Mike Nicholls

As we wind down this year’s Black History Month (and our anniversary month — 11 years!), we’ve got a super-sized episode with someone I’ve wanted to have on the podcast for a long time — the one and only Mike Nicholls. Mike is an award-winning storyteller with deep roots in hip-hop culture and design, and is probably most well-known for creating Umber — the design and culture magazine that highlights the global perspectives of Black people and POC from around the world.

Mike talked about how his love for magazines inspired him to create Umber, and shared some of the triumphs and challenges he’s faced over the years as the brand has evolved from a magazine into a media platform. He also spoke about his time as a designer in Atlanta, Philly, and Chicago, how Oakland inspires his work, and talked about how being a designer and a hip-hop artist helps keep his artistic integrity intact.

For Mike, his creative expression is about more than just making ends meet — it’s about creating with a purpose and about telling stories that resonate on a deeper level and embrace the authenticity of Black and brown experiences!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

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.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

Sam Bass

If you’ve been thinking about striking out on our own as a new year’s resolution, then this week’s episode might be a good one to check out as I speak with freelance animator and art director Sam Bass. Sam is a creative problem solver at heart, and for the past ten years, he’s worked on illustrative images and animating unique graphics with silky smooth results.

Sam talked about his work and delved deep into his creative process, including some of the unique challenges of sustaining a freelance career. He also spoke about growing up in the DMV area, his time at ICF before moving to Atlanta, and gave a sneak peek into his latest project — a short film called “The Exchange.”

Big thanks to Ricardo Roberts of BIEN for the introduction!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world. They are always looking to expand their roster of freelance design consultants in the U.S., particularly brand strategists, copywriters, graphic designers and Web developers.

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.

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

The BFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts consistently produces innovative and acclaimed work that is rooted in a strong foundational understanding of visual communication. It encourages creativity through cutting-edge tools, visionary design techniques, and offers burgeoning creatives a space to find their voice.

Students in BFA Advertising are prepared for success in the dynamic advertising industry in a program led by faculty from New York’s top ad agencies. Situated at the center of the advertising capital of the world, the program inspires the next generation of creative thinkers and elite professionals to design the future.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for over seven decades. Comprising 7,000 students at its Manhattan campus and more than 41,000 alumni from 128 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit sva.edu.

David Perrin

How are you using your creative talents to create a more equitable world. For David Perrin, his focus is on the world of nonprofit design. By day, David is the design lead at The Ford Foundation, and he works with an in-house team of editors, copywriters, strategists, designers, and developers. Outside of work, he’s an instructor with Social Movement Technologies, a nonprofit organization that provides strategy, training and campaign support to build people power and win in the digital age.

David gave me a breakdown about The Ford Foundation and what it does, and also provided a sneak peek at the variety of work the Foundation handles. We also talked about what fueled his background and his career transition into social justice, along with the challenges and opportunities it presents. David’s story is one of determination, self-reflection, and the power of using design as a powerful tool for change. Get ready to be inspired!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

David Perrin:

So, my name is David Perrin. I’m an art director, graphic designer, and illustrator. I use photo collage as my current graphic style to help kind of portray complex issues pertaining to social justice politics. You know, in my off time…Black joy and Black culture.

Maurice Cherry:

How has your 2023 been going so far?

David Perrin:

It’s been going great! Busy. Done a lot of traveling. Soul searching. Got into grad school, started grad school right now, so currently in that…and yeah, just really gearing up for the fall. Just kind of heads down, I think, for the first half of the year. Took a lot of trips to go see friends and family and everything, and now I’m like kind of just hitting the ground running. So it’s been a busy year so far.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, congratulations on grad school!

David Perrin:

Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:

Where are you going?

David Perrin:

So I’m currently at Baruch [College] studying arts administration. So getting a master’s in that. I’m super excited. It’s really going to help me bolster my leadership skills in the nonprofit space, specifically around art. And kind of on the back end of this, I do want to get into teaching and being a professor. I really love the work that I do, and I think it’s just going to just give me a stronger foundation moving forward.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. So I saw that you recently illustrated a children’s book. Tell me about that.

David Perrin:

Yes. “Amadou Goes To School.” So a friend of mine is Senegalese. He pitched the story to me a couple of years ago. At the time, the only person he knew that he would want to illustrate this book. And so the book primarily is about his experience, really through this character Amadou, and what the first days of school might look like with just dealing with just different cultures and just finding common ground and where people can kind of — or children, right? — can kind of see eye-to-eye on things and really just come together through that unfamiliar process of getting to know one another and stuff. So we’ve gotten a lot of just very just positive energy around the book. We’re working on a second right now. We’re hoping to make it a series.

This has definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone. I think, the last couple of years, I’m kind of undoing a lot of years of slight impostor syndrome and wanting to get into new spaces and things. And so slowly peeling back those layers and stuff. So this is definitely a project of love. Yeah. I really appreciate my boy Jonima Diaby who’s the writer on it. We’re heads down, trying to figure out what the game plan is. We want to do more readings in schools and get this out, you know, as the school year is kind of, I think, jump starting right now, as a matter of fact. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Was this your first children’s book?

David Perrin:

Yes, first children’s book. All original characters, content, all the things. Been drawing since I was in first grade, but to kind of do it in this platform…yeah, it was a little, like, nerve wracking. Finally, I think we released it last year, fall, and so, yeah, we’re gearing up, like I said, for the second book. So, yeah, just super excited to have it out there. And every now and then, I get a ping from a friend who just had a kid and they’re reading the book to their child, that type of thing. So I’m just happy it’s making the rounds. And like I said, I’m being able to touch my community in this way and…yeah, more to come.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice, looking forward to that. So you’re currently the design lead at The Ford Foundation. That’s pretty epic. Talk to me about that.

David Perrin:

Yeah, so I’m currently the design lead at The Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation is a global philanthropic institution centered around the mission of social justice at its core with the goal of expanding equitable experiences for all. The organization is global. We have eleven different offices. We cover a lot of ground and a lot of work. And so it’s really exciting, simply put, just because of all the different bodies of work that we contribute to. As a designer, I feel like I’m kind of a kid in a candy store, if you will. Being able to work on all these different topics, to be able to work on so many different types of bodies of work is really cool. And again, to add a bonus of us being global and working with the different regions as well and seeing how the work touches just different parts of the world is also pretty awesome.

Maurice Cherry:

I want to go a little deeper on what you do, like your day to day. I realized when I just asked that question before, I was like, that was real open ended. “You work for the Ford Foundation. Tell me about it.” I just realized as I said it, but what does a typical day look like? Are you in office? You’re working remotely? Do you have an in house team? What does that structure look like?

David Perrin:

Yeah, so we have an in-house team. So currently our team consists of so we have a creative team and we’re on a broader communications team, right? So the creative team consists of two editors, two writers, copywriters, if you will, and then two designers. And then our broader team consists of strategists and web development folks. So we’ve got a pretty robust team, I think around like 24 folks. So that’s our team as a whole.

The work? Yeah, it’s pretty vast. We have a lot of grantees, so we do grantee profiles where we reach out to our grantees, bolster up some of the work that they’re doing on their end, create these grantee profiles, which then kind of get condensed into maybe a blog format or social media. We’re here in New York, so sometimes our program officers will make regional visits to some of the regional offices and vice versa. So constantly creating content around those visits and kind of like information exchanged. We have a video series. We get into video a lot. Events. The Ford Foundation, as a building, as an entity, houses a lot of events throughout the year. We also have a gallery where we do gallery showings. I think we have one on AI that premiered a couple of weeks ago.

But yeah, we support everybody. Our small team, we have a group of fellows on constant rotation of fellowships that kind of happen throughout the organization. A small bite-sized list of things that we could be working on, you know, on a day to day [basis].

Maurice Cherry:

So it doesn’t sound like there is at any point in time, like a lack of work, because it feels like there’s always going to be something coming in, whether that’s, like you said, new grantee profiles or maybe that’s seasonal type campaigns or things that you’re doing. It sounds like it’s just a constant stream of work.

David Perrin:

Yeah, our grantees are moving and grooving. They’re constantly giving us things to put out into the space, and again, to bolster up. And yeah, the organization is constantly going through these different rotations. Folks coming in and out, fellows coming in and out. I mean, I will say the summers kind of are like a safe period where folks…we try to give ourselves some time off, right? So we’re trying to create some work/life balance there.

Like I was saying earlier, in the fall, yeah, it kind of heads down. Right. So right now we just have a lot of things going in constant rotation. But the summers, we try to keep it a little open ended for folks to take off.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s good to mention that because a couple of weeks ago I had Vasheena Brisbane on the show. She is…I’m going to butcher her title, but she’s like the director of communications for Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York.

David Perrin:

Got it.

Maurice Cherry:

Which is a pretty big church, pretty well-known church. And we sort of talked about kind of like how when you’re doing the type of design that maybe not is, I don’t know, product-based or software-based or things like that, sometimes it gets overlooked and sometimes it has like a stigma to it.

I’ve had designers on the show. I mean, I’m a designer myself, where there can sometimes be a stigma against church work or nonprofit work or things like that because it’s not as, I don’t know, glossy and sexy as like, advertising or software or anything like that. So I think it’s good to note that there’s just a variety of design work that you do with The Ford Foundation and that it’s all kind of pretty encompassing a lot of different types of media.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. For example, we have a 60th anniversary of our East Africa office happening pretty soon, and I’m making a stage design for them. Some of these are firsts for me; wayfinding stuff, banners that kind of take up full columns of buildings and things. Yes, to nonprofit work and some of this stuff feeling, tone wise, really, I guess to your point, maybe not as sexy as advertising or some branding studios and stuff like that, but still get the work done. And we should be held to the same standard as everybody else, I believe.

Maurice Cherry:

Right? I mean, you get the work in and it’s a variety of work. I mean, I think sometimes if you’re working with a company, particularly if you’re just a product designer, you’re kind of doing the same type of thing day in, day out, you don’t really have a chance to kind of stretch yourself creatively. And it sounds like even though you’re the lead and you have a team, there’s always going to be something new and different coming down the pike for you to work on.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. I mean, yeah, we try to keep it interesting too. We’re also trying to push ourselves with our grantee profiles. We want to do more original artwork, original photography…really meet our grantees where they’re at and bolster the work up to, like, a New York Times or The Atlantic. We are really striving for just a higher standard of design and design thinking and reimagining of what this work can look like. We just went through a brand redesign. Yeah, I think it embodies some of these newer ideas and trends in the design community. So I think great design is accessible. Just because it’s nonprofit doesn’t mean “doesn’t have to be stale, doesn’t have to be all these things.” It could really be as energizing and exciting as anything that we see out in the private sector.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s the most challenging part about your work?

David Perrin:

I guess even going back to my days at Dēmos, sometimes visualizing some of this work because it’s so nuanced, right? I’m thinking on when I was working at Dēmos, this racial justice think tank, right? Like coming up with visuals for ending the filibuster, right? Like, what does that look like? It’s not a very tangible thing. You can’t just throw that into Google and a bunch of images are going to pop up. And so, yeah, for some of these more nuanced, more sensitive topics, right? The Supreme Court ruling on abortion, what does that look like? That creates an approachable tone, right? It’s so sensitive. What does that look like? What’s the tone that we want to strike with that? We deal in some pretty heavy topics. And so I think that’s always a difficulty in trying to establish a tone of empowerment, but also making clear what’s at stake and what’s actually happening in the space without being, I guess, disruptive or disrespectful. We do want to respect all the imagery and our grantees and the people involved. These are real issues, and so there’s a lot of sensitivities around that and we want to just be mindful as much as possible creating a message, but also, again, just really thinking on the communities involved in the work. So, yeah, sometimes there’s not always a balance. And so it’s tricky sometimes coming up with how to really set that tone and make sure everybody is fully represented in the right way.

Maurice Cherry:

And I would imagine aside from that, because you’re dealing with different cultures, you’re dealing with different just…topics and mores and things like that. So you’re always having to sort of strike that balance between, of course, something that’s going to be visually and aesthetically pleasing, but then also is going to work for the context that it’s being used. Like, for example, you mentioned doing this conference in East Africa. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t style that, like, you would do maybe an event in Silicon Valley. Like, it would just be a different type of thing, I would imagine.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. And to that point, and I’ll probably touch on this a little bit later, but yeah, bringing folks in, getting the right feedback. We’re very much in touch with the folks in that regional office, and they sent us, like, a mood board, right, to kind of help guide us on some principles and some rules of the road, right? Some things that they wanted to stay away from, as far as stereotypes, and I’m very appreciative of that. I want everybody, people that we are speaking behalf of trying to grantees, who are trying to bolster communities, all that to really come to the table, right? And really help us, guide us as designers and visionaries, so that we’re not misrepresenting the work at any point. It’s a fine line, but always, always here to hear from folks, like, what they want to see in the visuals, and what’s empowering and what makes sense to the work.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, along with the work that you’re doing at the Ford Foundation, you also teach you’re an instructor with Social Movement Technologies. How did you find out about them?

David Perrin:

At my time at Dēmos, I was still trying to get a handle on what organizing work looked like and felt like. And so my director at the time, I guess Smt, had kind of fallen into her inbox. She encouraged me to take the they had a Certificate course right on basically design tools for graphic designers in the organizing space. Right. I took the course. I learned a lot, met up with a lot of great designers, and just kind of got to hear the stories and just kind of be alongside of other organizers and grassroots folks, researchers, people who aren’t designers, that just wanted to learn and to help their organizations out in any capacity, in the design capacity and everything. So, yeah, it was just a really good learning experience overall. And so after the program, the head of the program reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be an instructor, and I jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t turned back. And so, yeah, I feel fortunate to be in a space again, to be on the other side and to kind of help usher in just this next class of folks year after year. It’s been very rewarding, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:

What sort of topics are you teaching?

David Perrin:

We’re starting from the ground up, right? So just teaching like, basic typography, color palette, mood boarding, brand guides, visual tone with photography, sourcing animation, illustration, whatever. We can kind of really pack in during the time that we have. We really try to pack it in. And yeah, we’ve created a pretty decent formula as far as pace goes. But yeah, we really just try to give people the building blocks on what to really think about when thinking about brand and how to start. Right. So really, like I said, from the ground up. And putting this against folks are limited resources too, and giving them a lot of open source material that they could use to kind of just get started. Like Photoshop. Adobe sometimes can be a little inaccessible, can be a little daunting, right? So we really just try to meet people where they’re at and help bolster their skills so that they feel more confident talking about visual identity and what to really think about when it comes to strategy for the organizations.

Maurice Cherry:

How do you sort of balance this teaching work along with your 9-to-5 work? Because it sounds like The Ford Foundation work is already a lot to do.

David Perrin:

It is. Full transparency, right? Like a couple of years ago, I was on the more teaching end of this and now I’m more of supportive…more of like a supportive role, looking at students’ work and being able to kind of guide them on next steps and things. So more of like a small group kind of feedback session type of thing. And I try to do my best to really prepare folks as far as next steps and help them again, just try to meet them where they’re at, whatever the desired needs are at the time.

Maurice Cherry:

Now let’s kind of, you know, change it up here a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about your work, you know, your teaching as well. I do want to ask more about Dēmos, but before we get to that, let’s learn more about you. I know you’re currently in Brooklyn, New York, but you grew up in Miami, is that right?

