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Interview with Jeff Finley of Go Media

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Jeff Finley is a talented illustrator/designer based in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a co-owner of Go Media, a highly respected creative agency. Jeff has worked extensively with a wide variety of clients in the music industry, apparel, as well as others, and he's working hard to branch out into doing design work for the film industry. He spends quite a bit of his time building relationships through social media and has as much business savvy as creative drive.

Jeff creates killer t-shirts, illustrative typography, raging creatures, emotive posters, and combines these talents to fit the project at hand. He's as comfortable with a pencil as he is a Wacom. He feels every tool should be used as it best fits a project. He's a pro at working with Illustrator, Photoshop, and other programs. He works in a range of funky styles, while still having a strong grasp of each client's goals and brand. Learn all about Jeff and his work at the jump!

Hi Jeff, you're a popular illustrator/designer, so for that one person in our audience that doesn't know you, could you give us your background?

I'm 27 and I'm one of the 3 owners of Go Media, a creative agency that specializes in brand development, art direction, and interactive media. I got started by doing art for bands and clothing companies under the alias Mylkhead from 2004-2006. I got involved with Go Media in 2005 when it was simply just Bill and Chris running the show. We did some freelance projects together and we really clicked.

We partnered in 2006 and hired 3 more staff that year and worked out of Bill's apartment. We developed the popular design resource site Arsenal and launched our blog the GoMediaZine the same year. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears later, we presently have 14 people on payroll and our own office building. We're working hard at making this a great workplace that fosters positive energy and great design.

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2. I love your portfolio design and noticed the quick-call to action for a specific type of work you're looking for, like album art and film posters. Has this tactic worked well? How much success have you had with targeting your focus on certain types of clients and work? Any tips on that topic?

Honestly, I've had mixed results. I've had some inquiries, but I think my site just isn't seeing traffic from those types of clients. Mostly other designers are looking at my site and they're not the ones who are going to hire me. Also, I run the risk of alienating potential leads for other types of work. I still get loads of requests for t-shirt design, which is OK, but I'm taking the steps I need to get more film and packaging work.

The next step would be to generate traffic from qualified sources. If people who are making films were able to find my website that would be great. I'd love to work one-on-one with indie filmmakers. Or I could try to get it under the nose of the big studios who do most of the work you see on Imp Awards.

3. Who are some artists you admire and why? Have you had the chance to work with any of them? And if so, how did that go? What do you look for in collaborating with other artists? What was your most recent, successful collaboration?

When I got started in 2004, my biggest influences were Rob Dobi, Derek Hess, and Angryblue. They were big inspirations in quitting your day job to make a name for yourself doing band merch. Some other designers I grew to like were Aaron Horkey, Horsebites, Cristy Road, John Dyer Baizley, Scott Hansen, Pushead, and Florian Bertmer. Lately, some artists and designers I've been digging are Daniel Danger, Martine Johanna, Andrio Abero, Mark Weaver, and Vania Zouravliov.

I haven't really collaborated with any artists (outside Go Media) until recently. I worked with Ray Frenden on this shirt for the Dario Argento cult film Phenomena. I did the concept and line work and he did the colors. And most recently I worked with fellow Cleveland area artist Chad Lenjer on the official shirt for this year's Berea Fest (see attached image).

Chad did the line art and I did the colors and typography. However, the client actually didn't like my glowy lighting effects and logo treatment. They said it looked too polished for their fest which is known for slightly unpolished, DIY punk and folk acts (which I love by the way). I still designed the back of the shirt with the band listing (see attached image). The challenge was to get the huge list of bands to form the shape of a heart without making any name bigger than the others.

What do I look for in a good collab? Well, it's usually with an artist whose work that I really like. Other than that, they need to be reliable, professional, and easy to get a hold of. They can't flake out on the collab. A lot of times, collab work is pro-bono and just for fun so it's easy to get distracted with paying work.

