Live Encore: The Path to Creative Success | DKNG Studios | Skillshare

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Live Encore: The Path to Creative Success

teacher avatar DKNG Studios, Design + Illustration

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

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.

      DKNG 101


    • 3.

      The Start of DKNG


    • 4.

      Music Posters


    • 5.

      Movie Posters


    • 6.

      Icons & Personal Work


    • 7.

      DKNG’s Latest Projects


    • 8.

      Brainstorm Your Next Project


    • 9.



    • 10.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Learn how DKNG Studios became the successful agency they are today, and how passion projects have shaped their careers along the way. 

Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman have a career path that many designers dream of. Through their graphic design studio DKNG, they’ve been able to work on incredible projects ranging from creating concert posters for the likes of The Flight of the Conchords and Phish, to working on movie posters for Star Wars and Back to the Future, to designing a U.S. postage stamp, and so many other bucket list items along the way. 

In this hour-long class, recorded using Zoom and featuring participation from the Skillshare community, Dan and Nathan go on a deep dive of their portfolio and path, helping any aspiring designer understand how they got where they are today. They particularly emphasize the creative risks and personal projects that helped plant seeds for future paid work, and end the class with an exercise to help you brainstorm your own side projects that might just lead to incredible opportunities down the road. 


While we couldn't respond to every question during the session, we'd love to hear from you—please use the class Discussion board to share your questions and feedback.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

DKNG Studios

Design + Illustration

Top Teacher

DKNG is a full service graphic design studio with a focus on the entertainment industry. We work directly with bands, venues, promoters and a range of independent and corporate clients.

Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman were both drawn to music and design at an early age, but didnt combine their talents until 2005 when the duo founded a design studio with the goal of fusing these two creative avenues. The pair has found a niche in linking a personal and unique aesthetic to the worlds most talented musical artists.

With dynamically different skill sets ranging from fine art to film production, Dan and Nathan bring diverse talents and artistic perspectives to every project. DKNG strives to provide their clients with the image and recognition that they deserve. Their past client... See full profile

