Meet Sean Hodge, Editor of PSDTUTS & VECTORTUTS
This week I had the opportunity to interview Sean Hodge, Editor of PSDTUTS and VECTORTUTS; two of my favorite websites. I have a great deal of respect for Sean and I was very excited when he agreed to the interview; especially given his busy schedule. In this Interview Sean offers some really great insights into how he fell into the world of blogging as well as how a successful design blog is run. I really hope you guys enjoy this interview and when you’re done, be sure to remember to visit his websites and to connect with him using the social network of your choosing.
Sean, thanks for participating in this interview. Can you begin by explaining a little about your background? Where are you from? How did you get your start as a designer?
I’m originally form Oregon in the US, and moved to Connecticut after graduating high school. I went to college there and studied History. I had enough credits to graduate, though I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a living and was already a bit of a career student. I got interested in design and proceeded to take virtually every design related course they offered. I took enough classes that it was the equivalent of a BA in graphic design. I used the portfolio I built up from those classes to take some Master courses in Graphic Information Design as well. I completed a year of that before deciding I was done with school in 2004.
After getting married I wasn’t able to land a job in the design field. So, I worked all kinds of professional and semi-professional jobs from customer service to sales. I sold Yellow page advertising for six months, which required knocking on business doors and pitching them in person. I worked in the cell phone industry, the insurance industry, and more. The only graphic work was in a couple print shop production areas and I worked part-time at a local machine shop producing their bandsaw catalogs and website. I also learned semantic based XHTML/CSS based design during this time, which was still newish then. Thereafter, I did a few Sitepoint design contests and landed one client through that.
After moving down to Venezuela a couple years ago I had no choice but to work on the internet. From Venezuela I continued to progress with building my portfolio through those contests and building more relationships with clients. I also got heavily into working with theming and building websites with Drupal. Towards the middle of 2007 I started to land some clients directly through my portfolio and responding to ads. Then I got into blogging as well toward the end of 2007. So, of course I had a lot of training, but I really got my start with online contests for design, and then learning to land clients through direct means as a freelancer.
My readers are likely to know you from PSDTUTS and VECTORTUTS but you have been blogging for quite some time now; not just on the Tuts family of websites but on others as well. Can you explain a little about your role with the Tuts family of websites and then can you elaborate on how you fell into that role?
Sure, I got started blogging mostly with my site AiBURN. I created a handful of Illustrator tutorials. Then I saw that GoMedia was looking for a writer for their zine. I pitched them on a Drupal series, using the Illustrator tutorials I wrote to demonstrate I could write tuts well, and then I wrote a six part tutorial on building a functional Drupal site from concept, Illustrator based mockup, onto XTML/CSS and then Druapl theming and integration.
I then used that tutorial series to pitch PSDTUTS and Smashing Magazine some article and tutorial concepts. I started writing for both of them for a couple months. Then I noticed in an interview that Collis did somewhere that he was looking to expand the TUTS sites and I didn’t see how he could do that and edit PSDTUTS at the same time, so I offered to discuss editing that site for him. It started out as I kind of helped him with it, but over time he needed to focus on other projects and the position took on a more permanent role.
After he had successfully launched AUDIOTUTS I pitched him on launching VECTORTUTS. It wasn’t really a new concept. Lot’s of people had requested it, but I really wanted to see great vector designers being published just like we were contacting big name talented designers for PSDTUTS. It’s been a great ride launching and building VECTORTUTS from scratch. It has really overshadowed my first attempt in that area with AiBURN, which has become more of my personal blog now.
Long story short is that all these positions opened up because I targeted them and leveraged my existing experience. I was reading a lot of blogs at the time and one writer Skellie really resonated with me. She advised to be “audacious,” which is such a flavorful word that it stuck in my mind. And every time I wanted to pursue something and had a nagging doubt, I’d say let’s just be “audacious.” Of course, it helps to send a professional email that takes a format of brief introduction, quick and compelling pitch, followed by evidence of skill. That format was really successful for me.
Coincidentally, Skellie is now the supervisor of the TUTS sites and I work underneath her, which is really great. She’s a tremendous blogger, and has a good blend of creative and practical approaches that breed success. The TUTS sites have really matured from a structural point of view over the last year. Skellie taking on the manager role has really brought another level of professionalism and planning that will mean these sites will be here for the long-term.
I’ve seen so many cool website projects just die and disappear because they didn’t have a solid business plan. In most cases long-term success needs to surpass a hobby and take on this level of professionalism. I’ve learned so much running these sites and I’m really fortunate to have been giving this opportunity.
You are an American living in Venezuela. With blogging being an international phenomenon, do you feel that living outside of the United States gives you a perspective that you might not otherwise experience? How do you feel it has helped you in the design field?
The biggest thing for me living in Venezuela has been not having any other choice then to make a living through the internet. I actually managed an English language institute for almost a year when I lived here in the past and it just didn’t pay enough to support my family. And not speaking much Spanish limits my options here. My two year old son speaks almost as much Spanish as I do. Having that limitation here has really pushed me to make things happen online. I don’t know if I would have followed that path if I had stayed in the states during this time.
I think most of my design and blogging inspiration comes from online and my endless fascination with these subjects. I certainly get interested in what’s around me here though. There are lots of stencils up for political candidates and tons of graffiti here. There are just so many concrete walls here that it must be a great place for graffiti artists. There’s lots of grunge surrounding me everywhere here, which may be rubbing off subconsciously. And the beach is great to get away to as well.
Tell us a little bit about your work flow. How much time do you spend blogging? Do you get much time to work on your personal projects?
