12 Questions: Meet David W. Nees (USA)

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature David W. Nees (crowdSPRING username: DWNees) today. David lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma (USA).

1. Please tell us about yourself.

I am never good at trying to describe myself. I am 39, a Pisces, single and loving it. I am from Tulsa, OK. I have three degrees in art – BA in Art History (OU), MA in Art History (OU) and a BA in Graphic Design from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK. I have been teaching as an adjunct instructor at various colleges and universities throughout Oklahoma and am now working to get my career off the ground in graphic design. I am considering returning to school to pursue a MFA or PhD in 2009.

2. You are an academic, an artist and a graphic designer. How do you balance all three?

Being under-employed allows for a great deal of balance in my pursuits. After graduate school, I spent four years trying to get an academic career off the ground. This culminatied in a change of careers alltogether and caused me to return to school to study graphic design. The Bush years have been very hard for my art career…  I was able to teach while attending school at NSU and that was great. Beyond that, I find that my love of art history and the joy of working as an artist and designer forces me to find time for everything.

3. Younger designers might not fully appreciate the importance of art history. Why is it important for designers to study art history?

Most everyone can benefit from studying art history, because art history helps us to understand our visual culture. It allows us to see our cultural values. We can trace our development in the West by our most famous artworks and if we truly understand what they mean, we have the chance to truly understand ourselves. That is especially important for artists and designers because we are participating in that development – when we create something, we are in a dialogue with so many artists and designers such as Phidias, Michelangelo and David Carson or Chip Kidd. And like any conversation, you have to listen to what the other person is saying in order to thoughtfully add to that conversation.

There are many great online resources and books about art history. If you are interested in reading about art history, let me offer a few resources I’ve found helpful:

http://witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHLinks.html – Art History Resources on the Web – Professor Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe. Here you can find a little bit on just about everything. Fun even to casually scroll through and find an area you like and follow the links.

http://www.citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/index.html – The History of Visual Communication. A great place for an overview of the discipline of Graphic Design. Lots of information and links to follow.

The classic: The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich. First published in 1950 this is an excellent starting place.

The Power of Images by David Freedberg. This is perhaps the most difficult book on images I have ever read, but saying that it is probably the best. Not for the casual enthusiast though.

And another classic: The Medium is The Message by Marshall McLuhan. This answers (or at least speaks to) many of the problems of contemporary art and design.

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

In design, the everyday things that influence so many artists and designers influence me. Things such as comic books and popular culture influence me. I am also influenced a great deal by designers that so often go unnamed. Like today, I was at the airport and picked up a city guide that has a very nice cover, my bulletin board gets covered in those types of things. I also love Chip Kidd, possibly more for his writing than his design – The Cheese Monkeys is still one of the greatest books I have read and if you went to school to study design you will definitely see yourself or someone you know in the pages of that book. My academic work is varied and influences my art much more immediately than my design work. I spend a lot of time reading about the classical movements in art and I am trying to understand whether beauty can be defined as a “universal truth.” So there is division in my work between design and art – I see them as two very different disciplines with distinct purposes and goals. Unlike many others though, I do not see one as a nobler pursuit than the other – just different.

5. What’s the very first thing you do when approaching a new design?

I always start by brainstorming a project. It is always a mess – but since I rarely work on paper when designing, the storm is almost always deleted. I find that throwing a lot of ideas (various type treatments, images and even colors) at a project helps to not become too obsessed with one “perfect” idea allowing me to be more flexible in the end when a client says – “I like it, but…”

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

My favorite designs are ones that I feel give the client a viable option for their project and that through that project I feel have taken my design skills to a new level. The first example was one that was not selected by the client but I was so proud of the work that it really did not matter. That was for Vig Organic and All-Natural Candy and Chewing Gum.* The fact that I had been able to illustrate lollipop flowers left me beaming for days – I am still working out some new work so that illustration does not to go to waste. Another favorite is one of my more recent projects for Gossip.com* and in this project I was over-the-moon with the end result – to me it is very well-suited for the project, but also I think it shows the culmination of what I have learned thus far.

