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Christian Messer has been in the design industry for several years and currently is at the helm of his own studio, Whiplash Design. Christian launched his company in 2001, partnering with clients ranging from Portland, Oregon’s oldest family owned auto specialist, Everist Brothers, to clients in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Recently, Christian refocused Whiplash Design to specialize and target the board-sports industry, marrying his passion for design and extreme sports. This year the studio also introduced dynamic web development services to small and medium sized businesses and offers marketing consulting, strategies and implementation.This year, Whiplash Design’s self-promotion piece, “The Tiki Book” was featured in the design book, “The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success,” written by award-winning designer Jeff Fisher. Christian believes in giving back to the community as an important part of a business model and has begun pro-bono work for and with the Portland Area Business Association; of which he is a member.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer /illustrator? Was there a pivitol moment?
Always an interesting story, No matter what designer answers it. I was one of those 20 year olds who had lack of direction, and waited tables throughout my late teens and mid-20’s. I had excelled in creativity in many ways, many told me I was very talented, yet no one…gave me a clue about going back to school, or urged me in doing something with my talent. That was, until I got closer to my friend Bob (no pun intended.) I had known Bob for about 8 years. Around 1996, I moved back from Seattle after living there for three years. Everybody comes back to Portland, Oregon. Its like a spell weaved over you if you live and then move, you always find your way back.

At this time, I was doing a re-modeling/construction job with a friend, drywall/mudding, among other things. cement nails are cool when you hammer them, they spark, very cool. But I digress. This project or job was coming to a close and I didn’t know where I was going, what I wanted to do. I got a few other waiting jobs, but Bob kept needling me to look into going to school. Eventually, his persistence paid off. I picked up a local community college class catalog and looked through it. Now, some might say that a community college isn’t the best education for a designer, but what lie ahead was what I now know as fate. I say fate or that it was meant to be, because luck is one thing, this was too powerful and incredible to be just luck.

I took my first class, an introductory class, in the Summer of 1997. That is where the journey began and I will always be grateful for it. I was smitten with it, hook, line and sinker. I excelled at it, and got an A in the class, and proceeded to continue on the fall. Now, here’s the miracle part. If I had gone into the program a year before, I would not have received the education I did. The design program at PCC Sylvania was 25 years old, had not been gutted and re-vamped in quite a while. 1996 was the year when the department head decided to (or had to) retire and a new one took his place. At that point, she really did gut the program and re-designed it to bring it up to the modern, more work-intense program that it is today. I met many of my best friends there, from both alumni classes, that I would have never met had I gone to some other year. It was a two year program, I stayed 3 because I had never been to college and didn’t realize there were things called “requirement” classes you had to get through in order to graduate. Even though the class left that I went through the program with, and I was done, I still had my foot in the pool, taking a few classes within the program for extra measure and met my best girlfriend Sabrina because of it and would later create “The Tiki Book.”

90% of the alumni for that program for 1999 and 2000, didn’t need to continue their education to a four year. Some did. One of my other best girlfriend (yes, I have two!) got accepted to Art Center, a prestigous, high-calliber design school in Pasadena, California. That right there tells you how complete and incredible our design program was. No one got accepted to a school like that before. I still keep in touch with most people from there, teachers and all. It was a special time and place and we all knew it. The two groups were incredible people and we all relish how damn good it was. So there’s your answer…was that too long? I thought you said you wanted a novel! Oh…not enough time? Biscuits!

Who or what inspires you?
I am such a visual freak that I don’t think I could pinpoint one or two specific things or people that inspires me. The people on the HOW forum inspire me. Jeff Fisher inspires me to excel in my business, he’s my role model of the design entrepreneur, but then again, so is Von Glitschka. Von inspires me to cart my sketch book around with me. I will always remember what he said about getting better at illustrating. “I tell my daughters; the only way to get better is to continue doing it. Keeping picking up the pencil and do it every day.” Or at least the first part of that quote is right. Davpunk, Chimpy, (Dave Pasciuto I think is his non-monkey-mother name.) His work is inspiring. He has this incredible skill with light and shadow that is amazing. Chris Hayes is another, of No.e studios. His own wedding invitation was remarkable. Which reminds me, I need to get him a F.A.O Schwartz Gift Certificate or something for a copy of that. I could go on and on and on, and I am sure there would be someone left out, so I probably should stop with the HOW list. Ash is incredible with her books, so freakin' talented. Oh - one last couple. No…they aren’t a couple, but they are both photographers. Janet Little and Joseph Blend; both are masters of their own universe with their field of photography. I am constantly amazed at the talent.

