Expressing Yourself With Personal Passion Projects | Kevin Lyons | Skillshare

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Expressing Yourself With Personal Passion Projects

teacher avatar Kevin Lyons, Creative Director and Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Project: Create one portfolio piece that represents you


    • 3.

      Find what you love


    • 4.

      Identify your style


    • 5.

      Create content & story


    • 6.

      Process your content


    • 7.

      Process your style


    • 8.



    • 9.

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About This Class

Identify and share your most unique work with Illustrator and Art Director extraordinaire Kevin Lyons. In this 20-minute class, you'll learn how to turn a passion project or piece of work into a solid portfolio piece that demonstrates your creativity. You'll join him in his studio in Brooklyn as he walks through his favorite work, why its effective, and the principles that make them effective portfolio pieces. This class will re-define how you show off your work, and you'll learn how to:

  • Assemble elements for a successful creative portfolio
  • Identify your own unique style and how it can add to that
  • Talk about your work

This class isn't about showing art school assigned “professional” work that you have been told you should be showing. Instead, you'll focus on the work you're really passionate about creating. You'll have a body of work that's cohesive, and not only reflects your skill but isn't afraid to break the mold.

This class is for the aspiring artist and designer looking to get discovered or inject some creativity in their existing body of work. This is your chance to express yourself. 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kevin Lyons

Creative Director and Illustrator


Kevin Lyons has worked with such clients as Nike, adidas, Converse, Umbro, Coca-Cola, American Express, among others. In 2010, he won an Emmy for title design for Eric Ripert's PBS series, Avec Eric, and also won a Cannes Golden Lion for his campaign for Diesel while Managing Partner at Anomaly NYC.

Kevin is the former global Creative Director for Urban Outfitters. In a 7-year tenure, he helped shape the brand holistically, including: exterior signage, retail environment, digital design, packaging, posters & promotions, book and catalog design, labeling, and products (t-shirts, apparel, and lifestyle product graphics). Kevin also led the acclaimed music program, oversaw the brand's PR and marketing and the corporate design for the umbrella company Urban Outfitters, Inc., (Anthro... See full profile

