BY CAILIN BURKE
This week we’re featuring Curtis Dart of Dart Designs. He’s the perfect example of how you don’t have to stick to just one thing, as he is a designer, illustrator, photographer, apparel designer, and the creator of his own clothing label! We love his designs and since I’m a huge sucker for graphic tees, I could see myself wearing one of his shirts in a second! We can’t wait to see where Dart Designs and Kingfruit Apparel goes. Keep reading to here about how he got started and his plans for the future.
: Tell us a little about yourself.
: My name is Curtis Dart, and I am a designer/illustrator & photography enthusiast living in Sydney, Australia. I have been illustrating since I was a wee-lad, and designing for going on 7 years now. I also operate my own clothing label ‘Kingfruit Apparel’ as a way to show case my work and have some fun.
: How did you start Dart Designs?
: I started up Dart Designs just after finishing design college, taking on small freelance jobs as a way to diversify the type of work I was doing. At the time I had taken a junior design position with a large Australian company, working in their Design Department. The work was becoming boring and mundane, so I jumped at any other type of design work I could find, to keep the creative juices flowing.
: You have a variety of work including, typography, branding, graphic design and illustrating among others. Do you have a favorite?
: By far my favourite type of work would have to be illustrative, as to me, there is nothing better than the feeling of creating something with just your hands, a pen, a pad, and your imagination. Although in a close second would be branding, as the restraints and specific goals required by the client provide a challenge, requiring a more strategic approach.
: What technical design skills do you find the most useful? Any skill/program you advise designers to learn?
: Not everyone would agree with me, but I maintain that to be a successful designer, you need to be able to draw. Having the ability to quickly sketch up a concept/idea to a client, so they can physically see what you are talking about is a great advantage– as the faster you can work, the happier the client will be, and the more jobs you can take on.
I find the ability to draw most useful, in the way that I can sketch up all the ideas I have, both good and bad – then develop the best suited concepts further, before taking them onto computer, where most of my time is spent polishing up the designs, to be presented to the client.
: Is there a big difference between your personal design aesthetic and what you design for clients?
: There are only a handful of lucky designers that have made it to a point where a client comes to them and says ‘do your thing’ – so yeah there can be a big difference in what my style would be, and what clients would want. I don’t see this as a bad thing though. Having a client want something different to what I would personally do, makes me think outside the box, and pushes my design skills and thinking further than what I would personally be able to do.
However, in saying that – like an artists uses a particular brush stroke, I always strive to add my own little twist or flavour to any design I do.
: What has been your best experience with a client?
: I am not sure if this is my best client story, but it was one a learnt the most from.
I have been lucky to work with some pretty good clients, that have had a good idea of what they want, or are happy to take my direction on projects. However I have had a couple clients, that in my opinion have the worst kind of trait– these are the clients that say ‘I don’t know what I want, you’re meant to tell me,’ but all along really know what they want, and just want you to show them.
I was doing a large 4WD wrap for a company director, with the design brief being ‘I need it to be wow!’…. that’s it!
After 8 or 9 concept designs and having them all rejected, as not being ‘wow’ enough, I was really disheartened and questioning by design talent. I realised that I was wasting my time and needed more of a design brief than what I had. After trying to draw blood from a stone, I finally got more info out of the client, giving me a new direction to take the design.
After designing and re-printing the graphics three times because of production issues, the design turn out to be an epic rusted out old 4×4 wrap, that I was truly proud of, and the client was absolutely stoked on.
The lesson I took away from the job was that you can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig. If you have a client that can’t give you the necessary information you need, and rejects all of your concepts, it’s not that you are a bad designer – it’s that you just haven’t asked the right questions, or the amount of questions needed to get the proper idea of what they envision. Designers deal with visual communication, and the key to being successful, is translating spoken words and other peoples mental thoughts ideas into something you can understand, and then transfer to visual matter.
: What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
: Living in Sydney, there are some of the worlds best beaches within 25 mins of anywhere, and any chance I get, I’m always down at one of them having a surf. I’m lucky that work still facilitates me being able to fit 3-4 surfs a week in, as there is no better way to shake the blues off, than getting out in the salt water. On top of surfing, I won’t say no to the odd game of golf, or in the winter to the odd weekend on the snowfields. I have found that my hobbies, particularly the board sports, have played a major role in shaping my design work, drawing inspiration from old and new school graphics and technologies.
On top of that, I also love getting out and fine tuning my photographic skills, in-particular my landscape/seascape ones. I love to get up nice and early when I can, to catch the sunrise over the water at one of the local beaches. The colours are amazing for just a brief window, and it’s always special capturing a part of the day rarely seen by most people.
: What do you do when you have no inspiration for a project?
: At first I try to force creativity, by trolling the internet’s many design websites for inspiration, but usually just get side tracked, and find myself looking at stupid meme sites having a laugh.
After that fails, I always find the best option, stepping away from the computer and the design work, and just trying to clear my mind and reset. The best way for me is to go for a surf, as it forces you to be in the moment, leaving no room for other thoughts. This isn’t always possible, so even just going for a walk or grabbing a coffee – anything to take my mind off the fact that so far, I have only had crap ideas for this project.
Most of the time, my best ideas come after this period, and I look back and ask myself why I stressed in the first place.
: What are your future goals for Dart Designs?
: One of my goals for Dart Designs is to grow my business with a larger focus on my illustrative work, as it is the area I have the most fun doing, and would really like to establish myself as a more prominent Illustrator in the Sydney/Australian market.
The other goal is to further showcase my work and design skills through my clothing label Kingfruit Apparel, as I find this to be one of the best ways to advertise to a larger audience in a physical and interactive way. Social media is great and has its advantages, but I still find someone walking around with my designs on their t-shirt to be a more direct and larger impact form of advertising.
: The first bit of advice I would give to anyone that wants to get into design, or has just started out, would be to practice, practice, practice. Colleges and design courses give you the basic tools and principles to design and become familiar with design programs – but the more you play around on the computer, and push the limits of what you think you can do, the better off you will be. Jump onto the web and look up design tutorials and just give them a go. You will be really surprised with the tricks and tips they teach you.
The second piece of advice would be to take on as many different types of design jobs you can. The more diverse your portfolio of work is, the more attractive you are to potential employers. This doesn’t have to just include jobs for clients – if you are into illustration, don’t be afraid to sell your designs as prints or on t-shirts. I have friends and people I know in the industry doing everything from selling brooches to selling plants inside old hardcover books – basically anything you can apply your skills or styling to will expand your knowledge and creative capacity.
The final piece of advice I would give is to have fun, and not to take things too seriously. Design is one of those practices that flourishes in fun and upbeat environments. If you over think things, and let little issues or bumps in the road get you down, the work becomes ‘work’ and creativity becomes harder to come by. I’m not saying that doing design is all sunshine and lollipops, but just remember why you do it. I always find my best work happens when I’m in a good head space, so I seek out things that help me get into that head space.
See more of Dart Designs and Kingfruit Apparel at: