Aaron McMillan is currently a graphic artist at Absolutely! Custom Apparel & Graphics. A recent graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Aaron approaches design with tenacity and fervor due to the passion rubbing off on him from his professors. Before working at Absolutely!, he completed two internships at Russo and Right Angle Advertising where he was able to whet his skills and prepare him for being a full-fledged designer. When not designing, Aaron focuses on practicing a multitude of other art forms primarily illustration, focusing on character design and the human figure, and incorporates the skills he develops from this practice into his design whenever possible.
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Aaron lived his early years there before moving with his mother to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was there that Aaron’s artistic abilities began to flourish, alongside his academics. He would spend downtime during elementary school drawing in his notebook filling the pages with fan artwork of popular children’s shows at the time.
In 2005, at age 10, Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans forcing Aaron and his family to evacuate to his mother’s childhood home Eunice, Louisiana. There, Aaron completed the rest of his schooling, but as a result from having his life washed away and circumstances out of his control, he fell into a deep depression, only finding solace in his art. After completing high school and enrolling at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he was able to pull out of his depression and truly begin developing his artistic skills beyond their limits.
How did you first get interested in design?
I first got into design when working on the yearbook staff at my high school. While laying out text and photos would seem boring to some; I found pleasure and glee learning how to use Indesign and Photoshop to complete the yearbook.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
I believe my proudest accomplishment would be to have my work showcased in the Bachelor of Fine Arts gallery at the University of Louisiana.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
My biggest struggles in my career have been overcoming my handicaps as an artist. Despite keeping up with art as a hobby during middle school and high school, due to being in honors classes I had to drop the ability to take art classes in favor of more academic courses. As a result of this sacrifice, when I got into the College of the Arts and UL the skill rift between me and my peers was vast. However, through my own diligence and with the help from professors and friends I was able to close the gap and achieve beyond what I believed I could in a short time.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
I think that forcing myself to continually practice and learn new art media and keep myself from reaching a plateau while some artist will tend to stay within their comfort zones and struggle to not stagnate.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your careers?
My biggest motivators are seeing the impact that design can have on people, but also on nations and even the world. I have a desire to be apart of that impact to try the change the world for the better, that is my biggest motivator.
Another motivator is proving to younger black children that they can achieve more than what is layed out for them and no matter what field they choose to go into for their career, it is accessible to people that look like them.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
My experience has been pleasant overall, however, in each of the places I’ve worked so far and even in my classroom in college, I was the only black person in most cases, and I couldn’t help but feel isolated from my peers and coworkers when it came to certain subjects.
What are your biggest motivators?
My most prominent motivators are seeing the impact that design can have on people, but also on nations and even the world. I have a desire to be apart of that impact to try the change the world for the better, that is my biggest motivator.
Another motivator is proving to younger black children that they can achieve more than what is laid out for them and no matter what field they choose to go into for their career, it is accessible to people that look like them.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
My family, surprisingly, is constantly supportive of my work and constantly telling me how much they’re proud of me. My friends, most of which are in the creative realms themselves, consistently push me forward and challenge my skills forcing me to keep going and enhancing them further.
What do you love most about working in design?
I think it’s seeing the finished product after completing a design project that called for a lot of hard work. Seeing it all come together into one cohesive whole really puts a smile in my heart.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
I’d like to see more people of color in head positions in the industry. During my studies in college, the majority of designers I learned of were primarily white men. In this new modern and progressive era, I want to push forward that people of color can also be great leading artists.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
Design can be more accomodating by making it more easily accessible due to underrepresented populations usually not having the resources to access design in all forms and means.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
I am currently working on multiple projects for work, but some of the important ones include original t-shirt designs for Tabasco and apparel designs for WAITR.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
I see myself owning or running a design agency, favorably, on the west coast with friends and colleagues I’ve met on my journey there.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
My biggest advice would be to never give up. No matter how big or strong the adversity is and no matter its form, it is most import for one to never give up and to keep pushing forward in spite of the opposition because it will only make you stronger in the end.