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Member Spotlight: Tamara Robbins

Tamara Robbins

Tamara Robbins

Digital Media Educator
Art Director

Chicago, Ill

Typography was one of my favorite areas of concentration while studying design. The letter forms, playing around with juxtaposition of letters, if things had a serious or very formal vibe, being able to put that softer or comedic touch to it vise versa just playing around with it, by the weight and height making different forms in order to combine them within that method.

Guild member Tamara Robbins is an experienced art director, designer, teacher, and writer from Chicago, Illinois.

Tamara believes in encouraging a more fluent way of working while understanding certain principles and elements of graphic design.

Developing a Career as a Graphic Designer

Tamara started out having been introduced to various forms of art from elementary school, she took different art classes, and participated in programs from the Art Institute of Chicago.  She remembers, “From 1st grade up until about 8th grade, most teachers present art as an extracurricular activity, something that you play around with and then it’s tossed to the side.”

Her 4th grade teacher would have someone come into her class from the art institute. Tamara  said, “I learned there were different periods of art from the impressionist period and the baroque art. This was something I thought very early on fascinated me and there was something about the whole structure of it. It gave art purpose and it gave it structure and it was more than something that kids play around with.”

In high school she took a drafting class which peaked her interests in architecture. In college “I was caught in the middle, should I study art or should I become an architect?” Being undecided in college, she had a professor approach her about going into graphic design.

Working as an Art Director

After stumbling into becoming a graphic designer, Tamara’s first job was Art Director in 2001 at the Corn Building (referencing the Marina City towers located in downtown Chicago).

I didn’t know until later how lucky I was to have the position of Art Director. You can say I paid my dues having gone to graduate school. I was able to come directly from graduate school. At most you can say it was like I had been a junior art director.”

 “I was in their direct department. It was just before the whole internet craze. This was when banner ads were cool.

Working in the marketing department involved gathering data through direct mail. That was back when data was collected from people who responded to a mailing verse’s today’s method of collecting data through clicks.

A Minor in Journalism

From the encouragement of a Professor, Tamara minored in journalism, “She thought that would go along well, especially if I planned on going into advertising. She encouraged it to help me to become a more conceptual thinker.” Not always having to hire a writer to assist with her work does come in handy. “It has helped me come up with phrases or just having an understanding of what copywriters do, having things formatted in a very precise way, and [of] being conscious of the audience that’s going to be reading the materials.”

Along with journalism, Tamara has dabbled with screenwriting. Having taken a course through NYU, she hopes to use this talent further in her future endeavors. She utilized the skill while teaching documentary filmmaking.

While documentary filmmaking is pretty much this process where you’re recording and trying to gather that information, it does take a bit of structure to know how that story is going to format. Having that exciting incident and the climactic point, understanding what you’re observing and being able to formulate that into a story.

While screenwriting has been helpful in teaching, it’s something Tamara would like to apply in a third career. She jokingly said, “I guess I need to hurry up and make it happen. Life is short.”

A Second Career

Tamara referred to teaching as her second career. She has been educating students for 7 years as a digital media and computer science teacher. “It’s been not only a good experience for my students but for myself as well. It’s just been one of the best classrooms ever.” Being a part of the process has given Tamara a chance to revisit the things she studied. “You know when you’re a student so many principles and practices are coming at you and you find yourself still able to do them without thought, but as a teacher I became a lot more aware of that.”

While teaching at the high school level Tamara said, “I’ve been able to joke with the kids, I paid a lot to know this and you’re getting it for free. I teach them many of the things I’ve learned. Some of them have a really good grasp of it and are able to understand it while others operate as you would expect a high school student would operate, sometimes watering down the language and putting it in terms they are better capable of understanding.”

Tamara said she was surprised that she found teaching so enjoyable.

It was something that I dodged because teaching was something so many people in my family had done over the years. I didn’t want to be another teacher on the families’ roster. But when I came back home to Chicago, it was just something that fell into place.

Tamara’s Favorite Area of Design

Later in her life, Tamara spent time learning typography from a program at Pratt Institute. She lit up when talking about Typography.

Typography was one of my favorite areas of concentration while studying design. The letter forms, playing around with juxtaposition of letters, if things had a serious or very formal vibe, being able to put that softer or comedic touch to it vise versa just playing around with it, by the weight and height making different forms in order to combine them within that method. [Typography has] always been one of my favorite areas of design whether it’s me trying to be really good at it or admiring the work of others.

Tamara’s Favorite Project

When asked about her favorite projects to work on, Tamara’s response was:

This may sound a little corny but it’s always about the next one coming up. I’m happy to be able to say that because I know people of a certain age tend to get a little stifled and tend to lapse into a particular style. I feel like I’m still growing and there’s still so much to know and do and experiment around with.  I’m hoping to work on an annual report soon for someone and it will involve the use of typography and layout with some of the best things I enjoy.

Challenges Tamara has Faced

One way other designers learn from their peers is hearing about some of the challenges or struggles they’ve had in their career.  Tamara had a few words about that,

There are probably so many other designers who could say this as well, but pricing myself, getting value for what I do and finding that audience that’s also going to appreciate the value. Sometimes it can be your very best friend, they may ask you to do something, and they look at the work and they think this is going to be about twenty-five to fifty bucks. I don’t think people take into account the amount of time [design takes].

Tamara continued, I had to learn how to work within the constraints of a budget at times. At times I’ve had to be okay with that price point that people were offering. Sometimes the toughest challenge can be being seen, being trusted, especially as a new designer. Just getting to the point where people are trusting you. And you’re more comfortable with yourself as well, knowing what I’m capable of doing and they’ll see the finished product, letting the work speak for itself.

Future Goals

When we asked Tamara saw herself in the next five years:

As a designer I have always wanted to create my own product line, similar to that of Hello Kitty. Making my own product line, the main dream is to utilize my skills as a writer. I feel that could parlay into being a director too.  Just because I’ve worked as an art director already and I know it takes finding those people who are experts who are really great at something in order to bring that whole formula together. I can see myself writing and possibly directing somewhere in the television streaming format.

A Final Quote from Tamara

Life is very unexpected. I feel I have tried to script my life. I thought I had a lot of control over it for a very long time. I was forced into a situation where I had to relinquish my control and had to learn to trust the process.

Samples from Tamara’s Portfolio