My Email with Hugh Syme

Earlier this week, I was sorting through some emails from years past (way back in early 2009, to be precise), and stumbled across this one from when I first started my own business. I had recently finished photography classes at Pikes Peak Community College and figured I would get into business doing graphic design and photography. (This was very short lived and I quickly learned that this was not the right direction).

hugh-syme_moving-picturesHowever, while I was still in the design mode, I started doing research on design, photography, photoshop, and much more, and, to get some inspiration, started reviewing all of Hugh Syme’s work. For those of you who many not know, Hugh Syme is an illustrator and artist who has created some of the most iconic album covers in all of pop and rock music. For example, he’s the one who created most of the album art for RUSH—one of my favorite bands. So, on a whim, I figured I’d fill out the form on his website and email him to see if he had any ideas for me, someone just starting out in the business. While I really didn’t expect him to respond (as I assumed he gets tons of requests like this all the time), he actually did respond to me. I was very pleasantly surprised when I found his response in my inbox.

Here’s a condensed version of what I asked him, and the response I got back from him:

“…I’m just getting into the industry as a graphic designer, and was wondering if you had any suggestions for me while I start to build my portfolio. How can I make my work as boundless and creative as yours?”

And here is Hugh’s response:

“Hello Ron, Thank you for those kind words about my work. Much appreciated in this largely thankless thing we do! About your career – it’s a question I’m often asked. …apart from the obvious elements that figure on where and how a person finds their place in the competitive realm of the arts, there’s luck (naturally), timing, and a willingness to work very long, hard hours.

You can enjoy some of the the accolades and praise we receive on the way, but never rely on reputation to carry you. Treat every new project like you did in the beginning stages of your emerging career. Remember how exhilarating the feeling was to be noticed, then hired for your specific vision and skill set.

…when you have ‘slow’ periods (and they will come – and go), don’t just wait for the phone to ring, or for that next assignment to arrive via email… keep reinventing, experimenting, pushing the boundaries of your imagination and techniques. Never stand still. When you have oils under control, try water colors. Then when you have Photoshop nailed, delve into other applications (I, for instance, am immersed in a deep learning curve with Cinema 4D and Z Brush right now).”

He then thanked me for the feedback and invited me to share with him any of my work if I wanted his input. What a classy guy! I’m even more appreciate now of the artwork I see on all my RUSH albums at home, knowing that I’ve had a conversation (albeit a very short one) with the artist. I think his advice is right-on, and I listened carefully to his words and think about them often. Very cool.

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