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1. Introduction: The more work we put into something, and the harder we work on it, we realize that, that's what spreads the most seeds that can grow in the future. We are DKNG Studios. That stands for DK, Dan Kuhlken and NG, Nathan Goldman, we're a design and illustration studio based in California. I'm located in Los Angeles and my partner Nathan, is located in San Francisco. You might recognize our work from the numerous gig posters that we've created, but that work has also led into the movie industry, commercial work, beer packaging, really all types of design and illustration. You can also find our work on Skillshare with the e-classes that we currently have available. In today's live class, we'll cover our career in a timeline form. We start with how we started collaborating in a band, all the way to making gig posters together, to how that flourished into all types of projects, as a design company. We'll wrap up today's session, working with you on an exercise to look at planting those first small seeds of what could be your next big idea. We chose the topic for today's session, just to give students some inspiration about how our career started, mainly with just a few small projects that we didn't really know how they would evolve. But eventually once we linked everything together, it's turned into this career. Hopefully, with the exercises that we'll be doing together today, you can start to learn a bit more about your own passion projects, and what might be the first step for next steps in your career. Thanks for watching our Skillshare live class, recorded with participation from the Skillshare community. We're excited to get started, let's do this. 2. DKNG 101: Welcome everyone. I'm Aubriana from the Classes and Community team at Skillshare. I'm very, very excited to be joined by everyone here, especially Dan and Nathan of DKNG studios. Will you tell us just a little bit more about who you are and what you guys do as DKNG? Of course. Thank you for having us. I'm Dan Kuhlken, I'm the DK of DKNG. DKNG Studios for those of you that don't know who we are, we're a graphic design illustration studio. We say that we're based in California because we actually work remotely. I work in Los Angeles and I'll pass it off to Nathan for his intro. I'm Nathan Goldman, I'm the NG of the duo and I'm based in San Francisco. It's been an interesting path for us which we'll get into a lot more today, but a lot of people don't know that it's just the two of us and that we do work in different cities. But I think that's also part of what makes us unique and why we work well together. Thanks to everyone that Skillshare for having us and thanks Aubrianna for moderating this with us. I'm going to share my screen now and we can jump into it. Just to recap a little bit of what Dan was saying, we are gotten known for our gig posters, which you can see some examples of here. These were some of our early Skillshare classes where about this work and as we got into that, that also led to things like movie posters in a similar aesthetic and then eventually getting into more commercial work, working with ad agencies and brands. But to go back to who we are and what we do, because the most often question that we get asked is about who does what and what's the division of labor we put together this to help unpack that. As Nathan mentioned earlier, we are truly just a two-person team. This venn diagram breaks down all the different hats that we wear to basically run our entire business. This is not something that we each decided individually right away, it's definitely something that fell into our laps over the course of our I think 12 maybe going on 13 years of business. On my side, I'm more the main illustrator. That's just speaking just creatively, but when it comes to the business side, I'm more focused on social media marketing, more customer service, so definitely customer-related. Then on Nathan's side, it's more client facing. When projects come through our door and we're being paid to create something for somebody, Nathan's the point person for that. Along with that, creatively, he's more art direction, typography, classic graphic design. In the center is where we share our traits. That includes everything from design, concept development, developing our own products for our own business and obviously when we work with the clients developing their products as well, and anything from what we're dealing with today. That's teaching live events. That's where we have our minds merge. 3. The Start of DKNG: That's the current snapshot of what we do, but to go through and tell the whole story, we got to go back to Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, California, where Dan and I met. This is the most embarrassing part of the presentation for us, but it is the original DKNG collaboration. That's Dan on guitar and I'm there on drums. A lot of people compared us to No Doubt because of our singer and doing those pop punk music, but this was our band, Mass Macho and here's our very flattering promo photos from that time. Wow. This counts as the most embarrassing slide in the whole thing. I think so and I keep checking that. This also objection to the future. Yeah. This is what Dan looks like at the end of quarantine. Yeah, basically. Yeah. More embarrassing photos. Wow. The fashion is. Wow. Yeah. But I guess the point of all this is that it allowed us to actually work together on graphic design. Even though this is just purely a hobby at this point, I knew that Dan was a fine artist and grew up drawing and painting. I had always been into graphic design. So this was like our first album art that we put together where it's not even really a collaboration yet, it's literally Dan's drawing next to a logo that I made. But it was funny to look back on this now when we were like 15-years-old that this would be foreshadowing what our career would be, and that led to doing other posters and stuff for the shows that we would play in San Diego and around California. So that was the first informal collaboration. Our first formal collaboration was when Nathan was actually working with the USC. He was asked to make the graphics for a book that they were releasing, and part of it was creating illustrations for each chapter. So he reached out to me knowing that I was more into the drawing and painting side of things, and I created these line drawings for every single chapter within this book. So this was our first merger of both our skill sets into a paid project. Then from there, since we were both living and going to college in LA at the time, I had a friend who was working at the Troubadour, this amazing music venue in Los Angeles. It's a historic place where James Taylor, Elton John, all these greats have played there. My friend was working at the Box Office, they were looking for someone to make posters for the club. So we threw our hat in the ring. These are three posters that we made just to show them what we could do, and they loved it. It was just, again, still a hot bee, still just a personal passion project, but it was a way for us to keep one foot in the music industry, because we found that we were better at designing for musicians than being musicians themselves. It