One Minute With…
Hi Linda, thanks for taking the time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Hello! Thanks so much for having me. I’m a Georgia girl currently living in New York. I work for Squarespace doing mostly web and icon design, but in my free time I like to dabble in lettering, badges, and illustration. My style is very minimal and flat, and it typically has a sense of humor.
And speaking of fun things with a sense of humour, I think that’s also reflected in your online “persona” to a large extent. Do you think it’s important to be a “real person” online, rather than just another Photoshop/Illustrator bot?
Absolutely! I think that young designers (and just people in general, really) tend to try and fit a mold instead of find the niche that really suits them. I try to be honest and personable, and sometimes that means that I make inappropriate fart jokes – but that’s just me and it’s worked out okay so far.
How did you get into design? Was there a moment that was a turning point in your career, or when you suddenly realised that this is definitely what you want to be doing?
Can you cue the cheesy music please?
Now playing: Gonna Fly Now – Bill Conti. Wrong kind of cheesy?
Haha! I was thinking of Kate Bush, but that will do just fine. When I was three years old, my grandparents took me to the Illustration studio at Disney. I was old enough to hold a pencil at that point, and I was already a bit obsessed with drawing. But once I saw a room full of people doing it as their job, I started to tell my parents that when I grew up I wanted to be a cartoonist.
So from then on, I was constantly drawing. I would get these out-of-date instructional how-to books like ‘How to Draw Wacky Faces!’ and ‘Maybe You Like to Draw Dragons Too?’ and ‘Shapes That Make Other Shapes, Why Not!’ I don’t remember the actual names of the books. But I would skip the how-to parts, and just try to copy – Not trace (There’s a big difference to an 8 year old!) – the final result. By doing that, I learned a lot about proportion, space, line, and color. And that crayons and markers only come in the ugliest bold colors, and something needs to be done about it. Later on when I was 13 and painting designs on mine and my friends trapper-keepers with fingernail polish for money, I ended up running an errand with my grandfather that literally did change my life.
I had been working in my grandfather’s body shop “Ernie’s” (painting and fixing dents in cars, that sort of thing) for a summer. After work one day, Papa said we had to make a detour on the way home. His son (my uncle) had just moved to California, and we needed to pick something up from one of his friends. We walked into this place, and I remember it perfectly still – I got butterflies in my stomach and felt my heart stop.
There were 5 guys sharing a studio. They each had drafting tables and computers. There were awesome posters on the wall. There were skate decks everywhere. And they were playing Joy Division on vinyl.
I asked them immediately where I was, and they told me that they were a graphic design studio that did mostly album art, posters, and skate graphics. This was the first time I had heard the term ‘Graphic Design’, but I felt like it was what I was looking for all along. So I decided that was what I wanted to be when I grew up.
That is an awesome story. Okay, so if you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
Hmm… I’m pretty much in love with what I do, and feel so, so lucky every day that I get to do this. And I’m not just saying that. I have moments where it hits me hard – I stop what I’m doing and exclaim to whoever will listen “I JUST GOT PAID REAL MONEY TO DRAW A HOT DOG! I LOVE MY LIFE!” Even when I’m doing tedious web layout work, it’s 100x better than my 15-year-old job of fitting spoiled, smelly, crying children for soccer cleats.
But there is one thing that can bug me about the industry, and that’s the egos. It’s mostly a friendly and welcoming industry, but occasionally it can feel too exclusive for me. I forget who said it, but they said it best: “Being the most famous graphic designer is just as big a deal as being the most famous plumber. Nobody outside of your industry gives a shit.”
So, back in August, you left Atlanta, and with that your job at MailChimp, to move to New York. How have you found the experience thus far? What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?
Leaving MailChimp was a really difficult decision, and it was made entirely for location reasons. I had lived in Atlanta for 8 years, and I spent most of my childhood between Georgia and Florida. It was just time to get the heck out of Dodge. So I spent a weekend in NYC, and within about 3 days of getting back to GA, I made the decision to relocate. Moving to NY is like ripping off a band-aid: You just have to suck it up, not think about it too much, and do it. (And make sure nobody sees you cry, which you inevitably will end up doing in public at some point.)
I’ve had an unusually easy time moving here, compared to most people. I found an apartment straight away and I adjusted pretty easily to the city. But there were two things that stick out as a challenge.
1. The start-up that I moved up here to work for… It just wasn’t what I had expected it to be, and I’ll keep it at that. I decided to take a new job only 2 months later, which is uncharacteristic for me. I don’t like to quit, and doing so that soon was a difficult decision.
