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Design Advice from Col McElwaine

The equally talented and humble Col McElwaine recently joined Shillington Brisbane’s part-time class to answer students burning questions on life in design. His advice was simple: “Do you, dog!”. Scenario: You’ve graduated from Shillington with a killer portfolio… now what? Col’s tips are sure to get you on your feet!

  1. Intern—learn for free, but don’t work for free. Your work has value!
  2. Stay on your tools.
  3. Be awesome (so people want you around).
  4. Grind on through.

“Just reach out to your heroes! Don’t be shy, they’re all people. They’re totally cool with it—even flattered! I once wrote to Stefan Sagmeister asking what he was reading. He replied pretty much instantly, and I realised he’s not as busy as I thought.”

A freelance illustrator/designer, Col’s work ranges from magazines, surfboards and skateboards to murals and street art—”designing can be pretty heavy, but it’s the funnest job ever”. If you’re entering the industry and need some honest advice, read our top quotes from Col’s guest lecture;

  • When you’re freelancing, you’ve got to be a chameleon.
  • Always say ‘yes’. If someone asks: “Can you do this?” answer, “I’ll be able to in a few days!”.
  • If you show ten dogs a sausage, you’ll quickly find out which dogs are vegetarian. In other words… just put your work out there!
  • “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind. You never know who’s going to offer you your next opportunity”—Kurt Vonnegut.
  • Sometimes I’ve come out of an interview cringing into oblivion. For example, when I showed a sports company an illustration of Jesus on a bike… but it turned out they loved it, and it turned into something rad.
  • You might do stuff that sucks when you start off, but it’s one way of learning to do stuff that doesn’t suck.
  • If you want to get paid to do something, you need to create it first. People want to see evidence of your abilities beforehand.
  • “When you put a design out there, it’s like your kid. Then it becomes a teenager and starts talking back, and you’re like ‘What’s going on?! I made you!’. The best example of this is websites.”
  • Network. Go to events. REALLY THOUGH.

“The rush you get when you see yourself out in the wild is unreal.”

Our most asked question during guest lectures is “How do you work through a creative block?” Get your ideas flowing and avoid the struggle by following Col’s three simple techniques.

  1. Write down all your ideas because an idea you thought had no future, might become something tomorrow.
  2. Give yourself opportunities to be bored… you’ll get the sickest ideas.
  3. Listen to podcasts. My favourite podcast is Australian Design Radio.

A huge thanks to Col for ‘keepin’ it real’ in the classroom. Check out Col’s murals around Toowoomba, or head over to his Website and follow him on Instagram to see his latest work.

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