When Jay Roeder didn’t know an answer to a math problem in grade school, he did what he knew best: he drew a Ninja Turtle. “I still think that this was the best possible answer to the problem,” Jay told us in an exclusive interview on his work, influences, and upcoming projects. Jay is a freelance illustrator and designer who, like many artists, couldn’t keep himself from making art as a kid. His work is filled with throwback items like boomboxes and Ninja Turtles and we got to talk with him about what drives his nostalgia. He focuses on hand-lettering and has worked with a number of notable brands, including Nike, TV Land, GAP and Monster.com. He is proud to be an obsessed letterer, and he is a big fan of Extensis, retro games, sneakers and coffee.
How would you describe your work and your overall aesthetic?
JAY: I love describing my hand-lettering style as embraced imperfection. Being a perfectionist, it was not until I learned how to accept the crooked lines, misaligned type and illegibility that my lettering took on character and interest. As odd as it seems, these imperfections can have just as much craft as perfection. If you look at any great hand lettering artist’s work, you will see these “errors” are not accidents at all.
How have your early influences and/or feelings of nostalgia influenced your work?
JAY: A lot of my art is nostalgia based, and some of that has to do with memories I have of growing up in Minnesota. Things like boomboxes, Nintendo, and Ninja Turtles were a big part of my childhood, which is why I can’t stop drawing them, even in a lot of the work I do today.
How would you describe your journey from a “childhood doodler” to a professional artist with agency and teaching experience?
JAY: While most kids wanted to be firemen or astronauts, I knew I’d pursue a career in the arts at a young age. If you looked at my homework throughout grade school, you would think that every class was an art class because I drew racecars and ninja turtles on virtually everything. I remember one such story when I didn’t know the answer to a math problem, so I simply drew a Ninja Turtle’s head in the answer space – I still think that this was the best possible answer to that problem. When I graduated from college, I worked at several agencies and did hand-lettering in my free time. I posted drawings to my website (www.jayroeder.com) and eventually clients started to reach out with larger projects. Eventually I decided to go out on my own, which has been the best decision I have ever made. I have also stayed in touch with the design department at my alma mater and have taught design classes for them, as an adjunct professor.
How do you balance the work you do with agencies and your personal work?
JAY: Balancing my agency and personal work is one of the most challenging aspects of what I do. So many people imagine the freelance lifestyle as being extremely flexible, but don’t take into account the effects of ceaseless project demands and an always on the clock mentality. Six years ago, when I first started out on my own, I quickly realized that nothing is guaranteed in the world of freelancing. I accepted every project that was presented to me, even if it meant working unhealthy hours. On the verge of burning out, it wasn’t until about 2 years in that I really gained the confidence to say “no” to certain projects and to work with my clients on building out timelines that worked for both parties when possible.
We heard that you’re an Extensis fan! How do you use the software and how has it impacted your work?
JAY: I am a huge fan of Extensis, and specifically Suitcase Fusion. It impacts my work every day, to be completely honest. As someone who prides himself on typography you can see the obvious correlation. Suitcase saves me A TON of time when I’m searching for the right typeface. I also use it as an inspirational tool when I am working on hand-lettering projects that require me to emulate a certain style of font. It’s been a great product that I have used for over ten years.
Whose work are you admiring these days?
JAY: There are so many artists that I admire, but two that stand out are Jon Contino and McBess. There are aspects of both of these artists that I find extremely inspiring, whether it be McBess’s vintage cartoon inspired worlds, or Jon Contino’s ability to combine old and new world aesthetics into his style. Please look into both artists if you haven’t and be prepared to be inspired.
Have any of your commercial projects particularly resonated with you on a personal level? Which ones?
JAY: Every once and a while a brand that I am a fan of reaches out to do a project. In one such case – Beer Advocate magazine recently had me do the cover artwork for their 10th anniversary issue, which is currently on newsstands so keep your eyes out! Aside from that, I have worked with so many amazing brands, some of which include: Nike, Ray Ban, Facebook, MTV and Urban Outfitters. I absolutely love what I do, and I hope people can see that in my work.
What advice do you have for young designers?
JAY: I few years ago I read an article on Milton Glaser, which had a very simple piece of advice, but great nonetheless. If anyone doesn’t know who Milton is, he’s an icon in the design industry; you’ve probably seen his work, he’s responsible for the “I heart NY” and Brooklyn Brewery logos. The quote was, “Do good work.” I think this simple yet fundamental advice is invaluable and can be a deadly combination when paired up with motivation. If you do good work and work hard, everything else will fall in place. Also, drink lots and lots of coffee.
You’re truly living the dream, having transformed your passion into an admirable career. What’s next for you?
JAY: I am so fortunate to have a career that is also my passion. The plan is to continue to grow my business and see where it takes me!
Check out Jay’s website: www.jayroeder.com
And follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @jayroeder