“The community is the biggest thing for me. It’s the part of design I never saw coming.”
Three and a half years into his architecture degree, Bob Ewing realized that his heart lay in graphic design. What he didn’t know, then, was that his passion for hand-lettering would lead to a personal project, #hashtaglettering, winning national acclaim. Or that his love of buttons would evolve into INCHxINCH, a forward-thinking non-profit that helps fund youth art education.
“I was going to school at night at first,” he says, recalling the start of his journey into graphic design. “It wasn’t until I left the window-door company where I was working for an internship at a small digital printshop that I started to take classes during the day.”
Going back to school was a completely different experience, the second time around. When he left, he started working for an agency – but although some of the work was fun, he wasn’t super-fulfilled by what he was creating.
That’s when he started reading two blogs: one by self-taught letterer Ryan Hamrick, who was trying to figure out his way; the other from designer Lenny Terenzi, who talked about how practice makes perfect.
Bob realized he’d never get any better in anything unless he started doing it. That lunch break he created his first lettering piece, and #hashtaglettering was born – a daily lettering project that would bring him feedback, progression and an army of social media followers over the next year.
“It was the first time I felt like this is what I’m supposed to do,” he explains. “I still have a lot to learn and figure out, but when I’m lettering, I’m in my sweet spot.”
“I really enjoy the physical drawing aspect of lettering,” he continues. “Plus, drawing letters is far easier than drawing people. I love how you can evoke a certain emotion or era. It also feels endless – like I don’t think I could get bored with it because I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of what I can do.”
Designing your career
Since July 2014, Bob’s been working at Indianapolis agency, Element Three. Towards the end of last year he transitioned from art director into a designer/illustrator role, where he splits his time between working on E3 marketing illustrations and lettering, client work, and the agency’s acclaimed workshop series Fuse Sessions – which brings leading creative professionals to Indianapolis (like Aaron Draplin, Andy J Miller and Erik Marinovich) to teach core elements of their craft.
It’s no coincidence that prolific House Industries’ type designer Ken Barber took the first-ever Fuse Session. Long inspired by Ken’s work, Bob pitched the idea to his Element Three creative director after finding himself unable to attend one of Ken’s workshops at New York’s Cooper Type.
“My creative director saw a gap in the indy creative landscape for these types of workshops,” explains Bob, adding that the agency is currently gearing up for its ninth workshop.
This heady mix of passion, free thinking and willingness to act is increasingly putting Indianapolis on the creative map – and players like Bob and Element Three are at the heart of it.
However, as Bob’s story shows, having a progressive employer is only half the story: designer-studio relationships work both ways. To create change, you have to be hungry for opportunity and ready to take action.
It’s also about honesty, adds Bob. “Last year I was at a low point,” he admits. “I wasn’t super happy with the work I was creating and I think it started to show.”
Another conversation with his creative director led to his new role as a designer/illustrator. “Because of that decision, I’m still at E3 and things are really good: I just get to make stuff every single day,” he says.
“Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself and have a conversation,” he advises. “If you aren’t happy, it will show through – whether you think you’re hiding it or not. Life is way too short to be unhappy.”
Small things make a difference
And what of INCHxINCH, the monthly one-inch button club that Bob runs with his childhood pal Drew Hill? The non-profit has grown steadily since the pair launched it back in March 2015, swelling to some 700 members across 43 states and 12 different countries at its highest moment.
Here’s how it works: members of INCHxINCH receive three one-inch buttons every month, designed by a nationally recognised artist. An annual membership costs $50 ($60 if you’re outside the States), with proceeds donated to two youth art education charities: Art With A Heart, and 826CHI. For non-members, you’ll find all kinds of swag over at the store shop.
Bob’s learned a lot through INCHxINCH – and if you’re thinking of launching your own gig, he has advice: “Running a business is far more work than you could ever imagine,” he says. “Get your ducks in a row from the start. Get a lawyer, CPA and get your books in order.”
“As far as the non-profit, it’s a long process and you’ll need help navigating through it. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, and will continue to do so, but make sure you learn from those mistakes,” he continues. “Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for their advice or just to see how they do things. You can learn a lot from someone who’s already been where you are.”
For Bob, learning and community go hand-in-hand with his love of creating. “I love design. I love everything about it, from creating to the community – it’s the part of design I never saw coming,” he smiles. “I have friends all over the world and it’s just because of this thing called design. Don’t underestimate the importance of community.”
Creative Giants: In this new series we’re looking at inspirational creatives with a thirst for learning and pushing the boundaries. They aren’t afraid to take risks. They face each new challenge with optimism, grit and passion. And they’re changing the world around them, one step at a time.