as a designer?

Jonathan Patterson:

I do think it did. Again, things are constantly in flux. Right. Stuff that you learn. I was in college in 2004, so obviously things that I learned back then are not necessarily relevant today. But for the time. At the time, yes, it did prepare me. Now, that said, I did find that I had to, or I’m the type to push myself to learn new things.

So even though I did feel like some of the courses and things like that, I learned a lot, but I didn’t think that they were challenging me as much as I could challenge myself. So I would take it upon myself to kind of just do whatever I could to be learning new things and challenging myself. It’s a great program. I learned a lot there, but learning is never done. You have to constantly learn new software. Things that the programs that we were using back then practically don’t exist now, just things that you were doing then, just not relevant. So for the time, it was great. But I know much more now than I did back then.

Maurice Cherry:

No, I mean, that makes sense. I mean, if you were in college in 2004, I’m just thinking, sort of, what design tools were out there. I mean, I think everything was pretty much Macromedia or Adobe. This is before they, I want to say 2004 is before they merged, because I distinctly remember using fireworks, like right around that time. And I remember Dreamweaver first being Macromedia, Dreamweaver before it became Adobe Dreamweaver. But just in terms of like, I’m thinking, yeah, software and things like that, there’s so much changing in visual communications during that time period. I think also because, and maybe you saw this when you went out into the world after graduating, but companies were then starting to realize how to have a visual presence online. Prior to this, companies were still sort of trying to figure out, well, how do I get on the Internet? Should I be on the Internet? What should that look like? And by this time, like mid-2000s, companies are starting to figure it out.

They’re starting to sort of see how they can represent themselves or represent their brand or their product or their service online in a visual way.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. So when I was in college, it was technically graphic design, so I only had, if memory serves one, maybe two. Two classes. Honestly, I think it was one class on web design or anything like that. So all of my other things were print focused.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, wow.

Jonathan Patterson:

I did learn Quark, but I actually never used Quark outside of school, at least not to any degree. It was always indesign. Indesign was like coming on the scene right when I was going to school and graduating and things like that. So all of my education was really centered around print design. I had a couple of typography classes and Photoshop classes and of course all of your core studies, design fundamentals and all of those art history classes and things like that. So I used GoLive, which doesn’t exist anymore.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, man, I remember GoLive. Oh, you just took me back with that.

Jonathan Patterson:

You know what? Their program was nice work, though. I loved the fact that it was like designing in Photoshop or Illustrator in the sense that you could lay something out on the canvas, then it turns it into the design. Honestly, I only had one Web design class, and it wasn’t until after I started working at that agency, after my internship, after college, where I really started doing more digital work and web work, everything else was like, up until that point was very traditional, advertising based. And that’s actually one of the reasons I did kind of make the switch to full time freelance, is because I’m like, okay, I want to specifically work on digital products, websites, apps, experiences, things like that.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. During that time, as you mentioned, you were kind of studying a lot of stuff with print. That’s another thing, is that the web was sort of changing from, I say, in the early days, it felt like a lot of the web was just taking whatever was in print and directly putting it on the web, whether that was a scan or whether that was a table based layout or something. And so it sort of limited, I think, a lot of expression that brands or companies could have. But then I’d say right around, not even too long after you graduated college, like 2005, 2006, things switched over to CSS, and then you could now float things across the page and change alignment in these ways that broke you out of this grid based kind of print format that I think a lot of early design was in. And it allowed you to sort of really kind of go outside the box with different types of design and things of that nature. So to me, it does make sense to freelance during that time, because if you’re working at a company, and I just know this because I did work at a company, when that happened, it is so much hassle to change things internally after you already have one set of processes, whether this is how it’s always been done or this is how we want to do it, as opposed to when you’re a freelancer, you can change on a dime if you need to. You can just focus on a specific type of product or a different type of service, but you can adopt and change, do things much quicker than larger companies or larger firms or agencies can.

Jonathan Patterson:

Oh, yeah, most definitely. And I think that you need to be able to do that. Right. I’ve had the kind of luxury of being able to experiment with. All right, so what interests me? What are people asking for? What are people reaching out to me for? And I have a lot of interest in terms of the design space. So while that may not work for everybody, it worked for me because back in the day, I had people, independent app developers, for example, making their first app for the iPhone and they need somebody to design it. That was kind of how I got my intro into designing for iOS was app developers reaching out to me saying they needed some design help. I’m like, this is fun.

Let me try this. So I did that. So my degree is in graphic design, but due to my wide range of interests, I have been able to kind of explore working in all aspects. And one of the things I’ve done is transition some of the skills that I’ve learned that apply to other design mediums into more marketable skills. So, for example, an ability to use Adobe illustrator very well and make cool looking icons, well, how that looks today for me is I use this program called Blender 3D. I wouldn’t call myself like a 3D artist. Rather, I’ll call them illustrations because I’m not focusing on how to make something technically accurate for 3D printing or for the architecture space,.right?

It’s more like, how can I add on this medium to enhance the product design work that I do, right. So if I’m creating a website or something like that, or an app, and it needs some cool animation or content to be designed that we want to manipulate, when the user hovers their cursor over it or taps it or something like that, that’s kind of where my skills come into play. So I try to develop this skill set of deliverables that can all work together.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, when you look back at your time at Quill, I know that was sort of what you mentioned prior, before we talked about Kendall a little bit. You wa ere there for almost six years. You were their senior art director. What sort of was the impetus for you to start your own business?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, well, and to be clear, too, so I was the senior art director, but they were, we’ll say, a small to medium sized company. So it’s not that we had a ton of people there. So the reason that I decided to leave is what you were asking, is that right?

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I guess you could say that. I mean, unless that was sort of part of the reason for you wanted to start your own business, was that you wanted to leave.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I’ll say that I was just maybe starting to Plateau at the company. Maybe there wasn’t enough kind of upward opportunity. And again, I also wanted to focus exclusively on digital products and services versus having to work on prints and radio and broadcast. Also, I feel like I was capable of executing the types of experiences myself that the firm’s clients were looking for. So as is so often the case, pay was also starting to become an issue. And in the end, I felt like I wasn’t making enough as I could make, and I didn’t see much evidence that that would change. So that said, I did learn a great deal about the ins and outs of how to run a business. One of the most important lessons I got to see firsthand was how clients don’t hire you simply because you’re good at what you do.

They hire you because you’re capable of doing the work and you’re a likable person. You seem like you’ll be fun to work with. But the agency was, again, small to mid sized. So in a sense, I kind of, like, shadowed the owners, and I was able to learn how to talk to prospective clients and write proposals and run meetings and all of the other things they don’t teach you in college.

Maurice Cherry:

I think that’s fair. You get to a point where you feel like you could do this yourself or you could maybe do it better and you strike out on your own, and that’s what you did.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah. Well, again, too, people were. It made it easy because people were reaching out to me in my personal email and saying, hey, can you help me with this? Can you help me with that? I’m like, okay, well, maybe I should try this.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I completely understand that because that’s the same way that I started my business. I was working at, at T and honestly hated it and just really felt like I could do better. I felt like I did reach that plateau where it’s like, I don’t know if this is going to get any better for me anywhere else. There were other issues there, too, just in terms of the staff, but in terms of just your personal fulfillment as a designer, I knew that I could be doing better work than this and could possibly be getting paid better, but this can’t be. The high point of my career is having a 15 minutes lunch break on a twelve hour shift. I can’t do this. Right.

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I will say, though, too, at the time, it was in college, I was working at retail jobs, and that’s never fun, especially as a design person. You want to be doing work, that’s like, what you’re going to school for. So when I got that job, for the time that I was there, it was generally like, okay, this is where I need to be. I worked hard. It wasn’t that I wasn’t making any money, I was making good money. But I’m like, okay, I can make better money.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, totally. I get it. I 100% get that. How were those early years?

Jonathan Patterson:

Of business freelancing, early years of business. They were good. I would say that back then, I found myself working on a lot of smaller projects. Right. Projects that can be completed in a couple of days or a few hours versus these days. It’s like, okay, it requires a week minimum, or several weeks or several months. So back in the day, it was a lot of like…there were times where I’d be working for seven days a week.

I’m like, okay. I’d start getting stressed out because I’m like, okay, too many small projects, constantly working. I was making enough money, but the problem I had back then was too many small projects. Once you start running out of time to work on them, then you get stressed. So as the years have ticked by, I’ve slowly kind of expanded the scale of projects that I work on. And sometimes there’s some ebb and flow there, right? It can be very busy. Sometimes it can be a little bit slower. But I would say in general, the scale of the projects have changed over the years.

Maurice Cherry:

How do you approach a new project? Like, say you’re working with a client or something comes across in your inbox? What does that intake process look like?

Jonathan Patterson:

I think probably the more interesting part would be like, maybe my creative process. So it kind of starts with just asking a bunch of questions and understanding the problem to make sure I’m solving for the right thing. Suffice to say, there’s this extensive fact finding, goal setting, and planning process. But maybe the creative process is a bit more, I’d say, unique or just my own. It starts with taking inspiration from everywhere I watch movies. I think that medium inspires my creative process a lot. I think it’s so different from product design that it makes it easy to come up with an original idea based on a narrative that I saw. I think probably the most compelling creative ideas come from the mixing of unexpected connections that you can make between topics that are not already connected.

It’s almost like the magic comes from bringing those two concepts together in a novel way. But I try to take inspiration from everywhere and bring that work into the product design work that I do. In addition to that, I think, of course, surfing the web daily, you just come across things that naturally will someday work their way into inspiration for a project that I’ll work on. So I keep like, boulders of interfaces and websites and illustrations and animations on my desktop to kind of just refer to. I do consider myself in the business of selling ideas, so I’ll say this. Too often clients are eager to spend a budget if you hit them with something that kind of strikes their imagination, and having my go to folders that I can inspire myself from is a good starting point. So, actually, one of the things I’ll do to jump start a creative process or get a project off the ground and up and running is kind of like, after I have a meeting or a phone call with a prospective client, I will send them this preliminary or kind of like cursory email with some creative ideas, and that’ll get their wheels turning. And then the next thing I know, I’ve got them asking me to send a full proposal.

And then we’re often working on a new project.

Maurice Cherry:

When you look back over, I don’t know, let’s say, like the past, we’ll say five years, we’ll roll the pandemic into this. What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about yourself?

Jonathan Patterson:

Biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself. I don’t know that I’d learned anything new. And maybe that’s because I’ve been freelancing for way before the pandemic started. Everybody was kind of like, clamoring when it all went down, getting their office set up, trying to understand how to freelance or work remotely. I’m like, I’ve been doing this for ten years at the point that the pandemic started. So that was easy for me. I felt like…I’m like…I’ve been social distancing for ten years now. I already had everything set up, my billing software, my processes were in place.

I was able to experiment with different ways of working with clients. Do I work with them on a retainer? Do I work with them on a fixed price? What’s my rate? Do I sign NDAs ahead of time? Or do I never sign NDAs? That was one of the things that I’m getting a little off track, but I think maybe a little bit relevant. I think that I very much enjoy the. Am thankful for the fact that I was able to see what works and what doesn’t work, which is different than working for somebody else. Right. When you work for somebody else, they tell you what you can say in your email to the client. They tell you how to Bill, they tell you the process that you have to structure your files through. Those are all things that I got to do my way or just trial and error.

I think there’s something to be said for the ability to see what works and what doesn’t work for yourself.

Maurice Cherry:

Right?

Jonathan Patterson:

Again, I guess that wasn’t new to me, but that was something that I imagine a lot of people probably started to get wind of when the pandemic hit. And what they learned about themselves is probably some of those things that I had learned up to that point.

Maurice Cherry:

But you’ve been good. You’re good.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, I’ve made all the mistakes. I think that one of the things that I have learned over the years was that not everybody communicates the same way. I think that I have a very. In the past, I probably was much more direct than people that people tend to be like, if I have a question about something or if I just legitimately think that the client needs to hear some particular feedback, I would just say it. But I learned that, okay, sometimes you can’t just say it. You have to ease them into it. And that’s something that you can’t if you’re working for. I guess to bring my sharp point to this idea, it’s like when you’re working for somebody, they tell you that you can’t say this when you’re working for yourself.

