Work hard, get nowhere

The worker who always keeps his nose to the grindstone will eventually lose his nose.
(Reed Markham)

At the start of my art career, I worked in an old run-down factory that made sporting goods, like hockey sticks and team uniforms. A factory floor full of Eastern-European sewing machine operators who gave plum brandy to their forelady at Christmas. In a stuffy little room, four artists frantically hand-lettering team names that then were cut out of big sheets of paper and used as silkscreen stencils. Loved the job... I was being paid to draw! But after six months, I got up the courage to ask for a raise, and learned a lesson.

“No,” said Frank, my ex-Hungarian boss. “No. No money.”

“But --”

“Not your fault, Johnazhon. It this bizness. We work so hard, everybody work hard. But no money, this kind of bizness. Don’t bother to ask, it go nowhere.”

And it was true. I’d started out in an industry with razor-thin profit margins, trying to keep their bubble in the air against fierce competition from Asian imports. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how good I was, it didn’t matter. The money just wasn’t there. So I moved on, leaving with fond memories of that old place, where I gained real experience in hand-lettering, and learned about artwork for silkscreen printing... both invaluble for later work making ad roughs, and in packaging design. But money? Forget about it.

Same situation with newspapers. Print papers are toast. In the past, they were a good, albeit low-paid, place to start a graphics career. Today? No. I’d shoot higher, and look for that low-paid starter job in any company doing digital marketing.

We are in a time of great change. But visual communication is a constant. Words and images, even though the creation tools and delivery media may go obsolete quickly. Follow your instincts about what products you think will be around for awhile. Like Junior Mints candy, introduced in 1949 by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based James O. Welch Company. In 1963, the brand was acquired by Nabisco, who sold Junior Mints to the Warner-Lambert Company (now part of Pfizer) in 1988, who in turn sold the brand to Tootsie Roll in 1993. Today, 15 million Junior Mints each day are still manufactured in their old factory on Main St. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A lifetime job that lasts forever!

Moral of the story: try to pick your shots, and avoid industries that are going nowhere.

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