David Perrin:

Yes. So North Miami Beach, to be specific. But I have a kind of a very roundabout story.

My parents are both from Jamaica. I wasn’t actually even born in Florida, but that’s where I spent most of my time. So born in Texas, moved to North Miami Beach, where I think I did maybe, I don’t know, preschool to maybe the top of first grade. From there, moved to Michigan, spent a couple of years in Michigan, moved to North Carolina for a couple of years after that; each stop, like, averaging about three to four years, landing back in Florida, moving to the panhandle, going to the high school in the panhandle, going to college down in Fort Lauderdale. I spent some time in New York and all that. That mixture. And then finally moving to Brooklyn, where I’m at now. So that’s just a little bit of that journey.

My background as far as a creative kind of started in first grade, drawing dinosaurs and things. I was really involved with Jurassic Park and stuff. Then kind of moved on to Dragon Ball Z, anime, all that stuff. In high school, when I made it back where I made it to the panhandle, I went to a collegiate high school where I was basically taking collegiate classes with college students. There I was able to kind of dig in on artwork in a very specific way, right? So I’m doing live paintings and live drawings with models and sculpting, taking guitar lessons and all these things, kind of almost making up for some of these moves, right? I moved around a lot, so I wasn’t able to really hone in on the artistic side of me until I had a couple of years at this collegiate high school where I was able to kind of lean in, more specifically.

Graphic design really doesn’t start to take, I guess, even a role until I moved to Fort Lauderdale for college, where I’m studying accounting, of all things. And I was kind of doing that in the background. I was a part of a fraternity. I’m making flyers, diving in photoshop a little bit, but not that much. And then eventually after college, I worked in nonprofit worked on the nonprofit side in accounting for a little bit. I told my parents straight up after college because they’re Jamaican. So they’re like, “hey, you got to be a doctor, lawyer, business…something.” Like, you got to make it make sense type of thing. You know what I mean?

Yeah, I told them after a couple of years of doing the accounting thing, I just said “the arts.” I was like, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m going to be in the arts. And so I think around the time of maybe my second year of working in accounting, my sisters were getting ready to go to SCAD. They had made the jump, right? So they went to UCF down in Orlando, and then they wanted to go to SCAD. And they kind of propelled me. I’m like, well, they get to go to art school. I’m the bigger brother. I’m like, I want to go to art school too.

So I start doing some research. SVA is high on that list. I decide kind of then and there, I’m moving out of state. I’m going to New York. I create this portfolio, like, to this day, it amazes me because, like I said, I don’t have the most artistic background. Like, I’m drawing, I’m dabbling, doing little things here and there. But yeah, I cobbled together this portfolio for them of these sketches here and there, and some of these Photoshop files and things that I made along the years, and they accepted me.

And so, yeah, right after the acceptance, a buddy of mine was heading up to New York. His parents were moving up there. I moved up there with him, and I started taking night classes, continuing it at the School of Visual Arts. So by day, I found an accounting job on the nonprofit side. Again, by night I’m at SBA taking classes and things to try to make ends meet. But also with this battery in my back of “I need to make it,” they were very upfront with me when I got to SVA. They were like, “hey, you have a cap. You have a financial cap, and so you have a limit as to how much government support you’re going to get.” I think I had my back up against the wall kind of going in, and so I felt like really, really had to make it. But I also knew that from early on that I wanted to get into social justice work or work that’s community based. The commercial thing really wasn’t clicking for me, even in my early inceptions of learning about graphic design and typography and all the things a lot to think about.

But that was kind of like the early beginnings of design for me and school and everything. Fast forward and I eventually make my way to Dēmos, where I’m working on all these issues pertaining to racial justice, voting rights, I’m blanking on climate change, all these different buckets of work, and then eventually make my way to Ford. That’s the long…that’s the abridged version, but yeah, here we are.

Maurice Cherry:

So I saw, you know, and that you kind of — I guess, I don’t know, maybe skipped over this a little bit — but we can talk about it. I mean, you freelanced a bit in 2015 and 2016. And then after that you were working — this is before Dēmos — you were working at AMC Networks as their lead graphic designer. How was that experience? Because this is before you sort of went into the nonprofit space with Dēmos and now Ford. What was it like at AMC?

David Perrin:

Early beginnings was cool. I get to work for a big brand, right, and I finally get brand recognition. Brand recognition is such a big thing in the design community. It’s really like who you work for. If you don’t work for a big brand or something, it’s like your social capital is really low. You know what I mean? So I felt I got to kind of finally step into that a bit. And so, yeah, early stages of that job was really cool. But things started to kind of turn for me around, I think, like 2016, a little before 2016, just seeing how the politics kind of permeated through the workspace.

Early start’s great, met a lot of great folks, learned a lot. Working with a big organization of that size being able to kind of dabble in between different channels and meet people from different teams and things. It’s a full on learning experience. But like I said, toward the end, I had to make a change for my own moral benefit.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I figured when you said “it was cool”…that sounded a little bit loaded. I was like, okay. I think sometimes you have those experiences where you hope it’s going to be one way and then they’re kind of just throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you, especially if it’s at a place like you said, that has that name recognition.

I can say this now because I don’t work there anymore, but back when I worked at Fog Creek Software, which later became Glitch, Glitch was sort of known, I think in the 2018 to 2020 space, as being like this really progressive software company that’s sort of doing these things. But internally? Whoooo! I mean, I had several different titles. I even had personal slights with management. And then I became management and then they didn’t want to train me as a manager. There was like a lot of stuff that happened. I mean, I don’t want to go too much into it, but I mean, also, I’m not a big fan of really trashing places where I used to work. I mean, it’s in the past, like move past it, but I know what you mean because sometimes that name recognition does mean a lot. I mean, it’s something that I think now people are even finding out, especially if they’ve been laid off in the past year from a company that used to have better reputation. Yes, I’m talking about Twitter. They might be finding it a little difficult, I would say probably in the market to maybe get placed somewhere because that name now has I mean, despite the work that they might have done there, the platform is almost in the dirt at this point. So, I don’t know.

It’s a tricky thing, I think, for designers, especially with career mobility and trying to make sure that you’re doing work that is important, that means something to you, but then also unfortunately means something to other people once you get out in the job market again.

David Perrin:

Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:

It sucks. It absolutely sucks. I just want to put that on the record. It sucks.

So after your AMC experience, you start at Dēmos. How did you find out about them? I mean, I’m sure you probably knew about it just in terms of general consciousness, but that’s a big shift from something like AMC to nonprofit.

David Perrin:

I think at some point, like I said, 2016, it’s like I made a pledge to myself, right? I was just like trying to manifest it was before I even knew what social justice meant. Organizing. My view of that space was still tied to places like the NAACP. I did the NAACP Youth Council growing up. And so I’m thinking, “man, I can’t get a job in this. Like a design job.”

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

David Perrin:

My view is just so small, and so I’m applying around. I’m on these job boards. I applied to Dēmos twice, right? They took a while to get back to me. I think just because of internal processes and things like that manifest. I manifested it, it happened, and I ended up there. Everything else in between, I have no idea. So I really thank my lucky stars on that one. Trying to listen to a kid like me in my pitch to get into the space because, yeah, none of my work really reflected that. I’m coming off of entertainment, right? So how does this translate into that type of thing? So happy that they took a shot on me.

Maurice Cherry:

And, I mean, it sounds like it really paid off just for you in terms of solidifying yourself in this particular realm, because now you’re at The Ford Foundation. So clearly your experience at Dēmos must have been pretty transformative.

David Perrin:

Me being the lead, the only designer on the team, I got to experiment. Shout out to my director at the time. She really let me spread my wings on what was possible kind of under the organization. We just got a new president. We just redesigned the website. I kind of used that as, like, a proxy to pull new fonts and new colors into the new body of work. I used that kind of like the template to create what our reports would look like moving forward and what art might look like on the site. I kind of just hit the ground running. Folks just let me know they saw one collage. They were like, “oh, this really resonates. Let’s do this again.” And it was just kind of like rinse, wash, and repeat. And I felt like a lot of the stories that we were telling, the organizations that we were uplifting, the communities that we were talking about, really internally, for me, really embodied the work that I wanted to be doing. So I was really appreciative for just having so much floor to experiment, just really build up this tool of collaging and talking about the work in a way that I feel kind of brings people to the table.

Dēmos can be wonky at times in how they put out their reports, right? They crank out these lengthy 10-page, 15-page reports and things. But, yeah, you want to bring folks into the room and bring it to the table and everything. So I felt I was able to do that with what was them and just rich copy. I mean, we’re talking about really good research that’s done, so things based, in fact, organizations based in reality. And so, yeah, it just kind of gave me a firm leg to stand on. But I did at times miss kind of the allure of an AMC or a bigger brand, right? I feel like I’m working on all these things for an organization that maybe didn’t have the biggest digital footprint out in the space, in the nonprofit space, in the organizing space, think tank space, they are pillars. But outside of that, it’s kind of like (sighs). But love the work, though, nonetheless.

Maurice Cherry:

And a lot of your design work has this basis in social issues, which it sounds like is definitely something that’s really important to you. You mentioned 2016 being sort of this nexus point for you. Why do we need more designers in the social justice space?

David Perrin:

Well, because of the work. The work is we are talking about communities that are on the margins, right? We need folks that represent those communities in this space because I think the work presents itself very differently. You know what I mean? And so, yeah, when you’re not attached to these communities, I think you’re detached in a way. And yeah, I feel like these opportunities should be given to the folks that, again, are from these spaces, that are speaking to these spaces.

Sometimes that’s often not the case. Some of these jobs are low paying. I’m also going to advocate for more pay for nonprofit designers. I’m also going to ask for more of a leadership track or a track to leadership in the design space on the nonprofit side. Yeah, designers are kind of left out these conversations, right? And we’re such a big and pivotal part of the work and how it’s represented outside of the organization and into these spaces. Using Dēmos as an example, we’re making work to put in the hands of policymakers. So like, it’s transformative, right? You’ve got the right policy into the right policymakers hands. I mean, you know, government is slow, but you just don’t know what can happen putting these things in the right hands and stuff. So really important work across the board.

I do want to see more BIPOC designers like instance in the space and also being able to maintain a life in this space. I don’t think it’s temporary, right? Like, we love this work just as much as everybody else. We definitely should have more of a space to live a sustainable life, to create this work over time, you know what I mean? I should be able to retire, working on the nonprofit side, that type of thing. And everybody else should too. Making a huge push for that, for the grant makers, the foundations, policymakers, whatever, for them to really create that budget line item when you’re creating those grants, like, really try to build out more of a creative team. I’m advocating for designers, but more creatives that exist in the space. There’s a lot of people that want to do a lot of great work again, [they] deserve to make a living.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. And to your point, they deserve to retire too.

David Perrin:

Absolutely. 1000%. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

I had Cheryl Miller back on the show for episode 500. And I remember…I think we might have said it in the interview, but we definitely talked about it afterwards about how there’s no retirement plan for designers. And I was like, well, I kind of get what she was saying, but I think in the grand scheme of, like, if you’re a designer today, unless you work for, I don’t know, maybe like a big tech company or something like that, you kind of end up going from job to job. Like, the life and career of a designer is not as structured as, say, a doctor or a lawyer or something like that, or even something more blue collar, like an accountant or something like that, where you could be somewhere for X number of years. I mean, I think just in our lifetime job security, to be somewhere for four or five years is admirable. Whereas my mom was at the same job from like ’74 to 2016. It was an easy thing. And she worked in STEM, she worked in biology. But we were talking about how there’s no retirement plan for designers, which really got me to thinking, what would it look like to retire? Would I just have to keep working and doing gigs until I’m dead? Or what does that look like? Which is morbid, but a reality. Especially like…I’m in my 40s, so it’s a reality.

David Perrin:

Yeah. These are the things that I’m also thinking about, right? Longevity in design, resilience in design. And yeah, I want to figure out what the answer to that is sooner than later. It’s not a magical thing. It’s a process that should also be, again, rewarded with stability at the end of the day, just like everybody else.

Maurice Cherry:

Absolutely. What keeps you motivated and inspired with your work?

David Perrin:

I mentioned the Master’s program earlier. I really want to teach. I really want to teach BIPOC students what this world looks like, the possibilities of a designer. Try to, again, just build a bigger, broader community of future thinkers. And so, yeah, I’m really just, primarily, I want to do this for this next generation coming about. I feel like my design journey? Happenstance, right? I mean, a lot of work, right? A lot of grinding, all these things. But, man, I would have loved to have even this book — “The Black Experience in Design” — I would have loved to have this at 16 or like an earlier age. Who knows what life would have looked like for me if I had just a couple more years? Just being able to get a better grasp of what design is, the possibilities. That’s what keeps me up at night and wanting to really get to that space and just social justice in general.

2020, 2016, like the pandemic, like these inflection points, it really shook up democracy in a way to where you could, you know, scratching your head. Like, what does democracy even mean? What does liberation even mean in this country, specifically and abroad? Yeah. And what does that look like from a design standpoint? What are we going to do to kind of help maintain the steady rhythm of just organizing and getting people together. These are the things that I think about is what does the future look like for this space? How do we contribute to it? How do we keep it fresh? How do we keep feeding it and keeping it energizing and inclusive and bringing more people to the table and bringing them in? That’s why I’m calling for more nonprofit designers to come into this space and share their expertise from all different points of life, because we need it. There’s a lot of noise out there, politically and everything. And yeah, we definitely need the support.

Maurice Cherry:

Do you have, like, a dream project that you’d love to do one day? It could either be through The Ford Foundation, it could be a personal project…anything like that.

David Perrin:

Yeah. So through this medium of collage, I want to do murals. I see a lot of vector art murals, painted graffiti, all these things. I think of…I think his name is, like, JR. Artist. When I first came to New York, he had a lot of just big murals, right. With his collage work and everything. And so, yeah, we have a piece at The Ford Foundation. So that’s been a dream of mine, is like yeah, to be able to do a big collage piece on, you know, one of these walls in the area. So I’m constantly driving around and being like, “man, like, a mural would look really good here.” That type of thing. Also just more editorial work in general. I’d love to see my work in [The New York] Times or The Atlantic, that type of thing. So I’m kind of moving and grooving about. Yeah, I want to be able to kind of be on everybody’s radar and be able to tell those stories for those publications and murals and things like that.

Maurice Cherry:

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Do you think it’ll be doing that kind of work?

David Perrin:

Absolutely. Yeah. I want to have a couple more of these Amadou books under my belt. We do want to make this a series. Yeah. Some murals and eventually, like, teaching. Like I said, I want to be at a school, ushering in that new generation of thinkers, communicators, and mentorship. I really want to give this stuff back to my community in a way that feels impactful and meaningful, and I want folks to come back around and ask me questions. I want to be the design elder. I’m putting that on myself, that type of thing. Anything I can do to just build my community up in the ways that I think are going to be positive moving forward in the realms of design, artwork, that sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to sort of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work and everything? Where can they find that online?

David Perrin:

So I am on Instagram under my artist’s name, @dpicting, right? So my name is David Perrin. So DP, right? So D-P-I-C-T-I-N-G. So using my first initials. And then I-C-T-I-N-G. So that’s @dpicting on Instagram. I’m online at dpictingstudio.com. Also dpicting.com on the website. Yeah, I’m working on want to get an exhibition out there of my artwork. I’m working on After Effects as well, trying to create more moving collages and things like that. So that’s a slow and steady process. So that’s going to be coming. So show coming soon. Yeah, you can find all the updates and things on Instagram, on LinkedIn as well. I’m on LinkedIn. David Perrin. That’s where I’m at. Right.