It's also got to be a project that is suitable for a collaborative environment. How much do you let the other artist do? Sometimes it's easier to assign the task that they do best – whether it's colors, line work, type, layout, 3d, etc. Collabs are great because both artists promote the work and you get to share in the exposure. It helps everyone out and often produces a really unique and interesting final result.

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4. You seem to be constantly on the move creatively and reaching out into different mediums, experimenting with various genres of work, and mastering all kinds of software. How many times has your artistic focus changed, your interests expanded, or your style broadened? Has all this experimentation helped to make you a more well-rounded artist?

Yeah I suppose it helps make me more well-rounded, although I don't want to overextend myself and do mediocre work. I know my limitations and I just try to create work that inspires me and makes me feel good while doing it. My focus might change if I find the work I'm doing is becoming tired or cliché. Or my focus might change if I'm trying to target different clients. But most of the time it's just because I'm no longer feeling that rush or buzz you get when designing something. If that buzz is gone and I'm no longer excited, I try to move on to something new.

5. Where do vector graphics fit into your work? Is Photoshop often the tool where you combine your design, digitally paint in, and put the final touches on? Or does it just depend on the final medium the work is destined for? Is Illustrator your main vector tool or have you used other vector software? Any lesser known software or tools you'd recommend?

When I need to work in vector, Illustrator is my tool. My usage of vector graphics is solely dependent on the project. Any time I'm working with logos or type, it's usually in AI. Photoshop I use mostly for final touches or work that needs more texture or painterly effects. I use both interchangeably. However, I'm not a "Photoshop Guy" or "Illustrator Guy" who leans on one program too heavily. A lot of my custom lettering jobs are done in Illustrator, even if I'm taking them into 3D Studio Max afterwards.

6. This is a bit of a follow up to the last question. I've found that often (or sometimes, not sure actually) t-shirt design is done in Photoshop. That just sounds crazy to me, when it's flat style graphics being screen printed. Could you tell us your experiences with that. Do you prefer vector for t-shirts or do most online t-shirt shops handle separating PSD files? Any resources on this you could point our audience to?

I design shirts in both PS and AI – depending on the look I want. Illustrator is still awesome, and I'd create most of my designs in there, however, when I'm looking for more realistic distressing, gradients, textures, and photos, I have to use Photoshop. Screen printers nowadays are adapting to the trends and are no longer limited to simply flat color t-shirts. Companies like Jakprints and Amb3r are really making strides in what they can print.

With Jakprints, I usually send them a flat JPG or a PSD if the design is really complex and they do the color separations and print it how I want it. I usually don't have to stress about color separations when working with those printers. I think t-shirtforums is a great resource site to learn about prepping files, printing techniques, etc. You can also check out this tutorial by another great t-shirt artist Godmachine on how to do color seps in Photoshop.

7. How is it working at the new GoMedia HQ? How much of your personality is in the environment and how much did you contribute to the design process of the new office? How does it feel to roll into headquarters and work in that environment? Yes, I think we're all really jealous!

The new Go Media HQ is an amazing office space. Our long time client and friend Pete Maric designed our space. He even wrote a case study on how he did it. We worked with him on what our needs were and what we valued in an office. We wanted an open floor plan that had sort of a neo-industrial look. Some who have seen our space say it's very "chipotle inspired" because we have big cylindrical exposed ductwork.

One good thing is we purchased the three story building. This means we can build out the space however we wish and we own it. We also have a parking lot across the street which is very convenient. The first two floors are still empty and it gives us lots of room to grow. We plan to build out a nice lounge/kitchen, art gallery, and recording studio.

8. I noticed your wedding blog and your blog about your house hunt. Congratulations on closing by the way. Being so heavily involved with online promotion, where do you draw the line with posting your personal life to the world? Might we see a father blog in the future? Something about your band? Or some other more personal blog project?

That's a good question… My wife would tell you I can post too much personal info online – and that might be true. However, I do see the benefits of having more than just a professional face on the web. I appreciate being able to feel a connection with people personally rather than just always being about work.

