The following is an interview conducted with Interview with Jayme Spinks over the course of the last 6 months. This interview with Spinks starts off our regular interview series with designers, via mat3rial.
MAT3RIAL: How did you become a graphic designer?
JS: In high school, I fell in love with photography, and spent a large chunk of my time in the school darkroom, thanks to an incredibly supportive and encouraging art teacher. At the same time, I joined the Yearbook committee and started laying out pages, and designed covers for the school’s annual academic calendar. I still didn’t really know what a graphic designer was, and only discovered it as a profession once I started looking into post-secondary programs. It sounded like a fantastic way to have a career making work and being creative. It’s such a designer cliché, but I thought it was a more practical alternative to being a fine artist.
MAT3RIAL: Who are the people who have influenced your aesthetics and your approach to design?
JS: I graduated high school early so I could take a year off before heading to university, but at the last minute, my travel plans fell through. Well past the deadline to apply to most other institutions, (and in a bit of a panic), I applied to the Advertising program at the college in my hometown, and spent a year learning the basics of graphic arts: paste-up, presentation boards, crop marks and X-acto blades, copywriting, Quark Xpress, hand-rendering type, and rubber cement. At the time it all seemed superfluous and outdated, but the hands-on skills have served as my base ever since (especially since during undergrad the focus was more on thinking and concept, than it was on trimming and presentation overlays). What was originally considered a mere time-filler ended up being one of the most influential moves of my career. I think it’s important to know where your craft comes from. Sure, nobody does paste-up anymore, but I think it’s good to know how things used to be, to better understand how we got to where we are today. Letterpress printing is also an excellent history lesson. Personally, I think it should be mandatory that all graphic artists and designers learn how to set something by hand, pull some prints, then sort all the type. Understanding the amount of work that people used to do is kind of mind-boggling. Plus, all designers should know why it’s called ‘leading.’
During my undergrad at OCAD, I had an instructor who really taught outside the box and pushed the students creatively. He challenged me to think conceptually about things, and broadened my perspective on what design could be, blurring the lines between graphic and fine art. I learned what kind of designer I wanted to be in his class, and feel certain that my work would be very different today had I not been exposed to that kind of process and concept-driven practice early on.
MAT3RIAL: Describe your creative process.
JS: I do a lot of sketching, mostly with words instead of pictures. I try to always have some kind of conceptual grounding, through format, materials, visuals, etc. It’s important to me that decisions aren’t arbitrary, but based on some form of creative logic. Format and production methods are critical to figure out from the get-go for me and inform much of the design that follows, but can easily bog me down if I’m not careful.
Once I have some ideas, I try to spit out as many iterations as I can, and then sift through things to find a couple strong concepts to push forward. I am a big fan of brainstorming with others, and have a select few people that know me well whom I trust to tell me when things aren’t working.
MAT3RIAL: What has been your best project and why?
JS: Certainly one of my favourite projects has been creating the promotional material for the OCAD U Sculpture/Installation Thesis Exhibitions. Since the parameters stay pretty much the same, one of the main challenges is to come up with something unique and engaging each year. It’s been an opportunity to try new production techniques and push formats, and over the years has given me the chance to work and experiment with many different printers – from screen-printing the material myself, to large-run trade printers, to smaller, independent printers producing really innovative results. This will be my tenth year working on it, so it acts as an interesting visual record of my work over the last decade.
Two other projects that stand out for me are the albums I designed for my very talented musician/writer friend, Dinah Thorpe. She was open to almost anything, and pretty much gave me free rein, which was incredibly refreshing. I think the most recent album, Lullabies and Wake-up Calls is one of my most successful professional pieces. Both albums received JUNO nominations for Recording Package of the Year.
MAT3RIAL: What is the most challenging part of graphic design work?
Also, as a print designer, knowing that I’m part of an industry that creates a huge amount of waste, and kills a lot of trees.
MAT3RIAL: I tell my students (at IIT) to think carefully about paper size to maximize the format depending on the printer they work with, and to also consider ink usage in this regard. Are there practices that a designer can have to make their practice more environmentally conscious?
I always try to encourage my clients to print less. Why order 2000 copies, when you’ll only use 500? If format is open, I try to have a chat with the printer to figure out what size will have the least amount of wastage. I think it’s great that you tell your students the same – it seems this kind of information might be lacking in school. I also aim to use paper with high recycled content as much as possible. Dual purpose pieces (for example, a poster/invite combo) is also a small way of reducing.