Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Monkey's Gone to Heaven

I quit my job at Paul Frank.

The one I've had for 7 years.

Don't worry, I got a new one and it's going to be bitchin'! But let's talk about Paul Frank.

The main reason I'm leaving is because Paul Frank Industries was purchased in 2010 by Saban Brands (the people who own Power Rangers). Paul Frank is based in Costa Mesa, and Saban Brands is based in Los Angeles. After 2 years, they've finally decided that everything needs to be under one roof, so they are moving Paul Frank up to LA. Moving is not an option. Commuting to and from LA from where I live could take up to 2 hours each way, and those are Zoey hours. I would be a weekend-only mom. Not only would I never see my daughter, but then Kyle would carry the burden of dropping her off, picking her up, bath time, bed time, etc. The way we do things now it's pretty 50/50 and I just don't think it would be fair to him either.

But that's just the thing that got me moving. The reality is that it's just time for me to move on to my next thing and grow as a designer.

I started as an intern, still in college, and worked my way up from making less than someone who works at In 'N' Out (that's California-speak for burger joint) to becoming the Senior Graphic Designer in charge of all girls/juniors/womens graphics. I've designed tees, sportswear prints, pajama prints, bikes, watches, headphones, bedding, you name it. If you told me on day 1 that I would survive 2 rounds of massive layoffs in which really great designers got let go, but for some reason I did not, I would have thought you were taking crazy pills. If you would have told me on day 1 all the things I would eventually come to know and be responsible for, I might have freaked out and questioned myself. But now I can high five myself for what I've accomplished. (Would high fiving yourself technically be clapping?)

I am so lucky to have worked at Paul Frank. I think the designers I've worked with over the years at Paul Frank are the best of the best. I learned more during my first year at Paul Frank than I did in my entire college career. Each one of them taught me something. You probably won't know who any of these people are, but I'm going to write about them anyway because I owe a tribute to these people and this is the best place to give it. I will entertain you with silly pictures of Paul Frank life along the way.

Ben taught me the most. He taught me how to be organized and efficient, and if he had me do something a certain way, he always explained why. My second year, he had me go to Magic (a fashion tradeshow) with him to set up our booth. He thought it was important for me to experience setting up the booth (I say booth, but it was more like a house), and he thought it was important for me to experience the tradeshows. It always boosted my confidence as an employee knowing that Ben wanted me to know things. I took it as a definite sign that someone saw long term potential in me. Ben is my friend, and even though we haven't worked together for a while now I still view him as a mentor-type. He went on to work for Disney, and now he has a company called C-Preme. They make these neat Raskullz helmets you may have seen in Target and Toys R Us.

(Above: Ben in action at one of our many Paul Frank dodgeball tournaments.)

(Above: One year we formed a dodgeball team called A Flock of Seagals. We all dressed up like Steven Seagal.)

(Above: That time everyone in the company got a Paul Frank bike for Christmas.)

Parker, who went on to do great things like Yo Gabba Gabba and The Aquabats Supershow, is still one of my all time favorite people. He taught me to add the "conflict" in a character scene, a kind of secondary thing happening that makes it more interesting. He also taught me that if you need to make a circle, don't just make a boring old circle, tweak it a little and make it a circle that's just a bit off. I learned more from him, but I used those two bits of advice the most. Fun fact about Parker: He was a child actor who played Kevin Arnold's friend "Turtle" on The Wonder Years. That always cracks me up.

(Above: Ben and Parker during one of our annual mustache contests.)

(Above: When Parker won the mustache contest.)

(Above: When Parker left to go start work on Yo Gabba Gabba, the PF art department took a field trip to go visit him on set while they filmed the first season!)

Debbie was the art department hottie and her technical skill with Illustrator always amazed me. She drew shapes and letters with purpose. It really helped me to look at her work because I could see how my own lines were wishy-washy and her work set a great example for me. Technical skill aside, Debbie was admirably compassionate and sensitive. This fascinated me because I am quite the opposite. I generally don't like emotions (from other people, or expressing them myself) so it was impressive to see that kind of stuff come so easily from Debbie. We became great friends and I really don't see her enough anymore now that life is different. One great thing about Debbie is her friends. I was invited many times to hang out with her and her friends outside of work, and even though they were such a close knit group they were always so welcoming and had a way of making me feel like I wasn't the new guy at the party. A lot of people could take a lesson from Debbie and her friends.

(Above: A piece from the limited edition run of hand painted and silkscreened monotypes, featuring Paul Frank's Julius, by artist Thomas Campbell. One of my favorite collaborations. We have one of these hanging in our living room and it's one of my favorite possessions.)

