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Meet Orange County Designer & Illustrator: Justin Jones

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Jones.

Justin, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up I was constantly creating stories, characters, videos, drawings, etc. I grew up in the late 80’s / early 90’s and looking back I feel like it was so saturated with new and interesting things for kids my age. Ninja Turtles, Batman, Spider-man, X-men, Star Wars. All of those classic cartoons / movies really drove my imagination forward. With all of that influence, it made sense that I originally wanted to be an animator. Throughout high school, I got my hands on some Adobe software and began to play with it. I spent hours upon hours animating characters in Adobe Flash and uploading them to Newgrounds.com (if anyone remembers that site). Once I hit college, I went to the Art Institute for a preliminary interview and expressed how I wanted to get into animation. The counselor asked what other programs I may know. I explained that I had worked in Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, etc… He then pointed me in the direction of Interactive Media Design which was kind of a jack-of-all-trades major that let you explore and find out what you were passionate about. At first, this sounded great but it quickly became a double-edged sword because while I got to explore many different mediums, I wasn’t great at any of them. Throughout college, I worked at the Apple store which was an amazing experience because I got to be a part of the very first iPhone launch. I got to be a part of Apple at a very crucial time in its history and my passion for design & illustration really started to blossom during those years. Once I graduated from college, I got my first opportunity to be a graphic designer at a start-up. Like most start-ups, it didn’t last much longer than a month. My first 3 jobs in the industry were kind of similar in that way, they would start off very interesting and challenging but then the company would fizzle out and disappear. This was pretty disheartening and I really wanted to do something that made me feel good so I started drawing and creating whatever I could. The end result brought me back full circle to those Saturday morning cartoons I loved as a kid. I started creating & selling artwork at different comic book conventions in California. It’s really awesome to get to hang out with like-minded individuals in that type of environment. So by day I get to explore my passion of being a digital designer and the time in-between I focus on illustration. Currently, I’ve been exploring how I can mix both of those worlds and bring my design skills into my illustration work.

Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t know any artist who has ever had a smooth road. In many ways, I’m still smack dab in the middle of the struggle. Orange County isn’t a hot spot for the design scene. It’s just now starting to blossom a bit more but there is a lot more of a community in LA and San Diego. For a long time, it was really hard to get a stable job as a graphic designer in OC. A lot of the employers I have encountered over the years post jobs for entry level positions but then require anywhere between 5-7 years experience. Another set of employers would higher a junior level associate but expect them to perform at a senior or even an Art Director level. It seemed like everyone either wanted someone with no experience or someone with ALL of the experience and I was kind of stuck in the middle for awhile. I had an employer literally tell me, “I’m worried that if you don’t make it here, you won’t make it anywhere else.” which totally made me feel like garbage. It was really hard to find a place that I felt my work was appreciated and that I felt valued. I was stuck in a rut and didn’t really know what to do. This last year was a huge year for me because I became a father. Having a child forces you to put things into perspective and it completely shifted the way I thought about my life. All of a sudden, I had the drive to grow and learn because I want to be able to provide a really good life for my daughter but wasn’t sure where to start with it. One of my friends told me to just start creating what I liked and putting it out there. This was a huge turning point for me. I found that passion again to just create and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I got so wrapped up in what others thought about my work instead of just focusing on the work itself. Looking back on my experiences I have realized that being employed was hard but it’s not the road I’ve really struggled with. The road that has been the most bumpy is having confidence in myself to create quality work. Trusting my instincts has been the best thing I could have done. So in a way, I feel like my journey is just beginning.

What are your plans for the future?
At this point, I’m kind of rolling with the punches. I have some plans for future projects that I’m looking forward. One of those being writing & illustrating a children’s book. It’s something I’ve always want to do and I have a couple of stories that i”m interested in pursuing.

I took 2016 off from selling my art at Comic Conventions when my daughter was born but I am glad to say I will be back in 2017. My first convention back will be Long Beach Comic Expo in February.

Let’s explore some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way. What was the most difficult part of your career so far?
The hardest time was probably when I was working for my very first creative agency. It was an awesome experience and I worked with a lot of talented people and learned a lot. Unfortunately, it only lasted 3 months. One day I went into work and nobody was in the office other than my Creative Director. He brought me into his office and told me that the owner was disbanding the company. This meant I was out of a job and it felt awful because I had a lot of fun doing what I was doing. I found a part-time job in the meantime doing graphic design for a local nutrition supplement company but quickly found out how corrupt people can be. I was there for about 5 months but towards the end, they started giving me paychecks and then asking me to not cash them for an extra week which was totally illegal. I knew I had to get out of that situation but my main problem was I was working 2 jobs and never had anytime to put a quality portfolio together. I took a week of very little to no sleep and worked on a portfolio and a resume that (at the time) I was proud of. Luckily, it worked out for me and I was able to get a full-time opportunity at another creative agency. I didn’t have the best of luck early in my career but throughout all of the hard times I’ve seen a pattern and have grown more accustomed to it. I learned that losing a job isn’t the end of the world, in fact, many times its a blessing in disguise and you just have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. When people see how confident you are they want to hire you.

What about “Wow-moments” – any moments that stick out? Any moments when you felt like you had made it?
I think the moment that I realized I had “made it” was very recently. Don’t get me wrong, I by no means am at a point in my career where I think I’m at the peak of my talent or have the best job or any of that. To me, making it is the ability to use my skill set to keep a roof over my families head and food on the table. I may not be a celebrity in the design community but I was able to get / maintain a job in the field that I’ve studied and to me, that is pretty awesome.

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