Maurice Cherry:

Sounds good. David Perrin, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. First of all, I just love the work that you’re doing at The Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation already does so much great in the world, so much philanthropic work. And when I was doing my research and I was like, “wait a minute there’s a brother that’s leading all this.” That’s when I was like, I had to get you on the show to sort of talk about that. I mean, I think it was one thing, of course, it was great for you to talk about your history with working and doing design with social justice issues, but also kind of, I think, giving folks the opportunity to see that you can switch career paths and stay true to yourself. Certainly you sort of started out, like you said, doing this accounting work, and then you kind of wanted to work at a design place that had a big name. And then 2016 happened, which I think was a nexus point for a lot of people, not just designers, but a point to have them think, “well, how can my work make more of an impact?” And now you’ve done this work for Dēmos, you’re doing this work for The Ford Foundation. I hope that others will hear your story and realize that this is something that they can do. Nonprofit is a space that they can go into and that they can often find success. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

David Perrin:

Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, super overjoyed. Thank you.

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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Ashley Fletcher

Revision Path is all about inspiring Black designers, and my conversation with Ashley Fletcher is a brilliant example of why that inspiration matters. Ashley drops some serious knowledge on finding your creative community, pushing boundaries, but also the importance of taking care of your well-being.

Ashley talked about her current work, including her business Goods Made By Digitrillnana, and she shared how her educational journey helped her growth in understanding design. We also talked shop on a few topics, including the role of design organizations in 2023, AI and intellectual property, and more.

Ashley’s story will leave you feeling inspired and ready to take your design career to new heights!

Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Fletcher:
Hey, everyone. I’m Ashley Fletcher. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator based in Washington, DC. by way of Prince George’s County, Maryland. I have a passion for visual storytelling and designing with intention and alignment. I’m also the owner of Goods Made by Digitrillnana, an art shop dedicated to celebrating culture and art through greeting cards, art prints, and more. Maurice, thank you so much for having me. Listening to this podcast has been a beacon of light for my career.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow. Well, thank you. I love to start off the interview that way. Wow. How’s your year been going so far? How’s 2023 been?

Ashley Fletcher:
My year has been great. 2023 has been a year of really Repivoting, I think, my creative journey. So I’m excited to see what this new process has in store. I feel like I’ve checked off a lot of boxes. Sometimes when you’re always working and just grinding things out, you don’t really realize, hey, I accomplished all of these things. Also, this is my first year. I’m a breast cancer survivor, so this is my first year without any surgeries. So I am looking forward to what 2023 has to offer as far as my overall healing and well being as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow. Well, congratulations on beating breast cancer.

Ashley Fletcher:
Thank you. Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
What plans do you have for the summer?

Ashley Fletcher:
This summer I am going to be working just a few more events. I’m trying to add a few more events for my art shop. So I’ll be at Broccoli City Festival in July. Super excited because the past years I applied and I wasn’t accepted. So it’s always beautiful to see when things start to align and check that off. And I don’t have any vacations planned, but I’m sure I’ll go to New York for one of these amazing, like, Brooklyn Museum art nights and some little local travel as well.

Maurice Cherry:
If you make it up to New York, you should definitely check out the Poster House Museum.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yes. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I get their emails. I’ve done some events with them as well, but they always have really great exhibitions. I haven’t been to the museum itself yet, but I always recommend people to go there. So if you get a chance to check it out, you should.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, I definitely will.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about your current job. You’re a graphic designer at Brookfield Properties. Tell me about that.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, so they are kind of a real estate house. They work with everything from logistics warehouses to residential commercials to commercial property. So I am a part of their in house team. It’s a fairly small design team in DC. They have about three designers in New York, I believe it’s four or five. And then we also have designers that are working remotely and all over the world as well. It’s an international company, so yeah, it’s been really cool. They have a beautiful office. They received some awards for the best eco friendly, sustainable office. So very beautiful space to be working in and really inspiring. Lots of windows that I love because working at my when I was freelancing, I was in the house all the time, not a lot of suntime. So it’s been a beautiful shift. And I create a variety of things from eblast variety of I just did some graphics for a Summer Sounds event that they have at their properties in Denver. So really wide variety of designer projects that I’ve worked on.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, very nice. And so it sounds like you’re in the office then working. It’s not like a remote or hybrid thing.

Ashley Fletcher:
Actually, it’s hybrid. So I’m three days in the office and two days at home. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s that been for you?

Ashley Fletcher:
It’s lovely. I love it. After freelancing again, stepping back into the corporate world, I realized how much I miss being around people on a regular basis. So having that balance has been really beneficial to me, I think. And then also the balance of not having to worry about commute for work for those two days because commuting can also be pretty draining depending on how far you are from your job and things like that. So it’s a really great balance.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s something I’m sort of weighing now that I’m back on the job market and looking because I’ve done remote work for so long and this is like before the pandemic. I’ve been working remotely since 2008. So it’s not that I am averse to going back into an office, but Atlanta traffic is no joke. I’m really trying to think of like, if I work somewhere in the office, is it going to be somewhere that I can not have like an hour long commute and that’s even if I take the train as opposed to driving or something like that. But it sounds like you’ve got a good set up, though, with the hybrid.

Ashley Fletcher:
I do. And thankfully my commute is very beautiful. It depends on the day, of course. Traffic in DC is pretty tough, but it usually doesn’t take me longer than maybe 45 minutes. On a rough day, maybe an hour, it’s really nice. And when traffic is sweet, it’s like 20 minutes it might take me to get home. So it’s very nice commute. I remember when I was working way back when I worked for the government and I was traveling, I think like 2 hours away and oh my gosh, I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I did it. I commend all the people that have to commute whether driving or taking public transportation. It’s tough.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m right across the street from a train station, so it will be easy for me to get on the train. But everyone knows Atlanta’s mass transit is not the best. I’d say it’s probably gotten a lot better, at least in terms of the trains. I can’t say for the buses though. But I want to make sure if I do get back to a hybrid thing that it’s in a situation where I don’t have a long commute. It’s not going to take me forever to get to and from work because like you said, that part can be draining, especially if it’s not a good commute to get there, like, if you’re passing through a certain part of town or anything like that.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, I had an interesting experience a couple of years ago when I was taking public transportation, and ever since then, I was like, I have to be able to drive to work because it’s so draining. You don’t know what kind of experience you might have that day on or off the train. And also for me, I absorb a lot of people’s energy. So having all of that various energy around me, sometimes it’s like, wait a minute. By the time I get to work, I’m like, okay, I need to decompress. I need some sage going on, maybe a little nap. So, yeah, definitely grateful. I think this job came at a time where a lot of things aligned for me. So if you are on the job hunt and you’re having a tough time, I just say manifest, write those things down that you want, that you’re looking for those qualities in that space, because those were deal breakers for me. So, yeah, definitely grateful to have this job come across. And the team is really awesome. Everyone is super helpful, friendly. My first day, like, the welcome, it was just so beautiful. So really grateful.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What does I guess, like, a regular day look like? Because it sounds like you’re working on a lot of different type of design things for the company. You mentioned e-blasts and a number of other things.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah. So we utilize Monday as a software for a lot of our projects. So I’ll come in most times, I know have an idea of what I’ll be working on, so just prioritizing those projects based on their deadlines. Sometimes I’m checking in with the marketing team, so our design team is kind of underneath the marketing team, so checking in with those requests, asking any questions that I need, kind of gathering that designer brief of, okay, here’s all the components to what I’ll be creating and what I need. And then I’ll just go in from there. A lot of our materials, because book build is pretty established, some things have been created already. So I might be going in and tweaking an already existing design. I might be creating something from scratch. Like, I designed some exterior and interior graphics for the Highlight Center in Houston. If you’re in Houston, check it out. It’s very nice. Lovely work. I’m really proud of myself for that. So I spent a lot of time sketching, carving out time in the day for research. Also, again, asking those different questions with the marketing team of things that they needed that I may not have gotten in the brief in ideation sharing that with my creative director and that process of ideation and revisions. So that’s usually what it’s like. They also have something called activated. And so they have various events throughout the office. One day we had, like, boba tea. They may have I think they have a Pride event. Actually, today they have a Pride event. So different various different events to get you engaged with other people in the office and the other tenants that are in the office. And Google is in their office as well. So it’s a cool way to engage and break up the work day. So, yeah, that’s usually what I’m doing, attending some of those events during lunchtime, getting some free ice cream, some free boba tea, and going back to the office and zoning into some of the deadlines that I have.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, honestly, as you describe it, it sounds like the ideal type of sort of design position for where you’re at in your career. It’s open to the point that you can sort of work hybrid, but then you’re also working on all of these different types of things, so you’re stretching your skills in other ways. And the team is nice and there’s like, fun, engaging activities for you all to do. That’s good. That’s great. Actually, I wish a lot of designers kind of had that type of set up because it’s really fun. I mean, it makes work fun in that aspect because you’re not so keyed into the work that you can’t sort of know what else is going on in the company with other people and stuff like that.

Ashley Fletcher:
Right. And I think sometimes for people, that can be the difference from in house or being at an agency. One of my coworkers had shared agency life. It can be a lot more hectic depending on where you are. So definitely want to consider that when you’re looking for places to work.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, before Brookfield, you were doing freelance design. Actually, you’re still doing freelance design. You mentioned that a bit earlier. Talk to me about that. Like, how do you juggle that freelance work with doing your nine to five work?

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, so when I first started at Brookfield, I had a freelance project that I was doing. And honestly, it was a little hectic because I was adjusting so much to being back in the office. I went from grad school right into freelance, and that was also during COVID So I graduated in 2020 in the height of COVID So it was a lot of different things were happening within the work industry. So now I’m able to kind of set some time aside and really just being intentional about my timing. Weekends, I’m usually working, and that’s okay. Sometimes I take a break, I’ll spend one day kind of doing letting things fly. So if I want to go hang out with my family or get pizza, whatever, just go outside and take a break. I definitely do that. I prioritize that, especially nowadays, that’s kind of priority of getting that break. But definitely timing. Like, I’ll come home some days if I have my art shop. So I’m doing a lot of work for that. I’ll take a little nap, maybe I’ll get home maybe around seven or something like that, take a nap, get things back started, maybe around ten. And depending on how my creative flow goes, I’ll end around one. Or I might keep going until I’m like, okay, you need to take a little nap before work. So it definitely depends on the project. It depends on how I’m feeling, my well being and everything. So if I’m tired, I’ll try to push myself just a little, but I got to get my rest because you create much better when you’re rested. So it’s been an interesting time. I’ll say adjusting with nine to five in freelance, but again, scheduling and being intentional with my time. So if that means I have to put my phone in a drawer so I’m not checking social media or being distracted by notifications, I’ll do that. Yeah, it’s very helpful.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. One thing with trying to make that balance is, I mean, of course you have your regular nine to five work. That’s the stuff you know you’re going to do, because that’s probably the most money that you’re making. You have your health benefits tied to that, so you don’t want to lose that. But I remember those days of trying to balance freelance at nine to five, and it’s not an easy thing to do, especially if your freelance work starts to outpace your nine to five work. Yeah, I remember when I was starting to do that, honestly, back then they called it teleworking, this was like 2007 or something. And they would say, oh yeah, you could work three days in the office, two days out. But then the two days that I wasn’t in the office, I never did work. I only did freelance work because when I’m at home, I’m thinking, okay, I can sort of juggle doing both. Because your mindset is just different in an office, I find, than when you’re doing it at home. At home, and this is pre-pandemic, of course, but at home you’re around your creature comforts: your bed, your couch, all this sort of stuff. And it’s tougher to kind of get into that work mindset. I remember even at the beginning of the pandemic when I interviewed folks just kind of asking them, how are you getting into work mode at home? Because it can be so difficult to do that. It took me quite a while to be able to juggle that, to be able to switch off work brain and go to freelance brain and try to balance those things. It can be pretty tough.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, it can. And I think as designers, we’re constantly creating, we’re constantly problem solving. And I don’t think we give ourselves enough grace sometimes of multitasking with that. When you’re always problem solving, it can definitely create burnout. That’s why, again, for me, I’m going to take a nap. If it’s one thing that I’m going to do, I’m going to take a nap. And sometimes that helps and sometimes it doesn’t. In between working and starting with all my freelance projects, I think too, being honest with yourself about your time and also with the client. For me, I was working on a project, I started a project right before I found out that I was going to be hired for this new position. So I had to let the client know, hey, my schedule is definitely going to change. Some days I wasn’t able to check my email at all and having to pace that time, or some days I would be working really late and so I’m scheduling emails and check ins with clients to go out the next morning. And then not to mention for me, I had a lot of family stuff happening at that time too, like dealing with aging grandparents and family members that can also wait into your time. So I just had to be honest with myself and say, hey, okay, this is where we are. And also therapy. I have an amazing therapist. She’s like, you should spend some time not freelancing and take a break. This month I think is like the first month that I’m not actively seeking freelance work and hopefully that I’ll be able to shift a little bit back because there’s definitely a lot of projects that I’m interested in doing. But yeah, she told me, she said you need to take a break. You need to go ahead and just enjoy this new chapter a little bit before you continue and get back into work.

Maurice Cherry:
If I can give just a tiny bit of advice there. If you get to the point where you can sort of see that you have enough money to hire an assistant, like a virtual assistant, do it. Do it and just have them do basic tasks like responding back to messages. Like for me, responding back to emails timely was always the thing that kind of caught me up. It was like, oh, I forgot to send this. And I sent maybe something a little too late. If you can afford it, do that to handle the smaller mundane tasks that you can sort of take off your plate so you can then focus on the creative work.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, I suck at that. I definitely agree. And I can’t wait until I have evolved. The practice has evolved and I can do that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
So I want to learn more about you and about your journey as a designer. So we’re going to kind of take things back to the beginning. Are you originally from the DC area?

Ashley Fletcher:
Yes, so I’ve lived in Maryland pretty much all of my life. So yeah, I’m Maryland through and through. Went to high school in Maryland, went to college two times in Maryland, so yeah, Maryland, DC native.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you grow up around a lot of design and everything as a kid?

Ashley Fletcher:
No, I didn’t. But I grew up around a lot of entrepreneurs and creatives. So my mom is a hairstylist, and I think sometimes we don’t give our hairstylists the credit they deserve as far as being creative. What she does and creates with hair is amazing, from cuts to color. So seeing her seeing her as an entrepreneur, navigating having owning her own salon. My father also was in the carpentry industry when seeing him navigate and just creating things with his hands. My grandfather is a fine artist. He’s also a jack of all trades from cooking. There’s so many paintings in my grandparents house that he’s created. He’s upholstered chairs. So I’ve been surrounded by creatives without really knowing. And a lot of the times that I spent in my mom’s hair salon was looking through Black hair magazines and publications. So I spent a lot of time unknowingly around ingesting design without really knowing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, hairstylist. And I would say also, like, seamstresses. I’m gendering it by saying that, but, like, people that can sew and everything. Yeah, top tier people really like underestimate, I think especially probably hair more than than sewing. But, like, yeah, everyone’s got to get a cut. Everybody has to get their hair done at some point for something that’s a very lucrative I mean, it’s a lucrative thing, but it is something I think we can kind of in our community probably take for granted a little bit.