I would say - as far as people who inspire me, they are the ones who have come before me, the ones who are established in their businesses. Especially the one’s who are entrepreneurs, because I relate to them, I am one myself. We all have this drive, this undying thirst to be
better, to reinvent, to continually create. I could never answer this question without mentioning those outside the design field. The Gert Boyle’s of the world. The pioneers of entrepreneurial spirit and success. They help me to remember that when I fall, to just get up, brush myself off and keep going. To do otherwise would be blasphemy!

Design to me is a lifestyle, not necessarily just a career. I’m sure others will agree with me that we, as designers, are drawn to well-designed stuff. Take Target; for example. I love Target. Why? Because they take the time and resources to implement design on every level of the customer’s experience. Heck, I even saw someone take cell phone photos of the illustrations that adorn all of their Halloween displays, simply because it was done so well. Does that say anything? I have a fascination and addiction to glass, especially cobalt blue glass. Vases, candle holders, anything really that in my eyes is a work of art. I go into Costco and massage wine labels and their bottles, call me crazy. Why do I like Apple products? Same thing…they respect
design and spend an incredible amount of time and energy using it to its potential.

I guess what I am saying is that I am inspired by my world, the things I encounter, and the people that I encounter along the way. The artists, the illustrators, the entrepreneurs. There you have it.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
Answered this one in the pivotal moment…didn’t I? Oh yeah, I there’s more to that story. Not enough room on the blog to go on? GETOUT!

How do you keep “fresh” within your industry?
Hmm…O.K. - this ties into the self-taught, training question too, I saved it for this; I just knew you’d ask this one. There’s two halves to this entity, I call it my Whipped Mojo. One is moving forward as an entrepreneur. The other half is strictly design oriented. I keep fresh in the entrepreneur spirit by constantly looking for ways to improve my edge over the competition. I am always reading, always researching subjects on the web. I have a knack for obtaining and
filing information; some may call it an obsession. This, however, gives me an upper hand in the game, because I can latch onto new technology as it’s coming up the pike.

I can reveal some of the most recent success of this; ‘cause it’s on my web site. Others are industry secrets I can’t yet reveal. I figured out, somewhere along the way that I had to differentiate myself from other web developers if that was a field I wanted to tackle. What I
discovered is that most web sites are not cross-browser, cross-platform compatible. I saw this as an opportunity, bought a book or two, and taught myself to use XHTML and CSS to their fullest potential. I ditched Dreamweaver, which some might disagree with, but for me I wanted to banish using a program as a crutch. Now I can offer this to my clients and have a certain edge that others may not. The hardest part of this? I’m so right brain it isn’t even funny! Trying to stretch that left brain, by hand coding everything is a kicker.

Marketing has been something else I realized needed to be in my bag of tricks. I had been one of the “victims,” if you can call it that, of the economy tanking in 2001. I knew that I had find out how others were surviving, and discovered that I needed to find a niche. By accident, I found that I had an immense passion for board-sports, so this is now my niche that I focus on. The marketing aspect came about while doing research for a colleague who was hit by the web taking over her industry, she’s an independent travel agent. It was here that I realized that somehow, I became an expert at researching subjects on the internet. I’m sure I wasn’t born with it, but it is a talent nonetheless.

The second half of my Whipped Mojo, we have my field, graphic design. I think trusting your own instincts is the key. I have tried to keep away from looking at design annuals and such, because in the end, it is your vision, your creativity that clients hire you for. I do look at some stuff online, like the HOW forum. I also check out a gazillion web sites within the board-sports industry. I also have an incredible library of sites that have their pulse on trends, demographics, like teens, 25-30 year old men, etc. Damn, there’s the marketing thing again. You can’t hide from it, it’s always there no matter what your specific design field, you have to know your audience.

