Blake Kandzer, an art/ creative director, designer, and illustrator from the US, elaborates on the significance of staying consistent in one’s creative efforts to make it all the way.
With 20+ years of illustration, creative direction, consulting, and graphic design experience, Blake Kandzer helps companies in the US and abroad to achieve their goals. With 30 Addy Awards for design and illustration, he works with clients as an owner, art director, creative director, and freelancer.
Blake Kandzer: My path and journey have been self-taught. I went to FSU for their liberal arts program but, to be honest, I learned much more after college – in my first job at Russell Athletic, right out of college, as a t-shirt designer and illustrator. Since those days long ago, my father’s work ethic as a US Marine, mixed with this extraordinary kindness to all, has led me further. There is no job I won’t try to do my best at, not only for my client but also because it is my blood.
I started my own business as a full-time freelance illustrator 14 years ago and had no clients or jobs and my ex-wife had just abandoned my daughter and me. It took every ounce of my gift as an illustrator and a designer to provide my clients with what they needed and be a single father to my amazing daughter. So be very careful in the path you choose because the journey, to me, is survival through kindness and genuineness, never allowing your heart to be hardened or defeated.
How do you handle providing so many different services – illustration, creative direction, consulting, and graphic design?
Blake: It’s just what I’ve always done. Of course, you have to set up deadlines and meet them even for more difficult illustrations but it’s doable and very rewarding. Working for agencies before starting on my own helped with this and the amazing Art Directors and Owners I worked for still linger in my mind and guide me.
Please elaborate on your work for corporate identity, portfolios, t-shirts, web, and print.
Blake: My first job was before I even graduated from college, for Russell Athletic, designing and illustrating t-shirts. I then stayed in the t-shirt industry for 14 years, working for a multitude of t-shirt companies, once back in Florida. The amazing thing about t-shirt design is you not only have to design it but also separate the art for printing. So we always joked that if one of us designers and illustrators of the t-shirts ever got out and into an agency, we could kill it. I was that one.
I was allowed to work for an agency. Since I felt there was no room for advancement where I was, I took the opportunity and won over 30 Addy Awards in my two years with the agency. Working through and in web design, illustration, photo manipulation for posters, and anything they could think of, I was working with my favorite Art Director Josh Munsee, who now works amazingly for XBOX. Whatever he could think, I could make it a reality.
Then I started freelancing full-time, which was everything from logo design, illustrations, web design, and so on. I had to do anything I could to survive but also adapt and move at the same time, which I feel is the key to being successful.
What are the key elements to sustaining oneself consistently in the field for as long as 20+years?
Black: I Movement, direction, and genuineness.
What got you to win as many as 30 Addy Awards and, thereby, what does it take to become an award-winning creative?
Black: Surround yourself with people who believe in you. My mantra is always that I want my client to say with glee and surprise, “Blake, this is amazingly awesome!” If I don’t accomplish that, I have failed them.
Please highlight some of your most unexpected encounters in these 20+ years and how you cope with them.
Black: An illustration job I took years ago turned out to be a nightmare. I successfully did my best to finish it but working every day on this project was a task of commitment. While being a man of my word, I understood that not every job is a dream job.
Please elaborate on some of your award-winning projects or projects you cherish.
Blake Kandzer: The automobile Christmas posters for Honda and Acura top the list. I flourish when my boss or AD allows me to just do my thing. I knew immediately while designing how the results were going to blow the client away. My AD came in; saw them and was so blown away that she straightaway told our owner. That’s what I aspire to do each time, though I don’t always reach it.
Is there something you would like to change about the direction in which the field is headed?
Blake: How these sites like “99DESIGNS” and “FIVERR” are killing my industry is something I’d sure like to change. They are allowing people who are not illustrators or designers to take jobs away from me and my friends who work in the industry. Also, this leads to the outer rings of these sites, wherein I receive so many jobs from clients who aren’t happy with what they got from these very sites.
What are the most vital aspects to keep in mind to successfully deal with clients?
Blake Kandzer: It is better to lubricate than to agitate. That’s something I always follow.
What advice do you have for those looking to follow in your kind of work?
Blake Kandzer: Illustrate always and keep a sketchbook at all times. Never stop drawing, inking, and painting, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes a day. Also, post your work daily; someone is out there looking for your style but they won’t find you if you don’t at least try. Put yourself out there.