Carolyn Sewell is grewell (great + cool), and I can rhyme

Don’t let this southern belle with her dainty handkerchief fool you, she keeps up with the big dogs of DC’s graphic design scene

As I mentioned in an earlier post I had the great pleasure of meeting her at a lecture back in April. My professor who knew I had a design crush on Carolyn thought it would be fun to invite her to speak and give a quick crit at an upcoming class. YESSSSSSSSS! After much anticipation, Carolyn’s visit was upon us and naturally I was ecstatic. Like the nerd I am, I came with a list of questions for her. When she walked into the room there was a surge of energy – she has the kind of presence that fills a room. She warmly introduced herself as a “designerstrator,” referring to her heavy illustration background, and explained she’d give us the scoop on how she got where she is today.

The first slide of her presentation was an image of one of her popular Postcards for My Parents series which said “Do what you love; fortune will come” (a quote from her dad I particularly dig). She took this on as a personal project as a gift to her parents, sending one postcard a day for an entire year (only 2 didn’t make it). She took us through the evolution of her design career starting with designing floats for the highschool football team and included numerous jobs that ultimately landed her as a solopreneuer (with the best boss, her cat). Among her design work, I really like her Woolly Mammoth posters (Dead Man’s Cell Phone campaign is spot on) and the AIGA Sketchbook (and her overall sketchnoting technique). Check out her portfolio on her website.

During the presentation she sprinkled in some great tips for us eager newbies, as I’ve rightfully named the “The Rules of Sewell”

  1. You can’t live in your bubble. Meet up with other designers to do work. Get your Facebook and Twitter on. Gain inspiration/gather feedback from others to make your designs even more badass.
  2. Discover other designers whose work you like and learn for them. Some of her design favorites are Jessica Hische, Seymour Chwast, and Marian Bantjes (“If you don’t know you should”). Blogs she digs include Swiss Miss, Quipsologies, and We Love Typography.
  3. Network like there’s no tomorrow (“Networking saved my life”). No one is going to come knocking at your door and offer you your dream project, so get out there and work it. Carolyn is an example of successful networking – she’s reaped big career benefits through her involvement with the Corcoran (volunteer for events and attend them for free), AIGA, DC Art Director’s Club, and DC Illustrator’s Club.
  4. Never burn professional bridges even if you want to. Enough said.
  5. Sketch your heart out. Keep multiple sketchbooks and have them handy for moments of inspiration. Do thumbnail concept sketches so you don’t invest time before you have narrowed down your focus.
  6. Use the tools available to enrich your design work and make the process easier when possible (this doesn’t permit you to cut corners – stock imagery is a no, no). Some tools she likes are Pinterest (like a mood board), Google Reader, Dribble (online critique), Mister Retro (Photoshop filters). Font and image sites she recommends are Veer and You Work For Them. House Industries has baller fonts but will cost you a pretty penny.
  7. It’s okay to have a potty mouth (she grew up with all brothers), and certainly never take yourself too seriously. Design work should be fun.

I’m really impressed by not only Carolyn’s design skills and work ethic, but also, in many ways most importantly, her attitude.

After all, attitude is everything (as my dad always reminds me and breezily lives his life by) – if that’s not already a postcard of hers it should be.


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