How to become a self-made graphic designer - Getting started!

How to become a self-made graphic designer - Getting started!

It was 3 years ago I started to think about becoming a graphic designer. Well, this is what I'm now. I did not attempt any design school, because I preferred to use the huge amount of resources that the web offers and experiment by myself new techniques. In the following 3 articles I would like to share my experience with all those that approach the graphic design world and provide suggestions on how to find the best resources and how to avoid errors. Today we will talk about the first steps and the importance to study hard and be patient. The idea to write this article came from some WeGraphics friends, who sent me emails asking to share the experiences that made me a successful graphic designer. But let's make something clear: even if WeGraphics is a good business and after only 6 months from its birth is my full time job, I don't consider myself a great graphic designer (aaaabsolutely not!). I still have to work a lot. Having said that, my advices shall not be rules to follow, but simply suggestions. Here are the three chapters of the series: #1 - Getting started #2 - Marketing yourself #3 - Run your own business

Getting started

getting started The approach to the design world is something almost natural. Many graphic designers express their creativity since they were children. The changeover from felt-tip to Photoshop is physiological. In my case it was the result of coincidences. During my economic studies at the University I decided to start an online activity. Without any experience in this field I started to ask around about internet website prices. Since I did not have a consistent budget, I decided to create my own website, and with the help of a WYSIWYG* web design software I was able in a couple of month to set up a website aimed at promoting local products. Once completed the project I found that it was more important for me the concept of realization rather than the objects to be sold. Create web sites and interfaces was what I liked. * What You See Is What You Get The average age at which kids start to use a computer is becoming lower, that is why I see sometimes great jobs made by fifteen years old guys. In my case starting to use Photoshop at 20 years was almost discouraging at the beginning. But surfing through the net I discovered one of the best graphic designers, who is of mine best preferred still now, Nik Ainley. In his about page Nik says that he decided to be a graphic designer only after he get his university physics degree. Reading this words I learned that there is not an age when you want to study something, the interest and the passion will speed you up. [caption id="attachment_6760" align="alignnone" width="558" caption="Go Play by Nick Ainley"]Go Play[/caption]

Exploring the graphic design world...

Nik Ainley works pushed me to explore the graphics world where I discovered the existence of communities that periodically release packages of works developed on specific themes; Depthcore and SlashThree are two of those. What a beautiful and amazing things there are! What heterogeneity of styles! I realized that the graphics is a mean to bring out your feelings with the expression you want to do it without any compromise or limit. Not necessary the fact that we like professional works means we want to be a graphics, it simply is that we have an attitude toward this subject. How many times looking at these beautiful works we ask ourselves: will I ever be able to do things like these? I can tell you that if you already asked yourself this question you got it wrong, any work is the combination of inventiveness and technique. The first you can't learn but the second yes. I understood I had to acquire technique to be able to express my creativity. depthcore At this point having my goal of learning Photoshop very clear I started to check into the web if there were some tutorials published in Italian sites. With the exception of few interesting informations there wasn't a lot. Much more I found when I extended my search throughout the English sites. Fortuitously I found Psdtuts which is actually the Photoshop world best site. I started to follow the tutorials edited by Collis Ta'eed the founder of what has become during the last 4 years the best educational network of creativity related blogs, along with other great initiatives. Collis taught me three important things, first the Photoshop fundamentals, second that the graphics is not Photoshop and third that a myriad of business can be developed with the graphics. The last thing was what convinced me that this passion could be easily transformed in a profession. It that period blogs and Wordpress were expanding a lot. Most of the designers use their knowledge to set up a business on line. Despite my raising passion for the graphic, being a student of economics, I had a special attention for the "economic aspect" of the design industry. In particular my attention was captured by David Leggett of tutorial9 and Fabio Sasso of Abduzeedo. They are both great designers and their sites are still well appreciated in the design world. What I liked of David was the ability to publish interesting topics always object of search by utilizers. His tutorials were short, easily understandable and very helpful. Teaching Photoshop techniques and photography along with web design in general David was able to create a big community in a very short time. Fabio instead taught me many techniques to create Photoshop works able to capture the attention of the visitor. His tutorials still today are font of inspiration for many designers. Besides the graphic study I felt that was growing in me the need to share my knowledge, but I knew it was not still the time.