You can try it and see what happens. And I certainly did that. So I made all the mistakes, but I think I’m better for it.

Maurice Cherry:

I got you. I feel you. Okay, so what are sort of the next steps of growth for your business? Like, where do you want to take it?

Jonathan Patterson:

I want to take it. I think that I have always wanted to remain in, I guess, a small business. Like, I don’t have any employees, and that’s by design. I think with employees comes other headaches. Right. You have to make sure that, well, I don’t know. I don’t have any employees, but I’m just guessing. It’s like you have to pay for insurance and all of those other things.

Many more expenses, overhead. It’s just a much different, kind of, like a ballgame. I feel like I would be managing people more than I am doing work, which is what I do now. When clients reach out to me, they’re looking for something to get done. I think my business is, I’m happy with kind of where it’s at. I’ve helped other clients of mine who say they’re like, oh, I wish I would have gone your route and not hired employees and just stayed small. So many fewer headaches to contend with. I had an attorney who I did work for who told me that.

So, yeah, I think just based on my experience and things that I’ve heard, I think it’s just as easy to stay small.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Where do you kind of pull strength from? Like, what motivates you to keep doing this work?

Jonathan Patterson:

Well, I’ve always been a creative person. I think creativity can manifest itself in many ways. Right? So while I don’t think I’ll do product design forever, I will always be in the creative space. So, for example, I used to play the piano for many years. I took classes in school. I took them outside of school. My mom hired somebody to take me to get lessons from. So I’ve done music oriented endeavors.

I’ve, like I mentioned, had an interest in drawing by hand. I then kind of transformed that into graphic design. Now I’m in product design. So I will always be in the creative space, in the digital space. I think there’s so many foundations to design that are transferable, right? So all of the foundations, color, scale, contrast, repetition, light, texture, those things can apply to interior design, print design, furniture design. So I very much see that I will be in some creative space now. Which one? That is in the future. I’m not sure for the time being it will be.

It’s going to definitely be product design. But I think in the long term, I could see myself going into something probably in the fine art space, right. I think my career, for the most part, up until this point, has been commercial design. Right? It’s about how to sell a product or a service or get somebody to take an action based on. It’s less art. Granted, there are a lot of visual components to the work that I do, but at the end of the day, it’s not art because we’re selling something or making something or convincing people or educating people on why they want to buy a service or a product versus art or a personal expression that is more about self expression. Right. So you think of sculptures or paintings or woodwork or something like that.

So I think in the future, my interest will probably be more in the focus on things that are not, like, consumer focused.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. Where do you see yourself in general in the next five years? I mean, I know we kind of talked a little bit about where you want to take the business, but when you look in the future, based on where you are now, what kind of things do you want to be doing, especially with.

Jonathan Patterson:

I’m very interested to see all of our AR and VR experiences start coming into play. I know that there are a lot of mixed reviews on how that’s going to look in the future of the metaverse and all of that. Personally, I’m interested in working in that space. I think it’s just going to be so new. Right. A lot of the work that we do in UX and UI design today for screens is there are many design patterns and tried and true methods to pull from. I’m interested in establishing and working in and setting up kind of new paradigms and principles and patterns for devices that are upcoming.

So I’m very excited about the Vision Pro. When that comes out, I’ll probably start to tinker around in that space. I’ll have to give me one of those when it comes out, start designing. And I do imagine maybe a similar kind of pattern as to what I experienced before, where if I’m offering services that are tailored toward developers who are creating products for vision Pro, they probably need some design assistance with it. So that’s kind of me keeping up with the times. It’s how can I tailor my services to be in demand and where the market is going? Which is one of the reasons I actually had an interest in three D. One of many reasons I’ve had an interest in 3D in the last few years is because I saw or I read that these types of experiences are coming and I want to be able to be able to create assets and just work in this space. So yeah, that’s an area I’m very excited about is VR, aR, that type of work.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Where can they hire you? Where can they find all of that information? Online?

Jonathan Patterson:

Definitely at my website, which is jonathanpatterson.com. I am on X – @jonpatterson_. That’s J-O-N underscore Patterson, of course. Linkedin.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Jonathan Patterson, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you really, for kind of diving deep into your business and kind of exploring why you do what you do what you do in terms of services and things of that nature. I think it’s important, especially now at this time, when people, for one reason or another, might be out there trying to find their next path or like what the next thing is that they’re going to do to really sort of see what someone who has been out here doing this for a long time is doing. So they can maybe look at how they structure their work or their business. But I think what you’re doing is great. I know you mentioned something about sort of having the work speak for itself and being the invisible hand. I’ll tell you that once you start speaking, that kind of goes a little bit out the window.

Yeah, I know, because the work doesn’t have a mouth, you do. So it’s like, as you start getting out there and speaking more. And I think certainly as people really see more of you, as well as the work, you’ll take off for sure. I mean, certainly what you’re doing now is really great work, but I’m excited to see where you go in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jonathan Patterson:

Yeah, well, thanks for having me.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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If you know how to deliver excellent creative work reliably, and enjoy the autonomy of a virtual-based, freelance life (with no non-competes), check them out at brevityandwit.com.

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André Foster

If you’ve been listening to the podcast over the past year or two, you know that the use of AI has been a constant thread through nearly every episode. And this week’s guest, André Foster, has embraced this new tech as part of his creative practice while still producing top notch motion design and animation work through his studio, First Fight.

André gave a rundown on some of the client work and the day-to-day happenings at First Fight, and discussed the importance of perseverance and continuous improvement through difficult social and economic times. The conversation then dives into the use of AI in the creative industry, and from there André talk about his upbringing in Detroit, the city’s creative community, and Bond — James Bond.

For André, resilience, adaptability, and personal growth have been the keys to his success!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

André Foster:

My name is Andre Foster. I’m the co-founder and owner of First Fight, a creative studio and production house based in Detroit, Michigan that helps brands hit above their weight with style and motion. And what that really means is that we use our own unique style of animation, design and live action to bring our clients message to life. For broadcast or for digital, Disney+, Instagram, Fox Sports, StockX, and Dave & Buster’s are just some of the brands that we’ve worked with.

Maurice Cherry:

Impressive. Really impressive.

André Foster:

Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:

How has this year been going so far?

André Foster:

This year has been rough and not just for us, but I think just for a lot of studios as well. I think the economy hasn’t been that great, so it’s really caused a lot of our clients to kind of tighten their spending. Layoffs, strikes…[it’s] just a lot of uncertainty in the industry. I think that’s been a part of this whole thing that’s just part of being a business owner is just going through the highs and lows of it. But I think what’s been good about it is that it’s really made us refocus on our brand. Just kind of hone in on the actual service of what we provide. I think we really came to the realization that the creative is just one part of it. It’s really just how you can network and how you can execute what you do and how you present that to your clients and even to potential clients.

Maurice Cherry:

How would you say — I mean, aside from just kind of the change like you said in clients and budgets and stuff — how would you say that you personally have grown over the past year?

André Foster:

Yeah, it really put me in a space where I had to really just keep going. I think this whole year just showed me that you have to just be strong and just be able to adapt and then just really just keep doing what you’ve been doing. And then just as I said before, just kind of refocus and make sure that you can just try to just be as good as the service that you’re trying to provide. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. So it’s really just, again, just making sure that you hone in on what it is that you do, what you’re good at and how you’re different. And then like I said, just keep sending the emails out and just keep promoting yourself and just keep trying to put yourself out there as much as you can and just really just trust in the process while you do that. And then while you do do that, you just make sure that you just concentrate on the craft and just figure out ways how to be better.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, as you said that, it sort of reminded me of that saying people have when they say, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” Like…just sort of find a way to persevere. And I mean, you and I — we talked about this a little bit before we started recording — but it’s been tough for, I think, a lot of creatives this year just in terms of budgets and clients and finding work. And it’s definitely a trying time right now in the creative industry overall. But it sounds like you’re weathering it pretty well.

André Foster:

Yeah, I’m not going to lie, it’s been extremely rough. But as you said, we’ve been weathering it and we’ve just been trying to find work where we can and just again, like I said, just make sure that we trust in the process and just make sure that we keep continue to network and just be able to try to continue to put our brand out there as much as we can.

Maurice Cherry:

Let’s help with that. Let’s talk about First Fight, which you co founded back in 2016 and you just mentioned earlier. Tell me more about it. Tell me more about some of the services and things that you offer.

André Foster:

We primarily do animation and then we do live action as well. With that, we do a lot of design. We do a lot of illustration work too. Along with that, we also do a lot of strategy when it comes to the digital campaigns that we create the content for. So that’s really kind of a newer service that we’ve added onto our team. But really it’s just really just trying to emphasize the uniqueness of what we do and how we do it. Style, emotion is the thing that we always say that we have that we can owner our clients. But yeah, animation and live action and just make sure that we’re trying to get our clients message across in a unique way that stands out.

And for me it’s fun because it’s always interesting how we can try to do something a little bit different than what’s been done before. Our clients pretty much are kind of like in the same industry, but it could kind of range. We deal mostly in the entertainment industry, but lately we’ve been doing a lot of stuff for the self-driving industry, the autonomous, autonomous industry. So it’s kind of just switching it up and just seeing what’s out there and how we could try to bring our voice to their message.

Maurice Cherry:

I was going to ask you about clients. I mean, you mentioned some earlier that you’re working with. Of course, you know, being in Detroit, big automotive center here in the U.S. — Chevy, Ford, Cadillac — but then you also mentioned Disney+. Dave & Buster’s is a client of yours, know, just to name a few. What are the best types of clients that you prefer to work with?

André Foster:

I think the best type of clients are the clients that can trust our expertise and just really just let us go. I mean, that’s not to say that we don’t like to collaborate because we definitely like to do that. But having clients that can really trust in what you’re able to bring to them and just let us go, I think that’s probably the best type of clients that we like to work with. And then also it helps too that they can pay you like how you should be paid. That’s a definite know. That’s something that we look for because we are in a business and we just want to make sure that the value of what we do, we get compensated for. So the Disney Pluses and the Dave & Buster’s, you know, those type of clients, we really don’t have issue with that. So it really just allows us to be able to come up with some great work for them and just go.

Maurice Cherry:

I know you said entertainment was kind of one field that you’re working in, and then of course, the automotive industry. Are those kind of the two main industries that you prefer to work with?

André Foster:

Yeah, pretty much. I mean, we’ve kind of just fell into that, I think, because we are based in Detroit. So the automotive industry is kind of like right in our backyard. But what’s interesting is that some of the stuff that we have done when it comes to automotive industry has been kind of cool because it’s kind of allowed us to be a little bit more creative in terms of showing the car. And actually there’s been some situations where we haven’t really shown the car at all. It’s just been like a lot of lifestyle imagery and stuff like that. So it’s kind of helped us in terms of just being a little bit more creative and just showing the car itself and just making it a little bit more interesting.

Maurice Cherry:

What does your day-to-day work look like at First Fight?

André Foster:

A lot of emails, sending emails out and just checking behind the status of some projects that we have in-house and then making sure that our animators and that our team, they know what it is that they need to do and just checking behind them. I probably shouldn’t say checking behind them, just making sure that what they’re working on is it fits what the project is and what the message is for that project. Just making sure that they understand the assignment, and do it in the brand voice of what First Fight is about.

Maurice Cherry:

What would you say kind of really sets First Fight apart from other studios?

