Singing the Blues

I have many regrets. Too many. Mostly they are related to time. As I see all the things I have to do and want to do, and feel all the inadequacies of who I am and what I know, I weigh that against the time I have, which makes me want to go back and steal a few years—just a few—from my past.

I deeply regret not going to university or college because I very much wish I had a solid knowledge of art and design history and theory. But instead, I traveled, and I worked as a typesetter—which combined to make an excellent, but informal, education. Who is to say, really, which would have been better?

I regret spending 10 years as a book typesetter, instead of maybe five or six—I feel like I learned most of what I was going to in the first six years. But on the other hand, I do remember making some egregious mistakes when Quark first came out, in the year before I left. Maybe I needed that extra time, just to be slapped away from fucking with the type just because I could. And can you ever really spend too long working with type? Not really.

Every day I get an email from someone who has been touched or inspired by a piece of mine. It's more valuable than laser-cut gold foil stamping on velvet-flocked paper.

I regret the years I spent as a graphic designer, complaining about clients and churning out the posters, brochures and identities. But I learned so much, and the things you learn the hard way are often the most valuable. And if I hadn't worn myself out to the very end, if I hadn't completely wrung that side of my career dry, down to the last drop, perhaps I never would have made the leap to where I am now. Sometimes you just have to pass through the fire.

I regret not being more engaged or aware through all my years as a designer. When I finally lifted my head up and looked around I had decades to catch up on and I'm still so ignorant and so far behind. There is no upside to this.

Some favorite projects include (left) a cover for The Guardian's G2 and poster for the Academy for Educational Development.

But I will never regret walking away from my design business and starting something new. I wish I had done it sooner—but maybe I couldn't have done it sooner. I was 40, and maybe I needed to be 40. Maybe I needed to have the experience, both good and bad, piled up in my past to push me forward. Maybe it's a little like playing the blues: 20- and 30-year olds can do a lot of things, but they can't really play the blues. Maybe it was like that.

I've been well rewarded for my efforts. Every day I get an email from someone who has been touched or inspired by a piece of mine. It's more valuable than laser-cut gold foil stamping on velvet-flocked paper. And if the extra years of feeling the blues are what it took, it was worth it.