Study, study, study!

As already said graphics is not Photoshop. Again it is the marriage of technique and creativity. Technique is fundamental thereby if you wish to become a graphic it will be not sufficient to know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator nor be able to draw beautiful images on a piece of paper, you need to study. And thanks God internet provides an infinity of resources. Below is one of my first experiments. You can see there's creativity...but not much technique. [caption id="attachment_6768" align="alignnone" width="558" caption="nudity - one of my first experiments"]nudity[/caption] I do not want to debate about what is better to do between attending a school design or learn by yourself. Italy does not offer good institutes for design, and not having the possibility to go out in another state to study I can say I have been forced to proceed by myself. Obviously studying at home, and just you is not stimulating like being into a class with other persons that have your same passion. But I can say that in this field friendship opportunity will come do not worry. Let's talk know of the technical aspect of the study. It can be divided in two parts: theory and practice. The theoretical field includes the study of the colors, the typography, the importance of the logos, the brand identity, the style, the interaction with the user and many other aspects. The practice instead mostly deals with softwares and how to use them. I will suggest to study at the same time both theory and practice.
The interest and the passion will speed you up.
In order to help you during your course I collected a group of resources you can utilize such as books or web sites. Organize your days like real students; 2 hours fully dedicated to study typography, 1 hour about Photoshop tutorials, a break of half hour and keep going this way. If you really wish to become graphic professional do not waste your time on computer only being on Facebook or playing video games. Discipline is very important.


The culture is relevant but unfortunately has costs. Like previously said Internet is helpful but it is good to leave the computer sometimes to read a book on the same matter. Here following there is a list you can buy on Amazon: Note: No affiliate links;-)
  1. Meggs' History of Graphic Design As you can not be a lawyer without having studied the Roman laws, or be a politician without having studied the story of the parties, you can not be a graphic designer without having studied the story of the design.This book represents a need for this matter. In its fourth edition it continues the tradition of providing balanced insight and thorough historical background. This authoritative book offers expansive coverage of such topics such as Italian, Russian and Dutch design. It reveals a saga of creative innovators, breakthrough technologies and important design innovation.
  2. Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field This book presents groundbreaking, primary texts from the most important historical and contemporary design thinkers. It is organized in three sections: "Creating the Field" traces the evolution of graphic design over the course of the early 1900s, including influential avant-garde ideas of futurism, constructivism, and the Bauhaus; "Building on Success" covers the mid- to late twentieth century and considers the International Style, modernism, and postmodernism; and "Mapping the Future" opens at the end of the last century and includes current discussions on legibility, social responsibility, and new media.
  3. Art as Experience Based on John Dewey's lectures on esthetics, delivered as the first William James Lecturer at Harvard in 1932, Art as Experience has grown to be considered internationally as the most distinguished work ever written by an American on the formal structure and characteristic effects of all the arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature.
  4. How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul This book offers guidance on employment options straight out of college; setting up as a freelancer, establishing a firm, finding and keeping clients, pitching and generally doing good works.
  5. Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors This book explains how to: see what is really there rather than what you "know" in your mind about colored objects, perceive how light affects color, and how colors affect one another, manipulate hue, value, and intensity of color and transform colors into their opposites, balance color in still-life, landscape, figure, and portrait painting, understand the psychology of color, harmonize color in your surroundings.
  6. Itten: The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten A useful simplification and condensation of Johannes ltten's major work. The Art of Color, this book covers subjective feeling and objective color principles in detail. It presents the key to understanding color in ltten's color circle and color contrasts.
  7. Thinking with Type Young designer often make a confusion thinking that typography and font are the same. In reality typography is totally another field such important that Ellen Lupton consider it like a science, and conduct a deep study of the most basic designers' challenge: "The organization of letters on a blank page".
  8. Logo, Font & Lettering Bible This book is a comprehensive guide to the design, construction and usage of alphabets and simbols.
  9. Designing Logos: The Process of Creating Symbols That Endure What makes a logo good? What makes it bad? What makes it great? In this comprehensive guide, learn what it takes to create an enduring symbol. The entire process of logo design is examined, from the initial client interview to brainstorming, from first presentation to delivery of the final standards manual.