André Foster:

Well, one, I mean, we’re one of the few Black-owned agencies — probably shouldn’t say agencies — or creative studios in the industry. So I think that by itself is definitely what they necessarily apart. But I think it’s really just the foundation of design and illustration. I think that’s one thing that kind of distinguishes us from other studios because we have such a strong foundation of that. I think that we tap into that with some of most of the work that we do, even though we do a lot of different stuff. We do editing and we do some visual effects, and then, like I said, we do live action. But even with those, there’s some fundamental things that we put in that that we take from what we learn with design and illustration, whether it’s compositing or composing a picture and making sure that there’s enough contrast to get the visual interest of what it is that we’re trying to show.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, let’s say when new work comes in, because you’re offering all these different services and you said strategy is even, like, something kind of new that you’re offering. When a new project kind of comes in the door, what does that process look like in terms of getting started and everything?

André Foster:

We get a request, whether it’s through email or we may just get a phone call, and the client will come in with a brief and then we read over the brief and then we kind of get a sense of what the vision is that the client is kind of going for. So I think it’s really the initial brief. And then from that, we just kind of figure out. Like, well, okay, whether or not it’s going to be 30 seconds long, is it 60 seconds? And then we kind of figure out what is the budget for it, and then we kind of craft a plan from that and then really just kind of get a better understanding of what exactly is the message that the client is trying to say with it within the constraints of the budget that they have. Because sometimes the budget is just not there. Sometimes, like I said, we just try to make sure that we try to do what we can within the budget and make sure that we still are able to give the client what they need to get the message across.

Maurice Cherry:

I’d imagine with maybe some of the bigger clients, maybe that’s an easier process. Is that true?

André Foster:

Yeah, they kind of just let you go. And the great thing about the bigger clients is that the budget is not really an issue. So it kind of allows us to be able to go for what we know and just have fun with it and then just really just have fun with it and challenge ourselves, because I think we always are trying to do that anyway in terms of how we execute these things for our clients, whether it’s through animation, video production, and even with the strategy. We’re always trying to figure out…what is the different angle that we can take? How can we make this project different than what’s been done before? And that’s something that we always try to do. I mean, that’s kind of the fight that we always go through. And really, sometimes the fight is within ourselves because we’re trying to fight against what we’ve seen before. How can we make it different than what was? Because it’s so hard to come up with something that’s original nowadays because it’s so much stuff out there.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I’m glad you said that, because that actually is a good lead into what I wanted to ask about with regards to AI and some of this emerging tech in the creative industry. I think across writing, design, animation, illustration, et cetera, we’ve started to see a lot more adoption of AI tools, both good and bad. I mean, the tools are often trained on other people’s work without their consent, so that’s a bad thing. But then some people are using them or trying to use them, I think, in effective ways. I know back when Disney+ had launched — not launched, they premiered — the season of…

André Foster:

Secret Invasion.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Secret invasion. Thank you.

And the whole intro was done with AI. And there was sort of this kind of big negative backlash against it and everything. I’m curious, are you using AI in any of your work, or do you have any just kind of thoughts around AI and any of these emerging technologies in the field?

André Foster:

Yeah. We do use AI. And I think what I’ve seen is that I think a lot of people are using it the wrong way, because when we started using AI, we kind of took it as a high leve, well, kind of a Pinterest. Like a high level of what a Pinterest would do for you.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, like a mood board or something.

André Foster:

Yeah. But the only big difference is that you can really customize it to what it is that you’re trying to do in terms of getting an idea, or even just trying to figure out a different color palette. Because what’s cool about using AI, because…I use Midjourney, and what’s cool about Midjourney is it can give you an idea that you never even really thought about, or, like I said, even a color palette that you didn’t even think about. We’re kind of using it in that regard. I don’t think you should use or present AI as a final image. I think if you don’t go back in it, if you don’t try to alter it in some way and then kind of make it ownable to yourself and to what you do, I think that’s where the problem kind of comes in. But, yeah, I mean, we just use it as kind of like a really high level Pinterest.

Maurice Cherry:

I would tell people that ways that I’ve used it before is kind of almost like a decent intern to come up with ideas to bounce things off of. But I wouldn’t necessarily take what one of these tools like — say, ChatGPT for example — I wouldn’t necessarily use what they have flat out as my own, and certainly I wouldn’t pass it off as my own. But it can be inspiration for something else. It could say, “okay, well, I didn’t think about this”, or “maybe I can reword this in a different way now that I’ve got a spark of an idea that this AI has generated.”

André Foster:

Exactly. Yeah. And I’m the same way with ChatGPT, because I’ve used it in the past and I’ll have it write something, and then I usually have to go back in and just make it sound like myself. But for the most part, it does most of the heavy lifting, and it’s just really not meant for you to just have it come straight out the box or present it as yourself without even putting yourself in it somehow, some way. I think with Midjourney, there’s a reason why it’s called Midjourney. It’s really just meant to get you halfway there. That’s the way I took it.

Maurice Cherry:

I thought you were going to say, because the output is mid, but I get that, too. I like your explanation better.

André Foster:

Yeah. And I really thought that was the whole point of it. I mean, maybe the developers probably had a different idea of what the name meant. I like to think that that’s what they wanted it to do.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

André Foster:

Because it’s not meant to replace the artist. It’s just there to get them to a certain point and then have them finish it.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, how do you think clients would feel about that? Do you think they’d think, “oh, well, if you’re using AI, I could do that myself”?

André Foster:

Yeah, some clients may think that. I think any edge that you can have in this industry, you should try to take advantage of it. Because in an industry where things are constantly being due the next day and the budgets are getting a little bit shorter, you have to try to find ways to be able to be efficient and to be able to still play in this game. So I think any advantage that you can get, you should try to use it. I really don’t think that they really care because I think the whole controversy has been just more about what the artists themselves in the industry, I think with the clients themselves, I don’t think they really care. I think as long as you’re able to get their message across, make it look good, and it does what it needs to do for them, I think that’s all what they really care about.

Maurice Cherry:

I think so, too. I mean, it’s so interesting. Like, back when I had my studio and I had clients, it would be so interesting to talk with other designers and they go so much into their process, and they use this in Photoshop or they use Sketch or they’re using Illustrator and all that stuff, and the client doesn’t care about that. The client just cares about their end result. They really don’t want to know the nuts and bolts. I mean, some clients do, but as a whole, they’re not really concerned with how the sausage is made. They just want the sausage.

André Foster:

Exactly. Yeah. I think it’s kind of a bougie kind of attitude, like some artists take. I kind of get it. Well, when I say that toward using it, and I kind of get it. And I think there is a lot of training that goes into what we do, because I have an illustration major. That’s what I went to school for, so I understand the fundamentals and the foundations of it. I know it takes a lot of time to be able to get good at that and to understand it.

But what’s interesting is that with AI, what I see nowadays, I feel like everything kind of looks the same. And I can always tell when somebody who doesn’t have any traditional training, they’ll just put stuff out just because they think it looks cool. But I can see all the different things that’s wrong with it, right, because they haven’t developed that type of taste when it comes to design. Like, you can type in anything into Midjourney and have it spit out something, but if you don’t know how to filter it out and figure out, like, well, this image doesn’t look good, or whatever, that kind of goes back to how you’ve been trained traditionally. But if you’re just putting stuff out left and right, you’re kind of giving yourself away, like you really don’t know what you’re doing. Just typing in prompts.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s another tool to use as the designer. You have the discernment, you have the eye, you have the experience to be able to kind of know what to look for, and know how to craft it in the right way. I do see…a lot of the AI art does have the very similar just sort of style to it. Like, you can look at something and just tell, like, “yep, that’s AI”.

André Foster:

Yeah, it’s a dead giveaway. It kind of reminds me of when…and I’m actually old enough to remember when people used to use airbrush. I remember when airbrush first started coming out and the look of airbrush was so different than, like, a traditional brush painting, and it had kind of that slickness and that real smoothness and stuff like that. And I think there was a lot of people who at least back then, thought that, well, it looks too perfect, it looks too generic, or it looks too whatever. And even back then, people were, like, just getting on airbrush artists like, “well, why don’t you just learn how to paint?” But it’s funny because I kind of see it happening now with AI, because it kind of has that same thing happening. It feels the same, and it doesn’t have any soul to it. That’s why I say I think anything that you use or have come out of Midjourney, you should be able to try to put yourself into it because that’s where the personality comes in.

Like I said, just make it honorable and make it your own and just enhance on it. Because, again, I can’t say this enough. It’s really only meant to get you halfway there.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Like I’ve used ChatGPT. I haven’t used Midjourney or DALL-E for any of the other sort of image generation ones I have done. Like, I think this might have started a little bit last year when people were getting all of those AI profile pictures made. And it was so funny, the conversation around that at the time, because folks were like…one, they were astounded that they had to pay for it. They were like, “what do you mean I have to pay? Like, it’s $8. You paid $8?” And, I mean, not even a lot of money.

Like, $8 is not a lot of money. But people were, one, astounded that they had to pay, and then two, the way that they talked about the quality was just sort of weird. Like, some of them, of course, the art looks like the person. Some of them it doesn’t, because you’re not working with an artist, you’re working with an algorithm. So what you get out of it is what you put into it in that aspect. But, yeah, it’s now hit the mainstream in a way. I haven’t used any of the larger tools, like I said, DALL-E or Midjourney, but I think I want to try to get started with them just to see what it’s like.

André Foster:

Yeah, it’s fun, don’t get me wrong, because I think what I have seen is a lot of people who use Midjourney who I think maybe got sidetracked with life, and maybe they weren’t the best drawer or maybe they weren’t the best designer. And I think that program allowed them to just really tap back into that creative side. And I can see the excitement behind that, and I really do, because it’s just ignites that part of them that just kind of went away because they didn’t think that they were good enough. I think you need to be responsible with it, too, and just understand that it is a tool. It’s not really meant to replace anybody.

Maurice Cherry:

Right, absolutely.

André Foster:

Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

So let’s kind of change it up a little bit here. You mentioned being in Detroit, so I’d love to just kind of know more about you personally. Are you from Detroit originally?

André Foster:

Yeah, born and raised in Detroit. On the west side. West side of Detroit. I got all of my education here in Detroit. It’s funny because when I go to different places like New York and Chicago, people used to or even on the West Coast, I would tell people I was from Detroit, and they would always kind of give me this “oh, wow, you from Detroit?” Like…and this is pretty much why you still have kind of this negative connotation about Detroit.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

André Foster:

So it’s apparent to me, like, they haven’t been here, like, how it is now, as opposed to what it was back, like, maybe 20 years ago for something like that, or maybe even ten years ago. Because it’s different from ten years now. But I’m proud to be from Detroit. I think I embrace everything that it is to be a Detroiter. I love the swag that we have, the kind of blue collar, hardworking feeling that I think everybody who is from Detroit, they carry with them. So every time when I go out, I just try to represent Detroit the best way that I can.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, growing up in Detroit, were you always kind of interested in design and animation and that kind of stuff?

André Foster:

Yes. I owe a lot to my mom because she really was the one that got me involved into…I think it was Saturday afternoon drawing classes. She saw me drawing a lot, and I was a big comic book collector, too. So what I would do, I would actually trace the panels of the artists that were drawing in these comic books. So she really saw that I love to draw, and then I had just a real passion for it, but she was the one that really just kept on it and kept me going and got me involved in a lot of different after school classes, you know, as I said, Saturday classes, it just kind of kept going. She was also the one that really boosted me up. She was the one that kidn of, and I like to say that, she ordained me to be great. And I think every parent should do that with their kid. You’re like, you know, “you are going to be great one day.”

Sometimes when you say that to your kids, they look at you like, “yeah, whatever.” They just kind of blow it off. But whether they know it or not, I think subconsciously, when you have somebody that keeps telling you that, it does stick with you; it just really does make you kind of carry yourself in a different way. And it makes you a little bit more…a little bit more passionate about what it is that you do, because you kind of have this expectation put on you. So I think that what my mom did is she really put that expectation on me. She used to drive people crazy, like, just random strangers. I remember one time she had a guy come by the house to fix, like, the furnace or something like that, and he came in, did this thing, and I remember he was getting ready to leave, and so she said, “oh, wait a minute, wait, I want to introduce you to my son.” And so he’s just looking there, standing there, waiting to get his check.