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1. Introduction: My name is Kevin Lyons I'm an art director, illustrator, creative director, slash, slash, slash based here in Brooklyn, New York. I make my living in couple of different ways. I do a lot of illustration and a lot of sort of freelance graphic design, a lot of product design, and then I spend the other half of my life working for different ad agencies and brands and do like brand-building, campaigns, some fashion work. The main reason that I wanted to do this particular class and pick this subject, matter of presenting your work, is that I see hundreds of portofolios a year for maybe 10 to 12 spots, and you start to see the work become very formulae, and a lot of times I look at a portfolio and the people that I work with look at a portfolio and we go, Wow, it looks like they're trying to make a portfolio or trying to show me work that they think I want to see. When in reality, in order to be different, in order to stand out amongst 100 portfolios, you have to have something in there that shows me that you have a brain, that you have a heart, that you have a soul, that you love what you do, that you want to be here, that you want to make stuff. That is inserting more personal work into your portfolio, be more expressive in your portfolio, showing me more of a point of view in what you present to me. But on a macro level, it's also about inserting personal work into your work in general that it makes you endlessly more exciting as a designer and hopefully as a human being. The most gratifying work has always been the work I made for myself, whether it be a cheap little ruler that has a funny saying on it, or a zine that I can do anything I want in it, or an album cover that I did for a friend's band represents more of what I do. All of that work has been more rewarding and more fun than anything else, and it endlessly and constantly informs the work I do formally for other clients. 2. Project: Create one portfolio piece that represents you: So, today's assignment really is, if you could do one piece of work that best represents everything that is about you as a designer, as an artist, as a communicator, what would that piece be? What form would it take? What medium would it be? How would it express your point of view and your personal vision of who you are and what you do? So, what form could that project take? It could be a poster. It could be a silk screen. It can be letterpress. It could be a T-shirt or a zine. It could be a mixed tape, a blog, an album cover, a mural, a documentary, an animation. It can really be anything that your imagination could dream up that would fully encompass the breadth of your work, your interest level in what you do, and your skill level of what you do. But mainly, I want to see in the work your passion for what you do coming through it. I'm not asking to see fake ads, type studies, made up logos, business cards, stuff like that. I want to see work that you normally may not bring to a portfolio review or to an interview because it's too personal, or you think it's too personal. It's the work that you do with your friends after hours or in a silk screen studio. Above and beyond anything else, your work should show your passion and who you are. Secondly, it should show a ton of creativity. Be original. Be as original as you can be. Think about what you're doing. Think about something different. A different way to package who you are. A unique way to package who you are. Thirdly, it should show a point of view. Either a point of view on culture, on something you love, on something you're interested in. It should have an editorial bent. It should say something. It should mean something. It should communicate something. Show me you have a point of view and a brain. Lastly, it should have humor or some equivalent to humor. The main thing is you want me to remember who you are through your work. You're going to be uploading your work to our website so that I can see the work and that other people can see the work. So, I encourage you to show your sketches of what you might do. Some of your trials, and tribulations, and errors, and anything else that happened during the process that might collectively kind of tell me more about who you are. So, you can embed links, you can embed films, you can show as many photographs as you need to show, you can link to some other page that shows us your process. What makes me remember who you are? So, to do this project and to give you an idea of what I mean by what I'm saying, to be more expressive with your work, to be very personal with your work, and to make your work bold and memorable. I tried to look back on a recent project that I've worked on that sort of best represents that approach in my own work. So, the project that I chose is basically a series of skateboards for the legendary Girl Skateboards. A company which I worked for over 20 years ago. This series, I think best represents everything to which I'm referring to in this project. 3. Find what you love: So the first step of this process is, find what you love, and love what you do. This is the type of work that you do in your after hours, on your brakes from your normal job, with your friends, at late at night, early in the morning, in between the things you're doing, what you sketch in your sketch book, what you dream to make someday, what you want to someday be paid money to do in life. I saw the skateboarding community when I was younger, as these small companies of like-minded people that were doing stuff that corporate America just was unaware of, they were self-publishing, they were entrepreneurial, they were doing things that no one else was doing, and they were doing it all on their own terms. So, when I looked at that as a young designer 15, 16 years old, wanting to be a graphic designer, those were the types of companies that I looked at and said, that's what I want to do. So really, a good way to think about this project is basically, think of all the things that you love to do, and then try to combine them, and make sure that you check all those boxes and represent them. So in my case, I was into skateboarding, and skateboarding design. I was a graphic designer. I worked for, girl and I love my monsters. So really this part represents Kevinlyons. It's where all those things crossover, it's we're all those things meet, that really that's the core of who I am. So, in the same respect if you're a designer, and you are obsessed with bikes, but you're also in a punk band, and you love crochet. I heart crochet. Find what it is that combines all those things, and that is what your project could be. So that is you. So you're a chef, you're in a marching band, and below 50s, car culture, and you like to make airplanes. What is that project mean, as you? If basically you're a chef. You're in a marching band, you love 50s car culture, and you'd like to make paper airplanes. This would represent the crossover of all those interests represents you, so you're not one thing, you're not a chef, you're not just in a marching band, you don't just love 50s car culture, it's all that stuff and so I want to walk away with who that is. Another example, painter, hip hop. You love cupcakes, and you're uni cycler. No idea what that project would look like, but it would be awesome. What if you're a painter, you love hip hop, you love cupcakes, and you're a uni cycler, I don't know what that project will be but that project would be fucking awesome. 4. Identify your style: So, now you've picked a form. You picked a vehicle of what you're going to make. Now, what is that medium? Are you going to use super eight if you're making a film? Are you going to use letterpress if you're going to make a print? Are you going to use black and white photography, or are you going to use color photography? So, start to think about what stylistically you're going to do and make. So, for me in this project, I am going to use my signature monsters that I draw for a lot of different brands and for a lot of different people. But they really do best represent my own personal work at this time in my career. So, for this, I've never really done the monsters on skateboards before. So, this is an opportunity for me to finally use them in a very personal way for a brand that I love. The medium that I'm going to use for this is basically hand drawing them with pencil and then inking them clean, scanning them in, and then eventually, silk screening them through a skateboard factory. So, that would be my end result which I need to be wary of in the very beginning. But that's how I choose to express myself, which really does capture a lot of the work that I do because a lot of the work that I do is drawn, scanned, and printed. So again, when I think of what my breadth of work is, printing, silk screen, drawing scanning, that really represents who I am and communicates who I am as an artist. 