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Chat With Tyler Earles, Graphic Designer

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My goal was to interview art/graphic design students who just graduated from various universities. I wanted to see where they landed and how they were doing in their career. So, I reached out to a local art university called Nossi College of Art. From that, I received a note about a recent college grad, Tyler Earles who landed a job "for FMB Advertising in Knoxville, while freelancing as the jersey designer for the Knoxville Ice Bears of the Southern Professional Hockey League."

"I'm a graphic designer based out of Knoxville, TN," says Tyler. "I was born in Nashville, and grew up in the Leiper's Fork/Franklin area, only to move back to the Nashville area for college at the age of 18. I studied at Nossi College of Art for four years."

How did you get into graphic design?

I got into graphic design sort-of by accident, funny enough. Originally, I was headed full-blast into a career as a videographer or photo journalist. I was a media-junkie and took every opportunity to be involved in my media class in high school. My media teacher and I were really close, and he actually set me up with an interview with a local TV station when I 16. I worked for WC-TV 3 as a paid videography intern for 2 and half years and had a blast. Even though I enjoyed what I did, I fell back in love with art my senior year. As my time at the station grew, I started receiving more creative projects, and was allowed more freedom to try new things. From that, I figured out really quickly that I enjoyed stop-motion filmmaking and other forms of animation far more than traditional video projects. After some deliberation, I made a decision to sign up for my first art class since middle school (where I was voted most artistic in my last year). Immediately after signing up for the intro class, I was taken out and placed in an advanced class with kids that had taken art every year.

I had always loved drawing (constantly getting yelled out for doodling in class when I was younger) and my art teacher saw my passion and helped steer me in the right direction. She really pushed me that year, (ended up being voted most artistic in my school's senior superlatives) and encouraged me to go to an art college and pursue a career. This chain of events led me to my first taste of the design world shortly after graduation as my time with the local TV station came to a close. I started applying to summer jobs, and eventually landed one so big and important to my new career path, that just recently I started realizing what a blessing it was. By pure will and persistence (and a whole lot of luck) I talked my way into a job as a graphic design intern at SoulPancake, then a social-media upstart (now a hit TV show on Oprah's network, made famous by their award-winning book) which was created and ran by famous actor Rainn Wilson (who made it big playing Dwight Shrute on "The Office".) before ever taking a graphic design class. That summer internship taught me an unfathomable amount about the new career I was about to pursue, and gave me a giant head-start when I finally started classes in college.

Why did you want to be a graphic designer?

This, too, happened by chance. When I enrolled at Nossi College of Art in 2009, I knew that I wanted to be an artist, but had no idea what type. I was lucky enough to earn two scholarships before starting my freshman year and one was awarded solely because of some illustrations I had done. Up until this point in time, I had always enjoyed drawing over digital art, so I enrolled in the Illustration program. That first year at school was absolutely brutal, in the best way possible. They pushed everyone so hard and filled us with so much information that you could literally see everyone improving by leaps and bounds from project-to-project. I was on this awesome journey to becoming an illustrator, wanting to start a career as a cartoonist, and would be so eager to go to class to see what we'd be learning next. Everything was moving so smoothly and fast, and then all of a sudden without warning, the proverbial rug was pulled out from under my feet.

One of the most influential professors I studied under left the school. Followed by another, and then another. The school was experiencing growing pains due to an upcoming move. A large, state-of-the-art campus was being constructed in Nashville, and the school's curriculum was changing with it's arrival. The addition of new classes and programs meant the end to others, causing some professors who specialized in certain aspects to leave the school. So I found myself at the end of my first year working towards an Illustration degree, wondering if I wanted to continue because most of the illustration teachers that I enrolled to study under were no longer employed by the school. That's when graphic design started to shift into focus, and I started to like what I saw. After some heavy research, I switched my major and headed in a new direction.


What is it about graphic design that you love?