just gave us some fun cloud to be able to go to these shows for free and have these posters as our calling card, and we ended up making over a 100 posters for the Troubadour. They were pretty much just reimbursing us for printing. So it wasn't really a career at this point, but building this portfolio was the first big step on our way to being able to do things like this event. This event right here is called Flat Stock, which is a year round exhibit that takes place basically at all these different music festivals. This one, I believe was at South by Southwest. We overheard that this was a thing, and there's this whole community of gig poster artists that do this every year. I got very excited about the whole idea of presenting our work, not knowing too much about what we'd be getting into, but I was very gung ho about just putting our stuff out there. I think Nathan, on the other end, was a little bit more concerned that we might not be ready or our work's not really presentable enough to be sold in person. But we just decided just to forge ahead and take the risk. So we decided to go and set up our booth. In the next slide you'll see that we basically did our best. It's not that dear in headlights look of not knowing if we're supposed to be here or not. Yeah. It was essentially to the states, more or less this, a cardboard background and you just put up your posters. I think at this point we realized that what we had in stock was essentially all these Kinkos posters, these 11 by 17 digital printouts, and we're surrounded by these amazing artists that did their own screen printing. It was definitely a big learning experience for us. But it also inspired us to jump into our own screen printing. We actually started doing our own screen printing within our garages at home. This is an example of one of the first two color prints that we created at Nathan's parents, house in San Diego. We also didn't really understand what a drying rack was at the time, so we just put these all on the floor and started hanging them up on extra areas that we could find. We did what we could. It made sense to us at the time. We obviously realized there's a lot more efficient ways to do this. But again, total learning experience, and I'm glad that we forged ahead into the world of screen printing. Yeah. The more we started going to those Flat Stock type events and learning from our peers and all the poster artists that we looked up to, we started learning more and more. Then these are actually the first two screen printed posters that we did for clients other than the Troubadour, and also getting into the world of having other people screen print and hiring printers for screen printing. But even at this point, those are you that are savvy screen printers will notice that there aren't any colors touching each other in these prints. That's because we were still learning, we didn't know about trap paying or registration or things like that. So this was us dipping our toe into the world of screen printing, but in a way that we could still wrap our heads around. I think it's important to bring up that we still had day jobs during this whole part of the story. I'll let Dan tell you about why this photo is in the presentation. Yeah. This could be a little startling for people to see right off the bat. But my one and only job out of college before I decided to be a full-time DKNG was embarrassingly enough, working for Ed Hardy and to make things worse, working for their kids lines, small t-shirts, huge logos. Basically the kid on the right, his face was how I felt about this job. It was soul sucking, but a big learning experience. One of the big moments where I felt like I learned the most was how I didn't want to run a company and also the work that I did want to do. For me it was an easy transition to move on from this, but Nathan has a different story in terms of the job that he had at the time. Yeah. I went to film school and my first job out of college was working on this TV show, Veronica Mars. It was perfect first job out of college because we worked 16 hours a day. So you had no life outside of the show. But it was such a cool, immersive training ground for me that I loved it. I was the Art Department Coordinator and the in-house graphic designer. So anything that was on the walls of the show or this newspaper that Kristen is holding here, anything like that was what I needed to make. The pace there was crazy because we're filming every day and one episode would just roll into the next. This is where I really learned to work quickly and efficiently, which is a big part of any of our Skillshare classes is just how can we be better and faster at what we do. That was fun, but after many years of working in TV, it was super draining. So I actually ended up going back to USC where I'd gone to school and working in their in-house design studio. Again, that was a great learning experience, learning how to run a small design firm and then doing all kinds of garments and things like this for the school. After my time there, I was able to take that knowledge and bring it to DKNG and help build the business with having done that out in the world first. Yeah, I think I would recommend to anyone that if you do have a chance to work with someone else before you jump out and start your own thing, it's definitely helpful to be able to do that. 4. Music Posters: While I was working there, that's when these guys came into our lives. We definitely don't advise people to do design contest these days, because oftentimes design contests are just ways of big companies getting design work for free. But in this case, if you don't recognize them, these are the guys from Flight of the Conchords, and we were huge fans of their HBO show. They had a poster design contests, we thought, "Okay, this is exciting to us. This still falls within this realm with personal projects that we really want to pursue, let's submit our poster for the contest." The poster that we submitted was the one on the left here. We definitely we're putting our best foot forward based of our current experience and it was not going to be screen printed at the time, it was actually going to be created as 11 by 17 digital print, and we know how to do this. We being big fans of the show compiled together everything that we love about the show, and use these iconic shapes and got to illustrate Breton Jermaine and submitted it. I believe there was about 1,000 submissions and we turned out to be the winner. What came out of that was all these different opportunities, it was very exciting. One of the things was that we were featured on for a very long time, but more importantly we started building a professional relationship with Breton Jermaine. We knew that there were going to be going on tour, doing their show live. One of the first opportunities that arise from this was actually creating this poster into a screen print, and that's what's happening on the right here. This is representing their Tampa Florida show, and this was actually merchandise that was sold actually at the concert. This ended up moving on to working with them on all of these different other concerts. The one on the left here was our first international show in Glasgow, and then really exciting was working with