Interview: Chris Spooner
If you’re browsing the internet for tutorials, patterns, textures or other Photoshop or Illustrator effects, you most definitely came across blog.spoongraphics.co.ukor and line25.com. Both websites are solely owned and maintained by Chris Spooner, a guy from the United Kingdom who is very passionate about design, his motorcycle, his dog and about gaming. Today we have the honor to interview Chris and ask him all about his professional life.
Are you on a Windows- or Apple computer?
What is your favorite internet browser?
What kind of phone do you use?
Which software do you use to design?
Which software do you use to write code?
1.Most readers are familiar with you and your work thanks to SpoonGraphics and Line25. For those who don't know you well, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what you do?
After graduating from university I landed a full time job as a Graphic/Web Designer at a local design studio, where I worked for a couple of years. During that time I set up a design blog, where I began to share design tutorials. My design blog soon reached a stage where it was bringing in more exciting freelance projects than those I was working on in my job, so I left to become self employed. Since then my blog has grown to allow me to quit freelancing and earn a living having fun writing tutorials, creating design resources and sharing articles to inspire other designers.
2.What made you decide to start the study Art & Design?
Throughout school I excelled in the art and design subjects, so I naturally followed this topic into college and onto university. I actually discovered the career of Graphic Designer quite early on, and always aspired to design book covers and posters.
3.During your study, what were you plans after finishing the study?
My plan was to simply do what was expected and find a job in that particular field. I was lucky enough to land the first design job I applied for!
4.From what subjects of your study do you still benefit today?
I have to admit, not much of what I learned on my university course still applies today! A lot of time was spent learning Macromedia products and Quark. I guess the art theory I learned way back in School is probably the most relevant today. Composition, balance, colour, etc and all elements that make up every kind of design.
5.What made you decide to quit your fulltime job at ??? and start your own business?
As my freelance work increased from the leads I received from my blog, my day job was becoming increasingly boring. I started enjoying the projects I was working on in the evenings and weekends much more than the projects I was working on 9-5. The big decision came when my boss discovered how popular my own website was and saw it as a conflict of interest. He gave me the option of making my blog property of the company, or shutting it down, so I quit.
6.How did you experience the first year as freelancer?
It was the best decision I ever made! My first month alone I made more in freelance earnings that I used to receive as a monthly wage. The extra time I had to work on my blog paid off over the following years, getting me to the point I am now where I can afford to focus on writing content over client work.
7.How does your average working day look like?
The bulk of my days are now made up of designing artwork, then breaking it down to take screenshots and write a tutorial on how it's made. This is then converted into a blog post and a complementary newsletter. Other days I might focus on creating a new design resource, which might involve taking texture photographs, creating vector elements, or recording some kind of Photoshop Action.
8.If you look back at your life, are there things that you would do different?
I've been learning as I go, but the only thing I'd do differently would be to do some things sooner. Creating an email newsletter is one good example. If I'd done this sooner I would have grown a much larger audience from my early content.
9.How do you keep yourself motivated (since you don’t have a boss who tells you what to do and when to finish things)?
Since I now create tutorials and resources for a living, I basically design whatever takes my fancy each week. I simply browsing what other people are working on and whenever I see a design style or trend that I think, “That looks cool, I'd love to do something like that”, I take the time to experiment and figure it out for myself, then write a tutorial on the subject! While this does rely on motivation, I find it's easier to get excited about a design when it's something you're choosing to create, rather than a boss or a client telling you to design something a certain way.
10.How do you think your design/coding skills evolved during the years?
Taking the time to experiment with different styles and trends to create tutorials has allowed me to learn loads of new techniques. It has also helped me discover the style of art I personally enjoy the most.
Graphic- & Web design
11.What was your first encounter with web-/ graphic design?
My early encounters were projects I worked on at school and personal designs I created based on my hobbies. This goes way back to creating a mountain biking website on GeoCities!
12.How did you learn graphic- & web design? Did you learn it during your study or were there specific websites/tutorials that helped you learn it yourself?
While web design was taught as part of my university course, it was so outdated that I learnt everything that actually helped me in the real world by following tutorials online. This was one of the reasons I set up my own blog, to share the things I knew to helps other people out.
13.Do you still work for clients or do you focus on your blogs?
I no longer take on client work, I'm happy with my income without freelance work and I much prefer designing stuff for tutorials than designing stuff for other people!
14.When you start a new project, where do you get your inspiration and how does the workflow look like from start to finish?
I browse sites such as Dribbble, Pinterest, and of course Google Images to gather samples of a particular design style, then I experiment and combine key features into my design to achieve similar effects.
16.Would you recommend newbie designers to use a Mac or Windows computer (and why)?
The design software is identical between both systems, so whether it's based on a Mac or Windows PC doesn't matter so much. I personally prefer OSX over Windows though.
17.Have you ever considered hiring a company/freelancer to do the PSD to WordPress work for you so you can focus entirely on designing the website?
Previously I had enough interest in web design and I was competent enough to write my own HTML, CSS and WordPress code, but the next redesign of my website I work on will have to be outsourced to someone who knows all about the latest HTML5, responsive side of coding.
18.Which moments or projects in your career do you consider as highlights?
My best claim to fame is a t-shirt and hoodie design that I created for the band Fall Out Boy. In reality it wasn't great money and it was “Spec work”, but it always gets a good reaction from strangers.
