Between cruising on her skateboard, gymnastics and Nintendo, Blake Thomas, 26, liked to do it all as a child. “Perhaps I can credit my lack of hobby commitment to the quantity of times I moved as well, I grew up between Orlando, Atlanta and Orange Park and attended about 8 different schools between K through 12th grade as a result. I suppose changing things up so much in my youth made me perfectly groomed to pursue a field that’s always changing and flexible to a variety of lifestyles”, said Thomas. For Miss Blake, experience seemed to be her currency. There was no doubt in her mind she wanted to enter the creative field once she got to college, particularly anxious to focus on advertising and branding. “It was my college counselor that said advertising would be a poor fit for me and he confidently re-directed me into graphic design”, she said with a slight smile. 5 years later Blake Thomas has built a client resume that one can dream of with clients such as Macy’s Adore Me, Avondale Type Co, Bloomberg Businessweek, Electric Objects, Giphy, Happy Socks, Kvell, Lazy Oaf, Microsoft Outlook, Nooklyn, The New Stand, University of Florida, Vox, just to name a few.
Starting at Macy’s as a Junior Art Director straight out of college allowed Thomas to experience the bustling street of New York as she combine her graphic background with advertising and photography. Being a part of the shoots, ad campaigns and the inner context of company portrayal, she thought she found happily ever after, until after 2 years she quit, moved back to LA and accidently became a freelancer. “I realized I had wanted to pursue a more hands-on career path vs. the more managerial path of an Art Director,” she said with confidence. For her the big NY office was stepping stones to a diverse landscape of the unknown and the robust portfolio that she was on the bounds creating. Her style is focused, taking particular interest for human qualities and transferring hidden meaning that mixes color and symbolic repetition, balance and pattern. Her work transcends the still life painting. Using 3D has her preferred medium she takes an new approach to what you would call advertising.
She’s humble and humored as she speaks to DACA about her past, her style and her early beginnings.
So this is a big question for you. Please explain your beginnings and early influences? Describe your home town? Was school or a particular person an influence during your early design career? I wouldn’t say I had an especially creative childhood, outside of doodling on class notes I preferred to play Nintendo or cycle through hobbies. I’ve tried a good bit – guitar, skateboarding, rollerblading, hip hop, gymnastics, cross country, soccer, the list goes on. However, growing up in the notoriously weird Florida I realize now how much creativity was embedded in my environment. From kitschy touristy art to one of the biggest surrealism museums, or county fairs eclipsed by a city of theme parks. There was no shortage of entertainment and new experiences.
Do you remember a particular time when you knew that Design and contributing to the web was something you wanted to enter or pursue? When entering college I believed I wanted to study advertising having had an introductory course to graphic design in high school. A college preview counselor, who was cycling through a different student every 10 minutes offering advice, was sweet enough to spend the extra time to tell me that advertising would likely be a poor fit and confidently re-directed me into graphic design.
Before starting your Freelance Career where did you work? Are you currently working now for an individual agency or free roamer? After graduating college I moved to New York to work as a Junior Art Director at Macy’s. About 2 years into it I realized I had wanted to pursue a more hands-on career path vs. the more managerial path of an Art Director. At that time I baby-stepped into freelance by contracting at a tech company, where I was able to design and illustrate full-time. During that time I also began to moonlight – learning 3D design to stay fresh from working in-house. I probably would have happily lived this lifestyle for a while, however, an unexpected relocation from New York to Los Angeles resulted in me becoming an accidental freelancer after a few months of not being able to score an interview in-house anywhere.
You have started a diversity of different project in mediums such as 2D and 3D. What is your favorite and how are they different? Is your process different? I personally don’t have a preference between 2D and 3D work, it really comes down to the scope of a project. From an aesthetic stand point they’re definitely quite different, perhaps as opposite as you can be on the digital front. However, process-wise I have the same steps for both. After a project briefing I start out with a handful of sketched concepts, with included mood boards to inspire proposed color palettes, layouts, or style. After honing in on a particular concept it’s a sweet and swift dive into digital from there.
You have a distinct style in much of your work with a shimming purple, pink and light green color choices. There are also a lot of human objects and shapes. Is that intentional? Describe your thinking around these. My color palette often changes from more technical reasoning, I enjoy brightly lit compositions and reflective materials that are easy on the eyes. Recently I’ve worked with more iridescent materials mainly due to switching to a render program Octane and creating the material by complete trial and error in a weekend experiment. Per human elements – I’ve always found hands and lips especially beautiful. They’re also insanely difficult for me to create in my 2D aesthetic, so I must be filling a void there!
You have worked for many clients considered large, what has been your favorite project? Definitely an equal playing field there, depending on the day and time I’ll vote a different one every time. Currently I’m quite proud of an icon set designed for a conference – Vox Conversations. It was a large set design that included minimizing a handful of DC landmarks, some of which look quite similar, a very unique and rewarding challenge.
Was it referrals that landed you these, web or something else? Almost 100% through social media! An extra special shout out to Instagram and Dribbble for creating communities that mix personal work with professional presence.
Do you work with others during these projects? When I was younger I worked at a very customer-centric grocery store for 6 years which has caused me to be quite big on client satisfaction. I generally work solo but highly value what the client brings to the table, from a brief to a very specific idea. Integrating the small details give a project that extra dose of magic.
You have a couple other projects, Beer Brewing, Coaster Collecting, Gardening, can you explain some of these and how you find the time to make them happen? I strive to not work on the weekends, I broke that habit often the first half of this year and it affected my work flow noticeably. It’s difficult to work off of a low battery constantly, not to mention slows you down! With two email free days a week making time for new hobbies and adventures is effortless.
Finally, what is next for Blake? What are you currently getting your hands into, is there any new surprises client work launching? I’m hoping to work more and more in animation, at least on the personal side. I’ve found it so inspiring to put out an animated piece and see an audience create their own story around it, or share with others to compliment a fond memory. Professionally, I’m working with a few new clients which have been challenging me in fun and less charted ways – can’t wait to share in the upcoming months!