them on a Hollywood Bowl show. Both of us living in Los Angeles at the time, this was a big bucket list item to create a gig poster for the Bowl. Obviously for the Flight of Conchords on top of that was huge, and then they actually went on a world tour and had a New Zealand stop. This was actually their New Zealand tour, and we got to create this poster to cap things off as a last hurrah as a client. Very fruitful thing that came out of just one little risk that we took. On the topic of how one thing leads to the next as we started finding ourselves with more and more gig poster clients. This band Phish, reached out to us because they had actually seen that Flight of the Conchords Hollywood Bowl poster, and said, "We're going to be playing at the Hollywood Bowl, can you do something like that for us? That evokes a sense of place." That started becoming a big part of our work to really make the gig posters feel like it has a relation to where the show is taking place, and also feel specific to the band. These posters are examples of where we started trying to amp up the texture, and depth, and detail in our posters. At this point we had abandoned doing the printing ourselves, because we realized we didn't have nearly the skill level of some of these professional screen printers. These were printed by other printers that we work with, I think specifically Monolith Press here in the Bay Area. This was a turning point and also scary moment, because the Phish fans are so rabid about their posters that they can be deadly when it comes to criticism. That was just even more fuel for us to try to work hard to bring more to our work, and then that relationship continued with them. Yeah, it's was our first jump into this different world of gig poster creation where we were introduced to diptychs and triptychs. That's essentially when a band goes on tour and has a three night stop, and they want to have two posters or three posters side-by-side they can sell for each night. It was a fun experience to learn how to design that, and that way where we make one poster interesting enough on its own, but when you buy both posters to get other, it link together and it's a collector's item for people who are going to the show. Just to embellish how rabid some of these fans are, this was that the band manager sends us this photo of an actual tattoo that was made of one of our posters. We're still not quite sure what part of the body this is that was tattooed, but someone has this out there. Whenever we see stuff like that, we're torn between is that flattering or also disturbing? But anyways, I'm moving on. A natural progression, working with Phish was working with other bands that are really big in the live scene, and one of them was Dave Matthews Band. This was actually a bit more exciting for us, because it's just a call back to this nostalgic moment of our lives where we're all fans of Dave Matthews Band at some point. When they reached out to us and asked us to make a diptych, we had the skill set ready to go and it was just one of those moments where we're like,"Okay, let's do this, we're excited." That became another fruitful career where we just started working with them, and here's some of the recent work that we've done with Dave. It just continues to fit into working with other bands as well. More recently, we created this diptych for The National. We have a series with them that we keep on going, and where it's these aerial views of different things. Recently we also have been working with Jack White. This was a three different concerts unrelated to each other but on the same tour. But what's interesting about Jack White is that in a way he makes our job a little bit easier because, every band that he's part of, he has the brand in mind, and what comes with that is specific pantones. He knew that with his solo project, he wanted to have reflex blue be part of every single poster that was going to be out there. All these posters had exactly the same color palette, made our job just about the art, and we already knew the color was already in place. Then lastly, as far as recent stuff, because we're getting so into detailed work we sometimes want to take a step back and do more flat art. This poster for Leon Bridges was a combo of the two where, still had some gradients and textures going on in the background, but also trying to just distill it down to flat shapes. 5. Movie Posters: As we got through doing all these gig posters, one thing that was occurring to us is that, I was no longer working in the film industry, but we still liked the idea of doing something visual and something motion related, and also just how we had learned from other people this idea of sharing our process. We started recording these process videos. Again, it was just like a passion project for fun, but what we found is that people really related to them and really enjoyed it. This is one of the first ones that gained popularity for the band, Explosions in the Sky. You can see Dan was hand sketching at the beginning, and then here we are in a very old version of Illustrator, seeing him work on it. This is from many years ago. Again, this is one of those things where we just did it for fun because I liked working in Final Cut Pro and we wanted to put this out in the world, but it became this marketing tool for us where we now had a whole page on our website dedicated to process videos. It's actually the whole reason why Skillshare even approached us, because back in the day of our first Skillshare class, you guys reached out and basically said, "We've seen your process videos, that's really cool. But how about instead of a really fast time-lapse, what if we actually did a real-time deep dive into how you do your work?" That was awesome that this process thing led into Skillshare as well. I think because of the process videos, that helped getting our name out there more. We found that more and more, rather than just getting gig poster clients, people from other industries were reaching out for posters too, and that led into our beginnings of working back in the film industry again. One of our first film posters that we created that was officially licensed was through a company called Mondo. They're a license holder, the gatekeeper for a lot of these posters. They reached out to us for Big Top Pee Wee, big fan of Pee Wee Herman, and we were very excited to just jump into this. Not only that, but to jump into such a large format too, because typically with film posters, they're much larger. This is a 24 by 36 poster, which is twice as large as we're used to, and we ended up also working with other middle men in this industry. One of them would be Gallery1988 and they had the licensing for Star Wars, which was a huge moment for us. This is officially licensed Star Wars poster for The Force Awakens when that came out, and going back to Mondo, we also created a Back to the Future poster with them. It's just a gift that keeps on giving. We always say that our work begets more work, so the more we put this work out there, the more likely we are going to be hired again, we've done a lot of cars in our career. This is the ECTO-1 from Ghostbusters. This was celebrating, I believe their 25th or 30th year anniversary, and that was also commissioned through Gallery1988, and we were also asked to make a poster for Home Alone, which was super exciting, very nostalgic, which was also a puzzled by the way, that you can buy, I think, on Mondo's website, but we'll have our own allotments soon, so keep an eye out for that. Most recently we also created a poster for Star Wars again. This one is for Rogue One, their stand-alone. Speaking of film posters, one of the first posters that we ever created that was self initiated was this Bill Murray poster. Gallery1988 has been doing group shows forever, and they asked us if we wanted to be part of this group show, which was just celebrating any Bill Murray movie that you would choose. We're both big fans of Bill Murray and we were just going through the list of like, okay, what's the best Bill Murray movie poster that we can come up with? We were trying to think of just one title, one movie, and we just could not come up with a decision. So what we decided was just to make a poster representing any movies ever been in. I believe this was, gosh, 50 different movies that he was a part of, and we just made these icons and the only thing we added to it was a date, just a year, and it became this little game where you can figure out what movie represents what, and we had a little key in the bottom. But this was a departure from what we've been doing. We just dove right into the world of icon design. It was a combination of graphic design and illustration, and it was a big hit. A lot of people really liked this, it's interactive. What came out of it was working again with Gallery1998 on a much larger poster under the same pretext. They had a connection with Paramount Pictures. They were celebrating their 100th anniversary, and what they wanted was 100 icons representing any movie that's Paramount related. The list is enormous, but we put together this big list with Gallery1998, and it's anything from something as classic as The Godfather to Justin Bieber's Never Say Never. It was just all over the place. We really had a lot of fun with this, and it's just interesting to see how quickly style change in our career. Just jump to the next project. You can see with the next slide that there's little detail here. This definitely became a online craze where people would try to figure out the movies and people created their own keys and started sharing it pretty virally. 6. Icons & Personal Work: Now that we've talked a bit about how our career started, we're going to talk more specifically about the icon work that we produce and how that's led to additional work in our career. This whole part of this icon part of our career is going to come back later when we do the group exercise in a few minutes so pay attention to this part. After doing these two icon projects for the Bill Murray poster and for Paramount, the gallery asked us to do a solo show and we thought why not keep this going? So we decided to make basically giant versions. We did these 12 by 12 screen printed icons, and basically picked out 50 different properties that we wanted to focus on and started building these. It was the first time that we had done a big print series like this, and it was also the first time that we had done something where we were footing the bill and basically closing the doors to clients for a while and just doing a totally self-initiated thing where we needed to design all this work and pay for all the printing. It was a little scary on that front, but it was also something we learned a lot about especially how a series works. Definitely jumping into this was a lot to take, but in the process learning how to create a series was a huge benefit for us. This is a small peek into how we created certain things, but again going into this whole thing we're making cars for film is a trend on our end, these were all cars that were related to other film or TV and we wanted the series to look good next to each other if people were just randomly buy these prints and put them side by side on their wall. So we started creating these templates where they all made sense together and they had the same horizon lines and just different areas where everything would make sense together, and we were starting to realize, well when you create a series, you want to actually have some set of rules that you work within. Also makes things a little easier in the creation process just to have something to stay within rather than having this huge ball packed plan. Here's right before opening night of the gallery with all 50 prints up on the wall and our fresh faces there. Luckily, this was actually a success and people bought the prints, and more importantly, it just continued down this icon trend of how the self-initiated work and working on a series would lead to other things. This is a deck of playing cards that we designed working with the US Playing Card company and this company Art of Play in San Diego, and we realized playing cards is just like a miniature poster, we can do that. This was our re-imagining of the traditional bicycle playing cards look and again just using what we learned from making a series to approach a new series. As you can see with these face cards, they were definitely inspired by the bicycle cards that everyone has seen. So we wanted it to be not only something that we create that's unique to us, but nostalgic and recognizable at the same time. But moving on from much larger series, we wanted to also continue that mentality, but smaller bite-size versions of it. This is when we started to really start diving deep into self-initiative work and create basically these trinities, these three-part series where we would celebrate a theme, and one of the first things that we decided was we definitely wanted to be travel related if we're going to create this art print series. We created these camper series and we get to play with three different campers, three different environments, three different color ways, and they all have some sort of thing in common like their chairs, and their shadows, and their placement. This just inspired us to continue working into creating our own merchandise outside of our prints and good poster work. We dove into enamel pins and up to this day, we have this rhythm going where we create the things in trinities and these groups. This is our Ventana series, which is fairly recent, celebrating Mexico and the different types of windows that we've been inspired by when traveling there. Most recently diving back into the world of limited edition where we create something that we're just completely inspired by just a one-off but build it for the future. This is called Wave One and it's a much larger print than we're used to creating, much more artisanal version of how we create. Our intention with this is to turn this into an ongoing series with a bit more freedom so we can come up with let's say Wave Two next year or a variant of Wave One, but everyone loves waves so that's why we just dove into that. 7. DKNG’s Latest Projects: I guess just to bring us up to the present day, we wanted to show a few examples of what we're working on now. We've talked about these projects a lot in some of our Skillshare classes. This is beer packaging for a local brewery in the Bay Area, Almanac. This is all part of their core series