Ashley Fletcher:
And the community that they bring, especially Black hair salons and barbershops like, it’s a sense of community there. They’re using our hair in a sense, it’s like a bleak canvas. You might have some different scalp situations going on or different things with hair loss and all types of things, and they’re supposed to create something out of that. You can’t get much more creative than that. And it’s a lot of risk with what they do. They cut your hair wrong or you don’t like what they do, you might lose a client. It might create a tough relationship. So my hats are off to what they’re able to do day in and day out, using their hands.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned going to college in Maryland. You went to Salisbury University, and you majored in graphic design. Since you kind of grew up around all these creatives and entrepreneurs, did you already sort of have a sense like, this is what I want to study, or did you kind of fall into that once you got to Salisbury?

Ashley Fletcher:
So I fell into that after I got to Salisbury. So in high school, I took a yearbook course for juniors my junior and senior year. And my junior year, I went to yearbook camp, and I was introduced to the process of design thinking again, I was collaging and really looking into fashion magazines. Like, I loved Vogue, all of those magazines, the models, just the visual storytelling from that. And so your book introduced me to this thing, like, oh, you can create a design and a publication on this program, and it’s printed and what the print process looks like. And I really loved it, and I thrived in it from the interviewing, interviewing different people from high school, and photography. I really loved photography. I took a photography course in high school, so by the time I got to college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was like, well, I kind of like marketing, so I’ll just do business administration with the track in marketing, I realized there’s a bunch of accounting courses and a lot of math involved. I said, okay, let’s be real with yourself here about what you really want to do. And so I started to think about how much joy your book brought me, like being able to wear these multiple hats of one day you’re shooting and take capturing moments, and then the other day you’re dabbling in copywriting and creating captions, and then you’re dabbling in creative layout and design. And I called my mom and I said, I think I want to design magazines. I don’t know what it is who does that, but I think that’s what I want to do. And so I looked through the mass head of some magazine, I don’t remember which one, and I found the title graphic designer, and I had a title to put with the thing. I checked if my school was offering any art or graphic design, and they did. That’s some alignment right there, because it could have been a whole different situation. And I switched. I was like, if I’m going to spend four years learning, I want to learn something that I’m interested in. So I switched to graphic design with the minor in marketing.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How was your time in general there at Salisbury? Like, once you switched over, do you find that they really kind of prepared you as a designer?

Ashley Fletcher:
I don’t think…so. I went to Salisbury — it’s a PWI — and their population at the university of Black students was pretty small at the time. So of course you have the nuances with that. And then I started in 2010. For me, the design industry was completely different than where it grew. By 2014, in graphic design one, we were sketching things on paper. Then we had to color it with colored pencil, then put it into using the light box, and then putting it into design software. So curriculum was very early on of those kind of foundational processes. So by the time I graduated, because for me, I felt like there was a lack of mentorship in the curriculum and preparedness. I don’t think I was prepared at all. I think sometimes with certain schools and structure and curriculum, if you’re not a stellar designer off the bat, some people might not nurture their skill set or say, hey, let me help you find your way. And there was actually an incident that I had with an instructor that he had said something really racist towards another student for a design. We had a design critique and it was just like really off putting. And so when you have those different nuances and situations and you can’t connect necessarily with your instructors, it’s very hard then to rely on them for help and for them to see you as just a student that is trying to just make a living out of this. And also, I think that the pace of Salisbury is a different pace from DC that I’ve experienced. And so people are enjoying life out there. It’s not too far from the beach, they’re chilling. It’s a very chill vibe there compared to how the design industry is now. So all of those things I left school not really knowing where to go, what I wanted to do in design. Again, at that time, there were a lot of traditional forms of design. Digital design wasn’t really a thing. Yeah, so I graduated and I worked at a beauty shop cosmopros that my mom frequented for all of her hair supply needs. I worked there for a few months. I was a winter graduate, so I worked there for a few months, and then I got a job as an administrative assistant at a medical association. So, yeah, definitely didn’t get a job right off the bat or really know what design looked for me outside of what I was learning in undergrad. I will say though, I did gain a lot of experience. I did designer for a lot of the organizations on campus, like MPHC and some of the other organizations that I was a part of. So I was able to create and explore what my design practice looked like, what I wanted to create outside of classroom assignments. And I think that was really beneficial to where I am now.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just talking for the last episode I did was with Kevin Tufts. He’s a product designer at Facebook. And we were sort of talking about kind of the time period that you were in school, like early two thousand and ten s and how it felt like design really took this abrupt shift into digital and product at a time when I think a lot of us prior to that were learning about more traditional design, like graphic design, visual design, web design. And then overnight that became product designer, UX designer. And you’re like, wait a minute, what? You thought you knew one thing and now your title is different and sometimes it’s the same skills, sometimes it’s not. Like, I can imagine. Certainly if you’re in school at that time, like, yeah, you get out and you thought you were learning one thing, and then you try to look for jobs and everything is different than what you thought it would be from what you learned. Yeah, I can certainly empathize with that. That whole time period was I’d. Say probably from 2006 to 2012. There were so many changes happening in design because of technology. Also, the browser was becoming more of a tool that you could use for design and less of just a presentation for a design. Right. Like, you could now do things in the browser and you have new tools coming out. I think this was around the time I want to say this was around the time, like Sketch or maybe like another web based tool really started to come about. I don’t know if Figma was around.

Ashley Fletcher:
Back then, but yeah, I think Envision was one.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah, InVision. Yeah. So you had this kind of shift from the Adobe style of these extremely expensive, extremely complicated pieces of software because they started to go subscription based. And then in response to that, people are like, well, we’re just going to make something that you can do in the browser. I don’t know if Sketch was in the browser, but it was just such an interesting time because the tools were changing from what industry standards used to be to these new things. And again, the titles were also changing. I feel like when I look back at that, that was a very tumultuous time in design that it was hard to keep up with what was going on because innovation was happening so quickly.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, and graduating in the midst of that when you still are trying to learn this new thing, like four years, learning something that goes by really fast, and depending on your curriculum, depending on who your professors are and their skill set, their skill set could still be in a certain decade of design. And now they’re like, okay, everybody, let’s rush. I remember buying my first Adobe software when you had to buy the CDs and you couldn’t share the CD code or whatever the little access code was to now, like subscription. I remember how much of a big deal that was and just the shift that was coming. It was really tough. By the time I got to MICA, it kind of advanced, too. And so I was with a whole new cohort of people that were ready to create design in this new way. And so I feel like Salisbury was really an exploration of what design is like, a really rough exploration of, okay, these are these different tools. This is layout. But MICA really set the foundation and kind of solidified it for me. Yeah, that 2010 period. Now, even now, we have content creation now, which also shifts the media in which we’re designing for. And so, I mean, Apple is going to come out. They just dropped their latest thing, and that’s going to shift the medium in which we’re creating and the scale and the size and the resolution, all of that matters when you’re thinking about and understanding the tools that you have now.

Maurice Cherry:
During that time that you were like you said, you’re working in this beauty supply shop. You were working as an admin assistant. How were you feeling about doing that kind of work? Like you mentioned before, going to Salisbury, and you spend all this time studying for your craft, and then you get out and you’re not working in what you studied. How did that time make you feel?

Ashley Fletcher:
It was definitely an adjustment process. I think also dealing with I talk about this a lot amongst my friends and family, like post grad depression as an undergrad, when you go from being in this community of people and then you move away from that community of people, that’s such a shift. Like your friends. Like, I had a best friend, she lived in New York, so I didn’t get to see her unless we came to see each other. So that sense of community for me, shifting in who you are when you grow and you’re living on your own in a town or in college, that’s a completely different person from when you were living with your mom in high school. And so going back to that, there’s all these different changes. But I think I knew that what I was doing was just a placement of like I knew that my career was going to be bigger than what it currently was. So having that administrative assistant role, I used to always when computers first came out, my grandma, she had a computer, I would always play like, oh, I’m working at an office, or things like that. And I think it works for the logical I’m a Virgo, so really scheduling, organizing those things I love, I kind of thrive in. So it wasn’t a miserable place. It was also a great company to work for. Again, it was a small organization, but they had just a lot of different things to cultivate community there. And I was able to I was in that role for a year, and then I moved to their meetings department because I guess I was doing so well in assisting with the events that they did. It wasn’t miserable. I always knew even before graduating Salisbury, I was like, okay, I’m graduating. Here are my options. I could go back to school and go to grad school, and I kind of knew a little bit about Mica. And so by the time I had that full time administrative assistant position and then into meetings, I was like, okay, you’ve been here for I think it might have been year two. Now, what are we doing next? Because you can get complacent here or you can take that leap. Just like you took the leap from business administration, which felt comfortable, to going for design. I told myself, you didn’t take that leap just to give up or to just kind of settle for this current position. So I applied to go to MICA and I got accepted.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Tell me about what that was like. I’m pretty sure that was much different from Salisbury?

Ashley Fletcher:
Yes, it was much different. First of all, I must say that my love for Baltimore, oh, my goodness, it’s such a beautiful place to be, a beautiful community to grow. Of course, part of my time was spent in what they call like the MICA bubble. So the bubble of the art community in school there, but during, just constantly inspired by other creatives. That was something that I loved and really propelled my understanding of what a creative practice looks like and how other people are creating. So it was beautiful. I did a post Baccular program, and then I did the MFA program. So when I first applied, I applied to both, but I was accepted into the post baccalaureate. That program was phenomenal. I grew so much. It was just one year, but I grew so much in that one year of my understanding for design. I think by that time, I was a much different person than when I first graduated. I had started to really focus on mindfulness practices, and I was being mindful of the soaps that I was using and the food that I was putting in my body, and also having this awakening of learning about African American and Black artists and designer. And so I learned about Emory Douglas there. He spoke at Bowie [State] University. And I got to meet him and just really teaching myself the history that I wanted to learn, because I was, again, very intentional about that. It’s like, okay, I have this skill set. I know what this is. I’ve looked through Meggs Book of Graphic Design history, and I don’t see any Black people, but I know we’re here. I know I’m not the first graphic designer, so let me do the work to teach myself. And I think a lot of us do that. We have to teach ourselves a lot of our own history. Thankfully, now things are very different. You could pull up TikTok and you have a whole video on designers, fashion designers, whatever you want to learn, you can learn. So, yeah, it was a beautiful time of exploration, being around other designers that had different backgrounds, like a lot of people had. They were science majors. Not everyone had a design background. And so we all brought different perspectives to what we were creating, and it was really good. The curriculum also was just it’s a night and day from my time at Salisbury and my time at MICA. Again, the design industry was very different at that time, too. I started MICA in 2017. So again, two different eras of design. I’m forever grateful for that experience. I’ve blossomed so much and added so many things like motion graphic to my skill set. I remember there was a workshop that we would have different workshops throughout the year. And we had a workshop on after Effects. And I was like, what is this? I thought I got away from math. What are all these numbers. What is this interface? I was completely intimidated. But by the time I started the MFA program, I took a motion graphics class because I realized these target commercials. This is motion graphics. This is how you can use design as a tool in a different medium. It doesn’t have to be traditional print or anything like that. So I wanted to learn how to do that. I wanted to add that to my toolkit and my skill set. I spent a lot of time that first year learning about publication design and these methods that I was drawn to that drew me to design in the first place. Salisbury, at the time that I was there, I don’t think that we learned a lot about the foundation of layout design. And so I was able to get that at MICA. So I spent a lot of that first year exploring that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean, it really sounds like MICA just kind of re energized you as a designer and kind of put you on the track that you needed to be on to get to where you’re at now.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, it definitely did. And also the amount of resources that they have. Their career development. Yeah, the career development department, they are super helpful. They help you find jobs, they help you cultivate your portfolio, build your portfolio. They have so many tools of here’s how to interview that they update and keep updated. And so having access to those resources as a student and as a graduate and an alumni, it’s so beneficial. We need those tools, especially, again, as Black designers, where we may not have representation or we may not see ourselves in certain industries. And I think we deserve mentors. We need mentors at every step of the journey. And so they were really a lifeline for a lot of those things of preparing for your portfolio, your resume. They have full templates that they update in different scenarios. And those things I didn’t receive from Salisbury at the time, from my program or the university. I can’t say that those things are whether they’ve improved or not, but yet having access to those various resources. Baltimore is also just a great community for artists. There’s so many different resources and grants. And I had exhibited my work at my first art exhibition. I never would have thought, like, oh, I can show my work here. I don’t have to create art. It doesn’t have to be on a canvas. I don’t have to pull out a paintbrush, but I can actually showcase my work. That was also the first time I ever sold artwork. So I was introduced to new forms of art and showcase my art in different ways. They have something called the Is. It the art market? Mica art market every year. And so this big thing around holiday season, the Illustrator department, they have this big set up so students can sell their artwork. There’s different vendors from the community as well as alumni. So I created and sold my first art print and stickers there. And so that was kind of the birth of the art shop that I have today. So, yeah, getting introduced to all of these different means of showcasing your design and your art, it was really a great time.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Yeah. Sounds like MICA was transformative in many ways for you.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, it definitely was.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned resources, and we sort of had this conversation a bit before we started recording, and I was like, let’s save it for the show. Another resource that is available to us as designers are design organizations. There’s AIGA. There’s the Graphic Artists Guild, IDSA, et cetera. What are your thoughts on sort of design organizations now? Because you’ve said before again, this is before we started recording, but AIGA DC, for example, was a big help for you.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah. So in between kind of that shift before MICA and while working as an administrative assistant, the meetings, I was like, okay, I need to be around the people. Where are the designers? I will say give credit to Salisbury. One of my professors was like, you guys need to join this. You need to join AIGA. It’s only however the membership was, it’s only $5. You need to join. You need to join. And in my mind, I’m like, well, I don’t see Black people in this class. I don’t even know if I want to enter another space where I’m like, okay, here we go. That kind of thing also very much an introvert, so maybe my introvert self was like, speaking of, oh, no, I have to go talk to more people or join a group with other people. But that later came back because I listened to revision podcast. Thank you very much. Thank you. Because you guys definitely found me and helped me to just figure out where to go. And I think one episode you were talking about AIGA, and that is a resource. And so I was like, okay, let me look this up. And so I went to one of their events, and I think AIGA DC has been a great resource for me. I was able to apply for a scholarship while at Mica. They also have various events like DC Design Week. And so I was able to do a pop up shop with them, with my art shop. So I think depending on where you are, the different chapters might be a little different. But AIGA DC has definitely been an amazing resource for me to find my way, figure out what places I could work, what different career paths other people had and their journey, and just connecting with other designers. Also, more recently, I was a part of Designers Ignite, and so that was during COVID but it was an opportunity for designers to Black Designers Ignite. It was an opportunity for us to talk about our work, our progress, where we are, and for us to get paid for speaking. So that was an amazing resource. I think COVID and post COVID brought about a lot of different design organizations that I found that I could connect with versus before, it was just AIGA. DC, or AIGA in general, not even DC. And that felt a little bit more corporate for me at the time. Again, the design industry had a major shift early on. Some of the things and practices, they seemed a little, to me, outdated, a little closed off. But as time has progressed, I think AIGA has been a great resource also. It’s an online resource, but brand new website by under consideration. I think that’s the proper umbrella, but they’re a great resource for anything branding, branding, identity, visual identity. So different online resources and communities I’ve been able to connect with. So if I didn’t get it from one organization, then I was able to kind of navigate to some of these other organizations to find the resources and just to connect with the people that I felt that represented me.