He said, “this is my son.” And then she held her hands out like, “this is my son, the artist.”

Maurice Cherry:

Wow.

André Foster:

And the guy was…I remember the guy was like, “okay, great. Yeah. All right, can I go now?”

Maurice Cherry:

No, I love that. I love that mom was bigging you up. That’s good.

André Foster:

Yeah. Back then, like I said, you really don’t pay attention to it or almost even kind of annoyed by it. But I’m really appreciative of her for doing that because even still to this day, I carry that kind of confidence in my ability and just that expectation. Like, I want to be better than what I was yesterday. I want the studio to be better than it was last year or even last month. I carry that with me.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you talked about, you know, also being educated in Detroit. You went to the College for Creative Studies where you studied fine and studio arts. What was your time like there?

André Foster:

My time there was interesting. I was so focused and so determined to be as good as I could while I was going there. What was interesting, too, is that I was working part-time when I was going there. So I actually went to art school for like nine years.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, wow.

André Foster:

Yeah. So it was a long time, and back then, CCS wasn’t as diverse as what it is now, so it was majority white, and I was really the only Black guy in these classes. It was interesting, but I was focused, but I was also very competitive. I remember thinking that every time I would go into these classrooms with these other students and this is going to sound really bad to say this, but I wanted to destroy everybody in that classroom. I’m pretty competitive, but when it comes to the craft in a good way, competitive in a good way. But I didn’t really want to destroy them. I just wanted to show what I can do.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, from the numerous people I’ve had on the show have told me that art school is super competitive. So that makes sense.

André Foster:

Yeah. Especially only a Black guy, too. A little bit extra on top of that. It was an interesting time. I think it went by fast even though it was nine years. But I learned a lot. I was able to foster some good relationships from my time there. Actually, one of my mentors, that’s how I met her, because she was teaching her Laura Parloff. I want to give her some love. But yeah, she was a big influence to me while I was going there. Still to this day, she’s a big influence. So I was able to pick up a lot of good key relationships from my time there.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. And I mean, you were also there during a time when I feel like the industry was starting to embrace technology and computers as part of the craft. I feel like that probably definitely was a big part of your time there, right?

André Foster:

Yeah. It’s funny because when I came up, I was right there at that transition where people started using Wacom tablets. And I remember for a long time I didn’t want to use a Wacom tablet. I didn’t really want to use a mouse to draw on a computer because, believe it or not, people used to use a mouse to draw on a computer. I would just scan in my drawings and then just take it into Photoshop and try to manipulate them. That way. Before then, I would do storyboards markers. I’ll be surprised if I know what markers are, but I used to draw with them and know, do it the old fashioned way.

So when I was coming out, when I first started going to CCS, that’s when that whole big transition started happening. So I was able to have kind of the best of both worlds, that traditional kind of upbringing, and then really just seeing the new beginnings of the new technology happening. So I feel pretty lucky. It’s funny because I feel like it’s happening again. It’s always constantly happening.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’ve talked about this on the show before, how this time right now, when people are getting into using AI tools and the metaverse and all that sort of stuff, reminds me so much of just like, the early Web and people trying to figure out, well, should I even have my business online? And how do I design a web page? And all this sort of stuff. Like, it’s parallels to it as the technology innovates, I guess.

André Foster:

Yeah. And I remember when I started at Skidmore, when I graduated from CCS, I was the one who was teaching some of the older artists how to draw in painter and photoshop and stuff like that, because they were kind of like from the old guard. They would paint with traditional brushes and use traditional paint to make these beautiful paintings. I think when I first started there, that’s when they knew that, oh, wow, I got to learn this shit too. I got to learn something new. I spent all these years trying to get as good as I am. Now I got to try to switch gears up a little bit. But, yeah, I feel very fortunate that I did come up the way that I did because, like I said, I was able to kind of experience the best of both worlds.

And I think it allowed me to be open or even just know that nothing stays the same. You can’t get comfortable. You have to just keep learning. Learning. It’s just an ongoing thing, right? And you don’t ever want to be dated and you don’t want to be me. Just not relevant.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I think that’s something now, again, to bring it back to talking about the AI tools and stuff, I’m starting to get my feet wet using some of it, just because I know that anybody can, I think, look at the news and see how much technology has been implementing all these AI features. So clearly the industry is moving forward with it at a pretty fast rate. So I’m like, “well, I need to get on it. I need to see what it’s like.” For me, I’ve started out with just doing ChatGPT and just trying to get really good at using it and prompts and stuff like that. But I want to get into DALL-E and Midjourney and just sort of see what I can come up with. I know that there are some other folks I’ve seen on LinkedIn that have been posting a lot of their experiments with it and it looks amazing. It looks amazing.

André Foster:

Again, it sparks that creative juice within you. And I think what probably was happening, like some of the tools kind of prevented the creative to keep going. And what I mean by that is, let’s say, for instance, because I’m a Maya guy — so I work in Autodesk Maya, which is like a 3D program — which anybody who ever uses Maya knows that it is a deep, hard program to get into. The biggest thing that I had to learn is that working, especially in 3D, is that it’s different in a traditional sense because you have to wait to see the result. There’s like steps to it in a lot of different ways. It kind of deters the creative because you do have to wait. And I think the creative happens. It really lights fires when you’re able to just keep going and just keep going at it.

You don’t really have to think about it too much. Yeah, I think that’s what AI does. It just kind of helps speed the process up and it makes your imagination go wild. You don’t have to wait on stuff like you used to do or still do in some cases. So I do understand the allure of AI, and AI is not going away. So people should just realize that and accept it. And I don’t think you definitely don’t want to be the person who is going to be left behind with that because I think you should understand it enough to where you can use it. You don’t have to get deep into it.

But again, like I said, you don’t want to be left behind because it’s not going away. You just won’t be able to understand the technology and how to use it for what it is that you do. This already is a big part of our lives and AI really hasn’t just shown up on the scene. I mean, it’s been around since the 50s. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Yeah, there’s nothing really new. It’s just a little bit more prominent with some of these newer softwares that they’ve come out with.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, artificial intelligence is a broad field and if you just think about all the different ways it’s been implemented, I mean, you could say spell check in a way is kind of a form of AI. Or Photoshop, like content-aware fill or anything like that. So as the technology has gotten more advanced, we’ve just been able to innovate and continue to iterate upon it. So it’s been here for a long time, I think certainly a lot of people have been using it for research purposes and things like that. But now that it’s really gotten into the mainstream, people think that it just happened overnight. And it’s like, “no, this has been here for a long time.” Facetune, all that sort of stuff has been here for a long time, which is all parts of AI. It all falls under that umbrella.

André Foster:

Yeah, that’s the part that they kind of leave out or they really don’t say enough. And just going back to Midjourney. When Midjourney first came out, I remember I started messing with it and I started typing in some stuff. And some of the stuff that I would get back blew my mind because it’s stuff that I would have never thought about doing. Or even if I went on Pinterest to try to search for a certain image, it would never have given me what I was getting out of Midjourney. It actually sparked something in me. Like, there was one time I was getting pretty good at Midjourney, and I started understanding the language and prompts and stuff like that. And the images that it gave me actually sparked an idea for a series, I guess you would call it, like an FX series, like a really kind of hardcore streaming program.

Some images that I got back, it put me in the mind of Frankenstein. I was like, it’d be cool to have a show based off the story of Frankenstein, but told in a modern way, like set in the 70s, because some of the images that I got back kind of felt like that. So it sparked an idea; it sparked that whole thing. And actually the outcome of that is actually on our website, it’s called Suture. So if your listeners go to that, they’ll be able to see some of the images that I got out of Midjourney that sparked the whole idea. And I did like a whole intro for this imaginary show based off the Frankenstein story. Well, it was pretty wild, though.

Maurice Cherry:

I’ll make sure that we put a link to that in the show notes so folks can go and check that out.

André Foster:

Yeah, yeah, it was pretty cool.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, after you graduated from college for Creative Studies from CCS, you kind of went straight to work. You began working at Skidmore Studio, and you were there for 16 years, which is amazing to think about just in terms of tenure. I mean, before we recorded, I was saying how it sort of felt like the second graduation for you in a way. How did you sort of first learn about them and overall, what was your time like there?

André Foster:

Actually, when I first heard about them, it was through my teacher, Laura Parloff, and she actually had owned her own studio. It was called Color Forms back in the day. And she was actually their competition, Skidmore’s competition. And I actually wanted to go work for her studio because I thought her studio was really cool. She had a pool table; that was a big thing for me. I’m like, “wow, they actually got a pool table in the studio.” And I was like, “I wish I could work here.” And plus, they had a lot of the great artists working there.

But she told me that I should go to Skidmore because she thought my style was more in par with what they did back then. So that’s how I really found out about them. And then I did, like, a class trip to Skidmore and did the whole tour thing. After the tour was over, I actually requested to see if I can come back and show my portfolio. I did that, and I showed my portfolio to the owner and a couple of other creatives that worked there. They was very impressed, and they said, well, we think you’re very talented, and we would love you to join our team. And so it was just that quick. So I was like, “wow, all right.”

When I started working there, I started working in the matte room. For those of you don’t know what the matte room was…it was just like an internship type deal. So you’re not actually working on any real projects just yet. You’re just framing the work that went out. You’re doing the packaging, and you’re going on runs and stuff like that and getting coffee. But again, I was very determined to just try to fit in with these guys and try to be valuable with the studio. So, yeah, I think maybe after probably about a year or so, I got promoted to be on the board of illustrators, which was a big deal for me. I remember just feeling like, “wow, actually, I have arrived”, because the artists that I was looking up to, these guys were like, gods, the way they painted.

And mind you, this is nothing on the computer. This is all hand-painted stuff. But some of the images that they did was just beautiful. And I was like, “Man, I got to learn how to do this and figure out how to learn from this as much as I can.” Yeah, so I learned as much as I could. I was asking a thousand questions and kept getting better and learning new techniques. So the years flew by and ended up going from ten years to 15 years to 16 years.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, clearly you were doing something right and making a real impact there to have been there that long.

André Foster:

Yeah, I was pretty focused. I think I’ve always been pretty focused, but I think they saw in me that I was ambitious and that I was talented. And then I was able to contribute to the service that they offer. Because back then, Skidmore worked with a lot of different agencies. So I was able to kind of cut my teeth with the whole industry world just by working through Skidmore and seeing how that whole thing goes. So I did a lot of storyboarding, understood the technique behind that, what makes a good frame, what makes a good composition. I learned a lot from storyboarding. Dave O’Connell — I want to give him a shout out because he was my mentor back then at Skidmore. He was like the head storyboard guy. So he kind of took me under his wing, and then he showed me what to do and what not to do and how to make an image sing and make it as good as he can try to make it.

Maurice Cherry:

Are there any sort of projects in particular that stand out to you during that time? I mean, 16 years? I know you probably worked on a ton of things, but is there anything in particular that you really remember?

André Foster:

Yeah, I think it was a couple of ones that kind of stood out. I remember doing a illustration for Mazda. It was a campaign called Zoom Zoom. And I don’t know if you remember that.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, I remember that. “Zoom zoom zoom.” Yeah.

André Foster:

And I did the illustration of the little “Zoom Zoom” kid. Then I had the car flying by him. That was a big thing for me because when I first went to Skidmore, I didn’t really know how to do cars that well. But when I went there, I feel like every artist there knew how to do a car really well. So I was able to learn from them, and then I was able to apply that to this image. So it kind of stood out to me because that was like one of the first true advertising works that I did that actually that was put out there, that had a car in it that was illustrated and they used it. So that one stood out.

I’m trying to think of anything else. I’m pretty sure it was a lot, but just working on storyboards for Blockbuster. Remember Blockbuster with a little…I don’t know if it was a hamster or I think it was two hamsters or something, that was right across the street from a Blockbuster Video store? I remember doing storyboards for them for that whole campaign. It was just cool to really work on a lot of big name stuff back then Blockbuster Video and Mazda and a lot of other big brands. But the Mazda one, I think that really kind of sticks out because that was like my first real commercial piece that got featured.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, when you were at Skidmore, again, you were there for 16 years, but when did you get the idea to start your own studio?