7. Please talk a little about the challenges in teaching students about art in today’s technology-oriented environment.

Technology, in my opinion, only aids in teaching students about art. The vast number of resources, images and information at the touch of a fingertip has made my teaching livelier than some of the more traditional methods of the not so distant past. When I was an undergrad in art history, you had series after series of two slides juxtaposed for comparison and the instructor’s notes. Try that in the dark for 3 hours at a time, and you will see why you had to have real passion to want to pursue art history. Now the options are endless, I can think of something on the spot and not worry that I may not have the right slide – because it is all there, thanks to Google Images. If a student wants a specific example or a comparison – again it can be accessed immediately. That is a huge bonus in the classroom allowing for greater interaction, but only if an instructor chooses to use the resources that are there.

Often, you have instructors that are so deeply embedded in the past methodology that they fail to see the benefits of the “new” technology. Mostly because they are afraid students will rely too heavily on the Internet and fail to do what many instructors see as “real” work. This fear is a legitimate one, but one that is overcome when the instructors themselves use the Internet and incorporate it into the traditional methodology. Both students and instructors alike feel that it must be one way or the other – that one method is more legitimate than the other, but the truth is they are both needed. Moreover, I find that students are not as savvy as the media/culture seems to give them credit for, but in order to teach them how to use this greatest of resources we must know how to use it ourselves.

8. How has technology affected your work?

In my academic work, I feel it has broadened my ability to “see the big picture”. I am very interested in how images work – from the greatest works of art to the glibbest work of graphic design. Access is power, in my opinion. And never has so much access been available to us. In my art, I am somewhat of a technology junky. I love Adobe’s products and I love the digital age – to me it is evolution. Many may not think of it as such for some of the reasons that I talked about in answering question seven. There is a real debate going on about the “real-ness” of digital work vs. traditional media. But I would never have been a professional artist and especially not a designer, if I hadn’t been introduced to this way of working. Having said that, I do have some traditional training in my background. I am someone who in the past relied on a pink eraser, not “Ctrl+Z” to undo a mistake I have cut ruby lith, I am reasonably good at drawing by hand, pencil-to-paper, and I know how to paint (although I hate painting) but I do not see one way as inherently better than the other. I think all artists and designers have to come to their own way of working – that is the point of expression and for me that predominately means turning on the computer and getting to work. And yes, I still do traditional work, but it usually ends up being fed to the computer sooner or later. I work at home on a PC running CS2 and am dreaming of a Mac and CS4 (my goodness time flies).

9. When working online, how do you decide whether to participate in a project?

I usually work on projects that interest me, or at least on those that I feel I have something I can contribute. I admire designers who can participate in every project with the same amount of enthusiasm, but I find that to be difficult, especially online. I cannot keep focused if I am not personally into it. This is why my dream graphic design position would be in-house for a museum or gallery, that way my passions could come together productively. Having said that, I do sometimes work for the sake of working, to see what I can push myself to do. Of course, design classes are like that – you have projects that you couldn’t give a fig about, but sometimes you find you learn a lot in those projects because you have to really work hard to be successful. On crowdSPRING, I also find that there are other criteria as to whether I will participate – such as how many submissions there are, what the ratings look like and whether I can offer something unique to what has already been submitted. Sometimes money is an issue just by virtue of how much time I have to invest in a project, but if I am really interested in it than I will participate regardless of the award amount.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a graphic designer?

The biggest challenge today in design to me has been somewhat unexpected in that the market has hemorrhaged over the past year and a half along with the economy in the US. So that has been difficult to say the least. It is also hard to not take it personally, especially when my work is rejected, , but there are hardships in almost every field right now, not just graphic design. (I’d like to take a moment to emphasize the importance of voting in the upcoming US elections).

On the other hand, I have found personal fulfillment in being a designer. I have great passion for teaching, and working as a designer generates almost as much passion in me. I did not expect that. I thought that I might just be able to teach design such as history or some practical aspects, but I find I have a lot of ability here and something to offer – which is great for me. And I know sooner or later it will all come together, as they say, “Hope springs eternal.”

11. What advice would you offer to someone considering graphics design as a career?

Learn as much as you can and put it into good practice. Then be ready to work – a lot. Even being under-employed, I work at design almost everyday – working on projects here, doing my own work and experimenting with new ideas. Now to only get paid for it…

12. What do you do with your free time?

I spend time with my friends and family, watch reality TV and I read a lot. I also spend time every now and then updating my website: www.dwnees.com and my blog: www.graphicsbydwnees.blogspot.com. It’s all about self-promotion these days. 🙂

Thanks so much, David.