Jessica thought she wanted to be a stop-motion animator, but entering the world of restaurant illustration turned out to be the best thing in her career.
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, answers questions about how people in the food and restaurant industry get a job. Today’s episode: Jessica Rather.
Jessica spent a year designing eyebrows and eyelashes before graduating to finishing the stop-motion doll. In 2012, he pursued an unsuccessful career in animation when his friend, chef Ari Taymor, asked him to design the logo and party posters for his new restaurant Alma. Little did she know when she accepted this favor that it would change her life, but when Alma quickly began collecting compliments, her graphic design work was on full display.
This exposure led to challenges in the food and beverage industry, an interior design job at Sweetgreen and eventually work in television. Throughout his career, he experienced the pain of being overwhelmed and knew when to say no to projects. In the interview below, she explains how she went from creating eyebrow designs for movies to creating the title sequence for Netflix.
Jessica Rather: My career path has led me to two design jobs. The first is marketing and branding for the food and beverage industry. I design event posters, logos and general identity for restaurants and food and beverage.
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The other half of my job is creating the look and feel of the graphics for the TV show. I put the show titles next to every other graphic. I’m currently working on the Netflix series Street Food, as well as several other series coming out [in 2020]. What I love about both jobs is how much creative freedom I have.
My first love was filmmaking, but I have dyslexia so I thought I wouldn’t be able to get into many schools. I went to Hampshire College, a school with no grades and a unique structure that allowed me to build my career. During my sophomore year, I took a program to work and live in Los Angeles and pursue my passion. For anyone with a learning disability, this lack of structure can be incredibly helpful. So I didn’t have a graphic design background, which [made me feel insecure at times], but I had a liberal arts background with a lot of art experience.
. I liked the idea of physically building the whole world, so when I moved to Los Angeles, I looked for a job in the parking lot industry.
My first job was as a puppeteer on Shadow Machine. I have been working as a brow and brow makeup practitioner for over a year. This leads to the inner workings of doll making
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While working in animation, my friend Ari Taymor opened his first restaurant, Alma. It was a real DIY endeavor and he contacted me to help with the logo and marketing materials. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a lot of fun. He was a big fan of Alice Waters and Chez Panis vintage event designs and wanted to create illustrated posters for the restaurant’s guest chef events. That was about seven years ago, so it was a pretty exciting time in the LA food scene. This was the beginning of the transformation of the city into a real food destination.
Amazingly, just one year after opening, Alma won Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in America and Ari Food & Wine was named Best New Chef. Thanks to the exposure that came with Apple’s success, I was able to meet some amazing chefs and winemakers, which led me to work full-time as a freelance illustrator.
What challenge did you face when you started working as an illustrator in the food industry?
When I started I was very shy. I’m still shy, but it has kept me from expanding. I didn’t know how to sell myself and build a real business. I also didn’t go to art and design college, so I often felt uncomfortable with my abilities (classic impostor syndrome). All I know is to keep my head down and work hard.
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I’ve always pushed myself to be better and work harder, so it’s always been hard for me to accept my accomplishments. A few years ago I started working as an interior designer at Sweetgreen. Being self-educated and working for such a successful company was very important to me. It was there that I realized for the first time how far I had come.
For several years I worked full-time as a freelance illustrator, mainly creating posters and online advertisements for the food and wine industry. I lived in the same house with my boyfriend and two extra rooms. I spent most of the day in my room from 7am until I finished work – sometimes it was almost 4am. I was afraid to say no to work, including tight deadlines, and rarely socialized with people outside of my roommate. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my voice and my identity.
When I started working at Sweetgreen, I said I would spend my time making a living. I kept track of how much extra freelance work I was doing [while working full-time], and when I retired, I really saw my value. Because of this, I put myself in a very healthy space. It made me open-minded and when the special occasion came, I was up for the challenge.
One day the team at Chef’s Table needed a designer to create graphics for a new food show.
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. I was lucky enough to get the job and it was the biggest project I had worked on at that point in my career. Working on this show combined my greatest passions: food, art and film. Since then, I’ve branched out into creating more title sequences and graphics for other TV series, which is my current dream job.
Working at Sweetgreen, especially under Joanna Hsu, has allowed me to become a complete designer. This allowed me to see and handle a wide range of projects from concept to print or [-production]. Having these skills gave me the confidence to go ahead and do what I’m doing now, working as a freelancer again, but much healthier and more successful.
It might surprise you how much work I put into what I do and how many hours each week I spend thinking and creating about how I can grow as a designer. I’ve also learned how important it is to make time for self-care and friendships – being a freelancer can be really lonely.
Whether it’s what a restaurant logo looks like, how food is packaged, or what TV graphics look like – I think people who care more about design are more interested in our industry. I know I will continue to find my voice, especially during the unique journey I have been on, and try to use it to move the industry forward. I want to find some mentors and mentor other young seekers like I never had before.
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I didn’t know where I was going and it was often scary. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to be better (and still do). If I could give myself advice, I would spend my days taking care of myself. In other words, I’d rather not feel like I have to work every hour of the day.
When I first started, someone told me to never settle for a first draft. He was always with me.
I think we all love someone else’s career path, but it’s important to keep your head down, focus and work hard to get to the next stage. Each person’s path is unique.
Name project images: Camera Dhika Hernandita; Covered food; it became summer; Maksim Kulikov’s “Electric Lamp”; Pongsakorn handwriting.
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