and some of their other recent beers. That's been really fun to transition from just flat stock poster world to actual three-dimensional packaging, and that's also led to working with other companies. Black Hops is a brewery in Gold Coast, Australia, and we just redid their packaging for their core line. We're both beer fans, so that's been really fun to get into this world, and that's also opened us up to new opportunities like making murals. This is at the Almanac brewery in Alameda, right outside of San Francisco, and we got to make this giant 40 foot mural for them, which was, again, a scary learning experience because we had never done it before. But now it's just another tool we have in our toolkit that we can offer to clients. In this process, we also taught ourselves how to draw things in isometric styles. Once we had that under our belt, the UN reached out to us to create this image. It's just this ongoing thing of when we try something new, and we put our best foot forward, we realized that it comes back. It's been one of those things that's just been really interesting to see and related to the Skillshare, I mean, that's the reason why we even have an isometric design class on Skillshare because we decided just to try a new style and get really deep into it. Yeah, and oddly enough, when the UN reached out, they actually said, "We're thinking about taking your Skillshare class so we can teach ourselves isometric illustrations so we can make this thing. But if you guys are down, do you want to do it?" We were like, "Yeah, of course, we want to work for the United Nations." Yeah, we got to do it. It's funny how things come full circle. Another new project that was super fun, even though the Olympics are not taking place this summer as scheduled. We did get to create this really cool series for Clif Bar. Keeping the series going, still. These are six female athletes that are all Olympians, and this is the first time Clif Bar has ever taken their iconic mountain climber man off their packaging and replaced it with other people. That was awesome to be a part of that. Enormous bucket list item that we just completed was creating an actual postal stamps for the US Postal Service. An interesting way started from our icon style and led to illustrations of animals in that style, which led to the post office reaching out to us saying. "Hey, would you be interested in making a stamp?" Which is an obvious yes. It was a really, really great experience to be part of, and we actually got to be part of the ceremony of its release as well. This is at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, and you could see they had each dog represented on this little bridge walkway thing. It was just awesome just to be able to be part of something this huge, and this is national too. It's just crazy that we can know our work is available at any postal store or a post-office near anyone in the United States. 8. Brainstorm Your Next Project: We'll now be jumping into an exercise and you can participate by writing things down on paper, typing them on your phone or device. It's really up to you. Before we jump into the exercise, we did just want to recap some of these stories that we've told in timeline form. In this center row here you can see that Bill Murray poster was that first project that inspired us to go down this icon route and all the way up to other projects we didn't even get a chance to talk about today. We recently did a project for USA Today, creating icons that represent all the different markets throughout the country that they're in. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Similarly, after that icon show, on the top line, you can see how that sent us down this line of other types of iconic illustration with animals, that led all the way up to the USPS finding us. Then at the bottom, just the idea that icon led us to be able to make self-initiated work like playing cards or different art print series. It's definitely a multi-pronged approach where one little project that just seems like it's for fun at the time, can branch out into all these different things. Yeah, and it's certainly not something that we planned for. Obviously, this happened very organically, but I think after looking at this entire timeline and our entire career, we have noticed that the larger the risk, the bigger the reward and the icon show, the self initiated solo show that we did created this three prongs timeline for us unknowingly, but the more work we put into something and the harder we work on it, we realize that that's what spreads the most seeds that can grow in the future. Icon was certainly a way of amplifying a small idea that was just a Bill Murray poster and turning it into something much more. Moving on to our prompt for today. We just want you guys to think about what might that first seed be? What might that first project be that might send you on a path to something? I think one important thing that we want to reiterate is when we did that Bill Murray poster, any of these projects that we look at as a starting point, we didn't know any of that at the time, it was just something that seemed fun that we were passionate about. We still try to do this in our career and think about what are the fun things we want to do and if it turns into something that's great, but there's no pressure for it to be that. What we want you-all to do is just make a list of two or three first step personal projects that you might want to try and it definitely doesn't have to be in the graphic designer illustration realm. Let's say you want to do a sewing project or a baking project, or literally anything creative. But I think the things to keep in mind as you start brainstorming is don't worry about the money side of it right now, we'd much rather you think about something that you're going to be excited to work on because one thing that we've found is anytime we put a self-initiated project on the calendar, we have so many things that are vying for our attention. The only way that projects ever are going to get started or completed for that matter is if we're actually interested in the subject matter, so first off, make sure it's something that you're actually into. We also find that breaking down a project into micro steps is the easiest way to get started rather than just a big audacious project is hard to jump into, so keep it small, keep it specific, that way you can actually hopefully accomplish it. Then just some other thought starters here, like what are the things that you're obsessed with? What are the things you want to learn? Whatever excites you can be your path to starting this exercise. We'll give everyone a few minutes to do this, but I think just so we're not all sitting here during that time, Dan and I will talk through our thoughts on this and what this might mean for us and hopefully that can inspire some people as well. Just to add on to what Nathan was saying about what excites you, another thing that I try to balance here is if it makes you a little nervous, a little scared, that's probably because it is exciting and it's a fine line to walk on, but I think if you haven't done it before of course it's going to be a little scary. But the way to not make it scare you is just to take that first step