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Meet Pam Ward of Pam Ward Graphics

Today we’d like to introduce you to Pam Ward.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Pam Ward, artist, activist, writer. I was born in Los Angeles during the Black Power movement, when LA was an explosion of artistic expression and rage, when drummers and painters took to the streets, pumping out drumbeats and radical rhymes. I spent lots of time crisscrossing the city. My father, architect James Moore took us on “visual journeys,” piling us into our VW bus, and pointing out the sites. “See that,” dad said, pointing to the spider-shaped dome at LAX, “that’s designed by black architect, Paul Williams.” Driving from the 110 to the 10, past the Felix the Cat sign on Figueroa, I discovered many visual signposts to let me know I was home. Dad was from Pasadena. Mom was from Watts. Mom’s teacups are encased in the Watts Tower’s base from the days she gave bottle caps and broken pottery to her neighbor, Simon Rodia. Later my father would design the Watts Library on 103rd, the last work he did before he died.

Images and words are an important part of my story. I went to art shows in backyards where my dad’s friends showed their wares since many blacks weren’t shown in museums. These homemade shows were impressive, where huge paintings hung from trees and people read poetry or displayed assemblage work, like “The Operation,” by Johnny Riddle made from found art from the ’65 riot. From these gatherings, I began putting on shows myself and I would read poems to family and friends. As a kid, I hung at the library or went on my own visual explorations, pumping up and down Slauson on my purple, banana seat Schwinn, talking to folks, hustling candy, trading empty bottles for Jolly Ranchers or Sugar Babies. I also read from the library my dad kept in our house, Black Power, Before the Mayflower, Three Musketeers by Dumas (who I found out during a trip to Paris, was black.) I loved drawing or writing poems or making my own Hallmark cards from the slick piece of cardboard inside my mom’s pantyhose pack. I wrote my first novel at ten after seeing Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory,” impressed by his melting clocks I entitled it “Time Land.” My parents never gave me money, so if I want anything, I earned it myself which has spawned many a natural entrepreneur. Sometimes mom left me in front of Boy’s market while she shopped and I sold psychedelic homemade rings fashioned from colored telephone wire, which I curled around my pencil.

