7 Years Since Shillington: Sean Raynor, Designer at Watermark Studio

Since graduating from Shillington 7 years ago, Sean Raynor has been specializing in creating branding and packaging design for the spirits industry. For the past 4 years, he’s been working as a designer at Watermark Studio in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read on to hear how Shillington gave him the tools to land his first in-house design job, his experience freelancing for a Charlottesville non-profit, and how the course built his skillset as a designer.

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you to design?

Thinking back, some of my fondest memories include drawing for countless hours with my older brother when I was just a few years old. My childhood was full of strange creative endeavors—I ran though many rolls of duct tape and packs of Pentels. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I explored the idea of becoming a designer and quickly found it to be the perfect fit.

I have always loved the ability to express myself artistically in various mediums but didn’t realize there was a career that mirrored my interests so closely.

Were you in the creative field before coming to Shillington?

Before Shillington I attended a local community college in central Virginia, where I completed the two year design program, along with an internship at a small branding studio for a summer.

How did the Shillington course build your skill set?

After I completed community college, I knew that I wanted to be a designer but didn’t feel prepared to enter the professional world. I had some of the basics, but I didn’t have a deep understanding of many of the principals I would come to learn. I enrolled in Shillington with a desire to learn more about the current industry and to leave with a strong foundation that I could build upon.

After graduating from the full time course in New York, I landed my first in-house job within a month. 

Shillington had given me the tools to become a successful designer in a real-world environment. I had a fluent understanding of Adobe programs and the ability to work under pressure and timelines. 

You graduated from Shillington 7 years ago. What have you been up to since studying at the New York campus?

Immediately after graduating I was offered a position at a print/web publication as an ad designer. The job was not my dream job, but fresh out of school I was very grateful for the opportunity. I dealt with very tight timelines, frustrated clients and many, many last minute changes! Despite the pitfalls of the job, I constantly strove to create the highest quality work possible so I could continue to develop my portfolio. A year into my employment, I began freelancing for what is now a popular Charlottesville event—the Tom Tom Festival. This proved to be a great opportunity to meet new people, design meaningful work and really grow as a young designer. I left the print/publication after two and a half years, leaving as their senior ad designer and manager to join Watermark Design, the studio where I am currently employed. Over the last four years, I have worked with a small team of incredibly talented designers, creating branding and packaging for  various industries.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?

To trust the Shillington process and not be intimidated by a lack of knowledge about the tools or principles of design.

You’ve been working for the design studio Watermark for the past 4 years. Tell us about your work there. What’s your typical day like?

While we work 8:30am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday, each day varies a lot in our studio. Mornings often begin with headphones, organizing, prioritizing and more often than not a croissant from a French bakery (that is far too close to our office)! Each designer is always working on multiple projects, sometimes in unison or solely with a team critique. Some days I’ll work on eight different client projects, while other days I’ll spend the majority of the day on a single label illustration or digital painting.

Can you share the process behind your one or two favorite work projects? Tell us about the concept and approach.

One of my favourite projects to date is the rebrand of Ingleside Vineyards, the Chesapeake Series. We were approached with the rebrand in 2017 and began with a creative brief that defined the scope and goals of the project. Some of the primary goals were elevating the series for a higher point of sale and to create a line that was approachable and specific to the Chesapeake area. The line also needed a format that would accommodate to the addition of new varietals at any point. Once we had a thorough understanding of the local environment, competition and bay life, we began our exploration. We presented multiple options to Ingleside, featuring a variety of lockups and paintings/illustrations—all touching back to the creative brief in different ways.

Faced forward on-shelf, you are presented with a clean, minimal design, only hinting at the experience you will receive with a turn of the bottle, encouraging you to pick it up.

I have always loved to explore different mediums. For the past few years, I have spent many evenings with a tablet learning to digital paint. Ingleside was one of the first projects where I was able to utilize the skill for something tangible and the process was incredibly rewarding.

Another project that was very exciting to work on in 2017 was Scenic Wax, Japanese/American inspired candles. The client approached us with a vision that I personally was very drawn to—creating a line that was both minimal and authentic, conveying the organic nature of the candles through earth tones and subtle design choices.

The line consists of six different scents, distinguished from one another by a carefully selected swatch of color across the lower half of both labels. To emphasize the artisanal nature of the candles, we added a blind emboss pattern that spreads across the front of the label. The type/logo mark are balanced carefully on the minimal labels, accentuating their Japanese influence.

Any tips for designers hoping to break into packaging design?

I was lucky enough to join Watermark with very little packaging experience and learn the in’s and outs of the packaging world from the team.

This is not always the case, so I would highly recommend that designers interested familiarize themselves with both the rules and regulations of the government for products they are interested in designing, along with what printing processes are available. Beyond this, seek out and take on any packaging projects you can! Even if you don’t feel confident in your knowledge of packaging, there are countless resources online to help in your process. For example, everyone at Watermark is very familiar with TTB regulations. A large amount of the packaging work that Watermark takes on is alcohol, so knowing these guidelines is very important for us.

Who or what is inspiring you most at the moment?

Richey Beckett. Beckett is a UK based illustrator whom I find incredibly inspiring—his detail and compositions are mesmerizing.

Are you involved in any creative projects or collaborations outside of work? 

I strive to always stay creative outside of the studio. Being a designer, you are often working to forge a narrative for others, and I think that it’s important to also explore and create for solely yourself. I’ve always had a passion for clothing design, so for the past 6 months I have spent free evenings designing a small streetwear line that will be launching soon. While that has been my primary creative focus outside of Watermark, I also love to illustrate, digital paint and sing (scream) in a post-hardcore band, Smoke Signals.

Big thanks to Sean for sharing his story and life after Shillington! Be sure to check out the website of the packaging studio he’s working at and follow him on Instagram.

Would you like to take your design studies to the next level like Sean? Study design 3 months full-time or 9 months part-time at Shillington in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane –> www.shillingtoneducation.com

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