Maurice Cherry:
For people that have listened to the show, I’ve kind of mentioned AIGA a lot over the years. I’ve volunteered for them, things of that nature. I really do wonder in general, about the role of design organizations for the modern designer. I remember this might have been, I guess, maybe about right before the pandemic. I know that there was a lot of talk with AIGA about them not really considering UX designers as designers, and I feel like I think the organization started to come around on that. But there have been a lot of topics recently regarding AI art and sort of the encroachment of technology into the creative space and what that means for creatives in general. And I’ve seen honestly, a lot of our modern design organizations have been kind of silent about it. I think I might have heard the most from the graphic artist guild. I know that they do some regular events, but, like, AIGA has been silent. I don’t know if IDSA has said anything or any other types of organizations. I would love to see our designer orgs in general, just be more proactive and talk about the things that are happening in the industry instead of just taking dues and maybe having a monthly webinar. And this is no shade to anyone in particular, but I would love to see them just be more in the community and proactive in that way, because it sort of feels like, especially with AIGA now, them I will single out. I remember when I was volunteering with them and there was this big push for us to get more Black students, really more HBCUs involved with student groups. And it’s like, yeah, but the parameters around a student group might not apply for HBCU, because for a student group, you have to, I think, be within 50 miles of a regular chapter. You have to have at least ten students that are studying design. And then I think a professor has to be or had to be, like, a sustaining member, like one of the top membership levels. If you did those three things, then you could have a student chapter. And I’m like, well, that might be prohibitive for an HBCU that’s like, not near a city or there’s not ten students in the program.

Ashley Fletcher:
There might be two, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Like, it’s prohibitive. And so we were trying to talk about getting them to sort of lessen that for HBCUs, and then they were like, well, if we do it for them, we have to do it for everybody. And I’m like, well, do it for everybody. But I mean, the reason that they didn’t want to do that is because it boils down to finance. If they know each student group is getting at least a minimum amount of money that goes back into the organization, all of that stuff, it’s all somewhat self sustaining in that way. So in that respect, I don’t know if our design orgs are equipped at the moment to really do that. I would love to just see more of that in general, because I don’t really see a lot of it now. I feel like they’re being pretty quiet and reactionary instead of really like, speaking up about how this affects our industry, how sort of these things affect our industry.

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah, I think we definitely because they hold this title of being a guild for graphic designers and artists, we also expect them to lead some of the different changes and to kind of push to the conversation, to push the changes to advocate for us, especially when it comes to AI. I would have thought with Photoshop releasing this new AI feature that’s going crazy, that they would connect, the two organizations would come together and say, okay, here’s what we have on this. Here’s what this tool is doing, here’s the information, or here’s the discussion that we can have around this. Maybe they are having it. And I don’t know, because, again, I’m not within these organizations, but we definitely want and we talked a lot about the shift that happened in design from 2010 to 2017 or even 2014. I think being in the midst of that and helping designers, maybe it’s a thing of understanding the core audience. A lot of young designers rely on them or may go to them to help them in these different moments of their career. And so if these practices and things are outdated, you’re going to lose those people that really do at the core need your assistance. Like, HBCUs should for sure be supported, especially given how eager a lot of the companies were to highlight Black stories and Black voices and oh, now we have all of these different initiatives to support HBCUs. Well, we want to see that applied across the board, and not just for a short period of time, because we already know that we’re dealing with so many barriers and checklist, stipulations, whatever when it comes to even getting hired for a job. Because let’s be real. Like, the hiring process and those practices are still very challenging. And so if our own organizations that are for us aren’t helping us get over that hump, aren’t leading the conversation, aren’t pushing and encouraging these companies and HR hiring practices to change and shift as design is changing and shifting, what’s really the purpose? What’s going on? I think COVID thankfully shook a lot of organizations and things and practices up. And I think companies need to be doing those checks and balances on a regular basis, not just every decade or natural disaster. We need to be doing these things on a regular basis and having these conversations so that your organization can sustain itself and the culture of design and where it’s headed. Yeah. AI. I don’t even want to talk about it. Don’t understand just the overall checks and balances. I have not used the Photoshop tool. I will use the Lasso and the pencil tool till I can’t no more before I begin swapping out backgrounds with different stuff, until I don’t know. I don’t fully trust it right now. But just like with other things, we evolve and we grow. So I’ll look forward to the day that I actually test out that tool.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I haven’t downloaded I think it’s like a beta version of Photoshop that allows you to kind of it’s similar, I guess, to content aware fill, where it will automatically generate part of an image or something. I haven’t done that yet, but we’re certainly seeing AI filters being a big thing if you’re on TikTok, if you’re on Instagram. I mean, even augmented reality stuff, I guess, kind of maybe ties into this a little bit, like stuff that Snap has done with filters and lenses and stuff. But it would be good to hear from our design organizations. They’re just kind of thoughts about this, even if it’s like drawing a line in the sand or something. Because I know that it’s only going to be a matter of time where people who are not designers will generate AI art things and then try to take them to designers for edits or changes or something. And I feel like there needs to be an industry wide line in the sand that says, we are not doing this. Absolutely not. Like, it needs to be something that is across the board. Yeah.

Ashley Fletcher:
In a way to protect your intellectual property as a designer. I think there was one app that everyone was using and it was putting together all these really cool pictures on Instagram. It’s like, okay, but where are these images being pulled from? It’s being pulled from the Internet. Somebody had to create bits and pieces and is now creating this beautiful picture of you. So I think the music industry has started to set some parameters around AI because they’re using Drake’s voice on a Kanye beat.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah, I remember that.

Ashley Fletcher:
Things like that are happening. So, yeah, we also, as designers, want to need to start having those conversations too, especially when it comes to our intellectual property and how our work can be protected and what our new design process will look like when we are working within AI generated art.

Maurice Cherry:
Well said. Well said. What advice would you give to someone out there who’s kind of hearing your story and they want to kind of follow in your footsteps? What would you tell them first?

Ashley Fletcher:
I definitely say take the risk. I think through these different moments of my journey, it really resulted in me taking a risk. Like just going with it, going with what I wanted. Sometimes I would say, oh, no, let’s play safe and let’s try this. No, go for what you want if you want to, especially in the age that we are in now where you can directly reach people. I know people say this all the time, but it really does matter. Your moment can change from night and day just by you sharing your work, sharing your design process. It can be an ugly design process. It doesn’t have to be the final product. But sharing how you think through creatively different works and things like that can be the next step that you need to elevate and pivot your career and your dream career, or your dream creative journey. Not even just a career, but your dream creative practice. So I think definitely go for it. If there’s something that you want to do, if it’s something in your heart that you’re like, oh, I don’t know how you’re putting all these limitations, just do it. Just take the first step, because I promise you, everything else is going to fall in line. I would have never thought that by me switching my major and being in love with yearbook and magazines would now lead to where my career is now. Everything that I do is fulfilling it’s in alignment with who I am. So really just take that risk. And also knowing again what your values are and what kind of work you want to be creating, what type of clients you want to work with, and manifesting that. Speaking of into existence also, I think trusting that journey and process and being okay, that it can get a little messy. It can not be like, for me, I was out of work for a very long time when this just this past year, to the point where I was like, I don’t know, I was kind of burnt out a little bit from freelance. I don’t know what I’m doing. I really don’t want to work full time, but just not really knowing what that next step was. But it’s working out for me. Things aligned. I got a job that I really loved. I love there’s so many different things that I prayed on and manifested on and just really started to be intentional about the things that I was asking for and not playing. Don’t play yourself small. You got to think big. You really do. Like, whatever you want to achieve in this lifetime, if it’s aligned, it’ll definitely work out. So just really take those steps. I think also asking not being too afraid to ask for help, sometimes I forget that, hey, it’s okay to go and reach out to this person. If you don’t know how to do this thing, like using that network and community that you have because you have it for a reason, whether it’s an old teacher or an old classmate, you just never know. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help, especially with someone who didn’t necessarily have mentors or someone consistently guiding me through this creative process. I’ve just been like, okay, I want to do this. Let me try it. Let’s see how it works. Like, I want to create an art shop. I don’t know what’s going to happen, what’s going to come of it. Well, now I’m in four stores and I’ve sold my artwork internationally. There’s so many different things of taking that leap, but also asking for help along that journey, like, don’t be afraid to do it. The worst that anybody can say is, no, can’t help you, or I don’t know the answer. That’s it, I think. Yeah, just really taking that leap. Also getting your creative practice in order in your creative process, I think that’s something that I didn’t realize until later on down the line, especially after being in Mica and the rigor that is grad school and being diagnosed with breast cancer. I think I was like, oh my gosh, did I work myself to the bone? What is going on? How was I not paying attention to my body during this time? And so really figuring out what creative practice works for you, what that looks like. Fletcher it’s taking a day off throughout the week to go explore, to go be in nature, to go on a road trip or a trip somewhere, if you can just invigorate your creativity, taking rest from working in general just so that you can take care of your well being and your health. The nature in which graphic design lives in, it’s a fast paced environment where people essentially want you to be robots of just working around the clock and churning out these designs. And not everybody can work in that type of creative environment. So really figuring out how you thrive creatively, what things work for you, whether it be your meal prepping to your intake of media and content, what things are really going to get you in a good space to create and inspire you. That’s something that I think is really important for us to have. We can be burnt out so quickly of just always consuming media, content, everything. And then we do that. Within our own practice. Sometimes you don’t need to research for 3 hours with design. Sometimes just give yourself ten minutes to find what you need and be intentional and then go and create. Go and sketch it out. Yeah, I think that it’s really important. Design School doesn’t teach you about the business of design. So if you want to be your own boss, if you want to dabble in different things, you might not get that from Design School. So you’re definitely going to have to teach yourself some of those practices. And so again, having a creative process in place that keeps you a little structured, having the schedule that, you know, okay, today I’m just going to do administrative task. I’m just going to dedicate this day to responding to emails and then you have the rest of the week to create. Coming up with that kind of structure I think really helps. I found myself during my freelance journey getting off the rails a little bit, like I was spending too much time at home. I was burnt out because I was working around the clock, then trying to find more work and trying to update my portfolio, all these things. So it really helps to have that structure a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s tremendous advice. I almost feel like we can sort of wrap it up here. I don’t feel like there’s anything I can say that can trump that, but I mean…just to wrap it up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Like, where can they follow you online?

Ashley Fletcher:
Yeah. So I’m online. If you want to follow me on social media, you can follow me on Instagram and TikTok and Twitter at @digitrillnana. It should be linked in the podcast. But that’s D-I-G-I-T-R-I-L-L-N-A-N-A. Think Foxy Brown “Ill Na Na” and digital design. That’s what that is. Okay, of course, online. My portfolio is ashley-fletcher.com, and then my art shop is digitrillnana.com. If you are in the DMV area, you can find me in local shops. I’m at the MICA Bookstore in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m also at Sankofa. You can find some of my art goods in Sankofa in DC on Georgia Avenue.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Ashley Fletcher, thank you so much for coming on the show. You don’t know this. You kind of inadvertently spoke a word into me with all that advice. That was some stuff I personally also needed to hear, and I hope that certainly the listeners will get that too. But your whole story of kind of persevering through not just kind of getting sidetracked in terms of your path to being a designer, but your perseverance and your creativity and your drive and your passion for this just completely shines through in everything that you’ve said. And I’m so excited to see where you go next in the future. It’s always exciting for me when I do this show and I talk to people that are so energetic and dynamic about the field of design and the work that they do, and I really feel like you’re an excellent representation for that. Keep shining, keep doing what you’re doing. And thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Ashley Fletcher:
Thank you so much. You just spoke life into me, so I appreciate it if you are listening to this podcast. Keep going, guys. Like, we got this. I’m so grateful to just have this opportunity to connect and just share some wisdom in a space that once inspired me. So Maurice, thank you so much for all that you do. Yeah, thank you.

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.

Chris Dudley

Chris Dudley is an artistic powerhouse. He’s been a working artist for over 25 years, creating everything from children’s books to commissioned drawings (and he teaches art as well). His latest book, Lil’ Boogaloo Shrimp and the Clean Sweep is inspired by the iconic 80’s movie Breakin’, and features the OG Boogaloo Shrimp himself, Michael Chambers!

Chris gave me the rundown on the new book, and we talked about his creative process and what draws him to illustrating portraits and children’s books. He also spoke about growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the benefits on staying there for his career, the keys to his longevity, his work with Hudson Dawn Publishing, and dropped some great advice on work/life balance and staying inspired. You’ll definitely be a fan of Chris after you hear his story — I know I am!

Interview Transcript

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

Chris Dudley:
Well, my name is Chris Dudley and I am the creative director for Chris Dudley Art. I really focus on art and illustration.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2023 been going for you so far?

Chris Dudley:
Actually, it has been going amazing. The scope and range of projects that I’ve been working on have been just straight fun. The recent project has been Lil’ Boogaloo Shrimp and the Clean Sweep, which is with Michael Chambers, who’s famous from the breakdancing movies franchises, and it’s been amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, tell me some more about the book.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah. Well, it’s, I think, the first book of its kind. Scoured the internet, and I haven’t seen a book like this. One of the first books I’ve ever seen that focuses on breakdancing. The premise behind the book is that it teaches kids responsibility and priority using breakdancing. And also, it highlights, there’s a shout-out of a lot of the actors from the Breakin’ movies, Adolfo Quiñones, Bruno Falcon, and sadly, we lost both of them recently, and just all of the main characters from the breaking movie, but also a lot of other individuals.

And in addition to having that subject matter about breakdancing, because a lot of people think it went by the wayside, but it’s still hugely popular and also, it will debut in the Olympics in 2024. And so, it’s still a huge thing. There’s a shout-out to the Olympics in the book. Actually, the final spread, everybody’s breakdancing in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, I haven’t seen a book like this yet.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Congratulations on that.

Chris Dudley:
Thank you. It also, if I could add, it’s more than just a children’s book, it gives kids a little bit of history about the background of breaking, its roots in New York. Also, gives some terminology of breaking, like what a freeze is, what a go down is. So, it’s a little bit more than just the story.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I remember this was back in 2005. When was I working there? Yeah, 2005, I was working for the State of Georgia here in Atlanta, working at the Georgia World Congress Center. And I remember we had just hired this white girl as a PR rep or something. And I mean cute, short, bubbly white girl. I was like, “Oh, she seems really nice.” And the weird thing, well, not the weird thing, but as I was talking to her and I asked her what her hobbies was and she was like, “Breakdancing.” And I’m like, “You’re a breakdancer? You look like a UGA sorority grad. Come on, you’re not a breakdancer.” And sure enough, it would be in a sort of weird way, but sometimes she would do moves just in the office just to show us that, “Yeah, I am a breakdancer.”

Chris Dudley:
Gotcha.

Maurice Cherry:
She invited me to a few events that she was breaking at and-

Chris Dudley:
Oh, nice.