André Foster:

It was something that was kind of always in the back of my mind. The guy that I kind of befriended at Skidmore, who was actually my business partner now, Guy Allen, we would kind of talk about it here and there because I think at that time, skidmore was kind of going in a little bit of a different direction than what we would have liked to be involved in. So it was always kind of rumblings between him and I, like, we should do our own thing. But in 2016, something happened, and it kind of gave us an opportunity to really go about making it happen. I think in February of 2016, we told our boss, “hey, we were thinking about going on our own.” That’s what we did. He didn’t like it that much. He thought, well, because I was there for such a long time, and he didn’t want to see us go, but he tried to keep us there, but he know our wishes to try to branch on our own and do our own thing.

So hats off to him. Tim Smith — may he rest in peace. He actually passed away not too long ago. But, yeah, it was tough, man. It was a big decision because I had been there for so long, it is, like, all I knew, but I knew that if I stayed there, I wouldn’t have been happy because of the direction that they were going in. I just wanted to just be my own boss. And Guy, he felt the same way, and he said, “this is our chance to just really craft something or make something on our own, to really just put something out there that we’re both proud of in terms of the type of work that we want to do.”

Maurice Cherry:

And now you’re doing it.

André Foster:

Now we’re doing it, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

What are your plans for First Fight for the future?

André Foster:

I really want to try to expand our brand and our reach as much as we can more globally. I really want to try to hone in on the service of digital strategy. I think we got the content part down. It’s just really the execution of the marketing of that idea, and I want to make sure that we were able to offer that to our clients, because I think that’s a big thing for us. I just want us to be more of a complete studio.

I don’t want to say the A word — the agency word — because I think when you say agency, there’s kind of not all the time, but there’s kind of a negative connotation when you say agency just because there’s so many different layers of different folks that you have to go through, especially when it comes to the client for them to get their message across. So I just want to make sure that we stay as intimate and more hands on with the work for our clients, but also let them know that we can really expand their voice and their messaging, and we have the know how to go about doing it. So I really want to just make sure that we expand on that more and get that more known as far as what First Fight can do.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, being from Detroit, born and raised, educated in Detroit, you’ve built your career in Detroit. How has the city influenced your approach to the work that you do?

André Foster:

Yeah, I think it’s an influence because I think Detroit has kind of always been like the underdog to a lot of different places. We were saying earlier, like how when you go out well, at least when I go out of my region here in Detroit, there’s kind of like an eye raise when I tell them that I’m from Detroit. But I kind of wear that proudly now because I think I like the idea that we are the underdog and that we’re always trying to prove ourselves and we’re surprising people that we do have all this talent here in Detroit. They can do all these amazing know. You may know Detroit, but you really don’t know Detroit. So I always like to surprise know that way.

Maurice Cherry:

How would you describe the city’s creative community?

André Foster:

Yeah, the creative community here in Detroit is really good. I think what you’re seeing is kind of a renaissance of that. And I think Detroit has always been a pretty creative city anyway. But I think the automotive industry has kind of overshadowed that a little bit. I think people have found other ways to express themselves creatively other than just designing cars and whatnot. The technology also has been used here. The new technology, whether it’s self-driving cars or if it’s the half-res well, not the half-res, but the New Labs is what I’m trying to say. New Labs is a new tech sector here in Detroit that’s really blowing up.

And what’s cool about is that the creative community has kind of been driving that because it doesn’t always have to be automotive based. There’s other different sectors that you can know express yourself in. The scene here in Detroit has been great. I love it. I love the city now. How it is, what it’s evolving into right now has been exciting for me to see because I’ve been here since day one. The last probably last ten years has really just taken off. So I’m just very excited about what’s been happening here.

Maurice Cherry:

What do you wish you would have been told about this industry when you first started?

André Foster:

Patience is a virtue, especially with the motion industry, motion graphics industry. I would have loved somebody to tell me that what you do is cool, but there’s like 20 other people, or not even 20, like 1000 other people that can do the exact same thing. And it could probably do a little bit better. And I think when I first or when we I should say we when we first got into this, me and my partner, I think we went into it with a little bit of a naïveté because I think what we thought was really cool to us was groundbreaking. But we found out that that’s not always the case. It’s really just understanding that you have to try to figure out how to make yourself different and how do you stand out from the rest. So I wish I would have known that more back when we first started this to really hone in on that. And I think we have honed in on that since then.

What makes us different than other creative studios? Yeah, but I wish somebody would have just told me that you have the talent, you have the ambition, but you really got to hone in what makes you different, because there’s a lot of noise out there and it’s hard to really just set yourself apart from the other creators.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do one day?

André Foster:

Yeah, I would love to do the intro to the next James Bond movie. Yeah, I’m a big James Bond fan.

Maurice Cherry:

I could see that from your photo. I can 100% see that.

André Foster:

Yeah. I think in my mind, I’m kind of like the Black James Bond. They kept talking about getting Idris Elba to do it, but I think I could probably do that.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s your favorite Bond movie?

André Foster:

Not the one that just came out, but the one before that.

Maurice Cherry:

Was that Skyfall?

André Foster:

Yeah, I think it was, but actually, I take that back. I think Casino Royale was probably my favorite one because I like Daniel Craig. I love what he brought to that role. But when I was coming up, Roger Moore was like, that was my James Bond. Because he was, I think, that was back in the 80s, I think. But it was really cool because I felt like with Casino Royale, it kind of got back to that what the genre was really about. It was making him well, also just making him a little bit more human and a little vulnerable.

I thought that was really cool. So I think Daniel Craig was able to kind of pull that, um, when he had the baton.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. I’m looking it up now. Spectre was the one before; the latest one was No Time to Die. I saw that one. I thought that one was pretty good.

André Foster:

Yeah, it was kind of interesting because I was like, well, I wasn’t expecting them to kill off James Bond.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

André Foster:

And I hope I’m not spoiling it for anybody, but yeah, it was interesting for them to do that. I guess when you think about it, 007 could be anybody. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that character. So anybody can wear the 007.

Maurice Cherry:

They did. They brought in a new person. They brought in Lashana Lynch. She played 007. I don’t know if they want to continue having her as Bond. That could be interesting.

André Foster:

I would love that. That would be interesting. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

I would love to see kind of just what they plan to do with it. Because I haven’t read the books like the books from John le Carré, but I feel like Bond has to be of a certain age. I know there were Idris and other folks were kind of being sort of bandied around for that particular role. But Bond is what, maybe like in his 30s, perhaps?

André Foster:

Yeah, I think so. And what’s interesting, too, is that any actor who thinks about taking on that role, I think they have to sign a contract that says you’re basically going to give the studio ten years out of your life to play this character. So it’s definitely a commitment. And yeah, I think they need to at least have someone who’s young enough who can kind of age into the role. So they’re 30 or maybe 40. Even 40 is probably pushing it a little bit. But yeah, that’s why I think I know. I keep hearing rumblings about Henry Cavill to play him. I keep hearing that his screen test was, like, off the roof.

Maurice Cherry:

Really?

André Foster:

Yeah. They keep talking about how good he was in it. So it’s going to be really interesting to see what comes from that. It’s interesting because it would be nice to try go in a little bit of a different direction with the character, whether it’s a Black woman or even a Black man. It’d be interesting to see what comes from that, what that will look like.

Maurice Cherry:

I think that would be really interesting to see how they plan on sort of pulling that off, especially now with all the technology and stuff that comes with Bond. It feels like they’re always upgrading him into some new sort of tech or new sort of scenario or environment or something like that. I could see Henry Cavill doing that. And also, he was in the Mission Impossible movie. Not the one that just came out, but the one before that. And he was in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

André Foster:

Yeah, he was.

Maurice Cherry:

So he’s done spy stuff. I mean, I could see that. I could see that.

André Foster:

Yeah. If they do go with him, I just hope that he’s able to bring something unique to the character because I think Daniel Craig was able to do that. I mean, for a long time. He’s probably really the only one that was able to do that to bring something a little extra to that character. So I’m hoping that if they do go with him, that he’s able to make it his own and make it different.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, James Bond aside, where do you see yourself in the next five years? Like, what kind of work would you like to be doing?

André Foster:

I want to really become a better business person. What I’ve realized in the seven years that I’ve been co-owning First Fight is that there’s definitely a business component to this thing. And I think the creative is just one part of it. But the business part is something that I really want to get better at.

And I think I have gotten better at it because there’s definitely a science to it. There’s the whole networking part of it. There’s the constant putting yourself. Out there. It’s a lot to it. So I just want to become a better businessman within the next five years. Then also, hopefully, along with that, as I get better at it, first fight will be better as well, and then we’ll be able to have more of a bigger reach in terms of what we can offer our clients and even our potential clients. Yeah, just becoming I feel like as I get better, First Fight will get better.

I think that’s what I want to try to be in the next five years, just a more complete businessman. I don’t know if you can say complete businessman, but just definitely better.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I feel you. I mean, I remember when I was starting my studio, I didn’t know anything about business. I just had this sort of notion. I was like, I’ve been designing for a few years. I could do this. And there was so much in those first, I’d say probably in the first five years, that I just was like, I had no clue on how to run a business. I knew how to design. I knew how to make work for clients. But running a business and then having employees and payroll and all this stuff? I was, like, right over my head. I learned it eventually, but it was definitely like a trial by fire process. So I feel you.

André Foster:

Yeah, it’s a lot of stuff that pulls at you because I still do the work within the studio. So it’s always frustrating to me where I’m constantly getting pulled from that, because either I’m just trying to pay attention to what this artist is doing, what this checking up on this email, checking up all the status of this project, and constantly doing that on a daily basis. It’s hard because at the heart of it, I am a creative, and I would really just love to be in a corner and just say, leave me alone. I just want to draw something.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

André Foster:

I don’t want to get any more emails. I don’t want to get any more phone calls. It’s a lot. But I’ve learned to and it sounds kind of funny to say this I’ve learned to really embrace that, and I’ve actually liked the challenge of it. So that’s why I said I want to become better at it and just try to find a real nice balance between that businessman and that creative. I think the payoff is what you’re always trying to go after, like, wow. And it’s kind of that hunter-gatherer mentality. Like, if you do go after work, the payoff is that, oh, when they say yes, or if they give you a direct award because you’ve just been after them for so long.

I do like the rush of that when it does happen. But ask me, like, maybe ten years ago, the same question. I don’t know if I would have said the same thing. It’s just funny how you kind of change your perspective on things as you do this, as you go into the business part of it, because as creatives, I think most creatives are introverts for the most part. And I feel like I can be both. I can be extroverted when I need to be, but for the most part, I’m introverted. I get recharged when I’m by myself and just working on what I need to work on, but I can flip it. And I think over the years, it’s kind of changed because I can definitely become that guy, go after work or just do a cold call and say, “hey, we can do this, we can do that. You should use our studio”, which in itself is like unheard of, especially for an introvert. But I think when you’re able to do both, though, I think you have to do that if you’re going to try to become a businessman in this industry, especially if you’re going to try to own the studio, because you just have to constantly do that.

Maurice Cherry:

Very true. Very true. Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about the studio and everything? Where can they find that online?

André Foster:

Your listeners can go to firstfight.tv. You can find our work there. You can also follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn. Just search for First Fight and not First Flight because sometimes we get that a lot. So it’s First Fight TV, it’s where you want to go to see our work and go to our site.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. André Foster, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you for putting Detroit on the map, for helping to put Detroit on the map creatively. Like you said earlier, you’re the only Black-owned studio that’s doing this kind of work, and I think it’s something that more people definitely need to see, especially, I think, at this time when the power of the creative voice is being uplifted in ways like whether we’re talking about unions or writers or things of that nature, I think people are starting to really see the value of creative work. And it’s good that you are doing this. You’ve been doing this now for over 20 years professionally. You’ve been working with some of the best talent in the business, working with great clients. I hope more people see that, and that really helps to kind of elevate the work that you’re doing. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

André Foster:

Thank you for having me. And this is awesome. Like you said, I just want to make sure that my story can resonate with someone else who’s even thinking about becoming a studio owner, and hopefully they can get some inspiration from this. And also, too, because you can’t become something that you don’t see, like a Black artist who’s even thinking about owning a creative studio or even going into animation for motion design. Just know that there are other people of color who are doing, you know, I want to be one of those people that can, you know, we’re here and you can do it too.