and just to find what it feels like, and there's no risk in it really, you just try it and if you don't do well, then you try again or you just move on to something else. But this is all about following what makes you happy and what you want to get out of a larger situation. Like Nathan was saying, it's all about baby steps, and try to think of that as what is the first thing I can possibly do that would lead me into that direction. For us, we do this all the time and I would say on a monthly basis, we have a larger discussion about what can we do within our own career that would bring us to another level? A lot of it really comes down to what we haven't done before. For us, we're in this world of illustration, graphic design, and printmaking, and now packaging design, which is definitely a new territory, but there's other parts that we would love to pursue and we're trying to figure out a way to do that. One of them is animation. We definitely have not jumped in that world too far deep, but we do know that there's plenty people out there that can actually collaborate with us and animate our work and that's a way to actually bring together more than just who we are as two people and introduce someone else. Another thing that we're very inspired by, but we would like to get more involved in, is just film in general. For me, every time I watch a movie and I see the opening or closing credits, the titles for a movie, and if they're really well done and creative, I get really excited and also jealous that someone out there was able to create that. An example of that is Every, James Bond movie, it just has something awesome. That's something that I would love for us to pursue in the future and it's about finding what that first step is. I would say a logical way to look at that is, do you know anyone out there that is interested in film making that is looking for just titles? It could be their personal project, but they're just looking for a bit of a design to be used other than slapping on Helvetica with every single person's name in the end of the movie. You know as a designer that you can do a bit better than that. It's a small step, but at least it gets you in that world. I think that that would be a good step for us. I think even if we didn't have any friends that wanted titles for their short film or something, then there's nothing stopping us from just making titles for our own made-up film or what's our re-imagined version of a James Bond title sequence. I think we found in the past that when we've taken the time to do those personal projects and basically make the portfolio for the work that we want and not just the portfolio for the work that we've already created, that can be a great first step. One example from this prompt that comes to mind for me is type design. I've always been really into lettering and fonts, and we've never made a font before, so last year I started looking into type design classes. At first I started with skill share and doing stuff online, started getting more and more into it and then I ended up signing up for a six-week type class that was on nights and weekends and really liked it and started building fonts and now I'm actually enrolled in a year-long certificate program at Type West to learn how to make fonts. That will become a reality at some point where DKNG can start releasing fonts, but it all started from just the small kernel of trying to make some letters and trying fonts out for a few weeks and things grew out of that. I guess one other last example has to do with our merchandise. Something as simple as designing a greeting card is something we've never done, but we think it would be something that people like and it's like a mini poster for people that don't have wall space but want to send some DKNG artwork to a friend, so that's something that on our list too. Yeah, and it's an interesting idea because it combines Nathan's passion for type design and my illustration interests. Imagine a happy birthday card that is highly designed and illustrated by both of us. I know it's a simple idea that a lot of people have done, but something that we personally haven't done in our own way, so that's definitely something we want to pursue in the future for sure. 9. Q&A: Now we're going to open it up to students for questions. When you are sort of thinking about balancing your client workload, which I'm sure is also a lot, and the value of these small first step personal projects, do you have a formula for dividing your time or how do you stay focused knowing that these personal projects will bring long-term benefit while you have so much immediate work in front of you? I think a huge benefit is having two minds on the job and for both of us to bounce these ideas off each other and to understand how to prioritize and best get things done. For us, at least for me, I'm very visual in terms of learning or remembering things, so we keep a pretty strict calendar on how we're going to organize everything from week to week, month to month, and even throughout the year. We talk in the beginning of the year saying, "I would like to produce three art prints, series of enamel paints, and one or two other things. How are we going to get that done?" Knowing that we will be hired for other stuff, which is a huge benefit and obviously a lot of privilege that we're dealing with at the moment, but what comes with it is that balance and it's easy to just prioritize the deadlines that you were given. But I think the biggest challenge is to give yourself the deadlines. What we'll do is we'll say, "Hey, the week of this in April, we're going to focus and make this art print series, and any projects that come in, we'll work around it." If we do need to move things aside, it won't be a dramatic move, it'll be something that's pushed by a week or whatever. But just to prioritize as much as you would if it was a paid project, and to understand that eventually it will be a paid project because of the work you put into it and putting it out in the world, so it's total balance of priorities. Yeah, and it can be really challenging, especially in our world where we don't really know what the next client project is going to be. I think we still suffer from this impostor syndrome of like, "Maybe this is the last project we ever get to do and no client will ever knock on our door again." It can be really tough if Clif Bar is at the door saying, "Hey, we're redesigning our packaging for the first time ever. Do you guys want to do it?" We're like, "No, we're trying to make a greeting card, so please show yourself out." There's always a balance to it but like Dan was saying, as long as we're excited about the project and we can put it in the calendar somewhere, we're okay with knowing it might move around, but at least it's there staring us in the face, always saying, "Don't forget about me." It's definitely two ends of the spectrum too, because if client work doesn't come in, just to be honest with the whole COVID thing, things stopped pretty abruptly for a lot of people. For us, we saw that as an opportunity to, "Hey, we have time and we have the opportunity to do something self-initiated." When moments like this happen, we don't feel like we need to stop everything because the world is stopping. We