I graduated from art school in 2016 and moved back to Fort Wayne following a summer season completing a residency and studio assistantship. I spent my prior summers home from college and made a few connections during my time interning for an art space, but nothing strong enough to feel a part of an arts community when I moved back.
I finally feel a community of artists coming together around me. It’s taken four years to reach this point, but it feels monumental. It’s comforting to find fellow artists having the same struggles, because we are often so separate in our home studios with few central gathering places outside of digital space; space that doesn’t allow for open and honest conversations. It’s important to know that you are not alone in figuring out how to find balance, how to charge for your work, or even keep up a consistent practice of making. I’m not sure these struggles will ever go away, but these conversations are important in helping us find our way.
Zack has been an important resource for both my personal artistic practice and my professional life during my time as the Gallery Coordinator at Artlink. For my personal practice, Zack has been my logo and business card designer and will soon be my photographer, documenting my more recent work. At Artlink, I assisted with the installation of Zack and Jason Swisher’s exhibition of documentary photography from their separate travels abroad to Japan and China, Cooperation/Collaboration, in 2018. Following his exhibition, Zack began working as our freelance designer and helped to teach a low-cost photography workshop for artists. It may not seem like much, but these small connections and collaborations are what make a community.
Zack has been a friend for a few years, but I can’t quite remember when we first met. I have a great respect for both his work and work ethic. He’s someone who is constantly getting shit done and pumping out incredible amounts of work. I wanted to talk to him more about how he seems to create so much and how he has found balance since graduating.
About Zack Kittaka
Zack Kittaka is a photographer and graphic designer based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He received his BA in Graphic Design from the University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne in 2016. Over the past four years, he has worked as a photographer for BFA Commercial Photography and maintained a freelance design practice. He is beginning to explore motion graphics, combining his love of design and photography.
Zack’s photography, graphic design, and motion graphic work all express a light and playful tone. His uplifting designs are colorful, full of movement, and in his photography, you’ll find friends silhouetted with confetti, balloons, and pom poms.
Your work is multifaceted bouncing between photography, graphic design, and motion graphic work. They all play well together, but is there a medium you feel most passionate about?
I would say that the medium I feel most passionate about would have to be graphic design, because of how it really fits into everything, from cool type you see on packaging to illustrations that are used to market a new project. There’s something really amazing about design fitting in with our everyday life. Nothing gets me more excited than seeing a really rad design.
Can you name a few of the designers that inspire you?
Andy J. Pizza, Sarah Beth Morgan, Timo Kuilder, Dan Cassaro, and Meg Lewis are just a few designers that I can think of that really inspire me. I can’t plug this enough, but if you are a creative and looking for a podcast to really get into, Andy J. Pizza has a really good one for helping you grow as an artist.
Listen to Creative Pep Talk here.
What led you to work in these mediums?
I actually had no clue what graphic design really was when I first was coming into college. I was dead set on photography as my major, but when I met my design teacher, Alan Nauts, he really opened my eyes to what graphic design had to offer. He showed me that it had unlimited possibilities, which is how I got into motion graphic work, as well. I took a class in college that taught me the basics of motion graphics, which showed me that it was basically moving graphic design. I was able to take assets that I created and instead of being a stagnate element to some design, it could move around and be even more dynamic.
Photography is my full-time job. I’ve loved it ever since I took my first photo class in high school. I was hooked on creating images of pretty much anything. After college I got the privilege to start working at a photo studio in town, BFA Commercial, where I have learned all I know about photography. It helps that all of the people I work with are always trying to make the next shoot cooler than the last.
That seems to be the way. I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer. I signed up for an intaglio and relief printmaking course and that changed everything. I was hooked on the physicality of making and I didn’t want to trade that for working on a computer. What first interested you in pursuing photography?
That was totally how I got into photography back in high school. There was something about making prints and developing film in the darkroom - that was what really connected me to photography. When I got my first film camera, I was so excited to just go out and shoot with it. The sound of reeling the film. I loved it. I was hooked the moment I clicked that shutter.
It has been a few years, but what has been the biggest struggle creatively for you since graduating?
