I was pretty much raised as a graphic communications all-rounder. My father was a newspaperman, who started teaching me the basics of editing and style (and of reading between the lines) literally when I brought home my first Dick and Jane reader. I grew up using the AP Style Guide. (I use others now.) When I was eight, my father took up hand printing and typesetting as a hobby—and taught me. I soon decided that I was going to be a printer when I grew up (along with a number of more glamorous things). I did a lot of hobby work, as well as printing for neighbors and local businesses. I had a job lined up with a neighborhood printer when I was fifteen, but had to wait until my next birthday before it was legal for them to hire me.
I continued in printing (with two years off for college), mainly on newspaper and small offset presses. I went back to college in my mid-twenties, taking a B.A. in philosophy. (Philosophy is not famous for its career opportunities, but it appealed to the critical reader and scholar in me. And I knew I could always make a living as a printer.) Winning graduate fellowships, I went on to grad school in the same field, at Penn State and then Columbia. While writing my M.A. thesis at Penn State, I started doing editorial freelancing: proofreading and copy-editing for Penn State University Press, and editing graduate theses and papers through the university thesis office.
Having returned to New York City, my hometown, I freelanced as a proofreader and copy editor for trade, scholarly, and reference publishers. But I soon found that with my background I could make twice the money in type shops, doing typographic proofreading and quality control—on work done for nearly every ad agency in New York, as well as major corporations, magazines, and just about everything else. I also found that the graphic communications and related industries in New York were so volatile that two years was considered an exceptionally long stretch in one place. I decided that, rather than being left high and dry every year or two, I was better off taking the initiative into my own hands, and set up in business as a serious freelancer. I set a two-week maximum on all engagements, and in this period and later I turned down many offers of staff jobs. I incorporated the business in 1990. (The names of my clients can be found in the client lists. You probably won’t recognize the ones from this period, but many were names to conjure with in the ’80s in New York. For example, one spring evening at a shop known as PDR, I had the complete annual reports for three of the Fortune Five on my desk at once.)
In the late ’80s production gradually moved from the type shops to their clients, and as I moved with it, my clientèle came to consist mainly of ad agencies, design studios, and corporations. There I also found a demand for my editorial skills, and I did writing, editing, rewrite, and product naming, as well as taking on projects that combined typography and editing. Among my better-known clients in this period were Estée Lauder, Wells Rich Greene, and Gerstman & Meyers.
In 1993, I left freelancing to join Lloyd & Germain as Production Manager. L&G was a small studio that was expanding from its original specialty of fine display typography into digital production and general advertising typography. I developed the workflow and production procedures for the new business, and supervised production. I was credited with major improvements in quality and client satisfaction, and with enabling L&G to win substantial amounts of work away from a well-established and highly-reputed competitor.
Volatility still ruled, however, and after a year our major client’s major client took all $500 million of their work, previously done by a stable of ad agencies, and consolidated it at Ogilvy & Mather. L&G folded, and a few months later I was doing typographic quality control at Ogilvy & Mather. I had started learning digital production at L&G. At O&M, I rounded out my Quark, Illustrator, and Photoshop skills and then switched over to computer production. (While there, I also took on writing and editing projects and designed some graphics and informational displays.)
After a while at O&M, I decided that volatility still ruled, and I resumed business as an independent freelancer, though now taking long engagements when good ones showed up. I dropped quality control, and worked mainly as a digital production artist, also taking on editorial projects and custom fontwork, and doing some design of informational graphics and display type. Clients included Time magazine, Scholastic, Estée Lauder, KPMG Peat Marwick, and leading ad agencies including Doremus (where I stayed for three years, until the dot-com bust), Bozell, Hill Holliday, Rapp Collins, Korey Kay, and Kirshenbaum Bond.
I’ve done QC and digital production of just about every sort of graphics work, and developed strong experience at the high end of a number of fields, especially advertising, financial, foreign-language, packaging, and pharmaceutical work, and also in corporate identity, corporate communications, and publishing. Working for more than eighty clients and employers, I’ve had a 20-year course in comparative production and management techniques, learning what worked best in different specialties and different environments, and why. I enjoyed the exposure as well—most of my new business came from word of mouth.
I moved to Minnesota in 2003. Everyone here asks me why, a question that rather surprises me. I’d been thinking about the move for a long time. I LIKE cold weather. And New York ain’t what it used to be. (You won’t find many New Yorkers there, for one thing.) As for Minnesota, I’ve heard that corporations have a hard time persuading employees to relocate here—but then find that the employees don’t want to leave when asked to relocate elsewhere. Even back east, I had some awareness of why that was.