Every month, LogoLounge features a member with designer superstar status. For the month of March, we chose Houston based designer and illustrator, Carlos Fernandez. With more than 20 years of experience, Fernandez was an easy choice when choosing a member to showcase via “Center Stage.”
Tell us about yourself, your background, and your design aesthetic.
My name is Carlos Fernandez, I’m an illustrator and designer based in Houston, Texas. I’ve been specializing in logo design since I opened my one-person shop back in 2000. Before I took the leap, I was a full-time designer at a few agencies in Austin. As an employee, I was always dying for the next logo challenge to hit my desk. It certainly made it easy to know what I wanted to focus on when I went solo.
Aesthetically, a lot of times I’m commissioned for illustrating with an iconographic approach. For these projects, the executions are both illustrative and simplified. The final piece should embody some illustrative energy and still work well at any size.
What about you makes you different from other designers?
What probably helps differentiate me most is my drawing background. Before I discovered a love for design, I grew up sketching, doodling and dreaming about becoming a cartoon animator. Drawing skills help the tightness of my thumbnails, and aids the craftsmanship in the digital work. I also tend to sketch a bunch of concepts when I brainstorm. It’s always great to hear a client say how much they appreciate being able to select from 60-80+ pencil sketches.
When did you know you wanted a career in graphic design? What has that journey been like to become one?
It’s funny, I kind of stumbled into design more by accident. I grew up in El Paso where the local colleges didn’t offer much as far as art programs. I only had 2 choices: Fine Art or Commercial Art. I knew what Fine Art was and knew that wasn’t for me. So I chose Commercial Art, but really didn’t know anything about it. As soon as I took my first design class I was hooked. Suddenly, a whole world of fonts, color and graphics opened up. All those thoughts of becoming an animator quickly faded away.
Starting out, it kind of helped being in El Paso. With fewer designers around, it meant more opportunities at the local studios - very fortunate in an industry with such a difficult barrier to entry. After working a few years in El Paso I decided to move to a bigger market and went to Austin. I learned quite a lot there, and developed some great relationships that still help my business to this day. From Austin, I followed some friends to Houston, met my wife, and now work out of my home studio.
Can you describe you design process?
Overall, pencils play a huge role for me. Every project begins with a piece of paper and pencil, sketching concepts. This analog approach allows me to focus purely on solving the problem, without getting distracted with execution. I’ll include every idea, good and bad. When they’re ready, I share the concepts with my client, typically an art director at an agency. We’ll discuss the directions and decide which ones to develop further and take to computer. Before launching into Illustrator, I’ll first redraw the sketch super tight and use it as a guide on the computer. I almost always start with building the logo mark first before exploring type and color. When complete, I’ll email drafts to my client, present, revise and deliver final art.
What designers or design agencies inspire you the most?
Starting out, the most impactful designer for me would have to be David Kampa. Back when I was still in El Paso, he visited once and showed his work. That was when I first learned that specializing in logo design was even a thing. Along with seeing his amazing work, his talk greatly influenced the direction I wanted to take my career.
These days, with so many resources to connect with great design, it’s easy to find work that inspires me. Just a few examples of some super talented people I follow include Von Glitschka, Jay Fletcher, Bethany Heck, Brent Couchman, Claire Gude, Luke Bott, Matt Lehman, Nick Slater, and so many more.
What work or works are you most proud of? Could you describe a current project you are working on?
I’m probably most proud of the ones that were the most challenging to illustrate. Two that come to mind are a logo concept for the State of Missouri, and a logo mark for an investment firm, Phillips Enterprises. The Missouri logo was like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fit in so many elements and limit the number of colors. For Phillips, the idea was to create a winged lion as if carved from stone. Crafting the detailing in the lion was quite a challenge.
I just recently designed a logo for a hospice care’s fundraising event, The Hike for Hope. Not only was the project a fun illustration opportunity, but getting the chance to design for a good cause is even more fulfilling.
What helps you get through “designer’s block”?
For me, the most effective method to break through a block is to simply walk away. It’s amazing the clarity you find looking at a problem with fresh eyes. Stepping away for me might include going out for a walk, shifting to a different project, flipping through a trade magazine. Whichever the method, I just need to remove myself from the problem for a bit.
Unfortunately, many times with a looming deadline I don’t have the luxury to disconnect. In those cases, I’ll look for ways to pivot my mind. Most blocks seem to occur when we get stuck looking at a problem from a particular angle. Breaking this cycle means climbing out of the corner you got yourself into. One quick method I’ll use is browsing design work. Whether it’s grabbing a design book, or visiting sites like LogoLounge, the effect I’m seeking is to loosen up, reset and return to a big picture view of the problem.
Is there any advice you would like to give to those designers still in school or just starting out? Any tips or tricks to making it big?
One of the more difficult, frustrating challenges for me was finding my own creative voice or style. I think it’s important to understand your development is a gradual arch that’s always evolving. While it’s great to be inspired by top designers, you can run into trouble comparing their work to yours or trying to mimic their style in search of your own. For this, I believe it is critical to embrace who you are, what makes you uniquely you. Ask yourself what you do best, what type of creativity comes most natural to you. Sometimes the style of work you like most, and what you do best, can be quite different.
I remember starting out, attending lectures and nobody ever seemed to say how in the world they landed those amazing projects. Years later, I realized there’s really no such thing as a magic bullet that gets you the cool work. You land projects in all sorts of ways. It’ll be an image you post, a referral, a self-promo, a personal project, etc. My advice is to use it all. Engage with your local creative community, meet people, post your work, try different marketing methods, create personal projects.
What about design do you like the most? What is the worst part about being a graphic designer and illustrator?
I love the process of solving a problem. The journey is so much fun. All of it. Even the frustrating road blocks along the way make overcoming them that much sweeter. It’s discovering an exciting concept, finding the perfect font, seeing the work come to life. And there’s nothing quite like seeing a client get excited about their new logo.
I think everyone would agree that a bad client experience can suck all the joy out of your life. Unfortunately, when you’re first starting out, you tend to have a higher percentage of these. The good news is it gets better with time. The more seasoned you become, the better you’re able to anticipate and avoid them. The bad news they’ll always manage to squeak through every once in a while.
If you could work for anyone or on any project, who would that client or what would that project be?
My answer to this seems to change all the time. It’s probably more a reflection of what’s in my environment at the moment. These days, my life revolves around my 2-year-old daughter, so I’m constantly surrounded by super fun content made for kids. It makes me want to create some sort of work in that space right now. It’s such a rich, colorful, imaginative world to develop ideas. Any project that feels like I get to go outside and play, would easily be the next one I’d want in my inbox.,/p>
To view the work that the Fernandez Studio has uploaded to the Lounge, simply click here. You can also view Fernandez’s work, by visiting his website here. Be sure to check out next month’s featured member, and keep uploading, as the next designer to take our “Center Stage” could be YOU!