Four years, three jobs, and one degree later. This is what it took for Erin Rose Opperman to go from “making ends meet” as a bartender to working full-time as a graphic designer at the creative agency The Engine Is Red. Opperman states, “I was 27 when I made the decision to go to FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising for my second degree. I knew I needed to approach college differently than I had my first time around. I did my research and FIDM was the clear choice.” Intrigued by her story, FIDM caught up with Erin to give some insight and advice for aspiring creatives.
(FIDM)What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion and attend FIDM?
(Erin)Before attending FIDM, I had received my degree in Fine Art with a concentration in Photography from Sonoma State University. I was there from the time I was 18 until I was 23. It was a great experience, but it didn’t leave me feeling prepared to conquer my goals. But I was so young, I’m not sure I knew what my goals were yet. I was 27 when I made the decision to go to FIDM for my second degree. I knew I needed to approach college differently than I had my first time around. I did my research and FIDM was the clear choice. It was a school that taught more that broad-based learning, and cold facts. It offered guidance and resources. FIDM gives its students access to every skill, asset, and advantage they could possibly need to build a successful career. I think the school’s relationship with fashion was an added bonus for me and an incredibly fascinating niche to be immersed in.
How did FIDM prepare you for the work you are currently doing?
FIDM has a pretty fast-paced curriculum. They keep you on your toes. You learn to be agile and quick within your craft and economical with your time. FIDM also does a great job of encouraging networking. I believe so much of being successful comes from meeting the right people and being in the right place.
And then of course, having the skills to back it up.
How did you become a designer at The Engine is Red?
Funny you should ask. Before attending FIDM, I was bartending to make ends meet. A fancy new nightclub was opening and a creative agency (The Engine is Red) had been brought in to create and manage the brand, from the logo all the way down to the staff casting. I met the Engine team because they helped me get a bartending job. We stayed in touch and four years, three jobs, and one degree later they gave me the job I have (and love) today. It was kismet!
What are some of your responsibilities as a full time graphic designer? What does a typical day look like?
That’s a tough one. I do a lot of things. Of course, I design. But there’s a lot that goes along with that. There’s a great deal of research and learning that goes into each project, as well as sketching, brainstorming, meeting, discussing, revising, and so on. And then there’s the nitty gritty of actually producing things and creating deliverables.
But, one of the things I love most about my job is that there isn’t really a typical day. Every project is different. Every challenge requires its own approach. Some days are incredibly fast-paced and demanding. Other days I get to lose myself in the work of making something great. Problem solving is the only real consistency. I spend every day solving problems, large and small. It’s a labor of love and I’m lucky to truly love what I do.
How is your business going? Tell us about what you do, why you started your own on the side project and how it’s coming along!
It’s going great! Erin Rose Creative is my the umbrella name by which I do all of my freelance work (although it’s developed into a bit of a lifestyle brand of it’s own). I actually started Erin Rose Creative before I began working at The Engine. I was between jobs and I didn’t want to go back to work anywhere unless it was the perfect fit. So, I took all the first steps. I set up a home office, made a logo, printed business cards, and started hitting social media with a vengeance. I went to networking events, luncheons, parties, openings. I was the perfect social butterfly. And it totally paid off! I was quickly able to support myself this way, designing brands and ads for small businesses, as well as and shooting photos for local lifestyle brands.
When the opportunity arose to work at the Engine, I knew it was too good to miss out. I am pressed to learn and grow at The Engine in ways that I’m not when I work alone. But the gratification of running my own business and working directly with my own clients was too good to let go! So, I’ve toned down the pro-active marketing and I’ve become a little more selective about new work. While working full-time in-house and then booking freelance clients on the side can be a bit consuming, I’m pretty insatiable. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
What were some challenges you came across starting your own freelance business? What are some advantages (personally and professionally) in having your own projects to pursue?
I think the hardest part was learning the ins and outs of actually running a business. Not just executing the business on the day-to-day, but creating a sustainable business into the future. This meant figuring out fair rates (for both me and my clients), understanding taxes, billing, payment plans, writing contracts, etc. I’m a very creative person, so sometimes the nitty-gritty stuff feels unbearable.
For me, having my own projects is imperative. I’m always coming up with new ideas and things to try. When you spend all day creating things with other people in mind, you can sometimes feel like you’re slipping away from yourself. Those personal projects are what remind me of who I am. That keeps my focused and inspired, which is important to every bit of work I do.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments so far?
Working full-time at an amazing ad agency like The Engine is a big landmark in my career. And on a personal note, I’m excited about where my photography has taken me recently. I’m really growing as a photographer and I’m eager to see where it takes me next. It’s funny how you can surprise yourself in that way.
Do you have any advice for new students wanting to get their foot in the door in the graphic design industry?
I do. Although, I don’t think it’s any different that advice I would give a student looking to get their door in any industry:
- Work hard. Really hard. Work harder than you’ve ever worked before, and then work some more. There’s no magic recipe. You’re going to have to work. It will make you better, make you stronger, and people will respect you more.
- Be good at what you do. This will not come overnight. Be unrelenting. Practice, observe, learn, and grow and then never stop.
- Be nice. To everyone. It will be hard. Do it anyway. Make people like you so much they want to help you.
- Never be afraid to put yourself out there. You truly have nothing to lose.
Thank you to Mariya Dondonyan for conducting this interview originally published on the FIDM Blog.
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