An Interview with Canton Parker
It’s come to my attention that many people wish to make a living out of music and entertainment related careers but sadly (some, if not most) hardly ever know where to start, how to begin, where to study, what to do and basically – how to get a leg in there, and it’s frustrating (i know). I mean granted, there is a ton of resources available to be reviewed online but only a few of those are actually SA-Centric and that’s what inspired this column.
Without going into much detail; ‘An Interview With…’ is, in some ways, a career guide that shelters ‘Q&A’ interviews with various SA-Based industry professionals who work both in the spotlight and behind scenes. In here, you’ll find that we offer advice, tips and guidance to people facing a variety of career challenges and every post will highlight the pros/cons, roles and range of responsibilities that come with these different professions. So, if you’re based in South Africa and wish to make a living out of a music related career, this segment is definitely tailored for you.
Right, so the first installment explores the Graphic Design profession – and the expert featured in this post is one of my favourite South African graphic wizards named Canton Parker.
Canton Parker is (among other things) a seasoned Graphic Designer, Photographer, Freelancer, and most recently the co-founder & graphic designer of Horizon by Design. He has worked with a variety of clients, from emerging electronic music DJ/Producer and 5FM’s Ultimix(Weekend Edition) Resident DJ Adie, to some of South Africa’s finest indie-giant imprints; F! Records and Soul Candi Recordings. Thus, I was very excited and pleased when he agreed to do this interview because Canton has established a good presence in the South African music and entertainment industry, plus, the brother never stops working on his unique talent and skill sets, making him the perfect wizard for this segment. His work is amazing, he knows how to construct and communicate a message through images beautifully, and he masters a wide variety of skills and concepts on a whole new level (so what more could I ask for, really?!). With that said: let’s find out more find about this coveted chef and why he’s become the go-to guy for SA-music brands looking to stand out from the crowd.
Hi Canton, Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Can we start with your educational and career background…
Who is Canton Parker and How long have you worked in this career field?
Canton Parker? Many seem to think that it’s an alias. Others, a company. But in all honestly it’s actually my name. What better way to represent yourself but with a name that (thanks to my parents) stands out and that everyone would remember. Strange yes… But it’s worked thus far. Art has always been my passion. Taking something from pen to PDF is just incredible. How you can make something… Anything… from absolute nothing. I have been in this profession since 2009 and when looking back? I wouldn’t change a thing. I love to create. I love to inspire, aspire and let others imagine – what if? The greatest payment that an artist could ever receive is to know that his/her work is appreciated.
What attracted you to this industry and what were you doing then?
Since an early age I began drawing and sketching minor art pieces. Even to the point of sketching on myself with pen when the teachers denied me pieces of paper. I would often walk around and look at objects, people and shapes and think to myself what could work to make it look different. Adding something abstract, subliminal, diverse, anything! It was something that always left an itch on my brain to do… To create… I would see what people could create on digital programming and how they could take a simple black and white sketch and simply add some visual effects and color, and just like that… My steps into Design & Photography began. I was still in high school at the stage that I decided to further my creativity and passion for art. From there? A mate of mine introduced me to the programs that the “big leagues” were using.
How did you get started? (How did you attain the necessary education/training/experience to get where you are today?)
From that I started using the programs that would “fine tune” my skills, I further did some research that would teach me from A-Z of what needed to be done. From day in to day out I would just explore these programs and look at examples to try combine two design elements that would compensate each other. Well, from one You Tube video to another I started becoming more familiar with how everything worked and what could be used where. From the ages of 16-18 I started some courses at Vega – Brand Communications School (College) that taught me how to interact with surrounding parties to gain a “different” level of experience. From being the youngest there I was looked at being very small and inferior but soon after was approached by fellow students between the ages of 20-25 to assist them in learning and understanding design techniques and program use. That was and still is one of the highlights of my career. How being asked to assist those older than Me when I myself, didn’t know too much. After that? Went back to the drawing board in private and just kept practicing, drawing, sketching, and viewing examples. But… With that being said, you will never stop learning – I still today learn new techniques and design styles that I strive to perfect.
When and how did you land your first design gig? Can you share the experience?
From just practicing day in and day out I often would have family members and family friends overlook what I was doing until one day someone approached me to do their branding. I was so overwhelmed to the point that my nerves went through the roof. That I got to be the tip of the pen that would make the ”face” of someone’s company. And from there? It has been referrals ever since. As I have always been told. “The best form of advertising is Word of Mouth”
Is there any particular application, style of work or technique that you experiment with?
I work in various applications. Majority being that of the Adobe franchise. This includes that of: Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, In-Design etc.) and Adobe Lightroom. I work off Canon Only (Nikon is just as good though) and various lighting for both indoor and out door photography.
How is your thought process and how does your creative process work?
My work process is rather peculiar. I will be relaxing and at one point and a design concept or idea would come to mind. I will be walking with my camera and a simple thought will spark a photographic look. Other work processes involve those of actually sitting down, grabbing a pen, putting some music on and brainstorming ideas that would work best for what is needed. Everyone with a creative insight will know that everyone has different creative works and processes. That’s the beauty of being an Artist.
What is the single most important lesson you learned since you started?
My single most important lesson? Would be that Art… has no right or wrong. No “this is better than that” scenario. It’s ART. It’s an EXPRESSION. It’s a FEELING. That one artist is not and never will be greater than the other. Every Artist is great in their own way. Society just seems to follow Phases.
Have you ever missed a deadline? If so, how did you handle it? What did you do?
In every Designer’s Career a deadline will be missed somehow, somewhere. Whether it be the Designers fault or the client. The one deadline I did miss (once upon a time), I just took a 36 hour work session and completed everything from Start to finish that after which – the client was extremely happen. If you managed to get yourself into a deadline situation – you can get yourself out just as fast by commitment and determination.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you see facing graphic design industry today?