I would say the biggest struggle would be to create work on a continuous basis. In college you have assignments that keep you going onto the next thing, but once you graduate it’s open to whatever you want to do. This is great, but it can it can also be tough to delegate time to creating work for yourself. To help with this I started doing more freelance, working on my 100 day project, and just trying to keep myself making work even if it’s not a piece I’m going to keep in a portfolio my whole life.
You’ve been working on a 100 day project creating one motion graphic piece a day with inspiration from the color palettes of Mehdi Khodamoradi. What inspired you to start this project?
I started this 100 day project after listing to the podcast Creative Pep Talk hosted by Andy J. Pizza. He talked about a friend of his that puts on a challenge to create something for 100 days. This could be anything from painting a portrait a day to just collaging a circle for a day, it’s really up to the person participating. For my 100 day project, I decided to create a motion graphic a day. I use color palettes from Mehdi Khodamoradi. I stumbled across his page one day and thought it was really cool that his whole Instagram was purely color palettes. This also gave me some restrictions on colors, so I wasn’t worried about what the next animation colors would be. What really inspired me to commit to this project, though, was that I wanted to create more motion graphic work to grow in the medium.
How are you keeping up with making on a daily basis?
I won’t lie, it’s been tough keeping up making an animation daily, but I try to set aside time to work on them each day. I try not to put too much pressure on if I end up missing a day. In the end having 100 motion graphic pieces is my goal.
How long does it typically take you to create one of these short pieces?
Each piece usually takes around an hour to an hour and a half. It depends. Some days, I have this storyboarded idea of what I want to animate and other days I play with textures and colors, something real simple. After I’m done animating, I make some music in garage band to give the animation a little bit more life.
Is there a reason why you decided to work professionally as a photographer rather than pursue graphic design jobs?
I took a photography and lighting class in college that showed me the possibilities of the commercial photography world. My lighting teacher, Jeff Crane, asked if anyone wanted to go along on one of his company jobs to shadow and see what it was like and I gladly volunteered. I started a paid internship with BFA Commercial my senior year which turned into the job I have today. I still love graphic design, it just worked out that I had an awesome photography studio willing to employ me right out of college.
Although you work full-time at a photography studio, you also do a lot of freelance work. How did you come to understand the business side of things? What has been the most challenging for you in this area or what was the most challenging when you started out?
I am kind of just learning as I go on the business side of things for freelance. I would say the most challenging thing is figuring out how much to charge or how you charge. This could be from deciding if a project should be billed hourly or by the project. It also has been a learning experience making sure I don’t spread myself too thin across too many projects. Your first reaction to an offer is always usually yes, because it’s nice to have that work coming in, whether it’s volunteer or paid, but recently I have prioritized things to help my freelance workflow.
What’s your formula for deciding how much to charge for your work? Is there one? How do you decide?
Honestly, I have battled with how I should price things, but now I try to charge an hourly rate on design projects most of the time. But, on head shots or simple one off design things, I will just do a flat rate. It’s always difficult because you never know how many revisions might come with certain projects, so I always try to pad in extra for the possibility of multiple revisions.
How have you prioritized your freelance work? Have you been saying no more? How have you decided to pursue certain projects over others?
I definitely choose the freelance projects that need the quickest turnaround first and make a list on my desktop that lists out what each project needs completed. I recently had the realization about having to say no to projects and committees. I was so used to saying yes to everything when I came out of college that I got into the habit of it. One day, I listed out what I was committed to and had to take a step back from things and prioritize.
I work as the head videographer for the music festival Middle Waves, which is taking a hiatus this year, but when it kicks in it really kicks in. So, I needed to see these committees and sort of say, hey I would love to help, but I can only volunteer so many hours to each thing. It’s definitely been learning experience trying to navigate my full-time job, freelance, and volunteer organizations all together.
Where do you see your creative work going next?
I see my work continuing to grow on the motion graphic side. Every time I’m learning new techniques to make things move or just learning something new in Aftereffects I always get so excited. Just looking at the endless possibilities with motion graphics gets me excited to explore this even more in my creative work.