Make it work; why newspaper artists make the best designers

lulugrimmtimgunn Make it work; why newspaper artists make the best designers

“Just set your resolution high on your monitor, scale it up, take a screenshot and slap it in there,” I said to the panicked marketing artist who was stressing over the jpg of a 1X3 benevolent ad she was given without the high-res artwork or fonts. The client was not returning her phone calls and her submission deadline was twenty minutes out.

“Trust me.”

She took the screenshot, resampled it, leveled the grays and sent it off to press, fully expecting that her last days at the newspaper were just about here. This wasn’t the way you were supposed to do pre-press on an ad. Who runs a 72dpi ad in a newspaper? From a screenshot? She was very nervous.

The next day, the newspaper came out and she ripped through the tear sheets, expecting to see a pixelated mess or worse, a blank space with an X through it. But there it was, a perfect ad.

And she started to giggle with relief. She had just gotten away with something that didn’t play by the rules at all. In fact, this went against everything she ever learned in art school or anything they taught her at her last agency job.

That was the very first day she became a real graphic artist.

My favorite fashion designer of all time is Tim Gunn, not because of his sense of style, eye or any design skill but because he understands how to throw the problem back at a designer to “make it work.” That is him posing in the photo above with another rule breaker, Lisa Grimm, a marketing genius at the Mall of America in Minneapolis (ok, Bloomington) Minnesota. Tim understands that a great designer will solve the problem best when faced with the stress and frustration of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Designers who are simply good will fail.

I read this blog post from FootnoteTV today. It’s got a short video that is a must-see for every creative person who has only been given eight broken crayons and the back of a shovel to “make it work.” It made me think of my screenshot story. I had a good laugh and then decided to write about it, lest I forget at some point in my older age.

My editor said it best when he commented, “The worst artists in the world are those who have access to unlimited resources.” The best artists are those who have worked in newspaper. They know how to hold a dot pattern destined to be printed on paper as absorbent as toilet tissue, how far to push a gradient screen before it bands and how to mess with the key color to make a blurry, muddy mess sing. They understand the math of their craft, when and where to apply the duct tape and when a screenshot will look every bit as good as a coffee table book.

Real artists know how to craft a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and sew straight seams. They know how the machinery works and are not scared to get in and tear it apart to make it work. While they may not know exactly how they will get there, they are confident in the construction of their craft.

Do you “make it work” or do you make excuses?

*Lisa let me use her photo for this blog post. Thank you! She is on a quest to pose with every famous person ever, lured to the Mall of America through her wicked awesome spell.

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About Rufus Dogg

I'm a dog who writes a blog. It is not a pet blog. It is a real blog that talks about real ideas. No, really. I do my own writing, but I have a really, really cool editor who overlooks the fact that I can't really hit the space-bar key cause I don't have thumbs. I talk about everything from politics to social issues to just rambling about local problems. And, sometimes I just talk about nothing in particular. Google+
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10 Responses to Make it work; why newspaper artists make the best designers

  1. Paul Anater says:

    My working life started in newspapers and I agree wholeheartedly. The years spent working in newsprint have left me with a skill set I rely on every day.

  2. Rufus Dogg says:

    The best artists are those who can create from nothing. The best people tend to be those who rose from nothing. They appreciate the small things as gifts and the greater things as the luxuries they know them to be.

  3. Lisa Grimm says:

    Rule breaker:-) Cute. Very cute. It’s true. I can’t help myself. Nice post, and nice pic!

  4. Rufus Dogg says:

    It’s the one on the left that makes the photo.. Tim is there as arm candy for her and he knows it :-)

  5. margie clayman (@margieclayman) says:

    I really like the thought you have here, RoofRoof. The concept of depending on your core skills more than on the media, the technology, or anything else you might have at your disposal is excellent food for thought. When left to our own devices, do we problem solve or do we bail? Unfortunately, I would say in this era of ridiculous technology that makes everything seem so easy, we probably bail. You’re sending out a good reminder of what can be achieved if you hang in there and make it work.

    Good stuff!

  6. Rufus Dogg says:

    The world by clock and fist. In a world where our knowledge is only as good as the longest lasting battery, the folks who can circumnavigate the world by clock and fist will rule. http://www.dogwalkblog.com/?s=clock+and+fist

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  8. Trich says:

    Someone mentioned this in a response to a Before & After question and being a ten year veteran of the newspaper design industry I had to give it a read… and I’ll probably note it on every job application I ever submit from now on. I too have had those make it work moments – never had to use a screen shot but that’s a good tip I’ll hold onto in case of emergency.

    It can be very disheartening to be a designer at a newspaper – I don’t even call myself a designer, I’m an ad builder – I don’t get paid a designer’s salary, I don’t get a client list, I grab the next ad in the queue and keep building till the end of the day. Some days you get to spend a few hours on a single ad and make it look like you care about what you’re doing, and some days you just need to get the work done and still make it look like you care what you’re doing. I don’t mind the fast pace or the limited resources but it would be nice if our work was valued, then maybe we would feel valued.

    Thanks for pointing out that we actually do know what we’re doing.

  9. Rufus Dogg says:

    That would have been my editor Gerard McLean. He is an insufferable, opinionated windbag, but he signs the check around here, so what are you gonna do? Until we dogs grow thumbs, that is :-)

    Most days are like that at a newspaper in the advertising department, I’ll give you that, but every newspaper has a marketing department where they have some community outreach and a certain amount of benevolent space. Maybe even the NIE department. It might drive your director a bit crazy and make him/her nervous, but perhaps you can seek out these projects and volunteer to work on them? It would give you a creative outlet at any rate. Newspapers have become an interesting game and especially in advertising, it is all about placement frequency rather than creative. That is really a shame as I think sometimes the most creative stuff happens when you don’t have the luxury of unlimited resources.

    What about editorial page design? Not sure if you saw this in print from the New York Times, but the printed page was a hoot! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/dining/chicken-skin-beguiles-chefs.html That had to be fun for a page designer to work on.

    There are still newspapers that value creative, especially those who are breaking into iPad formats and such. There will always be room for designers. Get out and talk to other artists, page designers and NIE folks at newspapers. Steer clear from the whiners and grumblers.. they just bring the world down…

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