2. Dogs. I had 3 dogs when I lived in Atlanta, and since New York apartments aren’t known for their luxurious dog accommodations, I had to leave them behind with an ex. I missed them so much at first. I remember waiting in line for the bathroom at Starbucks one time, with Chris Rushing. I was showing him a video of my dog Hoppingtots, and I started crying. In the Starbucks bathroom line. Facepalm. But it’s gotten easier, and I get to Facetime with the canines regularly.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Linda Eliasen.
Sure thing! It’s really hard to say what’s typical when you’re a single New Yorker. In Atlanta, I had such a routine, and here I feel like every single day is different. I never have exactly the same route to/from work, my evenings range from working all night to raging all night, and my sleep schedule can be anywhere from 4-10 hours. But I’ll try! Here goes.
I live in Greenpoint, which is in the very top of Brooklyn. I usually start my day by waking up in my apartment there, where I live with 3 other amazing people. (They really are some of the greatest people, and they feel more like family than roommates.) I spend about 20 minutes scratching my stomach and staring at my closet before eventually getting myself out the door. I walk about a mile to the L train in Williamsburg. On that walk, I’ll eat a hard boiled egg (because I’m awesome, duh) and get a Cortado at my favorite haunt Five Leaves. I take the L to the Downtown Q to my office in Soho. Then I work all day, doing designy things.
After work, sometimes I’ll go to the gym where I do Interval training with kettlebells. And from there, anything goes! That’s the great thing about New York. There is always something to do, relevant to your interests. Whether it’s an amateur astronomer’s lecture series, a design debate, or a gallery opening, people here just do more, and the energy is incredibly contagious.
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
What a question.
Wellp, I’ll just go with my gut then.
Wait, you want to live as your own gut for a day? That’s messed up.
Aww maaan, but guts are all warm and squishy. Don’t hate.
Anyway, I’m going to change your “Freaky Friday” reference to more of a “Being John Malkovich” situation.
Like every other designer/illustrator ever, I love Charley Harper. I’m almost ashamed that my answer isn’t more original than that, but whatever. He’s loved for a reason. For my birthday this year, my mother in-law gave me this amazing cook book, illustrated in a style of his that is less popular. I had never seen any of these illustrations before, and if you know his later work well, you can really see the evolution between the styles.
If I could go back in time and live inside his head like in Malkovich, I would go back to these very moments where he was growing as an illustrator and making these very creative decisions. I’d bring some coffee, a sleeping bag, a pad of paper and a sharp pencil, and take notes while he decided how to draw this busy chef, these critters, and this pig. Seriously who draws a pig like that!? It’s amazing!
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
I feel like Success is this big unobtainable thing, lodged in a mountain. I dig and work and sweat and think I’m the worst designer ever, and every now and then I work hard enough that I get what feels like a small piece of success. I don’t really think that there is a true definition to it, or any amount of money, or any client that counts as success. We’re all just trying to do what makes us happy. So my success will look very different from someone else’s. As long as I’m always in the act of digging (which I’m not. I get lazy sometimes.) I’ll feel at least somewhat successful. I don’t think anybody can ever dig up all of it.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design or illustration?
To anyone who’s getting started as a designer or illustrator, I say to work more, fail faster, and swallow your pride. I have to say it to myself constantly. It’s important to remember to keep iterating, recognizing when something doesn’t look quite right, not second-guessing that notion, and fixing it until it does look right. Nobody ever gets it right on the first try (Okay, unless you’re Paula Scher designing the CitiBank logo). It takes some getting used to, but you have to let yourself be wrong a lot.
I also strongly recommend sharing your work with people whose opinions you trust. Ask them for an honest critique, and take their feedback to heart. This weekend, I was in the concept stage designing a logo that kept looking very, ahem, phallic. I had to let myself feel vulnerable, exposed, and embarrassed, and show these sketches to a few friends saying, “Am I crazy or does this look like a penis?” This is an exaggerated situation but it happens ALL THE TIME in design, where we get so stuck in our amazing genius concepts that we overlook the obvious. Every now and then you just need someone to say “Linda, that totally looks like a penis.” before you can admit that yes, you basically just drew a penis and it’s time to move on from that concept if anyone’s ever going to take you seriously as a designer. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
C’mon guys, that was a bloomin’ good interview there, right? Many thanks to Linda, who was just a delight to talk to, perfectly blending excellent insights, awesome advice, humour, and penises. As you do.
Go check out Linda’s site, and follow her on Dribbble and Twitter?