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Sean Mack

This week’s guest is a real treat for me. Sean Mack is an illustrator and graphic artist in Detroit, and I first ran across his work around a decade or so ago on Tumblr. His work has really taken off since then, so having him on to talk about his journey as an artist was a lot of fun.

We started off talking about his recent work on a commemorative comic for the late hip-hop artist MF DOOM, and Sean went into how he and writer Brandon Howard came up with their popular comic The Revolutionary Times. We also talked about balancing his art while working a 9-to-5 job, working with big clients, and creating new work through the pandemic. If you’ve never heard of Sean or seen his art, then this interview is a great place to start!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Sean Mack:
My name is Sean Mack. I’m a graphic artist, illustrator, graphic designer, comic book artist, storyboard artist, just all-around graphic artist, mostly all art, basically.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so, how are you feeling right now? How’s the year going so far?

Sean Mack:
The year has been challenging. I’ve been trying my best to keep up with things, keep up with my craft, keep trying to stay the right path for the most part. I think I’m doing an okay job.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, you sound like … What’s the guy’s name in Kung Fu that has to walk the path? I forget his name, played by David Carradine.

Sean Mack:
Oh, I know who you’re talking about.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re trying to walk the righteous path.

Sean Mack:
Right, right.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about what kind of projects you’re working on right now.

Sean Mack:
Mostly freelancing at the moment. I just got done with a tribute comic for the rapper MF Doom.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Sean Mack:
It’s nothing like anything official. It’s just a nice, small, short story that covers his career in an entertaining way. I’m not too sure when that’s coming out. It’s still in the process of being produced. But, that should be coming out this year, and then just a few freelance projects here and there, just a couple … music stuff, covers for musicians and so on and so on.

Maurice Cherry:
Were you a big MF Doom fan?

Sean Mack:
I was, I was. I wasn’t the biggest MF Doom, but I loved the music that he put out. I think it was … I don’t want to say weird, but it was weird. It was weird and it was eclectic. It was something I had never heard before, something I had never heard put together before quite like the way he made music. So, when he died, I was like, “Ooh.” That was a heavy one. So, just to be able to do this comic, it was pretty cool, actually.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean, the way the news came out especially with his wife saying he actually had passed away months prior, and she had just, I guess, waited until the end of the year to drop the news. Not many people know this, but, I think every episode, most episodes of Revision Path that I recorded here in my little makeshift studio, there’s a 24×36″ poster of Madvillain to my right.

Sean Mack:
Oh, nice.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if many people know how much of an MF Doom fan I am, but yeah, when I heard that, man, that got me. I got the action figure. I got all the CDs. I got the magnets. I got a bunch of stuff, MF Doom patches and stuff. Man, what a loss, what a loss. How did you get involved with doing a tribute comic to him?

Sean Mack:
So, I am friends with … Her name is Maia Crown Williams. She actually was the person who helped put it together. It’s written by a great writer by the name of Troy Allen. She basically was what got me involved with the project because she’s known me over the years. She runs a comic convention out in Detroit called MECCAcon, and I’ve done it once before. We’ve just been in touch over the years because she likes my work. She thinks I’m cool. So, when he was looking for artist, she hit me up to do a test drive for what would be the final comic. He liked what I did and it was just history from there on. He just knocked it out over the, I think, last month or so. Well, yeah, I worked on the art the last month or so, and, right now, it’s still in the post-production stage of everything. So, it turned out pretty good, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, hopefully they put it up for sale or just have it online somewhere where people can take a look at it because he has a legion of fans around the world, me included. That sounds pretty dope.

Sean Mack:
I’ve only seen a few of the finished pages so far, and they look phenomenal. I really like how it’s turning out. I think people will dig it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, now, you mentioned doing some album covers, some music covers and stuff. You’re kind of connected with a music company, is that right, called Soulstar?

Sean Mack:
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah [crosstalk 00:09:25]

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Sean Mack:
Soulstar is actually Musiq Soulchild’s company.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh!

Sean Mack:
Yeah, Musiq Soulchild, that’s his imprint for not only his regular music Soulchild stuff, but his side passion projects as well. I’ve actually had a chance to work on all facets of those projects, so that’s been pretty cool to do. Yeah, that’s Musiq’s … I think it’s his label and his imprint at the same time.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that name takes me back all the way to, God, maybe freshman, sophomore year in college, the year 2000. Oh my goodness, it’s funny you mention that because I know he’s done some work with India Arie. Oh my God, this was years ago I had designer for India Arie on the show, Denise Nicole Francis. This was years and years ago. I don’t know if that name sounds familiar to you or not, but I know they’ve done some work together in terms of doing design and imprint and stuff. So, when you’re working with a label like that, I’m sure it’s more than just album covers and stuff. What all kind of stuff are you designing?

Sean Mack:
It’s been like his side projects and whatnot. I don’t know if I can’t talk about one of them because we’re still working on it, so it’s still behind the scenes. But for the most part, I had designs for logos like certain badges for his certain personas, his musical personas. That’s where his side projects came in. So, for instance, I had a badge for just Musiq Soulchild. And then, there was a badge for his persona called The Husel, which is like his rap hybrid persona. And then, there was another one called P. WondaLuv, Purple WondaLuv, and that was his Prince, funk-inspired persona. I did badges for all of those. I also did covers for them, as well. I did the latest album that came out, Feel the Real. I did the artwork for that one, and then his Husel side project and his P. WondaLuv side project. I did the art for that, as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Very cool. I can imagine there’s no shortage of interesting and creative ideas that he can come up with that now he can just turn around and have you work on. That’s pretty dope.

Sean Mack:
The thing I don’t think most people know about Musiq is that he is a very, very creative dude. He is also very … I don’t want to say nerdy, but he very much embraces geek culture, and that’s how we connected through our love for stuff like anime and comics and whatnot. The stuff that I work for him, a lot of that influence shows. It showed in the concept and just execution of it, so that was a very cool thing to find out, working with him.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I first found out about you and your work years and years and years ago through Tumblr. You have a comic called The Revolutionary Times.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, so, The Revolutionary Times, it’s a comic started by me and my longtime friend Brandon Howard. He’s the writer. I’m the artist. We started it back in 2008 while I was still in college at the time. We were just inspired by … Boondocks was off the comic kind of thing for a while. It ventured into TV shows, so we were just like, “There’s not many Black comic strips out,” at the time, so we were just like, “Let’s start something. Let’s start something.” We were inspired by Boondocks. We were inspired by, obviously, the classics like Charlie Brown, Calvin and Hobbes, and we just put our own personal lives and mixed it with pop culture, mixed it with politics. It just turned into this comic that we’ve been doing for a while. It’s been off and on, but we’re still in the midst of trying to push more comics out.

Maurice Cherry:
Where did that idea … I guess you alluded to it. Now, you were inspired by the Boondocks and other similar types of comics, but where did that idea first come from outside of that? You just wanted to fill the void that you felt was left behind from those comics?

Sean Mack:
Yeah, yeah, because, originally, it’s all Brandon’s idea. He came to me one day. He’s like, “Man, you still drawing?” I was like, “Yo, I’m in college right now. Yes.” He’s like, “Man, let’s do a comic.” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do a comic.” And then, he just came up with these ideas, these references to pop culture, to politics that was just amazing, and I helped with some of the humor part of it as well. The way it flowed, it was just amazing. Originally, yeah, it was all Brandon. I was just the guy with the pencil at the time.

Maurice Cherry:
And you all have still kept up with it. I think the latest one that I saw, it was Madea protecting [Peria Megan 00:15:27] from Security or something like that.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, yeah, that was a quick one we had to put out because we just had to. It’s just one of the many crazy things that come across our minds that we say, “Hey, let’s make a comic about this.”

Maurice Cherry:
I know that The Boondocks was supposed to come back on HBO Max last year. Maybe hopefully it will happen this year. Certainly, I would love to see what the next season would be of just what they could pull off. I personally don’t count the fourth season of The Boondocks. The first three seasons were great. Season four, eh, it was all right. It was okay. I want to see what they come up with for the fifth season.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, I think they pushed it back to later this year. But, I look at the fourth season of Boondocks the same way I look at … what was that season? The third season of The Chappelle Show. I look at it the same way as that. It doesn’t exist. It’s nonexistent in my mind or in my history.

Maurice Cherry:
I rewatched it recently because I got HBO Max and I was going through it and everything, and I rewatched the fourth season just to see if maybe I missed something. I think I was watching it like everyone else was watching it on Twitter. They’ll watch it and give commentary and stuff. It was not hittin’ at all. They had that weird sort of Good Times reference that strung through the whole season. What the fuck was that about? It was not good. It was not good.

Sean Mack:
Right, and then they tried to spoof Breaking Bad. It was just weird. It was weird.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, they were doing what I see sitcoms do when they run out of ideas in that they sort of start making up these fantastical parodies, and it’s like the show itself is already a bit of a fantastical parody. You don’t need to try to mimic something else. Yeah, why are they mimicking Breaking Bad? What’s that about? Are they just trying to cash in on that cultural moment? I don’t know, it’s just not good.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, so, hopefully, I don’t know what they’re doing with the newest … I don’t know if it’s a reboot season. I don’t even know. I hope this one is a little bit more Aaron McGruder [crosstalk 00:17:58]

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I really hope he’s out there creating some heat because even Black Jesus was funny, and then it was on this weird hiatus. You’d catch and episode here or there. It was almost like Steven Universe. It didn’t stay on a regular schedule. You just had to catch it when you could catch it. So, I hope so, man, because so many people are missing his humor and everything. I don’t know. So, when it comes to creating comics, what does your process look like?

Sean Mack:
Well, it depends. For instance, with Revolutionary Times, the script itself, the scriptwriting itself is more so me and Brandon bouncing ideas back and forth recently, yeah. And then, when it comes time for me to actually create the work, I pull up all my references, background references, character references, and I just have them set up in another monitor. I have like, three monitors. I have one monitor for my main art program, and then the others for my reference to just look at while I work. The process is basically just putting all that together to try and tell a story, trying to tell a cohesive story, sometimes without words. It’s a long process. It can definitely be a long process, but I’m getting the hang of it, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
When you say character references, what do you mean? Do you have a file with information on a character or something like that?

Sean Mack:
Yeah, for instance, if I’m drawing, like Madea, I have pictures pulled off of Google of Madea or Tyler Perry or, what are they called, the royal guards. I have them all set up on one screen just to glance at as I sketch out to draw everything into the final, basically. Then, I use that for if I’m coloring it, if I’m doing the actual colors. I’m using that same picture as a pallette to get the right colors, color flats on the characters, basically.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, I gotcha. What is the design scene like in Detroit? I’ve only had a handful of folks on the show that are in Detroit and working as designers. But, for you, what’s the design scene like there?

Sean Mack:
It’s kind of hard for me to explain about it because, this whole year, everyone’s been stuck inside, so it’s hard to describe it. We have our design firms and whatnot. And then, you have the freelancers, the people who are just the wild guns of the design industry. I would say that, art-wise, Detroit is building a lot, I would say. Design-wise, like I said, there’s the firms. Art-wise, there’s a … What is it called? It’s called murals in the market. Well, they didn’t do it this year, unfortunately, of course, but they have it set up in the place called East St. Market where they pull a bunch of murals, paintings from around the city, and they go around that East St. Market area and they’re making murals on different buildings, and you get to see the sea of different styles all around you. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever gotten a chance to see. I hate that I couldn’t … It just wasn’t a thing this year because of the pandemic, but, art-wise, Detroit is booming quietly but steadily, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
We have something similar like that here down in Atlanta called Living Walls, sort of like a muralist fest. Well, actually, it’s an art organization. They put on an event also called Living Walls. They do little murals … not little murals. They’re huge. They’re on the sides of buildings and stuff. Of course, we have underground artists and such that do all kinds of different interesting interpretations of murals like Fabian Williams, occasional superstar. I live in the hood. For folks that don’t know that live in Atlanta, I live in the West End. So, there’s a Caribbean restaurant near me called Mango’s, and, on the side of that building, he’ll do different sorts of murals.

