5 Questions with Melissa Washburn

My name is Melissa Washburn, and I wear a lot of hats, even though I’m not really a hat person. My day job is part-time graphic designer with Group 7even, a fantastic marketing, strategy, and web agency in Valparaiso. I joined the team there about six months ago, and juggle working on client and in-house projects there with my own artwork and a host of other projects.

I’d say that what makes me different from other creatives in Northwest Indiana is that I came to design in a very roundabout way. I earned my BFA in painting and printmaking, then went on to get my MA in Arts Administration from IU Bloomington in 2000. It was working in museum management/marketing that introduced me to graphic design (outside of the couple of pre-Mac classes I took as an undergrad), and I found that I really had a love for it. I started taking classes here and there, and eventually landed a production job in a company that primarily served the museum industry, and learned a lot of great stuff from my talented and generous co-workers. While at first it’s maybe more difficult to be taken seriously as a designer when you come from a fine art backround, I feel that having a passion for and career in the fine arts gave me a good foundation in knowing what I like and being able to express my own ideas. And now the drawing and painting skill I have is allowing me to dip my toes into working on illustration as well. I still deal in composition, color, and communicating ideas regardless of the medium, and I try to look at the computer as just another tool, rather than as a foundation, for what I do.

I’m pretty much always making something even when I’m not designing or painting. I love to knit and cook, and am often working on craft projects with my six-year-old. I’ve also been part of both Southern Shore Art Association and the Area Artists Association in Michigan City for the past few years, so I help organize and promote art shows with those groups. I’m also currently working on organizing some one-night “popup” art events this summer in Valparaiso. I keep people updated on shows I’m in via my a mailing list, calendar on my website, and also on Facebook and Twitter.

As far as advice to young creatives entering the industry, there are probably a thousand clichéd things I could say, most of them fairly obvious. The one thing nobody told me about ANY of my professional endeavors was how much you learn on the fly. You come out of college or a graduate program thinking you’ve got it all figured out, but most of what makes you good at what you do, you have to learn in a very sink-or-swim manner.

The other thing I’d tell people is just “be nice”. Having ethics, treating people fairly, and being generous with your fellow creatives really pays off both in terms of professional reputation and in terms of life satisfaction. It’s so much better to succeed by improving your own game and being around those who inspire you than by cutting down others. It’s a small world, and the art and design world is even smaller.

A notebook, a knitting project, my cell phone, and tissues.

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