An Interview with Trey Ingram

Over at DESIGN, we’ve been interviewing designers whose work we love – and lately we’ve been hugely impressed with the work that Trey Ingram has been creating. He was kind enough to agree to be interviewed about how he got started and the varied designs that he creates – thanks so much for the interesting answers Trey!

Can you give a bit of a background as to how you got started as a designer?

Sure thing, and thanks for this amazing feature! My name is Trey Ingram and I am a designer, illustrator and screen-printer from Jacksonville, Florida. From an early age I have always been fascinated with illustration, and I recall specifically taking interest back when I used to subscribe to Nintendo Power magazines as a kid. Once my parents introduced me to tracing paper, it was on! I was able to start emulating styles of illustration and learned so much from that process. My parents also bought me an illustrated lettering book, which had all kinds of crazy styles in it. My goal to become an artist started early with dreams of illustrating at Disney, but then later (around college) evolved into a desire to work as a graphic designer. I believe this had much to do with the influence from my friends and professors, who encouraged me to explore this as a career.

Skull Squeegee[Above: Skull Squeegee]

After school I began my path as a graphic designer, from the fast-paced sign shop job to the design agency life. I loved the variety of work and challenges I was constantly being fed, because one minute I was concepting for logos, and then the next I would be asked to create illustrations for packaging labels on another project. For many years I did this and learned how to be diligent enough to earn my paycheck every Friday. However, I eventually discovered that I was disconnected from the art community, but that all changed when one of my employers accompanied me to a conference called Creative South. It was as if my eyes had been opened to this magical world of artists, designers, letterers, photographers and illustrators who all had such diverse and amazing work, but none of the ego or competitive nature that I had formerly associated with incredible talent. These people were genuine, and all had the common goal to absorb the inspiration and motivation from their fellow artists. This was a community where I belonged, and it inspired me to create just for the fun of it… not just to pay the bills.

Where do you get your inspiration from, and which other designers work do you admire?

I collect inspiration from all kinds of places! My go-to online ones are Dribbble and Pinterest, but I like to also step away from the screen and flip pages in my growing book collection. Let’s see, there’s the LogoLounge series, anything from Counter-Print, In Progress by Jessica Hische, and Pretty Much Everything by Mr. Aaron James Draplin. I also enjoy the “art of” books from Disney or other animated movies – it is absolutely wonderful to see the sketches of incredible artists and how they arrive at certain characters or scenes. Another trick I’ve learned is to re-locate from my home office, pack up my sketchbook and spend a day over at the beach or a local coffee shop. This gives me much-needed clarity for my thoughts and a new perspective for ideas and concepts. I also can’t forget Super Target, which has taken hold of my heart (and wallet)! I live within walking distance to one of these stores, and oftentimes I will haunt their aisles to check out packaging design, toys, greeting cards and more.

Currently I am drawn to the work of artists like Clark Orr, Nick Slater and Matt Carlson, just to name a few. They are constantly producing amazing works of art in their own unique style, but they are humble and hard-working folks under all that. That, I believe, is the most important thing – to remember that we are all just humans trying to live to our best potential, and I admit that I have more respect for those that can do this while also cranking out beautiful art.

What are some of your favourite designs that you’ve created?

I still have one piece from high school that stands out as an accomplishment of hard work and number of hours I put into it – a stipple (dotted illustration) of Darth Vader in a menacing pose. I guess I had wanted to really challenge myself since he was mostly black and required millions of dots to fill in, ha! More recently, I am enjoying the fantasy landscape and structure illustrations I have made, like Seaside Village and Exploration.

Fantastical Scenes[Above: http://www.treyingram.com/#/fantastical-scenes/]

I also like creating for the design conferences that have given me so much happiness, and it was an honor to make Creative Sting for Weapons of Mass Creation Fest.

Creative Sting by Trey Ingram[Above: Creative Sting]

I have also had a ton of fun with the sticker designs I made for Creative South, so it sorta feels like I’m giving back a small token of what these events have given to me.

Refuel Creative South Sticker[Above: Creative South Sticker]

You’ve got a broad range of mediums that you work across, including product packaging, icons, logos, stickers and t-shirts – are there any of these mediums that you find easier than others, and which do you prefer working with?

This is a question I often ask myself, and to be honest I love them all! I still consider myself a Work In Progress. One of those designers who is good at a lot of different things, but not yet great at any one thing. I have always intended to keep working hard at as many forms of art as I could in order to naturally “fall into” the category that felt right for me. I suppose I would place logos, stickers and t-shirt design in the top three that I enjoy the most. That might also have to do with the fact that I seem to get asked for those things the most when it comes to paying gigs 🙂

Ink Slinger[Above: Ink Slinger]

You’ve set up your own screen-printing t-shirt company – how challenging was it for you to get set-up, and what advice could you give to other designers thinking about creating products for themselves (rather than client work)?

Atlantic Ink Crew is an adventure born from curiosity! I have always been fascinated by screen-printing, and I was greatly inspired by the kind folks I met at Creative South: Mama’s Sauce, Real Thread and Hey Monkey Design (just to name a few). They are all such great advocates of education, sharing their process, and in helping to encourage others in the art community. So my own printing business began as side work for me to make some extra money while I was working at an agency design job, but it has blossomed into much more. For about a year I juggled both, and I’ll admit it was very exhausting. I could only work late at night, or on the weekends. I am also self-taught – I watched video tutorials and I have made TONS of mistakes. I experienced burnout many, many times, and if it weren’t for my fantastic friends and family I probably would have thrown in the towel. They are my support system, always there to encourage me when times are tough.

I knew eventually I would have to decide between the two jobs, because I couldn’t keep up that pace forever… so just recently (June 2016) I left the digital design agency I was with for 6 years and made the decision to pursue printing with all my energy. I think what appeals most to me is the change of pace it provides. I am so accustomed to spending vast amounts of hours in front of the screen that it is refreshing to break away and use my hands to create. It truly is a manual and hands-on process, and there is so much satisfaction when I can deliver a custom-printed t-shirt to a customer.

Atlantic Ink Crew[Above: Atlantic Ink Crew]

To those who want to create their own products, the biggest piece of advice I wish I knew from the start would be to build slowly and avoid taking unnecessary risks. I have supplies and equipment that I purchased hastily with the intent to use them… but still haven’t found the right use for them. It wasn’t necessarily wasteful, but in hindsight I wish I would have waited and built up my equipment at a slower rate. Also, test your products by using mockups and engage in online communities to see how much interest is out there. To anyone considering launching their own business, I would say that the best thing you can gain is the ability to recognize not only your strengths, but also your weaknesses. I have found this extremely vital to growing in my journey. Make time for reflection and examine your own work/progress. I believe you will naturally get advice and critiques from other people, but at the end of the day you have to be content with the direction of your own work, and whether it is fulfilling the requirements of your lifestyle.

A huge thanks to Trey for agreeing to be interviewed – you can find more of Trey’s work on his Dribbble portfolio and his website, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TreyBlueTrey.

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