5. Create content & story: So, communication and identifying a story really separates people who are just pure skill and pure doers, from people who are thinkers and creators, and people that can work on projects and identify and communicate bigger concepts. What I'm talking about a little bit more is the idea that you can walk by something and see something deeper in that piece. So, it makes you pause, it makes you look, it makes you read, it makes you listen, it makes you want to learn more about something. That is really the work that we're talking about. So, when you're flipping through a portfolio, I want to pause on something and I want it to make me think, and I want to maybe recognize that there's something beyond just the skill level. So, for this skateboard series, I really looked at the writers themselves. So, I was assigned five different writers for the five boards. So, I started to think about each writer. What's their personality? Who they are? Can I insert some editorial into that? What cities did they come from? Can that help identify the colors that I'm going to use and maybe some of the language I'm going to use? I'm inserting my own personality, but I'm also communicating something very unique to each board and to each writer to help make people more excited about the boards themselves and the designs themselves. 6. Process your content: So, the idea was, we're doing six riders. So, I'm like looking for interests, personalities and colors. So, that's really what I was looking for and then basically Rick sends me Malto Kansas City, but also Malto is a teenage heartthrob type, a dude, costumes from LA, Lakers. So, we started to define what the colors because you need two colors, you need a color for the girl and color for the monsters. So, for Guy Mariano do in hip hop we wanted to do something around LA hip hop. So, we looked at 205 so, it's like looking at Dodger blue and gray or something of that nature. I started to get quotes about like all day I dream about Molto, this Guy Mariano creepin' through the hood, rockin khakis, with a cuff and crease, LA lyrics. So again, it always sounds corny to say it out loud but that's really the thought process behind what I was doing. So, I collect a research with Currol, with the guys at Currol, and then plus I know a bunch of these guys so, it's the same thing. But really the thing was six riders, six cities, what are their interests, personalities, colors, how did they blend in my interests and my idea of what I want to do for colors and how do we get there. 7. Process your style: So, the original idea was to do a full monster board. I'd never done monsters on a skateboard, so I wanted to try doing that and I want to try the full board. But in addition to that, because I'm an art director and I can't stop being an art director, and I worked at Girl for many years, I understood that the Girl board, the logo board, is by far the most selling board that they do. So, I didn't just want to do this purely personal piece. I wanted to take my personal work and insert it into what Girl is all about. Girl is the client. Girl is the company that I'm trying to sell my work to, and the kids who buy Girl, first and foremost, look for the Girl logo. So, the idea was to do a monster board, but still incorporate the Girl logo into it. So, the original concept was basically as simple as, you can make a monster board, you could basically make a monster board out of the Girl logo and by doing that, you could use color and design to basically put monsters and create the shape of the Girl logo. So, the original sketch idea was not that far from what I'm doing now to sell it to the guys over at Girl. The idea of doing this is just working along the lines of the board. Again, the idea was, "Hey, I want to make it personal, but also I know I'm working for a client." That brings a certain amount of realities like you want. If you're doing something that's for sale, you want your customer to like it and you want to learn about what your customer likes to buy. So, then that was the basic structure of the Girl but then the idea would be just flood with the same scale monsters. You just keep flooding it in. It's not a bad thing to share something like this that early on because like I said, it kind of got me the job. As part of my process, I tend to sketch a lot but I don't tend to sketch to create a final width. If you keep it really rigid, it's like redrawing something four times, it starts to lose its energy on the fourth drawing, so I try to keep the drawings differently, like this is in no way exact to what wind up being a drawing. So, that's one of the things I think about a lot is, if you keep doing the drawings, they tend to get better if you don't copy itself. Because once you've done three drawings of something, it tends to tap out as we see in the UFC, which I don't watch, but I know the same. So, we're getting very close to where this all began. So, really the first thing I did was basically send something like that. If you look at this way, basically the potential is to do something like that. So, the Girl gets articulated through that and then as I started to sketching stuff, we started to look at, as I sketched out the pieces, I started to look at how to articulate that Girl perfectly and coincide with the rest of the monsters. So, the OG would come out and there's like here's three different examples that how it might work. But this was the original sketch, idea was to just show how it can work and that's what excited them. So, you still have this really expressive piece that is very much my work, but it's then taken over by the Girl logo, which is very much Girl skateboard. So, it makes for a nice combination rather than just me personally doing only one thing on a board becomes that. 8. Closing: So the last step is communicate. So this is where you put all the elements together. You've figured out what you're going to do. You figured out the medium and style in which you're going to do it. You've done your research. You've figured out some sort of narrative, writing inspiration, influences, you borrowed materials, you've taken materials, you've outright stolen materials. Whatever the case may be, you get to the point where now you have to put it all together as one unit and present one idea, and one project. So for me the finished product of what I did for Girl was basically a series of six boards. They're done in the colorways of each city, they have a lot of attitude, they blended both my monsters with the best selling sort of format of Girl. Meaning using the big girl logo, the O.G. girl logo in bright colors. It captures the personalities of the riders. It captures a lot of my personality. It's colorful, it's bright, it's bold. It's out there in the world, and it's something I can be proud of. So obviously my buddies at Girl, are close to me and I'm close to them, and so they presented this board series quite boldly out in the world. I also tried to present as much as I could on my social media, on my website. We did an opening party in Paris. We made a special makeup board for that to help celebrated. That was a specific collect board. But I also tried to tell that story as much as I could because I wanted people that understand that when you look at it online it just looks like 6 boards and it's actually individualized for each board. So I tried to do posts and try to communicate, like that the costume board has specific colors that relate to Eric and the quotes relate to Eric. Then the Mike Carroll board has a lot of like old hip hop from the Bay Area, which Mike was pioneering with in a lot of his videos. So, each one is kind of very personal and very unique, and hopefully funny and humorous. So when you look at the boards you, just don't go "Oh! That's a girl board with some monsters about a rider", you kind of dig a little deeper and you start to discover what makes them unique. 9. Explore Design Classes on Skillshare: way.