#SNDDC speakers Carrie and Martin Gee on creativity, illustration and inspiration

We’re excited to introduce the award-winning art direction and illustration duo of Martin and Carrie Gee who will join us at SNDDC to share a look at their creative process. He’s a senior art director at TIME magazine and she’s a design director at Adweek.

Can you tell me about your current positions at Time and Adweek, as well some background on your careers?

Carrie: I’m a design director at Adweek in charge of special projects and custom content. So I work on select editorial projects that need a little TLC, I assist the creative director with finding artists/photographers for projects with unique needs, and I am in charge of all creative for advertorial sections at Adweek (print and digital). I have background in art direction, typography, design, and some illustration. Some previous employers include Font Bureau, Edible Vineyard, Fashion Boston and The Oregonian. Both Martin and I started in newspapers.


Martin: I’m the Senior Art Director at Time and work on feature stories, the front and back of the book and illustrations. I’ve also worked on some video, infographics and even papercraft. My background is in illustration and I always consider myself an artist first, journalist second or third. Before moving to New York to work at The Huffington Post, I’ve moved around quite a bit to work at the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, House of Blues (Los Angeles) to name a few.


Both of you have are well-recognized for marrying art direction and illustration, what can you tell me about your creative process?

Carrie: Well I think we’re both similar, but from my end I think collaboration is number one. I never walk into a project brainstorming session without ideas, and I think everyone should be bringing something to the table. It’s so important whether you’re on the commissioning side, or the artist side. I’m always doing sketches, and the artists and photographers I work with are always sending sketches or ideas the whole time we work together. We’re having an ongoing conversation. And that brings up the the other two important things for me: communication and organization to get things done well and on time.


Martin: We are?! Thanks! This is a general question that’s difficult to answer but with so much to say! How much time do you have? There’s no step-by-step or checklist. It just has to happen, be second nature and feel right. Oh yeah, sketch it out. =)

What can designers learn from illustrators and illustrators learn from designers?

Carrie: I think it’s all about consideration. I hear some illustrators complain that designers have it so easy they just draw boxes and pick colors, and designers complain that illustrators just make a doodle and want a million dollars for it. Let’s get real: None of us would have the careers we have if we were just screwing around. Designers/art directors are dealing with a ton of details and multiple people, building pages and layouts that hold art and copy to effectively tell a story. And illustrators are (usually) on the outside with no insight to the challenges, environment and personalities that the designer is dealing with. But it’s tough for them too, because all they have to go by is what the designer gives them. The struggle is real on both ends, and everyone should be aware of that and respect it.


Martin: Learn to do both! Design while you illustrate. Illustrate while you design. I usually rail against designers who don’t draw and rely on others for images. Learn how to draw and control the entire process. Also, a pet peeve, please don’t copy and paste vector art into InDesign. Just place the damn image. =) For illustrators, leave room for our headline and know we’re fighting for you behind the scenes.


What are the biggest challenges you face in art directing? In illustrating?

Carrie: An example for me as an art director is getting artists and photographers to take my assignments. Sometimes I don’t have the budget, or the amount of time that I’d like. I have a small group of people I love working with because they get as excited as I do about our projects. It’s tough to find many people out there like that, and it’s a challenge when I want to hire someone new.

Martin: Hiring illustrators is a tremendous luxury and having no budget is the worst. It’s a good thing we have newspaper backgrounds where it’s all DIY. With illustrating, I’m still terrified whenever I start a new assignment. Also, I suck at conceptual illustrations lately since I prefer to draw cute and tiny things.


Tell me about your favorite projects from this past year.

Carrie: I loved some of the lead illustrations I art directed for special sections because they are usually very technical or abstract concepts that I get to turn into something fun and easy to digest. As far as personal projects — I’ve been doing a lot of lettering practice lately and I actually got to do some for publication in Adweek’s Hot List feature this year.


Martin: I did a few Star Wars spot illos for Entertainment Weekly and I loved how they pushed me to be better and go beyond my comfort level. Getting paid to draw Star Wars and superheroes is pretty sweet. =)


Where do you look for inspiration?

Carrie: Everywhere. Being in New York is so amazing, because everywhere I go there’s so much to absorb I just turn into a sponge and absorb all the color, type, images, ideas, etc. I do the same when I travel. In fact, I have a dress I bought in Paris years ago that I made a color palette from because it was so inspiring. I still use that palette today!

Martin: Since Carrie already said “everything,” I’ll say stop looking and start making shit. It’s all minimal movie posters out there anyway. Ok… my Pinterest because it’s mostly LEGO robots.

Without spoiling it, can you share a sneak peek at your SND presentation?

Carrie: Well right now I can only say — we’re working to make sure EVERYONE walks away with something from this presentation. But maybe Martin can share some choice Gee-mojis as a preview…

Martin: Here are some Gee-mojis…


Like cool people? We’ll be profiling #SNDDC speakers all month. To register for the workshop, which runs April 9-11 in Washington, D.C., click here.

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of SND.org.

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