Platt College Visual Effects Alumni, Jarod Octon, is a wonderful example of someone who found his passion in life and never gave up on it. For this month’s Alumni Spotlight we wanted to share his inspiring journey from being the everyday dreamer to becoming a full-time graphic artist. Jarod currently uses his creative talents working full-time for local candy company, Bee International, while also running his own online shop selling designs as fun and unique products.
What you might not know is that Jarod also worked for Platt College as a designer for our Marketing Department, before moving on to his first industry job as an Art Director for a local App Company. Now he has achieved a lifelong goal of getting paid to draw and design all day! We hope our interview with him will help inspire others who may think their dreams are just out of reach.
Natasha: When was the moment that you knew you wanted to pursue a career in art and design?
Jarod: I’ve been attracted to art all my life. Whether it was cartoons or comic books, the allure was always strong. My family predicted my destiny before I ever considered it a possibility. Pursuing art as a trade though never seemed realistic when I was younger. It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I began to realize a career was actually within my grasp. I explored general education throughout college, but nothing tickled my interest like visual design.
It was my love for sub-culture that really sparked the flame though. I saw what many startup streetwear brands at the time were printing on t-shirts and it occurred to me that such styles were not beyond my skillset. That moment instilled enough inspiration to try my hand. As a late bloomer, it took an accumulation of confidence to finally take the leap of faith and I’ve been happily traveling down the rabbit hole ever since.
Natasha: What was one of the most valuable things you learned as a student at Platt College?
Jarod: One of the most valuable things I learned while studying at Platt College was how to communicate ideas to individuals that have no familiarity with my style or background. It’s much easier presenting a concept to friends and family, it’s even more difficult conceptualizing a design for a client that has no interest in sparing your feelings. The critiques on campus strengthened my skin into battle armor that would allow me to endure any inevitable negative feedback.
When I was younger all of my artwork was very personal, for that reason I kept most of it to myself. When you pursue art on a professional platform everyone has an opinion on the quality or longevity of your work. People will ignore your accomplishments and comment only on your flaws, so be prepared to let those individuals hate and just continue to do what you do best. I’d like to add that the exposure to different technologies on campus helped increase the quality and efficiency of my creations. There were many tools and processes that I was unaware of that allowed me to evolve into a more valuable artist. Don’t neglect new found techniques and technology, those innovations are what help keep a professional relevant.
Natasha: Who influenced you most as an artist?
Jarod: As a kid there was handful of comic book artists that influenced me greatly, a few to name would be Jim Lee, Jae Lee and J. Scott Campbell. Of course the magical world that Walt Disney masterminded made a big impression on my adolescent mind. In high school my interest swerved into a different lane of design. I would draw the logos of my favorite rappers and skateboard companies on class notes. It was harder back then to discover the specific creative wizard who created those slick branding concepts, the internet wasn’t available for use and the libraries in my neck of the woods were weak.
One particular artist that made a great impression on how I brand myself today would be a Belgian artist nicknamed Musketon. He had many great things to say during a workshop held by Platt College in 2014 which I found to be very insightful and refreshing. His methods of marketing and conducting business planted a fruitful seed for me embrace my name rather than pursuing a generic company for my ongoing creative output. In addition Stephanie Buscema, Chris “Tallboy” Coulon, Mike Giant and James Jean inspire me a lot these days.
Natasha: What was your biggest challenge when first transitioning over to digital art and design?
Jarod: Overall the transition to digital felt pretty intuitive. It felt like I found my native medium. The fine art experience I had accumulated over time was necessary for my finding my style, but the power of ‘⌘+Z’ was the perfect solution to my O.C.D. tendencies. I was always timid when adding color to my drawings in fear of ruining the pencil quality. Digital solutions allowed me the opportunity to experiment with color and avoid any regretful decisions.
With anything new though, it just takes a certain amount of time to gain familiarity and confidence. I spent a lot of time using the pen tool within Adobe Illustrator, investing hours outside of school on my own projects to sharpen my understanding. The pen tool is now my weapon of choice next to a traditional graphite pencil. My next evolutionary goal is to transition from mouse to tablet.
Natasha: You recently launched your first online webstore to sell custom products and art. What was that experience like?