Maurice Cherry:
I think the last one I saw, which had to have been prior to the pandemic, which lets you know how far I’ve gone outside my apt. It was Martin Luther King, but I think he had a high-top fade and had cuts on the side or something like that. So, he’s done these modern/’80sish interpretations of civil rights figures. There’s Coretta Scott King, but she’s got an asymmetrical bob, Pepa from Salt-N-Pepa, something like that. But yeah, Atlanta is a big mural city like that, especially if you’re downtown. If you go outside of downtown, outside of the perimeter, I can’t be responsible for what you see once you leave outside of the actual city. But, in the city itself, there’s so much graffiti and murals and wall art and stuff like that.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, I’ve been to Atlanta, I think, once or twice, and I’ve seen some of the graffiti there. It’s amazing, so I get an idea of what you’re talking about.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, before we get more into your career, let’s take it back to the beginning. In your bio, you mentioned that you grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. Tell me about that.

Sean Mack:
Ah, Saginaw, Michigan, Saginaw Michigan … Growing up in Saginaw, Michigan was an experience. Saginaw is a very small town. Well, I take that back. It’s not a small town, but, if you compare it to someplace like Detroit, it’s small. Growing up there, I’m not going to say I had it rough. I lived in the suburban part of Saginaw, but it was just a small town. Everybody knew everybody. If you’re from Saginaw, it’s like that Kevin Bacon … What is that thing called?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, like Six Degrees of Separation?

Sean Mack:
Yes, yes, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, that is basically living in Saginaw. You know everybody or somebody knows you from somebody. But, living there, it built me up. It built who I became to be, and that’s … I’ve fallen in love with art. We don’t really have an art scene, well, not that I know of, now. At the time, there wasn’t really an art scene in Saginaw, but there was always comic book stores, and that is where I found my love for art, in the comic book store. My folks would take me to a 7-Eleven, and there would be that lonely stand of comics just rotating in my face. That’s where the love came from. And then, I found actual comic book stores to just peruse and look at. It just grew out from there.

Maurice Cherry:
Marvel or DC?

Sean Mack:
I am neutral.

Maurice Cherry:
Aw, come on! Okay, all right.

Sean Mack:
I’m sorry. I have a ton of favorites on both sides. I love Batman. I love Spider-Man.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Did you watch the Snyder cut of Justice League?

Sean Mack:
I did. That, I’m still astounded by the differences that that movie has. I watched the original one, the Wheaton version before I watched the Snyder one, and it’s just night and day.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Sean Mack:
Yes, man. It’s just so night and day. I’m still astounded by it. I don’t think there has been a director’s cut that is this drastically different from what was put into the theater since Blade Runner. That’s how I feel about it. I loved it. I loved the Snyder cut. I’m sad that it wasn’t the first movie that I saw in 2017, but I’m glad it came out because it was everything a comic book person would probably want.

Maurice Cherry:
Does it help if you watch it from a 2017 perspective? Because, that’s when the original Justice League movie came out. I was wondering if it had aged over the years since it’s been in obscurity because of the studios and everything.

Sean Mack:
I don’t think it aged, necessarily. There’s still a bad joke in there or two. There’s definitely some bad … not cringeworthy, but it’s eye-rollable, kind of.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, it’s four hours. There’s got to be something in there that’s … Everything can’t be a hit.

Sean Mack:
It’s not, it’s not. Have you seen it?

Maurice Cherry:
I have not seen it, and I refuse … Okay, refuse is a strong word. I don’t feel that DC has earned enough good will for me from their current movie offerings to sit through four hours of that.

Sean Mack:
Understandable, understandable.

Maurice Cherry:
I did watch Justice League. Did I go to the movies to see Justice League? I don’t remember. I did see justice league. I have not seen Suicide Squad or the Harley Quinn movie. They just didn’t interest me, and that’s not so say I’m not a DC fan. I am a DC fan. I’m pretty split between marvel and DC, myself, but I feel like marvel does better live-action movies. DC does better animated movies.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely the case because the latest animation … No, I think the latest one we did was a Batman movie. But, the few animated ones that I’ve seen have been like, “This is the same company?” The quality is far beyond what you would get with the live-action stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, but the writing is good. They all have a consistent art style. They have that kind of Bruce Tim art style and they take bold strokes in terms of storytelling. It’s not all canon types of things. You have Justice League Dark. I think they did one like with the apocalypse one. They take broad strokes in terms of storytelling that, of course, with live-action, would probably be expensive and risky to do. But, with animation, it’s probably cheaper, I would imagine.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, and that’s partly why it’s the more superior brand. But, I will say I did enjoy Birds of Pray. I enjoyed Shazam. That was a nice one.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Shazam was good! Shazam was good. I forgot about Shazam. That is a DC.

Sean Mack:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sean Mack:
Yeah. Shazam was good. Aquaman was good, but the fact that they shelved this version of Justice League is just one of the most baffling things in my entire viewpoint, because there had to be a way to just trim it down to two hours.

Maurice Cherry:
How long was the original Justice League?

Sean Mack:
The one that came out in theaters?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sean Mack:
It was under two hours, I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Sean Mack:
From what I’m guessing, Josh Wheaton reshot a whole bunch of everything, really, because even the endings are completely contrast of each other. It is an interesting thing just to see how different things movie came out to be.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re convincing me to see it because I don’t remember that much from the original Justice League except for the showdown where they all fought Superman, and I remember Cyborg, it felt like Cyborg was a bigger part of the story, or was at least a substantial part of the story in the original. And then, from what I’ve heard, he has a much more substantial role in the Snyder cut.

Sean Mack:
So, the part where they’re fighting Superman, that’s still the same, still mostly the same thing. The way it ends is slightly different, but Cyborg is the main character in this movie to me. Once you get into the later parts of it, he is the heart and soul of this movie. I feel like I just repeated like a critic somewhere, [inaudible 00:31:20] but it’s the truth. It’s the truth. The fact that his entire storyline, which is cut for him to say booya at the end, it was weird to see. So, I would say, if you do watch it, watch it … because, it’s cut in chapters, so I would watch it in chapters, honestly.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so it’s not just a full four-hour slog. You can watch a chapter, come back to it?

Sean Mack:
Yeah, I would watch it in chapters because it’s worth to see. I think it’s worth seeing that version of the story.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, all right, you’ve convinced me. I say this like I won’t sit through and watch four hours of Bridgerton or something like that, so I can watch Justice League. You talked about earlier going to school for art. You went to Detroit College for creative studies. What was that like? What was your time like there?

Sean Mack:
It was pretty interesting because, before that, I went to … My high school was called Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy, and it was a school that focused, basically, on sciences and arts. It had a heavy focus on the visual arts, performing arts like theater and dance. Then, you had your global studies, your biology, your scientific aspects. It was a unique school experience then, so it kind of prepared me for when I did move to Detroit to go to CCS. It was just more of an expansive view on art because I’m in this place where there’s different personalities, different styles. That was an eye-opener. That was a real introduction to just a lot of people that I still know to this day, honestly. It was eye-opening. It was a good experience for not only social-wise, but it was a good experience for me growing in my art, in my craft, because I learned so much at that school, and it’s just a lot of things that I still carry with me to this day, as it should, because it was expensive. It was just a good tool. The professors there were amazing, and they’re still people I still talk to to this day. They still help me out in my career, so I think it was a good experience. It was a good thing to utilize, still a good thing to utilize to this day.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. It’s so interesting because I often hear the opposite from people that say they went to an arts college. They’re like, “Eh, it was okay,” or that it didn’t really prepare them for going out into the working world, doing what they do. But, it sounds like you had a great experience. That’s good.

Sean Mack:
Well, I would say there were those parts, too, the long nights of trying to finish projects. It was more so focused on our craft. There were classes here and there about the actually business side of the art world, but it was more so focused on bettering us as artists. I would say I learned more about the business side of illustration, for instance. I learned more so about the business side of that just through experience, honestly.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha, gotcha, okay. What were some of your work experiences when you graduated?

Sean Mack:
It was more so just freelancing because, when I graduated, I moved back to Saginaw, and then I was just more so freelancing, so it started off in event posters, mixtape covers, album covers, logos, and then it grew into more granter things like full-on album designs and full promotional designs or promotional releases or whatnot. Yeah, it just grew, and I started getting actual clients like Musiq or like ESPN or Complex.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I see you’ve done some work with some pretty big brands and big clients. When you look back at those past projects, what did they teach you?

Sean Mack:
Patience, patience, definite patience. I consider myself a pretty patient person as is, but freelance can bring a side out of you. I would say patience and just seeing a project through the end. I think, that part, a lot of people, it’s hard to get to the end, honestly, with some projects because of the time put in, the energy. There may be changes, and there are changes after changes. But, just seeing a project through to the end is one of the most satisfying things, no matter how you feel about the project itself. Just seeing it through the end is a satisfying feeling in itself, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Aside from that, you’ve also done a lot of collaborative projects. We talked about The Revolutionary Times, of course, being probably one of the bigger ones. But, for you, what’s the value of collaborating on projects?

Sean Mack:
I think collaboration opens your world up to other people’s viewpoints, other people’s creative world or creative ways of doing things. I think if you find that right person that you can mesh with, you could bring something pretty cool to the table. I’ve done, aside from working with Grid … and I’ve done collaborations with … There was one guy, his name was CJ Johnson. We worked on a full graphic novel. It was called Kill Or Be Killed, but it wasn’t some action type of graphic novel. It was a story about rich Black Manhattan type of people like bohemian style characters. It was just a story that you typically wouldn’t see in a comic book, just telling of a life of these classy but still kind of edgy characters. It was just something I had never done before because I was just used to doing funny comic strips and whatnot. That, for instance, is something that I always see as a good collaboration because it was a mixture of something that I’ve never experienced before, which, I think, bettered me as an artist to be able to tell CJ’s story. So, I think if you find that right collaborator, yeah, something magical might come out of it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’m mentioning this not in any sort of disparaging way, but you have a full-time job that doesn’t deal with art [crosstalk 00:39:28] I’m not going to ask you what that job is. I know you have a full-time job that doesn’t deal with art, but how do you balance the two? How do you balance having that extra time to pursue your creative passions?

Sean Mack:
It is very difficult. It is almost impossible. There was, unfortunately, a year or two where it was impossible because of how this job just took out my energy. Well, I will say it is an essential job, so I was pretty much still working all last year.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, so, last year being one of those years where it was just difficult to do art, it can get to you. It can overcome your passion. But, I think that you just got to find a balance. Because, at the time, it was impossible. It was impossible to really get a balance of work and getting time to be creative. But, I just had to set time aside because this is something I want to do. I don’t want to do this job, the essential job for the rest of my life. I want to do art for the rest of my life. So, I just had to set time, had to do what I can. It was just like taking a little sketchbook and sneaking in some art in the middle of the job. I had to do what I could just to be like, “Hey, I am still an artist. This is what I want to do.” So, it’s hard. It’s hard. I’m still dealing with it to this day, but it’s just something you just got to keep pushing for.

Maurice Cherry:
What would it look like for you to be a full-time illustrator, or full-time graphic artist, I’ll say?

Sean Mack:
Definitely wouldn’t have to wake up at 4:00 in the morning.

