Interview with Adrian Litman, Artist

From Making a Living to Creating Art: From Graphic Designer to Artist

From his start as a graphic designer for a Bucharest hair magazine in Romania to the successful completion of 22 years of work as a San Francisco Bay Area graphic art director for high-tech clients, artist Adrian Litman can say that he has made it in the art world. But just making it wasn't enough for Litman; after more than two decades as a professional designer, Litman decided it was time to take his art into his own hands to be free from creative restrictions.

Litman's introduction to the arts came from his family. "My parents and family friends appreciated and praised my effort," he says. After attending the High School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, Litman was accepted to the University of Bucharest Art Institute, where he graduated in 1974 with a master's degree in graphics. Since then, he has remained up-to-date with computer graphic technology, specifically as it pertains to art layouts and project presentations. He finds that the 11 years of arts education he received gave him a solid base of knowledge allowing him to find a job in America soon after graduation.

Litman enjoys his life as an artist largely because of the freedom of creativity it affords him. He carries an open mind into his career, understanding that sometimes rejections or setbacks today "can be successes tomorrow." One of his favorite projects was a mosaic design for ParkTown Place in Cupertino, California. The large size and complex nature of the project allowed him to stretch his creative boundaries in new ways. As he continues his work, Litman says he hopes to create art work that carries a social message, addressing today's challenges while "inspiring future generations to do good." He sees the economy of the 21st century as one that fosters artists as professionals and says there are more opportunities than ever before.

Mr. Litman and His Career

Tell us about your career.

After graduating from college in 1974, I worked for a few years as a graphic designer doing the layout of a monthly hairdo magazine in Bucharest, Romania. Following a standard design, month after month, the work became monotonous and I started to do more creative stuff in my free time. My need for creativity allowed me to explore various aspects of art design from paintings of all kinds to decorative objects, furniture, fashion accessories, hand-painted silk outfits, etc.

In 1980, I left Romania and came to California. For the following 22 years I worked in the Bay Area as a graphic designer and art director in the high tech and banking fields. In 2002, at the age of 54, I took a small retirement package from VISA International and decided to continue my artistic career independently and without creative restrictions. Now, looking back, I am asking myself why didn't I do it much earlier.

What do you enjoy most about your career? What do you do dislike?

The most enjoyable thing is, of course, the freedom of creativity and the fact that people react in a very appreciative way to almost everything I create. One thing I would rather not have to deal with is finding new markets and customers for my art work. It would be nice to have an agent or a marketing person to take care of that aspect of the industry.

What has been your greatest success? Setback?

I am not sure I can say what has been my greatest success so far. I have had a positive response to almost everything I've made. Come to think of it, I've had no major setbacks either. Occasionally I get rejects from some art gallery or from a "call for artists" competition, but that is followed by an acceptance somewhere else or a good sale, so it's just all part of the industry. About a year and a half ago, I created 15 abstract oil paintings of various sizes that I presented to some art galleries in the city and Bay Area without great response. I managed to sell some to private clients and last week sold the rest of the package to Perinatal Associates in San Francisco so what seems to be a reject or setback today can be success tomorrow.

What are some favorite projects you've completed and why?

I would say that they were probably the mosaic design for ParkTown Place in Cupertino and the Claudino's residence in Palo Alto because of the project size and complexity of both of those.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

I wish I could have enough energy to be able to accomplish at least 50% of what is going on in my mind creatively. I also wish I could create art work with a social message addressing some challenges of our time, inspiring the future generations to do GOOD.

Where have you worked in the past and how do those environments differ from where you are working now?

I've worked for various companies on two continents and two different social economic systems. Working in a free market economy suits me better. Being in business for myself allows me to create and adjust my own environment, but of course freedom comes with the price of working harder and continuously looking for the next project.

Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your education. What is your degree? How did you decide to study that field? And how did you find a school?

Growing up in a family involved in the arts, I had a very early exposure to art materials. Since sophisticated toys were not available in the early 1950s, I found excitement in playing with colors and various materials to create my own art. My parents and family friends appreciated and praised my efforts which encouraged me to go on. By the time I reached high school age, it was obvious that an artistic career was suitable to me.

I applied and was admitted to the High School of Fine Arts in Bucharest where I spent five years learning all of the basic art techniques as part of a structured and complex curriculum. I was going to school Monday through Saturday for ten months of the year. After graduating from high school, I applied to study at the University of Bucharest Art Institute. Admission was based on a test including Romanian language, art history, charcoal drawing (live model, oil painting), still nature painting, and composition on a given theme (free choice of technique). The number of applicants was, on average, 10-12 for each opening. I passed the test and was admitted to the program. In 1974, I graduated with a master's degree in graphics.

What can you tell us about the difference between your education in Romania and the education that you feel art students receive here in the United States?