Yah, I don’t have too much time for personal projects, but I do try to squeeze them in. My workflow involves mostly editing and blog management right now. Running both PSDTUTS and VECTORTUTS is a full time occupation now. I use Gmail to keep in touch with writers, Coda for editing tutorials in html, Amazon S3 for hosting image files, WordPress for posting and moderating comments, Photoshop and Illustrator for prepping files, and Paypal to get paid. I use Daylite to manage contacts as well. Those are the main programs for editing. Also, I’m on a Mac.
When I design and do web design or Drupal site building I use lot’s more programs. My favorite program is Illustrator though. Photoshop has certainly grown on me tremendously while running PSDTUTS though.
What is your workspace like? Do you prefer a messy or clean workspace?
I like things organized for the most part, but I’m not very neat. I guess my workspace is comfy. I usually don’t have many decorations or anything. I think design is always on my mind so I don’t really need posters and there is so much inspiration on the net.
What are your primary design tools? Do you use a Mac or a PC? Do you use any non-Adobe tools that you would like to share with us? Any Illustrator or Photoshop plugins that you find valuable?
My primary design and web design tools are Illustrator, Fireworks, Photoshop, Coda, CSS Edit, Drupal, Firefox and the Firebug Plugin, and there are probably a whole bunch more that aren’t coming to mind right now. Pencil and paper is a big tool as well. Both for drawing and just writing down ideas. I’m on a Mac though usually at least one version behind in operating system upgrades.
I love TextEdit. It’s probably the program I use the most for writing down ideas. I tend to just create lots of RTF docs and organize them in folders. I’ve used program like Journaler for writing before as well. I recommend TweetDeck for anyone that likes Twitter but wants it to do a bit more. It expands this social messaging service fairly well. I really need to experiment with Plugins more and unfortunately don’t many.
Are there any web services that you cannot live without?
Paypal is crucial, Gmail definitely, Skype was important for numerous client projects, and I’m thinking of giving something like FreshBooks a try next year. I really like Flickr and some of the Portfolio sites like Behance, though they aren’t crucial. A good portfolio at your own domain name is effective, though these satellite portfolios are helpful and can be beneficial for networking.
Earlier, I mentioned your personal projects. Do you have any personal projects that you are working on at the moment that you’d like to share with my readers?
Right now I’m working hard on a new portfolio called Colorsauce, which is a fun name that has a design feel. I’m considering adding some illustrations maybe of Chile peppers or hot sauce, something in that direction. Right now I’m focused on finalizing the structure, adding the content, and completing the Drupal theming and functionality.
I’ve had a vision of a portfolio in my head for a couple years. One that would not just have the ten best projects, but something with more depth that ten years from now will have everything relevant I’ve created during that time. Basically a blog format works well for that. Something organized by date and tagged, so you can look through it based on topic as well. I also created an area to promote top current projects on the first page as well.
Each project has an in-depth description, which I’m still completing, and is taking lots of time to put together. The layout of each project is really flexible as well. The sidebar isn’t fixed in the theme, so I could place images up to 960px wide and use various formats as I add more to the portfolio in the future. The project is a bit more than half way through beta right now, though it’s live if anyone wants to check it out. http://colorsauce.com.
What would you consider to be your dream project?
At this point, my dream project would be something self directed that is an online business venture. Ideally it would be something like a design blog or membership site that I write tutorials and articles for on the topic of design, but is financially successful enough that I can focus on that. I hope to leverage my blogging experience and launch something new in 2009 that is successful.
Which designers have influenced you the most? Are there any areas of design that you would like to learn or experiment with?
I have an endless fascination about art and design. I’ve gone through numerous phases of influence that is fairly diverse. In school David Carson was really inspirational. I really like the way he was able to communicate to a niche group through creative typography merged with emotionally charged imagery. Carlos Segura was a big influence as well at that time. I still check out T26 first when I need to buy a font. A whole lot of eras and artists in design history influenced me.
The work of Edward Tufte helped to bring a mature approach into my design work. I still like to play with colors, type, and illustrations, but graphic information design principles are a foundation that these things build on top of. In web design I’ve been influenced by Dan Cederholm, Veerle, and Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain. Collis has been a big influence. I really like his approach to simplify solutions to be able to design more and quicker, which allows him to launch entire networks at a rapid pace.
More recently the digital illustrators and designers I’ve worked with on the TUTS sites have had a big influenced on me, artists such as Fabio Sasso (Interview), Nik Ainley, Von Glitschka, Ian Yates, and others. I haven’t had much time for illustration and design work, but once I get back to it I’ll have a more thorough and developed approach having learned from these artists.
I’m most interested in experimenting more with Illustration, especially vector based illustration and integrating those into Photoshop manipulations and website designs. I hope to do a lot more experimenting next year in this area. Overall though, I tend to be interested in way more then I can possibly actually get my hands into, which leads me to write about numerous topics.
What advice would you give to any aspiring designer or blogger looking to make it in the industry?
There are so many paths into different segments within the overall design and web design industries, and other related fields. The most important thing to do is narrow down what you want. Now you can experiment and take on clients as you do so and get your foot in through freelancing, but keep developing some core skills that you can really build a career around. Build some skills that people can identify with. If your really good at illustrating for example, then run with it, and create a signature style.
Once you do that then formulate a plan to reach your goals. Just narrow and refine your approach and keep building your contacts and portfolio. Build as much real world business and design experience as you can while you keep taking “audacious” action to accomplish your goals.
For more specific action I’d say blogging and especially guest blogging on larger blogs has been really helpful for me and has opened up numerous doors. Also, email people directly, experiment with coming up with approaches to contact people that successfully lead to the results your looking for, and build up your network.
Finally, last but not least; which do you prefer? iPhone or Blackberry?
Oh man, I worked in the cell phone industry for a couple years, but currently I don’t even have a cell phone. I don’t really need one currently, but I will likely be moving to Florida next year and an iPhone is on my to buy list.
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