What are some of your current projects?
Well, lessee…there’s 4 web sites I am working on. The clients consist of an Estate attorney, a Spa on Wheels type company, my own Business and Life Coach’s site (we are in the process of a brand-new site) a graphic designer, and well, that’s it. I’m working on a logo for the Spa on wheels company as well. My own re-launch is still going strong, which means a ton of marketing.

Which projects are you most proud of? And why?
I would have to say, right now, “The Tiki Book” self-promotion piece I did for my own studio a couple of years ago. Why? Because it started as a design school project. It was so well received that one day, I thought, “Hmm…why can’t I do this for real?” It was such an intense process. I raised the bar for this version quite high. Hundreds (or so it seemed) of hours went into researching the history of Tiki, the genre and the people that it came from. It was a labor of love, and it was the biggest learning experience I could have ever self-started. It was well received by those who got one, and I am still in touch with some of those recipients. Did I mention I wrote the whole thing? Yeah -I wrote the whole book, so my writing really got stepped up a notch too during this process. Ah - writing another love, another talent…but that's a whole other barrel of Chimpy sticks.

The main reason I am proud of it is the fact that I never gave up, and now the damn thing has some incredible, edible legs! Because it was featured in Jeff Fisher’s book, I am getting way more out of it than I ever could have imagined at the time the idea was conceived! I thank
Jeff profusely for that opportunity. The only link I can provide is this:, because the other main photo is within a PHP gallery section.

I also have to say my own web site in its current state. Link is here: Davepunk doesn’t think so, but he isn’t aware of the learning curve I had to tackle, the umpteen hours of studying and hand coding. Plus, now that this process is over, it all comes so easily now, and that is priceless. I even know PHP code because of it. Shut Up! Yes, shut up indeed. (K - a little valley girl speak, get over it.)

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I have just recently begun to understand and use my “Eye” (that extra gift that the creator gave me, which I have not mentioned here yet) for photography and I love it. I want to continue down this road. This new aspect of viewing photography as an art form rather than a necessity,
is due on part to Joseph Blend. I do some painting and wish to continue that as well. I want to be fluent in many areas actually. I have the talent and ability, so why not? If that sounds conceited, well go hug a rainbow! I would like to sharpen my illustrating skills, and not the computer stuff, I do well at it, but it ain’t my bag of funky dust.

Any advice to the novice designer / illustrator?
I would say, get an education. Find your Passion! Find your passion, and go for it! Otherwise, you will die old and bitter. I know too many people, my relatives included, that hate what they do. They’re in retail or some other dead-end job. I wish that they had someone that could have moved them to pursue their passion, as I did. You will always be a work in progress, so never forget that learning is a bottomless goblet, it will never empty and you will never die of thirst (in this respect anyway.) Oh - and don’t go to the computer immediately with a design project.
Respect the graphic design history and the hands on skills that have been used for our profession, a piece of paper and pencil is your friend. Learn brainstorming techniques, if you don’t know where to start, buy a book. “The Do-It-Yourself-Lobotomy” is a good start.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
CONCEPT. Period. Clarity is the sister to a concept. If you have a concept and clearly visually represent your message, and people “get it” right away, no questions asked…then you’ve done your job.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
Balance in one’s life is important. If you let your career take over, work all hours of the day, and at lunch you find yourself doing work in front of your computer…you’re on your way to burnout. I learned this the hard way. You must do things outside, go to movies, to galleries, to dinner, whatever. But take those times for yourself and your loved ones. Take time for yourself as well, I call it “ME Time.”

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
Desperate Housewives, LOST and ALIAS. Alias is waning on me though - the pregnancy thing and Vaughn getting killed off was just too much to swallow. I just know they’ll pull another of their stunts and bring Vaughn back from the dead, which they would have jumped the shark. The others are my new favorites. I love JJ Abrahms, his Alias story lines are so intricate and tightly wound together, criss-crossing each other. He has (along with the others on the team) have done the same with Lost - Can ya tell I like the smart, “thinking-man’s” dramas??

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