Start making stuff and keep making stuff

Hi Caroline, please introduce yourself to our readers…

I’m Caroline Moore, I’m 31, and I’ve been working as a graphic designer for 10 years. I come from a really small coal patch town called LaBelle, Pennsylvania. It’s sort of halfway between Pittsburgh, PA and Morgantown, WV. I work a few days a week for an agency called Carney + Co and I spend the rest of my week working for my own design and photography business.

When did you first know that you wanted to become a graphic designer?

There’s not a bustling art community out in LaBelle. There’s only one road through town, it was a 10 minute drive to get bread, and we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow. I’d always been into drawing and painting, and I found whatever opportunities I could to work on art projects. When our high school did a production of The Sound of Music, I designed the t-shirts for the cast and crew and I made flyers for friends’ bands and school events.

At home, my parents asked me to paint murals in our living room. All of my friends kept telling me that I should go to school for art, but I thought of it as a hobby and not a viable career. When I enrolled in college, it was for elementary education, and it’s probably best for everyone that didn’t work out. My second semester there, I took an intro to graphic design course, and the following semester I changed my major.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

It depends on where I’m working. Carney + Co is a full service agency, but most of what we do there is web. I spend a lot of time in Photoshop, making web graphics and emailers and sometimes site layouts.

Working for myself, I’m doing a lot more by hand these days. I spend a lot of time drawing on actual paper, inking things, and then scanning them in to start tweaking or doing color. Either way, it starts with coffee.

What tools do you use on a daily basis that you couldn’t live without?

The big three, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign I’m obviously using a lot. I also think I’m the only person in the world that opens Adobe Bridge on purpose. I use Lightroom to edit photos, but I still use Bridge to flip through JPG files like a digital contact sheet. The guys made a really cool app called Music Control that we use to keep tunes going at work, so that everyone can control the player from their own computers, and I use Spotify and iTunes at home.

I work better with music, and I have different playlists for different types of projects. I have apps for everything – OntheJob helps me with time tracking and making invoices, Square lets me take credit card payments at merch tables, I use Symple to keep track of my health, because I have a chronic illness I have to keep an eye on. Instagram and Twitter keep me connected to people and offer me another platform to show what I’m working on, I probably use those two more than anything else.

As far as physical tools go, the best thing I’ve bought for myself is a real lightbox. I’d been using my home made one for years, and it’s just a desk lamp that I’d sit on the floor with a piece of plexiglass I pulled out of a cheap photo frame on top. It worked, but it’s hell on your back. I’m still drawing on cheap copy paper with Sharpies, but I’m not hunched over a lamp while I’m doing it.

I also go through Moleskine notebooks like they’re going out of style. I have a general use one, I have one that I’m using for my doodle a day project (actually, that’s filled up two of them already), I have another that I’m keeping for a book project, and one I use as a travel journal. I should really try to get them to sponsor me.

How did you get your first ever freelance client?

Technically, my very first freelance client would have been that Sound of Music shirt that I made. It was mentioned at an organizational meeting that they needed someone to design it, and another student piped up with “Caroline does artsy stuff,” and so they asked me to do it. Which is pretty close to how I’m finding clients these days.

What you find are the best ways to get new clients?

Mostly people find me through word of mouth. If you do work for someone and they’re happy with it, they tend to tell their friends. I also try to be involved in communities I care about. Bands would hire me to do photography or design work for them because I’m around – I go to shows, I buy their albums, I support what they’re doing. I’ve done a lot of work for non-profit organizations because I’d supported their events in the past. It’s how I network. I’m not going to industry events with the intention of passing out a ton of business cards, I make friends in a community that’s of mutual interest, and I try to be a resource to other people. I get involved with things I care about.

I’m also constantly putting some kind of work out there. If I’m not doing client work, I’m doing personal projects and sharing those. Work begets work, and people hire you for the kind of work they see you doing. If you want to get hired to make book covers, then make more book covers. Show them to people. The internet’s made this a remarkably easy thing to do, and you never really know where your work is going to end up and who’s going to see it. Sometimes I’m amazed at how people find me.

What is a project that you are most proud of and why?

I got really hung up on this one, because I’m honestly proud of nearly all of them. I try not to put out work that I’m not excited about having my name attached to. My sort of gut reaction though is probably the shirt that I did for Green Day. That was unexpected, and there was some pretty serious fist-pumping when I found out they were going with it.