Jarod: It was a lot of work but very rewarding. That launch was monumental for me because I was able accomplish many different goals all at once. For many moon I was conflicted, indecisive of what path to take or frustrated being in a position that left me uninspired and spread thin. I felt boxed in creatively and unaccomplished. At some point lightning struck. Halfway through 2015 I decided to throw it all out, choosing to re-brand myself by embracing my name rather than a generic company. With my name at the helm I was able to re-focus my future sight with 20/20 vision. Success occurs when you stop making excuses and push through the barriers that we allow to halt our progress. Failure was not an option but I was wisely advised to be realistic with my time and resources, so I chose to produce a small collection of products.
In addition to re-branding and designing, I decided to re-establish my web presence as well. My personal domain became the central hub for a new portfolio, online store and more. There were many days where I’d work my regular 9 to 5 job then go home to continue working on my own creative endeavors. Many hats were worn, whether the task required me to write code or prepare for necessary legal obligations. When I finally revealed my labors to the world a great weight was lifted. To be honest, I was exhausted, so I took December off to spend time with my friends and family. It was somewhat of a victory lap. I set out with a master plan and defeated my demons. Now I have a world of room to expand my wizardry and the cauldron is bubbling with a new creative brew.
Natasha: What advice would you give to someone just getting started in school to pursue a career design?
Jarod: Absorb all that you can from your instructors and if you hunger for more, demand it. Know your studies do not begin and end within the classroom. Your level of success is dependent on how far you can push the boundaries of comfortability. Push until you’ve reached the edge of possibility, then push even further, beyond into the unknown. Your discoveries will only help strengthen your abilities. Always accept criticism with open arms, it’s a skill that will allow you to evolve for the better. When you design something, consider the practical use.
It’s not enough to simply insert an illustration into your portfolio as a print. Showcase it in a real world scenario. Mockup the illustration as a product, being utilized as intended for someone to easily visualize. I have some general advice as well. For those with a dream worth pursuing, never stop reaching for the stars. It’s never too late for you to shine and inspire. The gatekeepers of the world would make you believe everything is impossible, when in truth it’s all possible. Don’t be afraid of failure, you can always start again. Research, strategize and execute your master plan until it’s fully realized, then do it again and again.
Natasha: How do you deal with issues like “designer’s block”?
Jarod: I try not to force it. Instead of getting further stressed out by the “block,” I step away from the drawing board or computer screen and find something else to do. Inspiration surrounds us, you just have to take a step back and look around. It can be at the local cinema, down by the beach, a dinner date with a loved one or a trip to the local comic book store. I personally love to re-energize with a Disneyland adventure. The trick is to make sure you don’t stray too far. I’ll stack up the experience until I start to feel unaccomplished, at that point I make it my focus to get back to business. Pushing though the initial stages of a project is key, everything else happens naturally once the groove has been established. When that happens I can’t stop working until it’s done.
Natasha: You’ve designed a lot of different things, from user interface designs to album covers. What would you say your favorite project has been so far?
Jarod: My favorite project is always the last one completed. You’re only as good as your last, right? With that said I really enjoyed designing the Astro Club pennant, which was the spotlight product for the launch of my new website. The process was very gratifying. It’s awesome to have an idea in mind and see it take shape into existence, it’s somewhat magical. Aside from that project, my interpretation of the caterpillar from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was a really fun result. I think the illustration is unique in comparison to what society is most familiar with. It’s very important for me to add my own style when the subject matter is already well known.
Natasha: What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
Jarod: Right now I’m designing a series of ray-guns, with the intent of choosing one to be manufactured as a lapel pin. I’ve wanted to make a pin for really long time, so this project will be very rewarding once completed. In addition the pin will further expand my Astro Club collection which I’m aiming to round out with some additional space / sci-fi themed products.
Natasha: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Jarod: First and foremost I’d like to thank you, Natasha Englehardt, and Platt College for providing me a platform to grow and share my story. Secondly, much love to all the people that have expressed an interest by reading up to this point. Look out for my next collection which I’m currently calling the Wizard’s Council. My goal is to continue developing original products in the form of themed collections such as the Astro Club. Despite what it may look like online, I’m always creating. Connect with me and you’re bound to see something fun in due time. May the stars shine brightly upon you and yours.
Be sure to check out more work from Jarod Octon online through the following links:
All Photography taken by Natasha Englehardt for Octon Originals.