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Most graphic artists work as freelancers but here we interviewed an artist employed full-time in a printing company to show you some of the trade-offs...

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field?

A: My job title is “Graphic Artist.” I work in the professional printing industry. I have roughly eight years of experience in this field.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: When I work in a graphics shop, I generally create or edit graphics on a computer to meet the requirements of the client and of the presses. I may create sample printouts on a color printer and deliver them to clients with Pantone color tabs attached. I also do some work in the darkroom. Because this is a relatively small shop, I also share duties as LAN administrator, though do not think that is by any means typical. I help edit the company newsletter and am responsible for desktop publishing for that document. I also share facilitation responsibilities at meetings. Some of these duties are more specific to the company rather than the profession.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: My job satisfaction is around an “8.” While I enjoy what I do, I would like to spend more time creating original design concepts rather than tweaking existing logos and such.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: The job is fulfilling, but tends toward a lot of corporate logos and labels and such. I would really love to help design something really creative like a book cover, greeting card, or tarot deck. That would be really fun for me.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I am willing to work odd hours if necessary. Shift work can be required. I don't know if I'm really much different from anyone else in that respect. We all do what we have to to make ends meet.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I got started as a typesetter. I then became a newsletter editor. From there I started doing desktop publishing. That led me more deeply into graphic design.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this hard-learned lesson?

A: A graphic design job can be like any other job, meaning political. Be careful what you reveal about your background to coworkers. I shared a bit about my work history with another person on my shift at my first official graphic designer job. He proceeded to try to undermine my work with management while pretending to be my friend. That was an awakening, as it unleashed a lot of unwarranted scrutiny of my work that hadn't been there beforehand.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: Politics rule. This has always been hard for me to accept. Politics always prevail over talent, ability, and experience. I have seen it happen again and again in a variety of work environments. People in the workplace can be really interesting and not always in logical or good ways.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I have met some strange people in this profession. I'm not sure anything too strange has ever happened on the job.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I work because I have to work. Even so, I look for things that are positive in my work. I always enjoy learning new skills or helping others.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you really want to pull your hair out?

A: Challenges can range from learning a new version of software to pleasing a difficult client. Probably the one thing that most made me want to pull out my hair was a coworker who insisted on playing hard rock while we were working. I couldn't concentrate. We finally compromised. I got him to turn the radio down. I also frequently wore earplugs. Sometimes a client will know a bit too much for his or her own good and will try to do color trapping or step out a job for our presses. Almost invariably there are mistakes and the unwind is wrong. We try to tell customers to just let us know what they want and that we will handle the technical details. Otherwise it takes a lot longer to find and correct the customer's “helpful work” than it does to simply do it right ourselves the first time.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?

A: This can be a very stressful job because often deadlines are very tight with a non-stop workload. If I'm working in an office with co-workers, that can add to the stress depending on how rattled folks get when under pressure. I try to work out, see friends, and do other fun and relaxing activities. However sometimes I have to work overtime or come into the office for meetings on my day off. The balancing act can become tricky.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: When I started as a graphic designer, this was around ten dollars an hour. Actually I got a lot less, maybe $7 an hour when if you count the start of my career with my typesetting job. Today it really depends on what kind of job I am doing and for whom. It is possible to charge a piece rate for a particular project. The costs of this can vary depending upon the complexity of the project and what the market will bear. For beginning graphic designers, I really don't seem to see that there's been a lot of improvement in starting salaries. The wages seem to be stuck around $12 an hour, which is kind of ridiculous considering the skills required.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I've never had very much vacation time available. Two weeks has been the maximum at any job I have had. Of course I can take more when I work as a free agent. However then I have to take an unpaid vacation. I think my longest unpaid vacation has been a week in duration. It absolutely is not enough time off. I certainly feel grateful for the opportunity to work and earn money though.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: Knowing the latest computer software and preferred platform of the industry will help a great deal. Being able to type, spell, do math very well, and learn things quickly are all important skills. I didn't have a degree in graphic design. I'm not sure there was such a thing when I was just getting started in this career. I think that studying graphic design, computer science, writing, editing, mathematics, and art would all be helpful.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: It sounds glamorous and creative but is really a lot of hard work and not always that interesting on a daily basis. Long hours, short tempers, unreasonable deadlines, and low pay are not uncommon. There is an amount of math needed in this field that was both surprising and interesting to me. If a person likes both creative and technical work and is good with computers, this could be a decent career for someone.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I would love to be retired and not working for a living. There is so much to see and do. It would be nice to be able to comfortably step off the treadmill.