Maurice Cherry:
It was so weird because sometimes we’d be in these board meetings, in a legit boardroom with chairman and stuff, and then someone’s like, “Oh, you’re a breakdancer. Why don’t you bust a move for us?” And I’m like, in a way, this is so embarrassing, but also, it’s like, well, at least you’re not asking the Black person to do it, so I’m not… Let me sit back and watch the show.

Chris Dudley:
Gotcha. That’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And I think you told me that part of what you’re doing with the book involves a crew or something here in Atlanta.

Chris Dudley:
Yes, they’re in Georgia. I think they’re near Acworth, the Rockwell Dance Academy. And it’s interesting that you mentioned that the young lady there was a breakdancer, but the Rockwell Dance Academy is led by Honey Rockwell and Orko. Honey Rockwell is a staple name as a B-girl. Actually, just last year, they were both inducted into the Breaking Hall of Fame. And so, B-girls definitely have a place as well. I mean, she’s one of the most well-known. She was with the original Rock Steady Crew in South Bronx, New York.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah. We partnered with them and we’ve got some things in the works. So, it’s really exciting to have that Georgia connection going.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, we’ll make sure to put a link to the book also in the show notes, so people can check that out. Aside from this new project, how are things different for you this year than they were last year?

Chris Dudley:
It has been just ramping up with projects. Last year, obviously, we had a steady flow of projects, variety. This year, the children’s books have just been packed. I mean, I’m booked out with children’s books, booked out away. So, it’s fun where you complete one project and then you can look forward to the next one. But I’ve got, I think, four or five that are already in the queue, confirmed. And so, I look forward to working with each of those authors as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. I mean, with everything that you’ve got going on now, what does the summer look like? Is it more work or you got any plans?

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, a little vacation, a little relaxation I would do with the family for the summer. I’ve got three girls and my wife, so we’ll get a little relaxation in, but some work too. Especially with the release of this book, Lil’ Boogaloo Shrimp and the Clean Sweep, we’ve got some events planned this summer as well. Some here in Michigan with the Children’s Museum and another bookstore, and actually, a local breakdancing crew.

Actually, Michael Chambers there in Los Angeles, July 29th, I believe, he’s got an event with Barnes & Noble. So, I may be flying out there to support him on that. But yeah, we’ve got a lot going on this summer. Then coming out of summer, we look to get in, we’re going to be partnering with some schools to get the books into schools as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Very nice. So, you got a lot planned coming up.

Chris Dudley:
Yes, sir.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s dive into Chris Dudley Art. I mean, you just mentioned you’ve got a bunch of these projects that are lined up. What does your creative process look like when you’re working on a new project?

Chris Dudley:
Yeah. Well, they all start similarly because we do a little bit of design work. We’ve designed some logos and so forth. We’ve got a team that does that. But also with the illustration, I like to start out old school with sketching. That’s how I learned to draw. So, that’s part of my creative process with every project, is starting out with sketching. I mean, I can go into the meat of doing a children’s book, if you like.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Dudley:
Okay. It’s basically we get a manuscript and it goes through an approval process. We don’t just take any manuscript. It’s got to… Just to be real with you, when I read the manuscript, if images start popping into my head, it’s a go. If they don’t, it’s probably not a go. And that’s just nothing against the author, but it has to resonate with me because it’s got to be a fun project that I’m looking forward to doing.

And so, from there, the manuscript checks out and we want to bid on that. From there, we will establish the illustration description. So, that’s what imagery is going to go along with what portions of the text, especially if it’s a children’s picture book. And once we nail that down, I’ll do sketches. And that’s where you establish the composition. Well, actually, prior to that, we design the characters, the main characters, and see exactly what they’re going to look like. Is it a eight-year-old African American boy, or does it have to be a little girl who’s three years old and she has a puppy?

So, we have to figure out the dynamics of the characters. What are they going to look like? What time period are we in? Are we in the 2000s? Are we in the ’80s, like with our recent book here? And so, we establish a character and then we do composition sketches of establishing what each scene is going to look like. And those get approved by the author along the way. So, they’re heavily involved with the creative process, so that I don’t just come up with the finished project and then hope they like it. They’re involved along the way so that there’s no surprises on either end.

Then from there, we go to final sketches. We start to flesh out this is exactly what this spot illustration or this full page or this spread is exactly going to look like and the details of it, if there’s need to be background and so forth. And from there, after the client approves that, we do the line work. That’s where we finalize it almost… Well, you’re familiar with how a coloring book looks where you have the simple black lines.

Maurice Cherry:
Yup.

Chris Dudley:
We finish out the book looking like that. That way the client gets to see, okay, this is exactly how things are going to look before we add color. In that way, any adjustments can be made along the way, if need be. So, they approve each process, and then we get into the color theory, because you can’t just throw colors onto the imagery. It has to make sense visually. Also, colors such as red is going to attract attention. So, you wouldn’t just arbitrarily use that just because you want it red. And sometimes, that has to be explained to the client as well, because they may think, “I want to paint this in a blue.” That, well, based on color theory, those won’t work with the composition.

Then we just move toward the formatting process, and then the text is added. And I take the text into consideration as well though when I’m designing the composition, so it doesn’t look forced later. I make sure I allow spacing for that. But yeah, that’s how we move through a project. Then from there, it goes to post-production, and then we have a book.

Maurice Cherry:
So, it’s way more than just art and illustration.

Chris Dudley:
Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re really seeing it through the entire process, entire publishing process.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, from concept to completion is what we’d call it. Yeah, from the initial idea to a finished book.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, you mentioned getting the clients involved with it. I’m pretty sure this is probably maybe not an exhaustive process for them, but how is it for them being able to see the book come together step by step like this?

Chris Dudley:
It’s amazing because it’s no secret most people haven’t learned the skill of being able to draw, let alone to illustrate, which is there’s a difference because with illustration, you’re telling a story with the imagery. And so, when you flesh out a character for a client, it’s so satisfying because they have it in their head, but they can’t see it. And so, when you can present that to them, it’s like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want.” It’s just so gratifying for them. Then to see that character then doing things throughout the book, their eyes just light up. So, it’s a pleasure working with them and again, keeping them involved in the process.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, it looks like you do a lot of children’s book illustrations. What draws you to this genre?

Chris Dudley:
Well, having kids. Like I said, I got three girls. They’re a little bit older now into late teens, mid and late teens. But I actually spent, and actually people can go look at my website at chrisdudleyart.com, I spent about 15, 20 years doing almost exclusively realism. I mean very detailed graphite drawings. I did art shows and juried exhibitions and all of that. And so, I used that knowledge actually as I segued into, I still do some of that, but the children’s books, reading books to my girls. And I actually had to learn how to illustrate better. I knew it a little bit, but I had to really dive into it. So, I’ve been doing that for the past 10 years now, and it’s taken over really.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you stay organized with a lot of these projects? Because I would imagine as you’re saying this whole process, do you do just one book at a time? Are you juggling multiple books? How do you keep all of that managed effectively?

Chris Dudley:
Well, some of them will overlap a little bit, but it depends on what phase of the process. Honestly, for me personally, the most challenging part is the initial part, coming up with the concept of what the imagery is going to look like. Because once you’ve established that, you then created a roadmap for yourself, and then it’s just following the roadmap. It’s almost like plotting out your course somewhere. That’s the hardest part, where am I going to go with this? But then once you plot out the course, okay, now, it’s just following this path that I’ve laid out.

And there may be some tweaks along the way. And with that, it’s important obviously not to overbook. We’ve all heard the same under promise, over deliver. And so, really, we really focus on with my team, especially my assistant, not making promises that would be too difficult to even try to make happen. Then you’re disappointing clients. So, books, I won’t work on two or three at the same time, but they may overlap. Like okay, if I finish this portion, now I can maybe bring in, but they’ll have different deadlines. I don’t have it where they’re all due at the same time. Keeping it balanced, yeah.

Then we filter in some other relatively smaller projects in there while I may be working on a book, like a one-off illustration or a design project. But I like to really focus on that client’s project, so they get the attention that it needs.

Maurice Cherry:
And it’s important to note, as you’ve alluded to, you have a team. So, this isn’t a one-man operation.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly. I could not do it by myself. I did in the past. Obviously, it was just me. I started, well, way, way back before it was Chris Dudley Art when I was 18, 19. And it was just me, invoicing and trying to figure all this stuff out. But I realized later is that it stifled creativity, doing all of those other administrative tasks. Now, I still do some, but by and large, I want to save my brain for the project.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think, as you said, starting out on your own, you want to try to do everything or try to tackle everything because you’re just starting out. You want to establish yourself. But eventually after a while, in order for you to really be able to go further, you have to give up some control. You have to build a team. It’s just a necessary part of being able to scale the work that you do.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, exactly. Yeah, it’s necessary.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears a little bit here and learn more about you. You talked a bit about starting out. You were born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tell me about what that was like.

Chris Dudley:
Yes, it was fun. My interest in art started very young. I had a couple of cousins that drew a little bit. One was just phenomenal, phenomenal artist, and it amazed me that he could do that with a pencil. And it wasn’t daunting like it may be to some people. And in school, I always drew. I remember back in, I think I was maybe in kindergarten or first grade, and a little weed of mine, it was like a stalk of grain or something that I drew, it got accepted in the children’s exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

And so, it’s like that was a “first juried show” and it was accepted. And so, it’s going to be on display Downtown Grand Rapids at the Art Museum. And so, when my mom took me down there to see it and to see it displayed, it was just awe-inspiring. They had the artwork separated by grade level. So, mine was in the first, second-graders. And I remember walking and seeing, I remember the stuff like it’s yesterday, seeing the 12th graders. Obviously, their art advancement was far beyond my level, but it was so amazing that it was possible, and it just sparked that that’s possible. I didn’t have the skill to do it, but it didn’t deter me. It made me understand that’s possible. I can get to that level. And so, that’s where it began.

Maurice Cherry:
And it sounds like your family also really supported you in this too.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, family has always supported me. Even teachers, I joke about it now, they would let me draw in class as long as I did my work, obviously. But yeah, I’ve had a lot of support over the years.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been working and cultivating your career in the same place where you grew up? I feel like a lot of folks we have on the show may have, of course, started out one place and then ended up moving somewhere else, and that was where their career or their work flourished. What does it mean for you to still be in your hometown doing this work?

Chris Dudley:
Well, it’s taken some time. I started out with, it was Dudley Graphics actually, when I was 18, 19. And I was doing T-shirt designs and it was all by hand. I didn’t know graphic design or how to use a computer or anything. So, I was drawing things and even drawing lettering and so forth, and later rebranded. Actually, when I improved my drawing ability, I was okay, but I wanted to learn how to draw much, much better. And so, in my 20s, I said I want to learn this and really buckled down and improved my skill, but had obviously some success with that, dealing with some businesses and so forth.

But later, that’s when I started doing juried art shows. And I felt that if I could get into a juried art show, that somewhat vetted my skillset. Then some of these were hard to get into. They were hard to get into. So, that gave me a little boost of confidence. Then figuring out how to make it sustainable, like you said, in your hometown and doing projects with companies. I actually did a whiteboard animation with a pharma, very large, I can’t say the name, but pharmaceutical company. And so, finding avenues then how to make it sustainable.

And I was able to explore a lot of different avenues of art. I mean, it was design. It was drawing. There was a little bit of animation work with some of that, but to make it more sustainable even here locally. But then things did branch out where I started getting a little attention from those outside of Michigan. I worked with an author actually in Georgia, and just some throughout the States. And that’s when it’s like, whoa, it opens you up to that global market.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Do you think it’s been a benefit to you to still do this work in Grand Rapids? Have you thought about, “Oh, well, what if I was in New York?” Or even in Detroit, if you stayed in Michigan?

Chris Dudley:
Yes. I found it as a benefit because it puts me in a position to, it sounds cliche, but to give back, if you will, to the community versus when you move away, you’re not in touch with that local community anymore. So, I’ve been able to be in contact with local artists that I know and local authors, because I work with a lot of authors here in Michigan. So, to be able to meet them in some instances face to face, you can’t replace that. It’s worked out. It’s just worked out for me to stay here in Michigan and still have some of those connects outside.

Maurice Cherry:
How big is Grand Rapids? I’m trying to think population wise, how big.

Chris Dudley:
Ooh, offhand, I guess I should know this, right?

Maurice Cherry:
No, no.

Chris Dudley:
Actually, it’s the second… I didn’t know I was getting a geography lesson here. It’s the second-largest city, obviously, behind Detroit. I mean, it’s growing too. It’s continuing to grow. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I mean, I’m curious about that because I’ve had folks that are on the show before that aren’t in these big metropolises. They’re in smaller cities like Raleigh or Grand Rapids, like you mentioned. I think I talked to another illustrator in Detroit. Oh, his name escapes. I think it’s Sean Bell or something like that. But talking about the benefit or one inherent benefit of being able to do this work in a smaller community, I won’t say small, but smaller than a big city, is that in a way, because you grew up there, people know you, so there’s that sort of reputation. But also, you help serve as a beacon for the next generation to see that what you’re doing is possible where they are. They don’t have to move somewhere else or go somewhere else to achieve-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… the kind of success that you’ve achieved.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, exactly. That is the key. And a lot of it is about developing your skillset, really getting your work seen. And so, with the internet and so forth, I’m not old, but I grew up without the internet. But now, you have these different vehicles that you can use to have your work seen really all over the world.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Before we get into that, I want to stay a little bit in the pocket of Dudley Graphics because I think it’s important for our audience to really hear about what it was like to design really before personal computers and Photoshop and all that sort of stuff was really a thing. Tell me about your early career of Dudley Graphics because that was roughly between what, ’96 and 2005, 2006, something like that.

Chris Dudley:
Yep, exactly. Yeah. I started out, man, I was 18 and I became a broker with a T-shirt company and I was doing the designing. And like you said, it was all by hand. I mean, it was freehand drawing. Then I would ink it and I would take actual ink drawings to my screen printer to get the camera ready, iron it and so forth. And so, if I had to make an adjustment, it was all by hand and cutting and pasting and whiteout. I did not know how to use a computer. I didn’t have one. So, it was the early days.

I remember when I first got a computer and trying to learn it, but I didn’t really have the correct software. Then had thought, “Okay, how do I input something in my computer?” So, I had to try to learn a scanner and it was crazy. One thing that really helped, I actually worked at a Kinko’s, which later became FedEx Kinko’s, and which is now FedEx office. And I got a lot of training actually in graphic design and just how those things worked. And that really helped me with launching Dudley Graphics.

Again, it was just in the design and T-shirt realm because my drawing ability honestly was, I would say, above average, but above average was to be average person who doesn’t draw. So, I had a ways to go as far as learning how to draw better. And that’s what prompted the rebrand, is I felt, “Okay, my skills are way better than they were. So, I can go with this art thing.”

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, you took me back there with talking about Kinko’s. I remember that fondly.

Chris Dudley:
Okay, yeah. Yep. Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, during that time, I was in high school, right around that time. I was 18 in ’99. So, a little bit later than you were, but I did come up also in that time of life before the internet. I mean, computers actually when I was a kid were almost like a toy.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
At least that’s how they were marketed or pushed. It was like, oh, this is the fun thing you do at school in your free period or-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
It would be VTech. The company VTech had all these personal computer things. I had this big thing called a Precomputer 1000 that had a one-line screen on it. It had a full keyboard, but had a one-line screen and it had a handle on it so you could carry it with you. I think my mom wanted to throw that thing out the window because it could also make sound. And so, I was learning sound because I also grew up playing music, being a musician. So, I’m learning how to play sound and code on this thing. And I know she wanted to launch that thing out the window most days.

