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Talking Managing Clients, Starting Out and More with Joshua Smith aka Hydro74

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Orlando based Hydro74 has racked up a list of impressive clients ranging from Nike to Levi's and MTV to Burton Snowboards. The following interview will give an insight into the work experience, visual style and career decisions that makes Hydro74 a successful global freelance illustrator. Hydro's portfolio is packed full of unique type treatments and illustrations, which of course makes him perfect for an interview with Vectortuts+. Owner and manager of Hydro74, Joshua Smith takes time out to answer the questions.

I want to be better, I want to be more refined and be able to perfect something that can never be perfected. What I have achieved didn't happen over night, it happened over years of failing and trying again.

Can you describe your design education and why you made the decision to start a career in the creative arts?

I never wanted to be a designer when I first began. I was going to college to be a teacher and never considered the aspect of design. I never thought highly of the career nor would of considered it. After a short period in college I realized I wasn't going to enter the teaching program as the tutors didn't think I would be a good "representation" of the college because I was a poor punk kid. More so on the poor side and didn't care about the clothes I wore. I got pretty p****d off at the school and decided to switch to Liberal Arts where I started to increase my painting and drawing classes to get my GPA (Grade Point Average) higher and figure out what I should study.

Later I decided to take a Visual Communications class, mostly because a girl from Alaska that I wanted to date took the class too. During that time the professor taught me a lot of pre-computer methods and I started learning how to use the computer to generate graphics.

A friend asked me to assist with his music site at that the time so I drew up some s****y looking anime characters, which eventually caught the attention of a couple record companies who hired me. I then started posting a few pieces on Geocities showing off my horrible skills and found that I was getting halfway decent paid jobs and since I was poor these jobs encouraged me to learn more thus starting the path to my career.

Did you work for any company(s) before you made the move to become freelance?

Yes, when I started out I was employed at a Skateboard/Silk Screen company located in Grand Rapids, here I assisted in creating web graphics, a few adverts and prep work on some client files that we were printing. Shortly after I worked at a small agency that worked with the Christian Bible market, I then took a job working with a BMX company.

My first passion proved to be working within the action sports scene as there appeared to be a sense of freedom. The BMX job in Dayton didn't last long but I learned a lot during my time here before taking a job in Orlando, Florida as a Art Director then as a Creative Director at a magazine.

Several years later I got to a point where I couldn't stand the owner and his work ethics and I decided to go full time freelance. The owner of the magazine was a amazingly skilled man and had a great taste in talent but had this uncanny way of working employees 60+ hours a week. After 4 years of this I had to quit.

The moment I went full-time with Hydro74 was the moment of no turning back. It was always my desire to make in it on my own and to prove I could work for myself as well striving to better my career.

How did you refine your skills and gain experience?

Lots of hard work, time and sacrifices. I was, and still am passionate about wanting to learn more and pushing myself further. I found that my work motivates me and I'm never satisfied with what I achieve. I want to be better, I want to be more refined and be able to perfect something that can never be perfected. What I have achieved didn't happen over night, it happened over years of failing and trying again. My work eventually clicked.

How do you take your raw ideas and develop them in to a finished piece? Say for example the Halftone Prints.

Every piece has a different approach. I might sketch something and use that as a guide for Adobe Illustrator or I might put together references and create blue print with lines and circles to define where things should go. Other times I just open up Illustrator and start clicking away to see what I can create.

For the halftone prints my goal was to challenge myself and find a new technique using halftones more as the highlight than a solid back. Adobe Illustrator actually sucks a** when it comes to this where Freehand (which Adobe purchased years back) succeeded. That technology of halftone control in a vector application (Freehand) was pretty amazing and I knew there had to be a method in Illustrator (as s****y as it might be) and I started working on the illustration.

When I do personal illustrations, it's for one of two reasons:

  • To push myself and learn a new technique or push to figure a new method to better my talent.
  • A warm up piece for a big client project to get my creative and technique right.

Also, I DO NOT use a graphics tablet. It's all mouse. I personally love controlling the lines and want to avoid anything that looks like it was created with a Blob Brush Tool or a brush and have that imperfection of it being inked.

What inspires your ideas? What visual sources do you research?

Everyday is different to be honest. There are a lot of artist that piss me off (because they are too good) and I challenge myself to do better (which I never come close, I set my standard too high I guess). A lot of times I'll reference pen and ink artist from the 60's-90's and to strive to figure out their techniques in a digital form.

Most of the time research will be dictated by what the client has briefed me on and what they require helps my research. I then find a good reference and incorporate it into my own style and technique. So yeah, pretty hard to say what I'm inspired by on a daily basis and I'm always researching for that thing that visually turns me on and makes me feel like I want to do better or create better.

What methods do you employ to gain commissions? Do you have an agent?

It's all networking. Years of knowing people and working with clients has been the core of my success. I don't have an agent, but I am looking and everything else tends to be accidental clicking on my site or social connections.

Can you talk our readers through the process of working with clients please?

I'm probably not the role model for this. Whenever ever I get connected with a client we go back and forth a few times trying to figure out what is needed and trying to see who is going to show their cards first on the budget. A lot of times I counter if I feel the budget isn't up to what I feel my work and efforts are worth. Through that process it is just a matter of emailing back and forth till some early proofs are fleshed out and sent to the client. I then wait for revisions.

Since I only choose to work with established companies I can trust the invoices will be paid on time at the end of the project, or half of the fee halfway through the project if it is pretty big. Generally there are revisions after the project is signed off and I charge a rate for these as well because I like to avoid time waster clients that tend to say "they know it when they see it". That is fine, but you are going to pay for that time as well until you see "it".

Finally do you have any advice on managing projects?

Ultimately you need to create a core set of personal standards and self worth. You don't need to take on everything and you are able to argue a point to a client if you feel your vision is worth being heard. Having the ability to defend your work is just as important as the creative. Always be respectful and yes, I tend to promote the fact I'm a a*****e redneck from Florida but in the end I've learned that each client is no different than the rest of us. They desire to get a project done, go home and not have to stress over work.

If you don't like the budget, pass or counter. If you feel the client is working you to hard or too many hours, tell them and see what they can add to the budget to make the project value worth the effort. Set up your standards in the beginning for how many revisions or how much time you are willing to invest for the budget. I've learned a long time ago that clients get their budgets from other departments thus have no control over rates, but they will get your back if you are on the same page and hopefully they will work for you to get a better fee.

I hope my answers help, it is probably not the greatest advice or anything revolutionary, but that is what I know.

Hydro74 on the web

Hydro is currently working with Lucas Film. You can keep update with his work and movements here:

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