19.Being a designer, how did you feel when you first started with front-end coding and how do you feel nowadays when you update your front-end coding skills?
I used to really enjoy coding, but I lost interest when the web moved towards responsive design. I personally dislike responsive versions of websites appearing against my will on mobile (with some exceptions. The Gov.uk website is the best example of responsive design I've found). I find the pinching and zooming motion on my iPhone makes for a much faster experience than being forced to scroll forever, only to find the elements you wanted to look at aren't available in the mobile view.
Since I've fallen behind with coding I now find it hard to remember how to write the code I used to be fluent in! It's a shame, but it has made me realise how Graphic Design is much more timeless than Web Design, so I much prefer putting time into learning new techniques in Photoshop and Illustrator.
20.What do you do besides blogging during your working days?
Emails take up a chunk of my time first thing every morning. Otherwise basic admin work always piles up.
21.While you’re designing something and you hit a creative block, how to you proceed?
I'll usually either browse the web for inspiration, or if the block is particularly strong I'll simply go and do something else then try again the next day.
22.What was your motivation to start with publishing blog posts, articles and tutorials and what do you like so much about sharing your knowledge?
I found design tutorials really useful, especially web design tutorials that explained HTML and CSS, rather than the table based design I had learned during university.
I loved how people shared their knowledge to help others, and it seemed they were making a nice bit of money in the process, so I set up my own blog and shared the design knowledge I had, particularly Illustrator tutorials, which were otherwise quite rare amongst the sea of Photoshop text effect tutorials on the web.
23.How did you promote blog.spoongraphics.co.uk in the beginning and how long did it take before it got a good amount of traffic?
Because Illustrator tutorials were so rare, my site naturally filled this niche. Every Illustrator tutorial I wrote gained good traffic, which was a real benefit to my site's early growth.
24.How do you find topics for new articles and tutorials?
Ideas for new articles and tutorials came exactly the way they do now. I'd simply create something based on a style I'd seen either online or offline that I fancied trying out myself.
25.How long does it take for you to write and publish an average article or tutorial?
The actual design that the tutorial is based on can often take a day or two, then the process of capturing screenshots, writing up the steps and constructing it all into a blog post can be done the following day.
26.If you could give advice to starting bloggers and tutorial writers, what would you say?
Keep doing it! You never know when one of your posts will appear in the search results of someone who desperately needs to discover how to 'do a certain thing'. We've all been in that situation, so no matter how basic or easy you think a subject is, there might be someone out there who needs guidance.
27.What do you think are the reasons that your blogs became so popular?
There doesn't seem to be many tutorial sites out there, especially those that share content for free. Tutorials also tend to be based on generic subjects like Photoshop text effects, so I think my tutorials that explain how to create sought after design styles or professional print design processes help designers in the real world.
28.There are almost no ads on your website, where do you get your earnings from?
I'm happy to hear you don't notice them because there's actually a fair few! I've always wanted to maintain the balance between revenue and user experience, but posting free stuff requires money to be made from somewhere. Ads have always been my number one source of income, but over the recent year or so they have been replaced by premium memberships to my blog and affiliate earnings by promoting deals through my newsletter.
29.Have you ever considered to invite/allow others to write articles/tutorials for your blogs?
I've always wanted to keep my Spoon Graphics website as more of a personal blog, but it something I've done on the odd occasion with Line25.
30.What do you think makes your blogs different from other related blogs?
The fact that I'm the only author on my website definitely sets my site apart. There are quite a few tutorial sites that post tutorials from many different writers, but I don't know of any other designers who run their own site like me. I love to find them to subscribe to them myself though!
31.Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
I'm hoping my sites will continue to grow, but since “blogging” and earning money on the web is so new, there's no telling what might happen in the future. At least if everything dies out one day I can return to working as a freelance Graphic Designer.
32.Do you have any new blogs/websites/ideas lined up for the future?
I'm planning the contrary actually. I'm looking at selling Line25 very soon, since I no longer have the web design knowledge to keep it updated with tutorials. This will then allow me to focus more on Spoon Graphics, where I recently added video tutorials to the mix of content.
33.What made you decide to start sharing video’s from your gaming adventures?
I used to spend a fair amount of time gaming, so to make this time more productive I decided to record videos and share them on YouTube. It's also great to have a secondary income stream that pays for luxuries like an Xbox One and new games!
34.What do you like so much about first-person shooters and race games?
My gaming time has reduced now I'm a Dad, so I've switched focus to racing games over shooters for a number of reasons. Firstly FPS games require a lot of time to master, and they can be very stressful. Racing games on the other hand aren't as popular, but it's a game I can jump on and just have fun.
35.Do you ever join online gaming tournaments?
I don't even play online with other people. There's no telling when I'll get chance to jump on my Xbox or for how long, so it makes it difficult to plan any formal meetings or social events.
36.Does sharing your gaming video’s on your YouTube channel bring you any revenue?
The revenue was pretty good at one point when GTA 5 was at its peak, but the income has seriously dropped since I took a break while we had our first baby.
It at least pays for new games, and the revenue I earned over the years easily paid for my Xbox One console and other toys.
37.Have you ever considered to setup a live stream?
I gave live streaming a go, but my Internet upload speed didn't seem up to the job. Plus the fact about not knowing when, or how long I'll be gaming for as a new Dad doesn't make live streaming very practical.
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