Since I did not go to school in the US, it is a little difficult to make a fair assessment of the art education in this country. In Romania, the art program was very structured, emphasizing the old school methods and techniques. In the US, it seems that art students have more flexibility and choices, and of course everything involves the use of computers and software. I find it difficult to compare the two systems because of the advances in today's technology that dictates how we do everything, including art creations. I think that things are very different between here and there and between then and now.

Would you change anything about your education if you could? If so, what?

I don't think I would change anything at this point, but I added to it, taking classes and learning about computers and software which I use regularly in my art layouts and project presentations.

In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your education?

When I started my arts education, I was just a high school kid in eighth grade. What I know now would not change my decision then.

How has your education benefited your career?

Going through 11 years of art education gave me a solid base of knowledge which allowed me to get a job after two months of being in this country, even though I didn't speak a word of English. What I produced artistically with my hands was good enough.

Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs from this career?

I know that there are many good art programs affiliated with some of the great schools in the US. One that comes to my mind is the Pasadena School of Design in Southern California.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school? Are there any different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in certain areas of the field?

Today's economy offers opportunities for artists like never before (maybe with the exception of the Renaissance movement in Italy and some parts of Europe). The only consideration for a young art student is to decide between a specialized art career, working for a company doing things for business applications, or to be an independent artist with a defined philosophy, creating art for the world.

What can students applying to schools of this kind do to increase their chances of being accepted?

I am not sure what's required to be accepted in an art school in the US. I believe they all are different. But no matter what the requirements are, a future art student needs to read art history books and to try to be in touch with the local art scene. Go visit the art galleries when they have receptions for the artists, go and talk to the artist if you like the work and ask for advice. Find out who the professional artists in your area are, call them and ask for a visit to the studio, and ask them for advice too. Learn from every where that you can; don't just limit yourself to a single school or program.

Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job in this field?

I believe it does, but it is not guaranteed. Depending on who's hiring, how the graduate does in the interview is essential. Just keep in mind that if an attorney firm is hiring an artist to work on forensic projects, do not show up at the interview wearing jeans and showing off pierced body parts. In other words, even if you are an artist, try to fit the part the company is hiring for as best as you can.

What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in this field?

An education and career in the art field can be as complex and demanding as any other field if one wants to be successful. Be passionate, work hard, and be disciplined.

The Actual Work

What exactly do you do on a daily basis?

Ooh, as an artist, I stay up until 3:00 in the morning drinking wine with my fellow artists, then I sleep until 2:00 in the afternoon. When I get up, if I feel inspired, I throw some colors on the canvas ha, ha, I'm just joking. I work every day from 8:30 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening, including Saturdays and occasionally Sundays if I have a deadline to meet. There is always a lot to do besides the real creative work. Paper work, research, purchasing materials, visiting various vendors, meeting with clients and doing work on project sites are all regularly activities during my week.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Marketing my work is definitely the most difficult part of the job. It can also be hard to find the kind of work that allows me to use my skills and style most appropriate for the project.

What are some common myths about your profession and how do they differ from the actual work?

I guess many people think that an artist has a glamorous life and works when inspired. It is, as my teachers told me, (quoting Thomas Edison) "10% inspiration and 90% perspiration."

What are the greatest stresses in the job?

Looking for the next project and waiting for the paycheck.

What contributions do you feel your job offers to society as a whole?

An artist can contribute to society in many ways depending on the art form. I have clients who enjoy my art work as part of their house or offices and clients who commissioned me to create art to be placed in a public location, enhancing the environment for those living and working there. In general, the work that I do improves the aesthetics of the place in which the art is placed.

Best tip for a novice?

Learn, Learn, Learn.

Job Information & Advice

What are the hottest specialties within the field over the next decade? Or what are some trends currently in play in the industry? In other words, where do you see attention focused right now for students getting into the field?

It is difficult to say what will be in demand in the next ten years since the technology is changing (on average) every five years, driving the economy in different directions and creating new job opportunities in the field. Art jobs related to promoting new products and services will always be there. Art jobs related to electronic media and Internet are also evolving and changing with technology, offering good opportunities for the young art professionals.

What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students in this field?

I see a lot of commercial art positions, many of them related to web page design and maintenance.

How is the job market now in the industry? How do you think it will be in five years?

I think the commercial art job market is better than ever and it will evolve with the growing services sector of the economy. Unfortunately, the manufacturing is outsourced overseas but the products are coming back to the US market and need to be promoted and sold here. This can only be done domestically with local artists.

What are the best ways to get a foot in the door?

Many companies offer internships. Many managers or experienced professionals teach classes at community colleges or community centers. Research the companies of interest to you, call the art department and find out if anybody teaches somewhere and go sign up for that class.

What other career advice can you offer graduates of this field?

Be involved in the community activities. If you accept religion, go to your local place of faith and connect with people. Join a club like golf or bowling or any other activity where you can meet adult professionals who can always give advice and even offer you a summer position or even a permanent job.

Closing Remarks

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in the field?

Don't take NO for an answer. Be smart and study what the successful people in the field are doing. Learn from that, process it in your mind and apply it to life in your own version.

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