Being updated is a must, so very often I check my feed rss and read articles. Something you shall never forget is the time managing. Make a selection of web sites to follow. Read high quality articles only do not waste your time with never end lists. For example if a site will publish an article titled " 30 best photoshop tutorial" okay read it, but if they will continue only editing these type of article forget it. Here is a list of my preferred sites on graphic design:


It is one of the most inspirational sites for designers. It is updated continuously on daily basis. The variety of topics they deal with run from exploring the graphic world, publishing tutorials to the discovery of new design talents. Fabio Sasso, the founder, is still full active in creating resources and awesome tutorials. sites to follow


This is the blog of the talented motion designer Alexander Alexandrov. This blog is rich of video tutorials that explain in details how to create 3D scenes in 4D Cinema and After Effects. To be visited if you are projecting to access the 3D graphic world. sites to follow

David Airey's Blog

The portfolio of the well known graphic designer David Airey offers interesting ideas and quality contents. Specifically David treats about logo design and design marketing. sites to follow


It is a recent blog which is growing up fast. It is managed by Jacob Gube the founder of SixRevisions. It is highly suggested for young designers that want to deal with a vast audience, and is an opportunity to learn new design techniques. sites to follow


This web site contains many exceptional informations for vectorial graphic. Jeff Finley and other cool guys of GoMedia have their unique style which shows up in their articles as long as their famous works. sites to follow


It is absolutely the most important Photoshop site in the world. Founded by Collis Ta'eed is today a huge multi-author machine with thousands of interesting tutorials. sites to follow


It is the blog of Chris Spooner and proposes fantastic tutorials often focalized on Illustrator techniques. Chris is always seeking for new methods that after shares with his followers. sites to follow

The Design Cubicle

This blog was founded and is managed by Brian Hoff. It is mainly focused on logo design and brand identity. sites to follow


Founded by David Leggett as a blog for the publication of useful photoshop tutorials and unique graphic resources. It has been recently turned into a community where designers can share top-quality articles and informations. sites to follow


This Ryan Putman creature seems to be the place for those that like Illustrator and vectorial graphic. Its tutorials simply fantastic. sites to follow


It's the Psdtuts sister, focused on Adobe Illustrator. Here you can find hundreds of tutorials for any level of competence and preference. sites to follow

WeGraphics blog

I could not miss our blog in the list. Here at WeGraphics we are not only specialized in the creation of superb quality design resources, we also share our knowledge throughout our blog. Here you can find a lot of inspirational articles along with outstanding Photoshop tutorials. sites to follow

Be patient!

Studying is as necessary as frustrating. The problem is that it is hard to convert our ideas into digital forms. But what seems to be a limit shall be a spur to gain our goal. Remember tutorials only teach you the basics then all the rest is left to you to realize. Experimenting new techniques and using acquired knowledge you will be able to obtain improvable results. With the time you will realize that keeping to follow tutorial has no sense. At this point a phase of emulation is natural. Do you like a particular work? Well try to remake it with your personal style. There is nothing wrong about learning from others unless it is only a repeated copy without creating something original. Time ago I wrote an article about this matter: How to turn inspiration from others into personal works. Reaching your own style is a natural process. There is not a written method to follow. You will realize that there are techniques, a use of colors and in general a way to do that with the time will become part of you. Same thing is for the style. it shall be something that dynamically evolves. Do not disdain, after years of work, to follow a tutorial if you think you can learn something new and interesting. With that said now you can understand the reason of the title of this paragraph. Before starting to work and have profit from you need to study a lot. Be patient and manage the time you have and you see the results will arrive.

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