A father blog and a band blog are all great ideas, but there is only so much time in the day. My wife and I finally get to bed at 2am and she's upset she didn't have time to update everyone on our house adventures. Sometimes we spend so much time experiencing life that we don't leave time to preserve the moment with a blog entry and pictures. Personal blogs like this are great for record keeping and memories. Maybe I'll expand my jefffinley.org site to have a blog section where I can post updates about my personal life – if nothing just for my own personal diary.

9. What's your background with drawing? Was it part of your university training or more of a skill you've acquired over time? How often do you sketch for fun? Do you have a type of notebook you prefer to use or other tools? To what extent is analog sketching part of your client work versus sketching via a Wacom on the computer? How much of the work in the Arsenal is from crazy doodles that came from your sketchbook?

I've drawn my entire life. Before I owned a computer, that's all I did was draw and play video games. My aspiration as a teenager was to become a video game designer or film director. I do sketch for fun, but there are so many digital distractions these days that I have to specifically remind myself to do it. One thing I'm missing is boredom… I'm never bored. I remember being in high school and lots of my sketches came when I was supposed to be listening in class haha! If I'm waiting for something on my computer to load or render, I get ancy and start doodling. I have a couple Moleskine notebooks that I sketch in and I try to infuse drawing in a lot of my projects. I purposely sketch concepts out before I execute them digitally. I'm making it more of a habit nowadays. To answer your question about the Arsenal, the more illustrative stuff definitely came from sketchbooks!

10. With hiring George Coghill as editor for the GoMediaZine has that freed up some time for you to focus on other projects? And what are the plans for the Zine now? What type of content will continue to be published there and how often?

Yeah hiring George Coghill has freed up my time for sure. I can focus more on paying clients and new Go Media initiatives. He does a lot to manage the zine, such as recruiting authors, handling the budget, assign tasks to us, editing posts, seo, etc.

The content that will be published on the zine will still be targeted to graphic designers and illustrators. It will have a more business and productivity slant though, with less step by step tutorials. You guys at the Tuts+ network have that nailed, so there is no sense in trying to be another Vectortuts+. We'll do the occasional step by step tutorial, but we'll have more quick tips and business advice. Also, we'll tie it more into the Arsenal as one big community eventually.

11. How much of your time is spent in social media/promotion, administration, and other business tasks versus time you spend designing? Also, how much of your work comes home with you? Or do you keep it at the office? What's the perfect creative/business mix for you?

Most of my time is spent doing social media, promo, and administration. I'm always building relationships and networking in some regard. Right now though I'm slammed with design projects, which is definitely a good thing. I try not to take my work home with me, I keep it all at the office. Sometimes I will check email and do some social media at home though. If I have time I'll work on personal design projects at home too. My perfect balance would be to have 1 or 2 days a week that I could spend catching up on the admin/social side and the rest of the week on design.

12. Any projects you're currently working on that have captured your imagination? What have you got lined up in the pipeline? Any tutorials you're working on or plan to drop soon?

Yeah, I'm working on a movie poster for Pinned, a new documentary about high school wrestling and the crazy parents involved. I did the DVD package for Catfish with Falcon Wings for these two up and coming filmmakers I really dig. And I did another design for Fest 8 that I'm pumped about. I've got my fair share of t-shirts to design for various bands and apparel companies like always. I do have a tutorial on 3d lettering that I will be getting done hopefully this week. I'm also in the beginning stages of planning the first annual DIY Art, Film, and Music Fest in Cleveland for next spring.

13. Thanks for chatting with us Jeff, any parting tips for aspiring creatives hungry to grow professionally?

Some actionable items that will help right away.

  1. Collab with other designers to improve your cred and exposure.
  2. Work on personal projects that you feel passionate about.
  3. Don't be afraid to go out and get what you want.
  4. Don't try to do too much. Focus! What are 3 things that you're great at? Do those.
  5. Figure out what work you WANT to do, and make noise about it on your site or in social media.
  6. Know when to hire someone else. You can't do everything yourself. If you want to go in a new direction, but still maintain your other priorities, someone needs to pick up the slack.

Where to Find Jeff on the Web

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