Busing was the key to discovering LA. My mom put us on the RTD and we road the Olympic line all the way west LA. I loved talking to strangers and getting their stories and was curious how other people lived. If I wasn’t reading I was taking art classes in high school, or mural painting at Barnsdale Park. I wanted to go to Art Center and was devastated when I couldn’t afford it. I protested college completely and only attended CSUN because they accepting students two weeks before school began. After great design classes there, I transferred to UCLA, changed my major to Political Science and joined the debate team and honed my design skills working on the black student newspaper NOMMO, which means power of the word. We took notes and worked long hours in a 5 x 8 box with one phone and a Nelson Mandela poster. I interviewed community activists like Ted Watkins and Eldridge Cleaver, laid out news stories or illustrated political cartoons. My husband and I started our own design business in the NOMMO office and took clients from all across campus. After I graduated, instead of going to law school as planned, I got hired as a graphic designer. My first job was in the city of Vernon; a grubby section of LA County dominated by industrial factories. I worked for a clothing company where the Marciano brothers were creating Guess jeans and a surfer company called HangTen. I had a blast! I was sitting at a drafting table at last with a Sony WalkMan playing James Brown! I saw my ornamental doodles become images on t-shirts or illustrated across bolts of fabric. I couldn’t believe they were paying me to have that much fun and would have stayed forever if the lead-based paint weren’t eating my lungs! My next gig was ritzy ad agency on Wilshire called Dailey. I did traffic, carting artwork back and forth to copywriters, photographers, and directors and stayed until I was unceremoniously ‘let go.” The sting of getting the boot knocked out by wind. It was right before Christmas and I already bought my dress for the company party! Luckily, one of the art directors pulled me aside while I wept and told me about Art Center at Night. It was a program where I could attend art classes during the evenings and still work full time. Those classes really elevated my game, and I ended up teaching there myself ten years later as part of a satellite program linking kids near California African American Museum (CAAM) with Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I then landed a dream job, running a design studio downtown at a place called The Woman’s Building. It was this big red brick building on San Pedro near China Town and was like was working in a frat house for artists. The place was filled with smart, brilliant, multicultural women where I could work and continue my pursuit of design and writing. Wanda Coleman, a renowned poet, put out an anthology called “Women of All Season’s” and I designed the cover and published my very first short story, called “Mama Dear.” They were so cool, they let me bring my baby to work and my daughter, Mari Ward, had a crib right behind my desk, and starred in an avant-garde film at eight months. If you could imagine the kind of utopia where a chick could walk down the hallway nursing an infant while taking phone calls from MOCA or LACMA then baby, this place was it. Naturally, a job like this can ruin a chick for good and all good things must come to an end. When the Woman’s Building hit the skids, Apple Computers were on the rise and this was a great time for graphic designers. The field was changing by seconds and anyone willing to embrace technology could make a mint so I dove head- first and started my own business. I loved the open structure of working and being a mother and when I had my second baby, Hana Ward, I was officially running my business from home thanks to the advent of computers. I truly believe Steve Jobs saved my life. While others were saying tech would never take over design, I saved my dough and bought a Mac, setting up shop in my apartment off Adams and Crenshaw. By focusing on repeatability, i.e., customers who needed quarterly newsletters, magazines, etc., I was able to pay rent and then some. This was the late eighties, and nobody was telecommunicating on a large scale yet. But I had a modem, a fax machine, and two phone lines, so I was already way above the curve. I did billboards; posters and magazine spreads, on a 5-inch screen thanks to the zoom in and zoom out feature. It was great. I designed hair care products, ads for Baldwin Hills Plaza, newsletters for Sempra Energy, UCLA and LAX and an annual report for Johnny Cochran. I had a hook-up in the mayor’s office so I handled lots of political campaigns including Bill Clinton, Maxine Waters and Zev Yaroslavsky, as well as ads, logo’s brochures and postcards. Starting my own business was scary but I’d watched my dad take the leap and he had six people to feed! I won’ t lie, some nights I thought I would die. When my marriage ended, I had to hustle like crazy, driving around the city delivering jobs, dealing with printers and served as a bill collector as well as gardener and cook. This is where my mother’s tenacious and good nature came in handy, not to mention her skills in kitchen. I have to admit, some days were killer, like when I designed the annual report for the YWCA, and worked until the sun came up the next morning. Or the time I couldn’t get my computer to start and had to run to Kinkos to finish a project. Once I even wrote Steve Job’s for help when a brand new computer I bought croaked. The next week, UPS truck showed up at my door and delivered Apple’s new top-of-the-line computer. Apple’s corporate office gave me a call, “I don’t know who you know, but this came from the top.” Long live the power of the word. Never be afraid to go all the way to the top. Thanks Steve!

Los Angeles native, Pam Ward’s first novel, “WANT SOME GET SOME,” Kensington, chronicles L.A. after the ’92 riots. Her second novel, “BAD GIRLS BURN SLOW,” lifts the lid on the funeral business. She is a UCLA graduate, a “California Arts Council Fellow,” a ‘New Letters Literary Award’ winner, a Pushcart Nominee for poetry and has received a “Diva Award” for community service. Pam operates a design studio, mentors students and runs the community press, Short Dress Press. Merging writing and graphics, Pam produced the interactive show “My Life, LA: The Los Angeles Legacy Project” documenting black Angelinos in poster-stories. Her multi-media poetry performance, “I Didn’t Survive Slavery For This!” examines life post-emancipation and features LA’s fiercest female voices. Pam recently completed her 4th novel “I’ll Get You My Pretty,” a true story of her black ‘working-girl’ aunt’s dalliance with a white notorious doctor / Black Dahlia suspect.

Currently, I am a yoga instructor learning the fine art of breathing.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Okay, being a single mom with two daughters was hard. But being self-employed made it better. I could go to all my kid’s events even though I didn’t have much money. I think many challenges people face in business is getting paid.

To solve this, I always asked for a deposit on new clients. This way you always saw some of the money and the client also had a vested interest.

Never be afraid to ask for what you are worth. Working at home can make you lazy. Get up and get dressed. Go to the gym. Go on a walk. Get moving! I would force myself to walk to the post office just to get outside and a walk in.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Pam Ward Graphics formally, Ward Graphics – what should we know?
I did a lot of work for black clients in my community. I also focused on non-profits or small mom and pop businesses. I am a boutique design studio with a quirky style. My first advertisement said, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and featured a black and white photo of the March on Washington. If you can play with that moment, you can do anything.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Tenacity and patience.
It’s more fun to do business with people you like. A printer told me once, “cut the bad branches off the tree.”

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Mari ward, Pam ward, Hana ward at Hana’s art show at Beyond Baroque
Pam ward and Linda dancing
Leimert Park poets and Pam ward
Adeline hot sauce designs

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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