Graphic design captured my attention rather quickly. Early on, I was amazed at how all-encompassing the term was, and couldn't believe how many types of design professions there were. I was introduced to digital illustration, and had my first encounter with Adobe Illustrator. The program came to me very quickly due to my illustration background. A piece that I had made in that, my first experience using the program, was submitted to the Addy Awards and ended up earning me a regional Gold Addy in the digital illustration category. That's when it all clicked with me. I realized that I could pair my illustration knowledge with the new graphic design tools and techniques I was learning, and really create whatever I wanted. It seemed like this veil of uncertainty had lifted, and suddenly I didn't have to worry anymore about what I wanted to do. I had a goal again, and immediately started trying to absorb as much information as possible. I bounced from class to class eager to try new things. I enjoyed them all, but it wasn't until my first branding class that I was introduced to the intricacy and underlying meaning that accompanied logo design. Seeing that it combined not only illustration, but new skills that I was learning like typography, symbolism, and marketing, I immediately knew that I was face-to-face with what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What does it mean to you?

The most appealing thing about graphic design as a profession (and subsequently why I sought it out in the first place) is that it doesn't really feel like work if you're doing it correctly. The challenges from day-to-day, project-to-project keep me fresh, and even though some projects can get you down or frustrate you, the enjoyment of seeing your final work after countless revisions finally displayed as it was intended (wherever that may be) is one of the most rewarding feelings I've ever experienced. I didn't notice until recently, but as a kid I actually designed for fun - I'll explain: When I wasn't drawing you could usually find me in front of a TV playing some sport-related video game. Though I didn't really play quite like all the other kids my age.

Sure I could play as my favorite team for a while, but I would eventually become bored. For me, the thing I enjoyed the most was coming up with my own teams, each with their own identity and backstory. These games usually had some sort of creation mechanic implemented where I could pick not only the team's logo, but their colors, stadiums, etc. The team creation became somewhat of an obsession for me. Instead of paying attention in school, I'd be doodling uniform combinations and team ideas on notebook paper in the back of the classroom. Little did I know then that a little over a decade later I'd be designing jerseys for real, and getting paid to do it.

How did you become so passionate it and why?

The passion that I have for design has always been there in one form or another. The further into my career that I get, the more opportunities to do the stuff I've always dreamed about come my way. Designing logos and jerseys for sports teams was my end goal when I was younger, and I realized that goal at such an early age. The best part about this career is that I'm always setting goals for myself, and as I achieve one, I create another. As my passions change, so does my direction. One small job may lead me down a new exciting path. After college, I moved to Knoxville to be with my girlfriend of 8 years (we just hit our 10-year anniversary and are now engaged to be married) and pursue my career. There was a huge problem though, as I was I moving into an incredibly small market. After failing to secure a job in my field right away (and being forced to settle for a job at the local mall) I finally talked my way into a small production art job working as a jr. designer.

My boss ended up moving on to a different job, allowing me to move up in the company, into my first real design job. While I was getting experience there, I was unhappy with the type of work I was doing and became worried about the quality of my portfolio. This encouraged me to start freelancing in my spare time, and that's when everything started to change. After working a few small jobs, I decided to go all-in after some of my goals. I talked my way into an opportunity to meet with the local hockey team and convinced them to give me a shot to prove I had what it takes. One project after the other, they started to realize how passionate I was about what I was doing and began giving me not only more projects, but freedom that I had never had anywhere else. What started as a harmless little freelance gig blossomed into a real chance to show my work on a grand scale. People started to notice, I started making connections, and it finally opened the door and connected me with the right people. All the stars aligned, and I was giving the chance to interview for a graphic design position at a local agency. Suddenly, this small-time kid from the middle of nowhere was realizing he had a chance to make it in life doing exactly what he always wanted to do. That's what drives me, and what pushes me through those long, draining projects. Knowing that there's always that feeling of accomplishment after you finish a big project, and realizing there will always be something bigger and better waiting for me.


Would you like to get in contact with Tyler? Visit his Linkedin account here.

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