Part of why that was really exciting is that it was cool for me to see strangers wearing something I’d made, and it was the first time something of mine had sold on that kind of scale. But also, I’d tried some techniques that were completely new to me, and the whole process was very experimental. I didn’t even know if I’d end up with something usable out of it, but I really love that graphic.

Do you have any side projects that you’d like to share with us?

I always, always have at least one side project going. I keep a running list of projects that I want to do, but I have more ideas for things than time. Right now, I’m working on a Firefly poster series. I decided a few years back to do a poster for each episode, and I just finished up the one for Jaynestown. I have some linoleum block prints in the shop now, the Operation Ivy inspired one is actually the first thing I ever sold through there.

I have plans for some new lino prints. I have this doodle a day project that I’m posting to my Instagram – I just draw something about my day, every day. They’re also getting posted to Someone commented on the fact that I put eyebrows on some pierogies and I said “everything gets eyebrows.” So now that’s a thing. And I’m working on another conference talk to do this year in London, a workshop at my alma mater, and a book for maybe next fall.

It’s possible that I work too much.

Who are your closest friends in the industry and what support do they give you?

I have a pretty wide network. Maybe thanks to the internet, maybe it’s just because I talk a lot – I meet a lot of people. What’s surprising is how much support I get from people that aren’t that close to me. I had a question about sending out sketches for a shirt design, and I emailed Brandon Rike and Jason Chandler about it. They’re both impossibly busy dudes, who only kind of know me, and they still both knocked out thoughtful responses.

I try to pay that forward whenever people email me questions (although I usually get emails about shooting concerts for a living, then I have to break it to them that I don’t even shoot concerts for a living and shatter their tiny dreams). The people I’ve met through working with WMC Fest have become a little family to me. I’ll ask them for advice on industry questions, but also they let me sleep on their floors when I’m in town.

Really, I get the same support from my industry friends as I do from my non-industry friends, we just talk about fonts more.

Who do you most look up to in the industry?

There are people that I’m into what they’re doing aesthetically, like I love Ryan Troyford’s work, Sam Spratt’s paintings, I love Max Stern’s music and his design work, James White’s fantastic 80s neon things, Jonas Peterson’s photos. And there are people that I admire for how they run their business.

Commonwealth Press does a lot of great stuff for the community, they care about their town. Joseph Hughes uses his talent and his platform to talk about things that matter to him, like marriage equality. But also other important things, like dad rock. Aaron Sechrist’s marketing is super authentic to who he is, it feels weird to even really call it marketing, but it’s always clever. Kathleen Hanna’s not in my industry, but I feel like she and my mom share credit for making me as mouthy as I’ve turned out to be.

I could go on for days, but in general, I look up to decent people that care about their industry/scene/community.

Do your creative skills lie anywhere else other than design?

I went to school for design, but I also took every studio art class I could fit into my schedule and all of the photography classes. Then I went to more school for film. So my background is pretty varied. There’s so much overlap with visual arts, it’s kind of like learning to play instruments. The first one is the hardest, because you’re learning all of the framework that goes along with it – reading music, theory, everything about music plus whatever instrument you’re trying to pick up. The second one is way easier.

When I learned to draw, I also learned about composition, and hierarchy, and contrast, and all of these elements and principles of art that I got to carry through to learning about design. Most of those skills transferred to photography, and the new skills I picked up there transferred pretty easily to film.

The way that I work now is just determining the best skills for a job, some things I draw with a pencil and some things I draw in Illustrator. Some things I carve out of linoleum. I’m not a specialist.

What are the best tips you could give to anyone looking to start in this industry?

This will sound like a shameless plug, but really the best advice I have on getting started is in that Punk Rock Entrepreneur talk that I gave at WMC Fest last year. If you have 40 minutes, check that out. If you don’t have 40 minutes, I think the best advice that I can give someone wanting to work in a creative field is to learn about business.

If you want to make a living, even if you’re planning on working for someone else, you really need to understand business. If you don’t care about making money, then what you’re doing is a hobby. Which is also cool, hobbies are great. But if you’re interested in making a career out of it, seriously, take some business classes.

The second best advice I can give is to start making stuff, and keep making stuff. You don’t have to show the world everything that you make, but show them some of it.

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