But I say all that to say it’s so different now when you look at schools. And even, I think, just the general conversation around technology for children and designs. It’s certainly something that people try to push their kids into as a viable career field or a moneymaking thing or something like that. Really back then, especially for Black folks, there was not a lot of examples. You had, what, Dwayne Wayne on A Different World. Maybe somebody that was featured in Black enterprise if you had a subscription. So, there wasn’t a lot around, oh, computers are a thing that you can use to build your career. It wasn’t a thing. And I feel like for listeners they should, especially younger listeners, it just wasn’t a thing.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, it wasn’t. It wasn’t. I think, what is it? What would you say? 2000s before, I think, when the internet came out for everyday people and people still didn’t have a computer in their home. Whereas now, most people do. But you think about to have grown up or have grown up at a time where that you didn’t have internet at home, you didn’t have a computer at home even. So, totally, it was a different era.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Or if you had an internet at home, it was via mail order CD.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, AOL.

Maurice Cherry:
You get a AOL CD. You get a NetZero disc in the mail or something like that. And that’s what you use-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… to get on for like… I remember getting those things and it’s like a thousand free minutes.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly. Oh, my gosh. Yes, I remember that too. Then you’re waiting five minutes to connect, just listening to that dial-up sound.

Maurice Cherry:
And it ties up the phone. So, if someone’s on the internet, someone also can’t be on the phone in the house.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it was a whole thing. So, I used the computers at school and I learned it at school. I designed my high school newspaper, for example, and we used PageMaker. We’d use a double PageMaker.

Chris Dudley:
PageMaker.

Maurice Cherry:
And I know we started off trying to use Quark and those-

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, QuarkXPress.

Maurice Cherry:
That software would come with these big… I mean, these instruction manuals could choke a horse. It would be so thick, and it’s like a textbook. How am I supposed to read through all this to figure out how to use this software on this thing? And eventually, we’re just like, “We’ll just do it by hand.” It’s just easier to print and cut-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… and copy and all that sort of stuff. So, I know what you mean about having that not necessarily on the job training, but you learned through application. You didn’t necessarily go to school for. You learned by doing or you learned by working almost like an apprenticeship in a way.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, definitely, definitely. And along with that, just to add briefly, is that in that manner, you learn what you need because all these programs, obviously Adobe Photoshop, it’s so deep that even the experts don’t use everything, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Chris Dudley:
But I think a lot of us artists and entrepreneurs may… It can be daunting, but you may realize that I only need five functions from this program to run my business. I don’t need to know all 5,000 and shortcuts and all that. And so, it’s really finding what you need, and okay, that’s all I need from this program. Then it’s worth it for me to have it to run my business.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And the chokehold that Adobe and Macromedia back then as well, the chokehold that those products had on the burgeoning digital design industry cannot be understated. I never thought I’d see a day where Photoshop is almost not derided, but I know a lot of designers now will use Figma over Photoshop. There was a time when they would use Sketch over Photoshop. I never thought I’d see a time when Photoshop would fall out of favor because it was everywhere.

Chris Dudley:
Yep, yep. And also, I think a lot of people are still upset about the subscription model. But I guess I get it. You get the updates. You don’t have to come up off of $900, which a lot of people couldn’t back in the day anyway. Or they’re working on old versions of Photoshop and there’s, like you said, a lot of options now. I do a lot of illustration in Procreate on the iPad Pro.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think Adobe knew that their software was being pirated left and right. I didn’t buy Photoshop until the subscription came out. Everything before them was some cracked version off of LimeWire or Kazaa or whatever that I hoped would not give my computer a virus. And sometimes, it would. But that’s how I ended up learning because I was like, “I can’t afford.” Even when I had my business, I was like, “I can’t afford the cost of this. I’ll still use this cracked version because it works. It does what I need it to do.” Like you said, it does the five things-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… I need it to do. Why would I pay this astronomical amount of money for this piece of software if I can’t use every single part of it?

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you’ve been a working illustrator in this industry now for over 25 years. For you, what have been the keys to sustain that longevity? We’ve talked just now about how technology has really changed the game. How do you still keep current and maintain yourself in this industry?

Chris Dudley:
First thing is skillset. When it comes to art, you have to have the skillset and it’s not… Obviously, no disrespect to anyone, but a lot of times people think about art as it’s just a feeling and you just express yourself. And there are some aspects of art that are that way, but there are rules and fundamentals that you learn. Composition, you have to know anatomy. There’s so many things and you have to learn that stuff before you can just venture off and draw your feelings if you want to say. And so, I really focus on that skillset, learning those things.

Also, art is a different pursuit in that everyone else has to be… They understand that I got to be good at it first before someone’s going to hire me. If you were a baker, I got to be able to bake cookies good first. So, you’re going to be baking a lot. If you’re a singer, you have to show that you can sing. If you’re a writer, you have to write the book. But oftentimes, artists, some artists, new ones anyway, feel, “Well, I want someone to hire me to draw something.” Well, you have to show them that you can draw.

And so, I think a lot of artists don’t have enough of a body of work to show for someone to hire them, so that’s what I… I didn’t want to do that. And early stages I went through were, okay, you want someone. Then I realized that, no, you have to be drawing and producing things so people can see that you know how to do this thing. And when I took that approach, things really just really started to take off. And it can’t just be your practicing. You need to do a project from start to finish. People can see that you can do that, the highest level you can do at that time. And so, that’s what’s really helped me.

Maurice Cherry:
So, working in public. Like they say in math class, show your work. That’s what’s really been a big key for you.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, yeah, and being able to show that you can. It’s not waiting to be asked to do it or waiting to be hired to do it. And that’s what a lot of artists do. Again, no other industry is that way. You know that you have to have this skill at a high level before someone’s going to ask you to do it for pay. But sometimes, artists just wait. I’m waiting for someone to hire me. I’m just sketching in my sketchbook. Well, no, do a project. Even if you “hire yourself” to do a project, show that you have the chops to do it.

Maurice Cherry:
How has tech impacted your work? Of course, we’ve talked about Photoshop and things like that, but lately, over the past almost nine to 10 months now, the conversation has largely been around generative art and Midjourney and DALL-E and all this stuff. Yes. How does that, if at all, incorporate into your work?

Chris Dudley:
I have switched over. I’m almost… Well, I still draw because I love the tactile aspect of just traditional media. Actually, I’m going to be teaching a paint class this week, but the majority of the bulk of my work is digital now. So, I’m drawing on a tablet. And with regard to art, that’s… Well, if I could add, one funny thing to me is, in the art community, drawing hands because of their nature is difficult for just about every artist starting out. And so, one hilarious thing to me is that AI art can’t draw hands either, and that’s something…

I knew someone who, well, just recently they produced a book. And I said, I’ve looked at it like, “Wow, that’s a nice image.” But then I started, just from my trained eye, started to break away. No, this is AI. Again, not to discredit it, but I could tell right away it was AI produced. Then I looked at the hands and they looked atrocious, like claws. And I was like, “Oh, yep, I was right. That’s definitely AI.”

And so, I don’t think, I don’t see it as a battle per se, but I use digital aids, if you will. Sometimes, I’ll even create a scene with poseable characters if I’m looking for a certain pose. And I might take a picture of that and then use that as a reference. So, I’d use some different aids, but I think you have to have the skillset. The tools can’t make you an artist. So, you got to have the skillset behind it. People can’t think, “Oh, hey, I’ve got Midjourney now. I’m an artist all of a sudden.” No, you still need a certain base of knowledge and ability to be able to then use those tools to actually create art.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I was watching some video. I think it was from Wired, and it was an AI artist detailing their steps. And it’s all writing for the most part because you have to get the prompts specific in order for the thing to generate and all that sort of stuff. And it was fascinating to see it come together, but it didn’t feel like art. It didn’t feel like the creative process, especially with something as I think intimate as hand drawing something. There’s more that goes into it than, I think, just a technical skill. I mean it’s creativity. It’s emotion. There’s a lot of specifically, individually, intrinsically, fundamentally human things that go into the creation that the computer just can’t do. It can maybe-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… try to replicate it from other sources. And of course, there’s been talk about how these engines crib from other artists, but it’s not the same. I find a lot of AI art has a specific look. It’s like heavily shadowed and it’s a very specific look where I’m like, “Yeah, that’s AI.” It doesn’t feel like it’s from a person because people’s art styles are so varied and different.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly. And it’s very static as well, and some of it’s… I mean, obviously, you’ve got a trained eye to be able to see that but not to, I don’t want to sound condescending, but to a person that just says, “Oh, I like pretty things,” but they’re not into art or know, they don’t know art, they could just see an image and, “Wow, it’s a pretty image.” But if you’ve got a little bit of a trained eye, you can realize, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s nice. But it’s a static image. There’s no emotion.” Like you said, you could feel that it doesn’t have that human element to it. It’s just produced. It’s like a mass-produced restaurant versus a high-end restaurant or that little mom-and-pop shop that puts love into the meal. So, you can tell the difference.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, like a McDonald’s hamburger is going to be different from-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… the Smashburger place or something like that.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, exactly. And there’s a reason that there’s always going to be that Smashburger. Yeah, you have the McDonald’s customers, but there’s a lot of people that says, “No, I don’t go to McDonald’s. I rather pay a few more dollars for a real burger.”

Maurice Cherry:
And I think, for you, because the work that you do involves the clients in the process from start to finish, it would almost feel like introducing AI into it, one, sort of cheapens it in a way, but then two, I could see how it could make the client think, “Wait a minute, I could do this myself.”

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, exactly. Definitely could, definitely. And I don’t think it’s going to… Who knows with technology, but there’s just what I see certain elements that AI just can’t do. You have to be able to, just with what I do with illustration, you have to be able to change the POV. Am I going to go with a bird’s eye view or worm’s eye view? What about the expression on their face? And AI can’t do that now. They can’t take a character and then put it through all these emotions and all these angles and add these other el-… You can’t replace the human element, like you said.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, AI can’t get inspired.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
It can’t get inspired from a work or a piece of music or a feeling. It just tries to recopy and regenerate from whatever it’s been fed into their model.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
So, we spoke about just social media and these platforms and stuff. How do you approach marketing and promoting your work? Are there specific strategies that you found to be pretty effective?

Chris Dudley:
I really try to let the work speak, but also letting yourself be known as well. Because people do, that’s something I realized, they do like to know the artists behind the work. So, periodically posting a picture of yourself with the art and so forth, or even doing a little video or something. Everybody wants, I want a million followers and so forth. But then I started realizing I don’t need a million followers. I’m booked out with work, and I don’t know how many I had on Instagram. I don’t even think a thousand, but I’m booked with work. I have more work than I can do.

And so, that really changed my whole thought process of… Then I don’t want to be putting all my energies or time just into social media when I want to put that into the creative process, and it has worked for me. It has worked. I focus on my skillset and focus on putting projects out and more work comes. And so, I think having the presence though, obviously, is so crucial. Having a website, I think, is very valuable because it really gives a place where this is your work and you’re not competing for attention on social media platform, but then you could have those platforms that direct people to your site as well.

So, I think it’s necessary in today’s age, especially with the visual aspect of doing art, but focus on the work though. Don’t spend all of your time social media marketing, and then you forget to actually be producing artwork.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Because the followers don’t necessarily translate into work. It may translate into visibility.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Into more eyes on it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that… And also, you may be attracting the wrong type of clients or the wrong type of people.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
The tire kickers and the low ballers and stuff. They see what you do and they don’t get the value in it. They just see it and think it’s something that could be potentially easily replicated.

Actually, going back a little bit to the AI conversation, one thing I thought that was super interesting is when people started getting those AI art, AI generated avatars out, how many people were, I guess complaining, but they were like, “Wait a minute, you paid for that? You paid for that? You paid how much for that?” Some people. Well, the cost wasn’t what it would cost you to actually commission an artist. It was much, much, much cheaper, maybe $5, $8.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
$20.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
For several images, not just one image. And it was so funny seeing people like, “You paid for that? You paid money for that?” I’m like, “If you were to pay an artist to do it-

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
… you would pay the artist. Do you expect it to be free?”

Chris Dudley:
Yeah. Oh, man, that’s a whole other story too, because art is no other industry, well, maybe photography possibly, but no other industry do people expect you to work for free because people think it’s just maybe some God given talent so you’re supposed to share it for free. And there’s times, obviously, where you’ll be giving with your skillset. But you don’t go to a mechanic and say, “Hey, if you fix my car, I will tell all of my friends that you’re a great mechanic and that’s going to get you some more work.” But people do that to artists all the time. It’s hilarious, man. It’s hilarious.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll tell you from doing this show, they do it to podcasters too. They’re like-

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
“Oh, you’re just talking to a mic. All you’re doing is just press and record. That’s it.” No.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s so much more that goes into it.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, they don’t see the art behind it.

Maurice Cherry:
Then when you try to show them, they feel like, “Oh, well, this is too much.” Once they get an idea of what the process is and how it is a skilled thing, then it turns them off. From then, it’s like, “Well, now you know.”

Chris Dudley:
Yep, exactly. And to speak to what we’re touching on, that’s what, again, versus just I want to become a social media marketer, that’s what has gotten more work, focusing on the work and then the relationships that I build with my clients. And when we onboard a new author and they see what’s involved, they see what you’re doing to bring their vision to life, that has gotten me more work than marketing on social media.

And so, that’s when it’s that shift of, “Hey, I’ll post and I’ll talk about stuff.” Plus, I’m not a salesman per se, so I’m not trying to hard sell, “Hey, come buy my book.” No. Here’s we created this book. It was a fun project. You can look at it a little bit. And people have bought from that versus me trying to hard sell them. And with regard to more work because then that author speaks highly of the experience they had working with you. That has gotten me so much more work where I have other authors call so and so.

I just finished up a book with Erica Flores, first time author. It’s been an amazing process. That has led to more work. And so, focusing on the skillset, and obviously, your working with clients far exceeds just trying to beg people to buy your products online.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I 100% agree with that. And also, because if you’re focusing on social media, as we’ve seen fairly recently, these platforms can change at the drop of a hat. If you’re busy trying to chase the algorithm, if you’re busy trying to market or make your work fit into whatever this opaque algorithm is in terms of visibility or something like that, it takes away from the work. I think we certainly see it with people that create content for video, like YouTubers, TikTokers. It’s a lot to try to figure it out. And even on maybe non-video platforms like Twitter or Instagram, Instagram is still pictures, but a lot of Instagram now is video.

Chris Dudley:
Yes, it is. It is.

Maurice Cherry:
Then with Twitter and this Twitter Blue, they’ve changed the weighting of how people see your work unless you pay for a subscription. The platforms have gotten so, I don’t want to say unreliable, but they certainly have gotten so caustic and to the point where you can’t really depend on those to get the word out or to get the work out.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
It helps. It still is a megaphone, but you can’t depend on just that to be the thing that propels your work or propels you into whatever the next level is.

Chris Dudley:
Definitely. And that’s why, like I mentioned, having your own website is so crucial. And again, I started before the internet. Well, not just before the internet, but when the internet was starting out, it was before all of the social media platforms. And so, I had a website even way back then. Whereas I see a lot of artists now that pretty good work, but they don’t have a website, and it’s just shocking to me. And they think, “I’m just going to get all kinds of work from Instagram.” Maybe if you were in the inception, but if you’re starting out right now and thinking, “I’m going to start an Instagram and get all kinds of work” and you don’t have a website, it’s not going to happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know even from just trying to reach artists or folks to have on the show, it’s always tough to get them on if they don’t have a site, because even if I send them a DM, the way that the filtering is, they may not ever see it, if I send them something on Instagram, if I send them something on Twitter.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
If they even allow you to send them a message, and it’s like, “Well, do you want people to contact you or not?”

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the point? Yeah.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you balance your artistic pursuits with your personal life and responsibilities? You mentioned your marriage. You’ve got three kids. How do you balance all of that?

Chris Dudley:
Well, again, with booking, I don’t just accept any and all projects. I’d be with a privilege to be in that position where I don’t have to take all work that comes my way. I can be a little choosy and making sure that I’m prioritizing that time with my wife. We just hit 25 years.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations.

Chris Dudley:
So, that’s a huge milestone, and with our three girls and prioritizing that time. I love doing this. Obviously, there’s a monetary component to take care of my family and so forth. But I often think about too is that there’s time that I can’t sell a client. That’s for my wife and for my family, but then often think, but the time that I do sell you, if you will, you’re not paying just for that project. You’re paying for the time I’m not being with them.

And so, when that clicked in my brain many years ago, that changes your margin, that changes the value of what you’re offering. And time to ask me to not be with my wife and my girls, like I said, some time I can give you, but the time you’re going to take from them, it’s worth something to me. So, it’s got to be important. That’s why the project has to resonate with me. So, that’s how I really keep that balance.

Maurice Cherry:
That is so deep. That is probably one of the deepest things I’ve heard on this show, and I’ve been doing this for 10 years.

Chris Dudley:
Wow. Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
No, seriously. It’s like you’re not just paying for my expertise and time; you’re paying for time away from the people that I care about. That’s deep. Wow. That resonated with me. Thank you. Wow.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah. And with that, if I could just compound on top of that, it’s where, obviously with projects, you’re not paid in hourly sense, but a lot of people understand the concept of getting paid hourly. So, if you ask the person that, would you not spend time with your family for five bucks an hour? Most people would say no. And so, if you just keep going up the ladder with the amount, there may be a threshold where people would think about it. But that starts to help you to appreciate that there’s a value add there. That I’m not just going to not spend time with my family and exclusively give mental and emotional energy to your project for any amount. No, there’s a value thing to that.

Also, like we touched on earlier, I forget the book that I read, but they said that don’t spend time doing something that you could pay someone else minimum wage to do. Obviously, when we’re starting out, and that’s what has almost changed my brain. And that’s what made me, like we talked about earlier, we put together a team. And I’ve got assistants and people that handle that because it just doesn’t make sense for me to do something that I could pay someone 10, 15, 20, 30 bucks an hour to do when, my time, I could be doing something that makes way more than that. You get what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, it doesn’t add up. But a lot of people think, “Well, I’m giving away money. I can keep that.” Yeah, but your time is a non-renewable resource, so you got the time that you do sell, it’s got to be at the right price.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and I think that becomes even more important, especially when you have a family, when you start getting older, when other members of your family start getting older. There’s no amount of money that can buy that time back.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your career, is there a particular moment or a particular experience that stands out to you the most?

Chris Dudley:
Man, I have a few. And one, I would say, is when I get an award at a juried art exhibition here at Downtown Grand Rapids. That was a very nice privilege. And like I mentioned, starting out with Dudley Graphics, and my drawing ability was not up to par by any means, any stretch. And so, to work hard to improve my understanding of light and shadow and composition and all of that, to get to the point where to be accepted into the juried exhibition again. And you’re paying to have your artwork reviewed and they can just send a no. To get accepted, to get the award, to have my work purchased and so forth, that was a milestone where I felt, “Okay, I’m pretty good at this.” Then it really gave me the confidence that I can take this to other levels.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the most important lesson you say you’ve learned throughout your career as an artist?

Chris Dudley:
Again, sounds cliche, but to truly stay humble. Humility is something that can slip away. And that’s why I say it’s stay humble because it can be a constant fight for all of us. You’re this imperfect person, but to really strive to maintain humility and never stop learning in your craft. And so, even when I meet with clients now, I tell them, I say, “Yes, you’re hiring me because I have a skillset that you don’t have, but I want to do what’s in the best interest of the project, not what’s in my best interest.”

So, if you have an idea, even though you can’t draw, please tell me. If you can defend your idea, because I’m looking at as an illustrator, I need to be able to defend my choices that I make artistically that, oh, the composition is this way because of that, that way because of this. But if someone shoots an idea to me and I realize that your idea is better than the one I had, hey, let’s make the change to make the project better.

So, that humility, even the face of you have a skillset that someone else doesn’t have, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t suggest something that’s better. So, that’s what I really strive for. And never stop learning. I feel like I’m decent at drawing and I’ve been learning this craft since I was a little kid. And some days, it feels like I can’t draw. Like, “Man, what are you doing?” And other days it’s like, “Oh, you’re pretty good. You got this.” But yeah, never stop learning and never think you just got it down.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, all of your daughters can draw too. Is that right?

Chris Dudley:
Yes. I jokingly what they say, joking but not joking. I made them learn how to draw, and there were times with each one of them. My oldest is almost 20, almost 20, 16 and 15. And they would see me drawing and I would teach them how to draw. I didn’t tell them that it looked good when it didn’t when they were young. I didn’t crush their feelings, but if something was off, I told them. I didn’t just put it on the refrigerator just because they drew it type of thing.

There were times with all of them that there were tears. And I would ask them, “Do you really want to learn how to do this?” And with tears in their eyes, each one of them, it’s like, “Yes, I do, daddy.” And it’s like, “Okay, you see that the eye is crooked. How do we fix it?” And it’s helped them to really grow. And if I could share just a brief story with that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Chris Dudley:
When I was teaching my oldest how to read, it dawned on me that this is hard because if you can picture this, you know how we write, the kid learns how to write the alphabet. What I did was, so to make an A, there’s three lines that you use to make an A, right? Then there’s one line and two bumps to make a B. And this curve line to make a C. So, what I did was I wrote an A, but I kept all the lines. Just imagine doing the first line on this part of the page. Second line over here. And I did the whole alphabet that way on a piece of paper and it looked like a jumbled mess.

But then I thought that I’m asking my daughter to figure this out, learn how to put the lines together, so that they can make all the letters. Then we asked them to learn the name of the letters, the sound of the letters, how to put them together to make a word, how to put those together to make a sentence, a paragraph, and then you got to do it with math. And I thought, “Man, learning how to draw is easier.” Then the thing, Maurice, is that there’s no reference for that. They have to learn it though.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you have to.

Chris Dudley:
And so, when it hit me that, okay, if you can learn how to read, how to write and how to do math, you can learn how to draw. Then this is a soapbox of mine, but I won’t belabor it. But when I realized that, I realized, okay, my girls can learn how to draw. They’re going to learn how to draw at least the basics.

And another thing, at a class that I got to teach, and I’ll keep this short, is that I told someone, they said, “Well, no, it’s just a talent.” I said, “Well, yeah, you can have a little bit of ability, but it gives you maybe a one to three out of a 10.” But I said, “We make kids for 13 plus years learn how to read, learn how to write and learn how to do math. Everything else is optional. If we made you from kindergarten to 12th grade, you had to draw every year and you were tested on it, everybody would leave school knowing how to draw at least decently.”

But if your kid said, “Ah, it’s hard.” You say, “Okay, quit. Let’s try and play saxophone or try soccer.” But if your kid says, “I’m struggling with reading,” you’re going to learn how to read and we make them do it. And so, that dawned on me. I was like, “Okay, my girls will learn how to draw.”

Maurice Cherry:
I really like that way of looking at it. And you’re right. I mean, as kids we start off with, I think, a lot of applied art education. In kindergarten and whatever, there’s finger painting, there’s drawing and there’s coloring. I remember being in elementary school and we would get these sheets of paper that have it’s blank at the top, and then there’s lined rules at the bottom for writing. And you had to draw something at the top and then tell the story at the bottom of it.

I actually still have them. I still kept all of my mine from being a kid. But the older I got, I remember art stuff just kept getting phased out, phased out, phased out. I had taken gifted courses. I think they called it enrichment back then, but they were gifted courses. And it felt like those were the only times when I got to do something that felt creative because everything else was towards some specific application. Like you’re learning English to learn how to read and how to write. You’re learning math for those applications and stuff like that.

And just the older you get, even if you are really into art and drawing and stuff like that, it’s increasingly treated as a hobby and not as also a fundamental thing to understand. It’s just the world that we live in because as you alluded to, well, you didn’t allude to this really in the interview, but before that we talked about this, everything is designed. Everything that we use in the modern world has went through some lens or filter of design in some capacity. The chair we sit in, the clothes we wear, the picture we write with.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
All of those are designed. And because we interact with these designed things on such a regular basis, almost on a subconscious basis, we know when something is not designed well.

Chris Dudley:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
We know when this pen is bad or this shirt doesn’t feel right. We know that. We may not have the language for it, sort of speaking what we talked about with English and math and stuff, because that’s not really taught to us as we get older.

Chris Dudley:
So true. So true. And I remember someone asked me, “Oh, what do you do?” I said, “I draw and do illustration.” And the look on her face. And she said this to me, man. She said, “You might as well have told me you could fly. You can draw?” And she was just so shocked. And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve been drawing and learning this for decades.” But what I’ve found is that artists, well, specifically with visual artists, we’ve done it before there was any incentive to do it. And so, that’s what I think makes it so amazing.

It’s like when someone sees someone that can do back flips and do all this stuff, but they’re not in the Olympics, they’re not getting paid. It’s like, “Wow, how did you learn how to do all that?” They did it because they loved it. And another point I’ll make is that it shows that, if you’re given the right incentive and you can do it because of the right incentive, that shows that you could do it all along.

I’ll use the example sometime. Usain Bolt, fastest man. He’s run the 100 meters in 9.58, I think it was. Now, if someone says, “Hey, I need you to do that in a year. You need to be able to run a sub-10 100 meters. I can’t do it. Right? There’s no amount of money. I can’t do it. But if someone says, “Okay, I need you to learn how to draw by next year decently and I’m going to give you $10 million.” What happens? You start practicing every single day. And guess what? At the end of the year, you’re going to be pretty decent at drawing and get that $10 million, which means you could do it all along, but you didn’t have the incentive.

Yeah, so as artists, we learn. We love it, so you learn how to do it and then later, you make a few dollars from it. And it seems amazing because most people, like you said, they veer off that creative path. Then you get older where you need money, and then I haven’t learned how to draw, so no one’s going to pay me with the skillset I have now. So, I got to go work over here and make some money. But yeah, it’s a awesome thing. Everybody can learn how to draw, but it’s cool being one of the few in the world that can.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project or something that you love to do one day?

Chris Dudley:
Dream project? Well, actually, one of my dream projects is a book that I wrote. The book that I just finished up, I’m the author and illustrator and the collaborator with Michael Chambers. He’s featured in the book, but I’m actually the author and the illustrator of the book. So, it’s my book per se. But my dream book, actually, I wrote a couple of years ago, and I have just got around to illustrating my own work. This one is called Duddles and the Big Dilemma, and it is a book about that very thing we just discussed about learning to draw and how everybody thinks it’s magical, but it’s more work than just talent.

And it’s amazing to me is that in the book and it explains it, no one says you’re just an amazing gifted plumber or an amazing gifted carpenter or you just naturally know how to whatever. But when it comes to the arts, people want to put this fairy dust on it. Whereas, what is it, I think Malcolm Gladwell is in his book Outliers, he said that you’ve never seen someone who is good, but they haven’t put into practice, in the work, deliberate practice.

And so, that’s one of my dream projects is to finish that, the illustrations for it and really get that book out there. It’s called Duddles and the Dilemma. Well, I won’t want to give a lot away. I’m going to finish this project probably within the next year or so, and there’s a series to the book as well. But it’s about him realizing that it’s not all fairy dust. You got to put in work to learn to draw. It’s not a magical thing, and that’s just the truth of it. And a lot of people don’t want to believe that, but I wish there was just a download that gave me all this knowledge that I’ve learned over the last 30 plus years. I wish it was that easy, but yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So, to that end, what do you see as the next chapter of your career? What do you want to do in the next five years or so? What do you see yourself?

Chris Dudley:
Yeah. Well, more books. Right now, as I mentioned, we just launched the book with Michael Chambers, Lil’ Boogaloo Shrimp and the Clean Sweep. And so, I see the direction of doing more art talks and events with kids. We are actually partnering with a nonprofit here locally. I mentioned about the breakdancing school there in Georgia, but there’s one in Colorado that we’re going to be touching base with. And so, I think that’s going to really be exploding. We’ve already talked to Rockwell Dance Academy about a book project, and so, that’s on the horizon. And in the next couple of years, just more books. More books, man.

Maurice Cherry:
More books. Well, just to wrap things up here, Chris, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, about the books? Where can they find that information online?

Chris Dudley:
Well, my website is chrisdudleyart.com and that’s where you can see my portfolio, my body of work and anybody can reach out and contact me directly through that. But my books are available through hudsondawnpublishing.com that I’m connected with, hudsondawnpublishing.com. And that’s where all of the books that I’ve illustrated are available. And that’s been awesome being connected with them. I actually designed the logo. And my oldest daughter, she launched the publishing company. She put a team together. I was joking around about it, designed a logo. She launched it during the pandemic. Got with an artist and made a book and got it out. And I was like, “Wow.”

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Chris Dudley:
And so, since then she has worked with, wow, probably 10 authors. I’ve illustrated a lot of the books, but she’s working with, I think, five new authors right now and that’ll be on that site. So, yeah, it’s been awesome. She has printeries. It’s established printeries locally in Michigan actually, in the west and east side of the state. Got warehousing. So, she’s taken that to the next level beyond what I ever thought that could be.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. It’s a whole family operation. It’s a family affair.

Chris Dudley:
Yeah, definitely, definitely. Yeah, hudsondawnpublishing.com.

Maurice Cherry:
Awesome.

Chris Dudley:
And actually, the recent book, you can read the intro of the book right there online.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, we’ll definitely put a link to that in the show notes.

Chris Dudley, I want to thank you so, so much for taking time out and coming on the show. I mean, it always warms my heart to talk to people that have been doing this kind of work for years on years on years because the longevity in just this industry is something that you don’t really see from Black creatives. You can get burned out. We can get discouraged, et cetera. And it really feels like you have found a method and a calling and a passion in this work, and you found a way to not only sustain it for yourself, but also for your family and for the community that you’re in.

I think that is something that is super inspiring. I think any artist wants to make sure that their work has an impact in the world. And most certainly, I can tell just from your passion about it and how you talk about it and just the quality of the work, that you’re making an impact in the world with everything that you do. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Chris Dudley:
Well, thank you for having me. It’s been such a privilege. I truly appreciate and look forward to touching base with you soon.

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