Donald Wooten is an Illustrative Designer and Screen Printer that lives in the Greater Atlanta Area. He has been designing for the last 17 years, but he has been drawing his entire life. Donald has been a screen printer for nine years…maybe longer. He also thinks he is old.
Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I originally hail from NJ. Central NJ. Nowhere near the capitol Trenton. Well beneath places like Teaneck or Weehawkin. I was born in a quaint city named East Orange and grew up in a quiet town named Irvington neighbored by the pleasant city of Newark. I grew up in the 80s too. A latchkey kid w/ house keys, chores, instructions, no money and the ability to cross streets alone…w/ no incidents.
Tell me about the work you've done?
I don’t actually like to speak about work I’ve done. Most of it dies w/ the client…and most of my clients go out of business. I am the most consistent, overly demanding, underpaying client that I service. I developed the brand Stolen Outfitters. I designed…everything. I print everything. I close all the deals…where and when there are deals to close. However, due to my site being repeatedly attacked, I poured myself into a portfolio site to redirect attention to the full-color work I am currently doing. As of right now, I am selling prints and only entertaining clients who understand the illustrative strengths I bring to the equation and can afford that grade of work. Donald-Wooten.format.com functions to highlight that work.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
To be honest, I draw a lot of people who have transitioned onto a higher plane. They are all important to me and every one of those experiences is spiritual and adds on to my progression as a soul. With that said, I drew Sean Price when he passed away. I did 2 separate designs. One was sold in a store out of Brooklyn. They were supposed to forward all the proceeds to the Price Family. Considering I was given no credit for the design when they were approached by the news for their gesture, I can only hope that whatever money they received actually reached his loved ones. The second design, I was given permission to sell by way of Sean P’s physical Brother, Brawl. That connection resulted in me drawing a 3rd picture for Sean’s Widow, Burn. I drew a picture from what I believe was their wedding and gifted it directly to her. To be integral in preserving the memory of such a great MC was and is important to me.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
Money. Attracting quality clients.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
My obsession w/ the pen tool and creating depth through vectors makes my work seem distinguished from those who avoid vectoring altogether. Not better. That’s subjective. I will say distinguished b/c there are multiple ways to arrive at a design destination but my route is different enough to be defined by it. I am also a proponent of sharp wordplay and layered ideation beyond the actual graphics. That’s the Hip Hop in me.
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
My experience is an outside looking inexperience. I have ONLY worked in the industry as far as Screen Printing. I was 1 of 2 POC in that situation. The other did Housekeeping. The two design situations I worked in had potential but were managed in a way that dictated failure. I apply but rarely – if ever- go on design interviews. I freelance. I sell bundled services b/c I own and operate a screen printing shop. I do not encounter many Screen Printers of color. I would say it’s lonely but this the same exact environment I learned to draw in so, I’m conditioned.
What are your biggest motivators?
My Family. Artistic Evolution. Inspiring others. Paying Respects. Not wanting to hurt anyone or anything in the pursuit of profit and happiness. Obligation to my perspective and unique vantage point.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
I think they’re proud but worried b/c they know so many artists die broke. They’ve never seen me get rich off of it and the clock is ticking. So yeah. I’d say they bear Proud Anxieties behind my ambitions.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
Respect for the field as a whole. A design Union that protects rates and wages for professional creatives. A fearless firm developing and nurturing COC to offset the not so diverse standard of the existing industry.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
Design is accommodating to any, and all that can design. The FIELD could be more accommodating by broadening its overview of talent and where it can originate. If the same pool is visited continuously, the overlooked pools remain overlooked.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
Man…I just hope to be in a better place and have my Family in a better place as a result of it. I would like to stay in design but some of the trends devaluing the field are making it hard to downplay the possible need to pivot. I am a screen printer which is stable and fueled by the design but I would rather just design.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
Learn. Network. Learn some more. Practice what you learned. Find some ppl who are better than you at what you do and be humbled. Draw strength from that humility and build a you that was better than the one that got humbled. Outdo your yesterday. Wake up the day after and do it again. Learn how to keep doing that. Join Design Groups on FB and LinkedIn. (On FB I am in DVA, BDU and AAGD. All official.) Know your worth. Shoot your price. Stand your ground. Know when to renegotiate. Know when to respectfully decline. Learn when to pitch like the series is riding on it. Learn some more. Work hard and then take a walk. Learn the pen tool. Zoom in. Hug your Friends and Family. Do something Fresh everyday. Buy a print from me.