When designer David DeSandro traded Harrisonburg for Arlington four years ago after earning a degree in communication studies, he didn’t know he was about to embark on what had become a continuing path of artistic exploration. From childhood to adolescence to college, he’d transitioned from drawing and sketching to songwriting and playing guitar to making music visualizations, the latter of which were “a terrific amalgamation of visual design and scripting.”
And, aside from a brief stop in cubicle-land, since then he’s been paying the bills with his creativity.
“My tragic flaw was that, up until a couple years ago, I saw all of these creative activities as mere hobbies; never as something I could get a steady income out of. In retrospect, becoming a creative professional seems inevitable, but, for a while, I never really considered it.”
And as nearly everyone in creative fields can attest, finding the right environments to cultivate and practice an art is crucial. DeSandro was initially struggling to find the emotional reward in his work until he made a New Year’s resolution to be more creatively proactive, which led him to discover the programs at Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University in Georgetown. From there, he developed a portfolio, landed an internship, and earned a full-time gig as a web designer.
But that proactivity didn’t always come naturally for DeSandro.
“Back in college, I went through a bout of procrastination of epic proportions. That semester I failed two of my courses–not because they were too difficult, but because I just didn’t do the work. While it was not the end of the world, it was a huge wake up call for me. It forced me to take a serious look at my life, my motivations, and what it meant to be an adult. I now understand the importance of setting goals, and taking pride in the work I produce. Now, whenever I slip into bad habits, I just think of that time as a point of contrast, and it helps get me focused.”
Staying focused can be tough in today’s web, where over-stimulation can be paralyzing. So DeSandro is trying to combat the distraction and focus on his own development by being diligent and practicing, and “by not indulging in RSS feeds or Twitter streams or any other number of new stimuli that demand my attention,” he said.
What has grabbed his attention, however, is the DC creative community, which he calls “incredible.”
“Flashback to 18 months ago when I was a cubicle monkey looking in from the outside of the creative community. I kept a list of all these incredible web designers in the DC area. In the time since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have interacted with a wide array of these people, either via events like Refresh DC or having them instruct one of my classes at CDIA or maybe just by leaving a blog comment. I don’t know of any other professional field where the rockstars of that profession are so easily accessible. It’s that magnificent communal spirit that attracted me to the field.”
Some of those rockstars have given DeSandro tips to grow–among the best pieces of advice was to “stop reading and start practicing.”
“The Internet is rife with advice, lifehacks, and lists of methods that will marginally improve some section of your existence,” he said. “The only way you ever improve on anything is by doing it repeatedly, making mistakes, and refining your process. I’ve seen this bit of meta-advice pop up consistently from some of my favorite designers like Andy Rutledge, Doug Avery, Merlin Mann
and Des Traynor.”
And what advice would he give his 18-year-old self, preparing to leave the suburbs of Philadelphia for the classrooms of James Madison?
“I’ve been asked a couple times whether or not I regret not going to art school after college and pursuing a traditional degree instead. My answer is remains to be a firm, ‘No, I have no regrets.’ Because of the path I took, I have a healthy respect for the design profession. Because I’ve been on the outside, I can appreciate being able to exercise my creative muscles instead of letting them atrophy. And I’m not sure I can crystallize that sort of experience when offering advice to my 18-year-old self. Sure, I could recount my story. But the only way I would have learned the lesson is by living through it.”
You can see some of his work online at www.desandro.com.