Maurice Cherry:
Oof [crosstalk 00:41:33] my God.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, it’s not fun. I would say just being able to spend time on projects whether it be just one main project or small multiple projects, just taking time out of my day to work on these different ideas. Because, in my head, I have a lot of ideas just running around in my head that I never have time to actually get out. But, being a full-time artist, that would open up that time to be like, “All right, this will be my hour of personal creativity, food, and then another hour of professional work, and whatnot.” It would just be a day full of creating, basically. That’s what I would want, just to be able to create whether it is just a sketch or something more polished, basically.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of your artistic influences?

Sean Mack:
Names or genres?

Maurice Cherry:
Both.

Sean Mack:
The first name that pops up in my head, his name is … Well, there’s a couple names, but John Romita Jr., Chris Bucello, Aaron McGruder, obviously, LeSean Thomas. He worked on The Boondocks, but he also has his own anime that’s on Netflix right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Cannon Busters or something like that?

Sean Mack:
Yes, Cannon Busters, that’s exactly it. There’s a few other names. J. Scott Campbell, he did a comic book called Danger Girl.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I remember Danger Girl. I actually have two of those issues, I think, of Danger Girl.

Sean Mack:
I loved Danger Girl. I loved his work, just how detailed his work was. Oh no, I’m going to ruin his name, the creator of Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe.

Maurice Cherry:
Watanabe, Shinichirō Watanabe?

Sean Mack:
Yes, yes.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m a nerd over here. I know stuff.

Sean Mack:
Thank you, thank you. There’s like 1,000 others, but those are the ones that pop up to me first and foremost.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Chris McCulloch work on early-stage Generation X and the … I think that had to be in the ’90s or early 2000s. His work is so indelibly seared into my mind when I think about great comic work. He did some work for the larger X books, too. But, particularly with Generation X, I just have a big fondness for that team in general. They were done so dirty with that movie on Fox in ’96. I think it was ’96 when they had the Generation X movie.

Sean Mack:
Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m sure it’s on YouTube. If you’re listening and you want to find it, first of all, buyer beware, i’s very bad. And, I think it was one of the first if not the first … well, not one of the first because I’m sure they had Fantastic Four shows and movies and stuff. But, to come out of the Mutant X kind of realm, Generation X was just so bad. I hate how bad it was.

Sean Mack:
No, that was like the first live-action thing they did with X-Men, because they had the animated show and whatnot, but that was like the very first live-action. They went onto the movies, but yeah, that was-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, like, Jubilee was played by a white girl. Come on. It was so bad. It was so bad. And, they got a British woman to play Emma, but maybe Emma’s mom. She was way too old to be playing Emma. It was not good. It just wasn’t good at all. They deserve better. Although, I’m glad Monet, who was my favorite … I mean, I didn’t like how she was portrayed in the movie, but she was my favorite of the team, that she’s part of the main X Team now. Although, I still need to … I’m so behind on the comics, now, especially marvel stuff. I just catch a trade paperback here and there because that’s the best I can do these days.

Sean Mack:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best advice you’ve been given about what you do?

Sean Mack:
This advice isn’t necessary exclusively on what I do, but it’s one that sticks with me the most. It’s advice that my dad always gives me whenever it involves a project or just anything, just life in general. But, it’s like, if you do something, do it to the best of your ability. And, if you do something, see it all the way through. That is literally what runs in my mind every time I do something. It’s just like, “If I do something, I have to do it to the point that, when you look at this, you know that I drew it. You know that I was a part of this project somehow and just being able to finish it all the way through.” Like I said before, it’s just a wonderful feeling no matter what project you do because it’s a feeling of accomplishments. So, I think it has nothing specifically to do with art, but, that advice that my dad gave me, that my dad gives me all the time, that’s the one thing that pops in my head all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do or that you’d love to work on one day?

Sean Mack:
I would love to storyboard for a movie. Well, I take that back. I would love, for instance, to make The Revolutionary Times into a movie. That’s a top goal, basically, but I would love to do some kind of work for a major production storyboarding or character design or something like that. A personal goal would be to draw a Deadpool comic. I don’t even have to do a series. Just give me a few pages or something. That’s definitely a goal. Yeah, I would just love to be able to work on something that’s a big production, just be able to have my style on something that’s going to be seen by millions of eyes. That’s something I would love to do.

Maurice Cherry:
What is keeping you motivated and inspired these days?

Sean Mack:
I think the one thing that’s been motivating me has been … because I follow a lot of artists on all my social media, Twitter, Instagram, all that. Just seeing all this work that people are able to create, even in the midst of all this insanity that we’re dealing with, that’s inspiring to see the different styles, the different techniques, techniques that you could bring back to your own work and try and see if that’s something that you can adapt to your own style. That’s just the way of artists. You’re constantly growing. You’re constantly building yourself up to be like the better part of what you were before. You’re always transforming. You’re always evolving, basically.

Sean Mack:
So, I think that’s one of the ways that I keep motivated, just trying to elevate myself, trying to see what I can do differently or see what I can mix up to create something that I haven’t done before. And then, there’s always just taking a day off and watching anime for a whole day. That’s one way to do it, as well. So, it’s a lot of ways. It’s a lot of ways that I’m trying to be inspired.

Maurice Cherry:
What shows are you watching right now?

Sean Mack:
Honestly, I’ve just been rewatching Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Sean Mack:
That, when I’m down, when I’m not sure what to do, it’s always, just pull up Cowboy Bebop and running through a couple of those episodes. I did start rewatching Attack on Titan, which is traumatic, to say the least. There was another show that I just finished watching. It’s on Hulu. No Guns Life, I think it’s called. That’s what I started watching. It’s pretty good. It’s a pretty interesting concept to it. For the most part, I just go back to the classics. I’m always open for people to give me some new ones to catch because I feel like it’s like comics. That’s another thing that I’m trying to catch back up on because I’m still trying to find the new joints, basically.

Maurice Cherry:
What genre of anime do you like the best? Comedy? Action? Supernatural?

Sean Mack:
I like a little bit of hybrid. I like the ones that have a mix of comedy and action to it. For instance, one of my favorite ones is Trigon. That has the comedy. That has the slapstick comedy, the action to it, the serious tones. So, that has a little bit of everything. I think the one that I fell in love with was the more so space-centered ones, because then you had Gundam. You had Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, a lot of those space-centered stories. I would thank Toonami and the Syfy Channel for all that, but you know. I would say I like a mixture of all the genres, I would say, the hybrid ones where you have its funny moments. You have your stressful moments as well, so yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you see … God, what’s the one? You were mentioning one, and I was wondering if you saw it because it did come on Toonami, I think … not Toonami, Adult Swim. What was it called, Eureka Seven? Did you see that?

Sean Mack:
I did not see Eureka 7 no, that I haven’t seen. I think that’s one of the ones on my list that I have to sit down and watch. Yeah, I have a list of so many movies and anime that I just haven’t watched yet. It’s a long list, and I don’t think I’m ever got to get through it at this point, but it’s on there.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I’ll also give you a recommendation, but this one is pretty old school. I think it’s probably on … It’s got to be on one of the anime streaming services like Crunchyroll or VRV or something like that, but Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s an old one. It’s like an ’80s anime, so it’s got that different kind of ’80s anime style, but very complex storytelling. It’s set in space. It’s very much a space … I was going to say a space opera. That’s kind of the best way to put it. It’s like a military space opera kind of thing.

Sean Mack:
You said it’s called Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sean Mack:
Okay, all right.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s pretty long, though. It’s over 100 episodes, so it’s not a quick one.

Sean Mack:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s not a quick watch.

Sean Mack:
Oh, it’s one of those, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I think Eureka Seven is like 26, like a standard 26-episode thing, but it’s not as long as Naruto, which is like 500-something episodes or more.

Sean Mack:
Yeah, see, when you get to the shows that have like 1,500 seasons like Naruto and One Piece, I’m just not going to be able to get into that. I’ll enjoy the references along with everybody else, but I can’t sit down and watch 500 hours of Naruto. I’m sorry, I can’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think the last modern anime that I watched … I’m saying modern like within the past five years. It was either … It was a couple. It was SSSS.Gridman, which was pretty good. I watched [Personify 00:54:24] the animation because I played the video game, and, oh God, this one called Inuyashiki, which is … I’ll say it’s an acquired taste. I think it’s a 13-episode series. The protagonist is an old … I don’t want to spoil it, but the protagonist is an old man that is also a heavy robot arsenal. It’s an interesting [inaudible 00:54:50] I’ll put it in the chat so you can see it, but it’s an interesting story, Inuyashiki. There were some clips of it floating around in 2017 or so because I think Donald Trump is featured at some point in the anime. It’s kind of out there. I don’t want to say it’s morbid, but, you know what, you watch it and you tell me what you think about it. Also, for those of you that are out there listening, if y’all have seen it, let me know what you think about it. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want to be doing?

Sean Mack:
Well, hopefully not waking up at 4:00 in the morning every day.

Maurice Cherry:
Amen to that.

Sean Mack:
The only thing I would definitely love to be saying that I would hoping to be doing I five years is just still doing art, still creating. I can’t honestly say what the next five years would look like, but I would just hope it has me creating something whether it’s illustration or even doing that big production, doing art for that. I just want to be able to keep … be able to create, basically, and, yeah, maybe I’ll be part of a studio or still doing my own thing freelancing. Or, maybe Brandon and I are able to take Revolutionary Times and make it to a bigger platform. It’s a lot to say. Five years, you never know. We didn’t know what last year would be like, so …

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true. That’s very true.

Sean Mack:
At this point, I’m just like, “I can’t make any plans,” because life is very weird. Life is way too weird to make plans. Plan making is still important. Don’t go through life without a plan, but just know that life can always throw that one curve ball just like, “Oh, hey, there’s your plan in the bottom of the ocean somewhere.” I just would say I want to be able to still be creating in five years.

Maurice Cherry:
So, just to wrap things up here, Sean, where can our audience find out more about you and your work and your projects and everything online?

Sean Mack:
I guess the main place, Instagram, @silentsmack, all one word. I am on Twitter. Follow me if you want. It’s not much art on there, honestly. @ShizukaSam, I can’t spell it out right now, but @ShizukaSam on Twitter, and then @RevTimes on Twitter, @RevTimes on Instagram, and therevtimes.com for the comics. My personal site: smackillustrations.com.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Sean Mack, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. But, first of all, I was really just excited to talk to you because I’ve been following your work for such a long time, The Revolutionary Times and everything, so it was good to actually talk to you about the process and everything behind it. I think, certainly, with the work that you’re doing, the fact that you are such a keen collaborator and that you’re putting work out there that speaks to people, I hope that’s something that you will continue to keep doing throughout the years. I mean, the work that you’re doing, I could see this blowing up. I really can. We got to find a way to break you out of Michigan, but I can see your work blowing up in the next few years. So, hopefully, folks that are listening, make sure you check out Sean’s work. But, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

I met Nicholas Johnson this year at the AIGA Awards Gala, and after just a few minutes of speaking with him, I knew I had to have him on the podcast. Nicholas is committed to more representation for designers of color, and that’s reflected both through his work and in an upcoming book project.

We talked about where Nicholas’ desire for representation comes from, and from there we went into a discussion on the notion of a Black design aesthetic, and Nicholas shared the advice that’s stuck with him throughout his design journey, as well as what he wants to work on in the next five years. You’ll definitely see and hear more from Nicholas in the future!

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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
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Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by Mailchimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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Do you ever think about how the software that pilots use is designed? If so, then this week’s interview is for you! Meet Anthony Daniel II, a senior interaction designer who works in the aerospace field. Our conversation begin with a dive into the world of interaction design, and I even shared a bit about my brief time working for NASA!

From there, we talked about whether UX is being taken seriously as a design discipline, and Anthony talked about his creative beginnings, along with some of his dream projects he wants to do in the next few years. According to Anthony, collaboration is essential for design success, and I couldn’t agree more. Enjoy!

Did you like this episode? Get special behind-the-scenes access for just $5/month!

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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
fbdesign_logo_75
Revision Path is also sponsored by Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
glitch_75
Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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