Hustlers: A Casual Conversation with David M. Smith
I’m pleased to share my first Hustlers interview since I shared the idea with you all last week; a chat with designer David M. Smith from San Fransisco.
David and I have been “internet pals” for a while now and I’m a happy customer of his texture packs which are 110% awesome. Last Friday he emailed me out of the blue asking if I would like one of his Love Kills pins as a gift. Needless to say, I gladly accepted thanking him when I realized he’d be great for the Hustler interview series. I put forward the vague idea and David graciously accepted. So huge thanks to him for bravely accepting my offer without me even having a clear idea of what I was doing. Without further ado, here’s our completely candid and off-the-cuff conversation.
Sabrina Smelko: “Love fast. Die often.” What does that mean? (Some back story for those who don’t know, this saying is in his about section on his website)
David M. Smith: Anyone that knows me, knows that I’m the romantic type. For all aspects of life, especially work. Those words were meant to be filled with a lot angst, a little ego, and i’m sure some insecurity. I tend to fall in love pretty quick, once you have my attention I really sink my teeth in and sell my soul. Becoming content or feeling safe in anything terrifies me. So whatever it is I’m doing I want it to make and break me. You can’t be afraid to fail, be hurt, or become vulnerable. That limp you walk with isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. But we’ll see how long I can work with a romanticized chip on my shoulder before it becomes too exhausting.
SS: Interesting! I could kind of gather that; I knew you either had to be the heart breaker or the one who’s had their heart broken. So when it comes to your work, do you think that remaining in a state of fear or discomfort or insecurity produces better work? Do you perhaps do it to yourself? If you were happily in love, or you won the lottery or were content/safe in some other way, do you think your work would look different?
DS: I wouldn’t say that I work in fear, actually the opposite. When you come to terms with insecurity or fear it give you a sense of control. Too many people view failure as the boogyman, I take it as a personal challenge. Once the stigma of blowing it isn’t viewed as a bad thing then you’re free to just make. Who knows if that’s what produces better work. I’m sure my internal standards don’t help the situation, it’s in every designers nature to be their own worst enemy.
The last time I started to feel safe I found myself moving to a completely new city in San Francisco without knowing a single person because it put me in way over my head and I needed that. I don’t think anything physical could reshape the way I work at this point, it’s the highs and lows of my childhood that gave me this self aware, melodramatic outlook on things.
SS: That’s a refreshing and mature take on it. I think our current culture loves to promote positivity and being fearless, but fear is an emotion and one that’s nearly impossible to negate. But I think we can change how it affects us, strip some of the negativity out and maybe fear less. So you live in San Francisco now; where did you grow up? Were you always creative (or aware of being creative)?
DS: Up until I made the move to SF I was born and raised in Southern California. People up here think I’m from LA, because I’ve discovered that if you mention Southern California, Los Angeles is the only city that exists. But actually most of my life was spent a little south, in the Inland Empire.
I kinda fall into that artist cliche where art was all I ever knew. Even by the age of 5 or 6 I was dead-set on a creative career, at that time it was a cartoonist. There never was a plan B. I don’t come from a family of artists, although we are all good with our hands and are pretty crafty people. My mom is an incredible cook/baker; brother is very tactical in regards to combat; sister has some of the most caring hands/heart I’ve ever known; and our oldest brother’s nickname is Jimmy-Rig because he’s a jack of all trades master of the most bizarre.
SS: Given the amount of heart and care you have in your craft, do you ever find it challenging to navigate the business side of a creative career? Do you ever feel like you’re selling out or sacrificing any craft with certain clients/projects? Or do you flat out say no to those jobs?
DS: Oh yeah it’s definitely a challenge, which at times makes it the most interesting part of the job. The self fulfillment you get from being an entrepreneurial driven designer comes from figuring out how to wear all those different hats. You earn every cent of each dollar you work for, not many jobs give you that sense of accomplishment. As designers worrying about getting technically better isn’t enough, we have to figure out how to get clients to even see our work, how to talk with them, email etiquette, contracts, figuring out how to write up a bid, deadlines, collecting deposits, what’s a kill fee?, networking, getting enough sleep, diet. Not to mention if you start making product of your own that’s a whole new list of things to deal with. It’s overwhelming, but anyone that does it knows it’s worth it.
As far as sacrificing quality, never. The business side of things can be a headache but if it’s effecting the way I make, it’s not something I want my hands on anymore. When it comes down to working on something, it doesn’t matter if I’m making a little chunk of change or nothing at all, I’ll fall in love with it. I will always care more about the success of design more than my success in design, if that makes sense.
I do say no to jobs more and more now that I have a full-time design job that pays the bills. My time is worth so much more to me now, I’d rather be pushing out a product of my own after hours or trying to get my hands on something new.
SS: It’s funny eh, the older I get the less I value overworking for no good reason. Things like making time to see my family, eating and literally relaxing are making it higher up my priority list, haha. You’re at Benny Gold now—what’s that like and what exactly do you do there? Are you given a healthy amount of creative freedom?
DS: And by relaxing you mean binge watching The Office on Netflix, right?
Benny Gold is a small but mighty team, man are they rad. I’m 1/3 of the creative team; Benny and I handle everything graphic/visual and Jason, our product guy, takes care of our cut & sew, materials, and hat development. Since we are a pretty intimate squad, we have our hands in everything which comes with a lot of creative freedom. I couldn’t ask for a better place to land once I moved here.
H&H: Precisely, haha. Man, Benny Gold sounds awesome and, by the looks and sounds of it, is such a great fit. I assume it comes with perks to the tune of new threads? On a somewhat related note, do you have any plans for the Holiday break? What about 2015? If this year was new starts and moving out of your comfort zone, what will next year look like?
DS: We warehouse all product at the office, so new clothes are only a few feet away; very chill. As for the Holiday, it’ll be the first time I won’t be with my family back home. Heading to Texas with my girlfriend Alyssa to stay with her family.
The last half of 2014 I decided to scale back on client work and finally make the time to work on product of my own, and damn did I love it. 2015 will definitely be spent on more of my own product and side projects. I try not to make too many specific goals, just to get better and trust my gut. Although there were also a few big gigs that got away this year, which now has turned into a personal challenge for next year.
Thank you for taking the time to do this and being crazy enough to have considered me for something like this.
SS: No, thank you! Happy Holidays.