By Tim Stacey
It’s never been easier to say you’re a graphic designer. The modern day ubiquity of what was once much more expensive, scarce and unintuitive technology has allowed for a boom of self-employed, self-promoting and self-starting industry members, which can at times muddy the waters for those that are looking for the right graphic designer.
“It’s kind of like, if you have a camera or an Instagram account, you think you’re a photographer,” said Jordan Versluis. “The tools make it easier to accomplish certain tasks, but they don’t give you the creativity to be a real whiz at this kind of work. A better camera doesn’t mean you framed the shot properly or that you got a good shot, it just means it’s higher quality or it auto-levelled out for you. Same thing goes for design, you know. I might be able to make a Visio curve a lot easier now in Illustrator, but that doesn’t mean that I’m doing a better job overall or that I had a better idea.”
Versluis — a local graphic designer whose work you’d recognize around the downtown and throughout the Niagara region — was recently selected as one of a limited number of featured artists to create poster designs for nominees for the Polaris Music Prize. With artists including Basia Bulat, Grimes, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kaytranada, Jessy Lanza, PUP, Andy Shauf, U. S. Girls, and White Lung, Versluis was well-matched with Vancouver rock band Black Mountain.
As opposed to say, Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy pop songs, Black Mountain’s edge lends itself to an artist with Versluis’ particular style. Versluis’ portfolio exudes a gothic aesthetic, making continually effective use of black, white, and an occasional murky wash of colour, more akin to the hues found in places that are unaccustomed to light.
“I was recommended by a friend, and normally when I check out things like this, it’s kind of like you do the work first and they might pick you and you’ll get exposure from it, but nobody likes doing those. [In this case, they said] we’re actually going to review all of the artists and choose the ones that we feel are best for us. So a couple months later, they said ‘We love your style, we think you would be suited to Black Mountain’s album IV.
It’s interesting how they match up the artist style with the album that they feel it’s best suited to.”
Just as Versluis’ own style made him a fitting choice as the featured artist for Black Mountain, he has also found that it defines his graphic design career as a whole, helping to set him apart from the many other, often more uniform options on the market.
“People establish a difference between themselves and the competition by carving out their own niche,” said Versluis. “Not only is it a matter of learning the proper tools and when and how to use them […] it’s a matter of picking the right tool for the job. If you look at my work, it’s very gritty, it’s very textured. I’m known for doing a heck of a lot of texture in all of my work. Usually, you can pick out what I do from a handful of other designers.”
This style is evident back through some of his earlier commissioned works, such as in 2013, when Versluis was commissioned by the Southern Ontario Metal Festival to create a design in line with their sea monster aesthetic.
“They asked me to do whatever I wanted just based on what they had already seen,” said Versluis. “Their theme every year was some kind of sea monster, and they always get a different tattoo artist to do it up, so they decided to change it up that year, and they had me do one. So, I think doing that got me a little bit of notoriety or at least a little bit of attention.”
Beyond a graphic artist’s visual niche, Versluis has found the professional side of the work to be just as important. Having a command of the right tools, and a style that sets you apart from the competition are a start, but successful graphic design requires hard work that extends beyond the product itself.
“I also believe that work ethic has a lot to do with it,” said Versluis. “Certain designers and certain people in general just don’t have the work ethic that it takes to have the communication, the follow-up, the meetings with clients, to actually take the time to discover what they need as a product from you and how you can help fulfill that service.”
It can also help to know the right people. One of Versluis’ designs that you’d likely recognize is that of Mindbomb Records, found on James street in between the Craft Arts Market (another of Versluis’ clients) and the James Street Lofts. Versluis had worked with Mindbomb’s founder Chris Charkowy at the Pen Centre’s Sunrise Records years back.
“We went through a few different designs, and this was sort of one of the ones where as soon as you saw it, we were both: ‘Yep, that’s it’,” said Versluis. “A couple of them I had like a mushroom cloud, where the cloud was a brain (like ‘mind’). Another one was actually influenced by this venue that used to be around here called Mindbomb. [Chris] gave me a snapshot of this old windbreaker that he had with the old Mindbomb logo on it, and he wanted me to do something similar, like a big atomic bomb. It was OK but it just didn’t fly. I like combining the visuals of different things and so, in this case, it’s a bomb and record. I thought that that just really spoke to him and his store and his style, especially once you see the esthetic of the store.”
St. Catharines is statistically one of the most difficult places in Canada to look for a job right now, which at its worst can make for a miserable quality of life, but at its best, fosters a competitive, lucrative market that rewards the best that our city has to offer.
“There’s a lot to sift through; finding a really good designer is like finding a needle in a haystack now, same thing with photographers and website designers as well,” said Versluis. “There’re so many people in Niagara who do graphic design and we have a lot of talent here, but in general I think it takes a bit of work to really recognize quality designers versus somebody who just sort of patches something together.”
Check out Jordan Versluis’ newly designed website at jordanversluis.net and follow him on Instagram for more art: jordan.versluis. [S]