The biggest challenge? Wow, that is not hard at all. By far the greatest challenge that not Only I, but I am sure that every designer faces is ‘Competition’. While some designers just go about their ways – others strive to slander, threaten, and confront on situations that never existed purely because they themselves feel threatened and feel as if they need to act to be on ‘top’. It’s quite a shame actually. EVERY designer is different. They all have their own showcase of ART. Just like a tattoo artist – some prefer black and white while others prefer color. Some prefer the old school look while other work towards realism. Every designer is different. Another challenge that has been consistent year after year are trends. A Designer has to stick to the trends of society weather he/she likes it or not. The biggest way to get a name? Is to do what society wants.
What do you think are the pros/cons about your field?
The pros and cons of the Design and Photographic field would be people. In this career you get the opportunity to share in others passions, dreams, lifestyles, cultures, and so on. While some people will be the client you never want to leave and that you would do anything for, to the client that you “just want to get it over with” attitude. But… your career is only as good as you make it.
One doesn’t get a second chance to make a first impression. What can job-seekers (in your sector/field) do to make a memorable first impression during an interview?
Definitely presentation. Showcase yourself as YOU ARE! You ARE an ARTIST and you are a representation of Your Work… Showcase it. Present your portfolio, CV, clientele history etc. in such a manner that both appearance and speech of what is being presented will have a “must have” outcome to the interviewer. Don’t hold back on ideas – share your thoughts – your creativity. Show them that you WANT it. And that You WANT to do it. What would Art be without Interest?
How do you find clients?
Clientele varies from Country to Country as well as Different professions. Some clients will outsource designers. Some designers will out source clients. Sometimes it’s a scenario of sitting at a restaurant and recommending a “brush up” on branding. In some cases I would approach people/companies and offer a free of charge service just so that I could see that “brand” or “image” being showcased in a positive and creative light. Society focuses too much on the outside until they realize the greatness on the inside. Also it’s all a matter of client satisfaction. If you make the client happy – they will send others your way.
In general – How do you approach the design of an album cover?
The amazing thing between Art and Music is they are both forms of Creativity. One being that which you can see and the other hear. It is always important to have a compensating image towards an album or track. Not necessarily something that goes “too deep into meaning” but something that stands out. Something that when you look at – you would want to listen to just out of curiosity. Where One Heart Creates – Another Feels.
What is the secret to responding to the client’s needs whilst always maintaining a recognizable style?
The typical and cliché term… “The Client is Always Right”. No matter what ideas or concepts you might have – if the client has a vision and knows what he/she/they want. Just do it – Don’t argue. Even if you need to change your style. Remember – Change is good.
What are the 3 most memorable projects you have worked on and why?
Firstly, it would be the very first Design project(s) I managed to work on. Being nervous and worried of failing I had Faith and came to the conclusion that it’s not ‘Me’ that is making the magic. But rather God Almighty guiding Me to Create and Stand Out. Which I still today, and always will be thankful for. Secondly and Definitely My first Album Design with the DJ compilation of Clive Bean, Nick Essential and Kevin Grenfell – DEEPER SOUNDS OF. I will always be extremely grateful to the main man Nic Burger for giving me (and still giving me) the opportunities to work on such amazing projects. Just as big as Deeper Sounds Of is to me, so is that of SOUL CANDI SESSIONS 2014 with DJ Claude, Harael Salkow, Vaalsow, Euphonik and DJ Game. I got the opportunity to create the 2014 Soul Candi Imagery and was so Blessed to have successfully pulled it off.
Graphic designers are largely judged based on their portfolios. How do you determine which designs to include and which to leave out? (Furthermore, how do you make it stand out?)
Again… The presentation on how you showcase yourself is important as it is a representation of You. Yes, some designs and photographs will not ‘quite’ make it in due to a certain ‘standard’ but nonetheless – the selection of what has had the most positive feedback and what is showcased as the “industry norm” or a best representation of The Artist will defiantly stand out to whoever is looking at it. It is also important to keep updating it. Always have something new to showcase.
How would you advice graphic designers to communicate and sell themselves, as well as their services, during interviews ?
Just to present themselves in the best way possible. Let it be a showcase of past or current work or even just a speech on their background. The greatest form of Art is something that is True in meaning.
What weaknesses in a person’s skill-set would make him/her ineffective in this industry?
Lack of Determination and Passion. It is important for a designer to ALWAYS want to “Better” himself/herself.
As well as being a Graphic Designer, you also offer photography services . How is your daily routine (routine) split between graphic design and photography?
Some days would be an ‘all out’ Design day while others would be Photography with image post production. If there are many Design deadlines to be met then Photography would just have to be on hold until a Photographic Deadline comes in. Then it is just a matter of Time Management, Planning ahead and ensuring that there is room for correction if needed.
What can we expect to see from you in the future? Working on any new projects?
From 2014 I am improving and changing my portfolio both in showcase and new material. There are many projects that I have worked on in the end of 2013 but have decided to hold off publishing until early 2014. It’s always good to start fresh. In with the new and out with the old. There are also many new personal design sets I have been working on in my spare time to showcase. Definitely looking forward to the feedback. And lastly… Horizon By Design will be kicking off with new designs and Styles. Both Myself, David and Vin are excited to get started on the new aspects of the Brand. It’s all for the Love of Art!
In closing – What tips (advice) tailored specifically to graphic designers that can help them in and their first job offer or new client?
Don’t Rush. Art is and was not meant to be a “slap together”. Take your time – Get some inspiration. Ask for some ideas from family and friends and try combine the two. Let your work be an extension of yourself.
Thank you so much, once again, for taking the time to do this interview.
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