have the opportunity to do things on our own and actually be focusing on self-initiated work. It's just nice to have both sides of the world happening at the same time for us. It's where we have that opportunity. It's been an interesting journey for us where we are like, "We have a lot more control than we really realize and I think it's a matter of deciding on what are we going to do with it." There is a question, seeing the evolution, it's like, ''So naturally this next step leads to the next, which is pretty amazing, but I assume there has been also experiments along the way that haven't panned out or that maybe you've learned something totally different from, could you talk about maybe one of those and how you pivot in that case? It's always a struggle when presenting stuff like this in hindsight because you're showing how things all worked out, but we love being able to be as transparent as possible about how things actually show up for us. The reality of taking risks is that some of them won't work out and that's okay. It's the fact that you tried and the fact that you put yourself out there, is the most courageous thing you can possibly do. If it doesn't work out, then you just know to either pivot, change or move on to something else. I think with a lot of our work, we always talk about the idea of showing our best work in order to get hired again for that kind of work, but there's a lot of skeletons in our portfolio that we're not very proud of. It's just stuff that we don't promote as much, but they're certainly there. Yeah. I think maybe if we ever do another one of these Skillshare lives, we have a whole presentation we can do at just the failures and all the projects that have never seen the light of day. You can make a good living just off kill fees. It can be soul draining after a while because you're like, "Man, I just want to see my Clif Bar packaging out in the world." That's actually a good example. The new Clif Bar project was a great success but years ago, they came to us wanting to do something different, and we pitched a bunch of stuff to them, and the only thing that actually stuck was that they liked the shoe that we designed for their mountain climber. To this day, the shoe that we illustrated is on the Clif Bar packaging, but it's just a bummer to tell our friends when they're like, "Oh, I saw the thing you designed. You made all of this?" It's like, "No, just the shoe actually." It's a millimeter wide. It's the smallest part of it. For every project like that, there are things that we were really proud of, like movie posters where we couldn't get the actual stars of the movie, their agents to sign off on the likeness and things like that. So it's challenging and I think there's a lot of stuff in there that we're proud of, but then there's also stuff where once the client gets involved there are times in these projects where we try not to have the strict customer is always right policy, because the customer is coming to us for our aesthetic insight as well. But sometimes when the customer puts their foot down, they're like, "Well, I like blue, so the thing's going to be blue now," and it's like, "Okay. Well, this may never be in our portfolio because we're not proud of it, but I guess we gave the client what they wanted." Yeah, it's really hard to navigate all that. Luckily, we have enough wins that we want to keep going, but it can be really disheartening when the projects get shut down. I would only hope your failures' presentation deck includes one of your songs from your high school band. Plenty of failures in there. I would say that was a failure, but do you time for maybe just a few other questions? Tye has one. They talk about loving comic books and superheroes, but feeling like an icon series featuring those things has been done to death, you could also say concert posters or movie posters, there's nothing new to do. Is it worth it to try something even if it's been done a million times before? How do you make sure that you're not doing something that already exists in the world? I mean, it's a total cliché, but practice makes perfect. When we got into the world of making gig posters, gig posters were very popular and we weren't by any means revolutionary when we dropped in. But we wanted to learn because we are passionate about the process and passionate about the look. It wasn't necessarily that we felt like it was going to be something that was new to the world, it was just new to us. I think as long as you're excited about it, people will understand the difference between what's been out in the world and your excitement for it. I think if you put your own passion into it, your own voice, even if it's something that's been done before, people will gravitate towards it because it's new to you. I think as long as you focus on how you make it your own, that's always a good way forward and even if you can't and you're just trying it out for the first time, honestly, just understanding how the process works and getting that process under your belt as an experience is huge. Great. I think one danger of a lot of work looking the same is the fact that today we're all looking at Instagram and we're all looking at Dribble and all these things constantly, and it does make all the work get to be homogenous and everything looks the same. I think one tip is to try to avoid that stuff as much as possible and actually look to the past as much as you can. We love having the sense of nostalgia in our work and if you can look at something that was designed in the '50s or even go back to metal type and things that was all set by hand, there's a lot of brilliant inspiration there that can actually make something you create look really fresh to a contemporary audience even though you're still taking cues from the past, at least you're not taking cues from something that someone else made yesterday and now you're doing your version of that today. We try to look to the past as much as possible too. 10. Final Thoughts: A lot of the times we get asked about inspiration, it's a pretty common question about what inspires you. But I just want to put out there that the best way to get inspired is to not force yourself to be inspired. I think a lot of people put pressure on finding that inspiration, saying like, "Okay, one, two, three, be creative". That's not necessarily how it works. Some of our best ideas come from walking away from what we're doing, and taking a break. Now is a really good time to walk away from the idea of, "I have to be productive, I have to produce". Just try to enjoy what is around you that's not necessarily something that's going to bring you money or necessarily something that's going to make you feel productive, it's more about just enjoying the moment and for us, back when traveling was a thing, getting away was a great way for us to be inspired. But now it's just like get away from the desk, do something outside if you can. It's interesting to see when ideas really pop up, they're usually when you least expect it. Thank you to everyone for tuning into our skill share live. We really enjoyed getting to interact with you, and we hope you enjoyed watching. If you want to check out other skill share content, we have eight other classes available. Thanks for joining.