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Meet Emilie Hahn

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emilie Hahn.

Emilie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My path has been winding and at times unexpected, but I see it all connected to my desire to create. I grew up in a creative household. Both my parents worked in creative fields, my dad a filmmaker and painter and my mom an animator and artist. I was encouraged from a young age to always be stretching my brain and trying new things.

As an only child, I spent the majority of my time alone and was constantly looking for new ways to entertain myself. I filled my time illustrating an imaginary fancy clothing catalog, folding dozens of paper origami frogs, or trying to create a theme park in my backyard (using a wagon as a ‘ride’). I made movies, one which consisted of my two dogs jumping over hurdles, set in beat to the Russian dance of the Nutcracker. In high school, I participated in yearbook, which was my first introduction to graphic design, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I also took ceramics, painting, drawing and photography classes. I played cello in orchestra. In my senior year, I took Honors Art Studio and created an interactive installation piece featuring different scent memories, and an animated short film done in charcoal.

My school was very demanding academically, and most of my classmates had a five year plan, knowing exactly what college, degree, and job they had their sights set on. I did not. All I knew was that I wanted to do something creative. I went to School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I studied film, stop motion animation, and for one year, fashion design. SAIC did not have majors, which gave you freedom to explore multiple tracks. My goal was to take one class in each discipline, which I came close to accomplishing. Shoemaking, metalsmithing, sculpture, fiber and textile design, screen-printing, woodcut printing, performance art, oil painting, and scientific illustration were some of the classes I took. I ran out of time and never took a graphic design class. I think I believed I would end up working in the entertainment industry somehow. I also took a summer screenwriting class as USC, where I wrote the worst screenplay of all time (hidden deep in the depths of my computer to never see the light of day).

During school I had several internships– I worked for the Chiodo Brothers in Burbank, a puppetry and special effects studio known for Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I also spent a summer interning on Tim Burton’s film Frankenweenie, in their puppet and art department. In my senior year, I interned as editor for a wedding videography company in Chicago. I found that my experience playing in orchestra helped tremendously in giving me a strong intuition for editing to music and creating emotion through cuts.

After graduating, I landed a job working on the stop motion tv show Robot Chicken as a puppet fabricator. I was thrilled to find a job where I could work with my hands, creating puppets and costumes for the show. As much as I loved Robot Chicken, I had been curious about working as an editor and found an entry-level job at a post-production company called Herzog & Co. I started in the vault, where we backed up and archived all digital and physical media for the company. I worked there for a year, learning the ins and outs of the industry and developing a killer file organization system. To this day, I credit that job for teaching me how to impeccably find any file. Although I entered the job aiming to become an editor, it was here that I was introduced the design department. I had never known the job title of ‘graphic designer,’ and I slowly began to realize that this was the job that combined my many creative interests. Though my background was in fine art, I preferred the clean-cut, rational aspect of design. Creating beautiful design that helps improve people’s everyday life has always inspired me.

I began to apply for design jobs, but unfortunately my portfolio was not strong enough. I figured I could stay at my current job, taking night classes at ArtCenter to build my portfolio, or instead go all-in and return to school full time. After weighing my options, I decided to return to school full-time to build a design portfolio. I had a mentor at Herzog who helped give me assignments, including practicing designing logos for some of their tv shows. I cobbled together a portfolio, which was composed of these logo assignments, a greeting card I’d designed, and some watercolors. I applied to ArtCenter, and to my surprise I was accepted.

ArtCenter truly changed my life. I remember going in for my first interview and portfolio review there. As I left, I remember crying in my car, feeling so far away from where I wanted to be. I didn’t even know what vector or raster was, let alone the difference. My three years spent there were not easy. Every day I felt completely humbled and inspired by my teachers and classmates’s talent, ambition and drive. I can best describe this time as a design boot camp. My days were filled with graphic design history, color theory, model shop, never-ending critiques and weekly all-nighters. I emerged stronger, more resilient and ready to tackle any design challenge.

After graduating, I accepted a Design Fellowship at MullenLowe LA that turned into a position as a Jr Designer, where I am currently. It’s been a long and winding road, and I definitely could not have made it here without the support of my teachers, mentors, friends and family. But I’m here to tell you if you don’t have a five year plan, or if you’re still unsure of what you want to do, that’s fine! Life is a journey, and we don’t have to have it all figured out right now.

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?
Of course not! I’ve definitely struggled with self-doubt, insecurity, and impatience. Something that has helped me through this is my work ethic. There will always be someone more talented than you. You can’t control that. But what you can control is the passion and drive you bring to every project. You can be kind, a team player, and motivated. I think that goes a really long way. People would rather work with someone who is kind and hardworking than a talented egomaniac.

I also came to this career later in my life, and always felt frustrated that it took me so long to get here. There’s a quote by Earl Nightingale that really helped me through this: “Never give up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m a graphic designer and illustrator, specializing in print and branding. My work is informed by my love of color, form, and storytelling. Whenever possible, I try to use an analog approach, lately I’ve been loving cut paper. I also try to bring joy to my work whenever possible, because ultimately I want to create work that makes people smile.

Some accomplishments from this past year that I’ve been proud of include a logo redesign for the Palm Springs International ShortFest, recognition from the Communication Arts Typography Annual, and the HOW International Design Awards.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I think resilience is the most important quality for success in this industry. Some days will be extremely difficult and discouraging, and all you can do is go home, eat some ramen, get a good night’s sleep, and try again the next day. Try to keep perspective.

I also think it’s important to not be defensive. When collaborating with a team, just remember that you are all there in service of the work. You are there to make the best possible work you can. Sometimes your ideas will be helpful, sometimes they are not quite right, and that’s ok. It’s not about you, it’s about making the best possible work.

On that note, I also think it’s important to separate yourself from your work. I struggle with this, as I often see myself as a cumulation of all my projects. This can be good because you hold a really high standard to yourself. But it can be detrimental. For example, if you’ve made a bad project it doesn’t mean you’re a bad designer or a bad person. It just means you made a bad project. Maybe it’s the result of being overworked and burnt out, or you didn’t have a clear brief, or you struggled communicating with your team. I had a type teacher my first year at ArtCenter named Nils Lindstrom, who would tear our work down from the wall if it wasn’t good enough. He didn’t do this to make us feel bad, he did it to remind us that we are not our work. You made a bad drawing? You’re not a bad artist or a bad person. Keep trying until it’s better (and eventually it will be!).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Emilie Hahn, Taylor Luo

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