Alex just recently left Paul Frank in March 2012 and he's pretty much a badass. If I were to take something from the way Alex worked, it would be that he took his time really finessing his graphics and it shows because his work might be the best I've seen from anyone at PF over the years. He was already immersed in the local art scene as a painter, and thanks to him I got to be involved in some art shows, which I had never done before. But more than anything, Alex cracked me up on a daily basis. He has a filthy mind, and his story-telling skills are unmatched.

(Above: That time we had the craziest company holiday party on the top level of a parking structure and Wolfmother played...)

(...and there was a camel.)

I didn't work with Kevin for very long, but I have always admired his ability to start over. He left Paul Frank less than a year after I started working there and moved to Austin, Texas with his wife and baby (who is now a kid!) and now he is this super cool Austin art dude. I am really glad we've kept in touch.

Todd wasn't a graphic designer. He was our men's merchandiser and later became our men's designer. He went on to start Toddland. That's enough of an inspiration right there. Actually, I might as well lump Paul (Meshreky, not Frank) into this because for a while there we were really a trio. We called ourselves "the Voltron of design" because whenever we were all together, something that would start out as a wacky idea from one of us would get bounced around back and forth between us until it became an actual thing. You might even say that Toddland itself is one of those things. They were my work BFFs.

(Above: In our old building, we always had musicians, actors, and other celebrities coming in for tours and to get free stuff. Of course, my favorite person to come in was Leslie Hall. My second favorite person to come in was Elijah Wood. He was quiet and seemed kind of nervous, like he was on our turf. I found it endearing. I did not care much for Christian Bale, although his wife was lovely.)

Mike (code name: Sonny Skyes) is the hardest working guy I know. He really flexes his brain muscles when a design problem emerges, and he always has a concept behind what he does. Plus he's just the coolest dude who keeps up with all the latest bands and art gallery openings and shows and stuff. He is currently the Creative Director for Paul Frank, and I was so glad when he got that position because he really deserved it. I hope he goes on to become a VP of something.

(Above: In March 2009, this was all that was left of the Paul Frank art department. Mike, Alex, and me. Eventually we brought back Paul Meshreky, and hired a brand new person - Jsong.)

(Above: The time Mike Perry and Anna Wolf came to our office and I made a super sweet face.)

Jsong and Juanita - none of us would have ever signed up for the Patchwork craft shows or opened our Etsy shops if we hadn't all done it together.

Ryan Heuser was one of the founders and president of the company. I was really intimidated by him at first. When we changed from a company of 150 employees to 15 employees and moved into a smaller office, I got to know him better and came to love "busting his balls" a little. Despite making fun of him for listening to John Mayer in his office, I hold his opinion very highly. So highly that I still have an email saved that he sent me in 2006 that told me I was doing a great job. I was pretty new back then, so getting an email from the president/owner of the company was a big deal! His wife Melissa is one of the sweetest people I know, and she is the brains behind Invent-a-Tale and Chipper.

These people and so many more made Paul Frank the greatest place to work. I bet anyone who worked there could write the same types of things about the people in their department. Sometimes I wonder how all the most amazing people could end up under one roof. I suspect witchcraft.

Some notable things I did as an employee (things I'm proud of):
  • I really pushed the idea of rendering characters in different ways - hand drawing, ink, watercolor, switching up colors, and doing more fashion-y layouts. 
  • I designed 2 seasons worth of graphics and prints at the same time while I was pregnant, so that my coworkers wouldn't be bogged down with extra work while I was on maternity leave. This was at a time when the output was massive and I can't believe I pulled that one off!

Some fond memories:
  • The year I was a centaur for Halloween and I battled a dragon in the costume contest.
  • Every party. Ain't no party like a Paul Frank party.
  • That time Parker decided it was finally time to realize his dream of eating a pancake burger - a cheeseburger with pancakes for buns. A big group of us went over to TK Burgers at lunch time, where luckily they served breakfast all day. Several people ordered pancake burgers, and they actually made them. The joy on Parker's face as he poured syrup all over his burger still haunts me.
  • Birthday cakes from Todd that just got crazier each year.
  • Several Paul Frank employees becoming gym rats together. For a solid 2 years we were all really hot. One of us even went on to become a certified Crossfit trainer.
  • "Pupusa Thursdays"...we ate pupusas every Thursday.
  • Being flown to Chicago to attend Lollapalooza 3 times. My job was to paint kids' faces with our characters at Kidzapalooza. How amazing is it that they sent art department people to do this, instead of just hiring Chicago-based face painters? We were officially off duty at 4pm and we had these crazy passes to the "Lolla Lounge" where there was free everything - food, drink, massages, etc.
  • Specifically, watching Radiohead at Lollapalooza from the Lolla Lounge. This was shortly after "In Rainbows" came out, which is my favorite album of theirs. I felt like I was transported to another dimension while I watched them.

It's been 7 really rad years. I feel like I got to be a member of some exclusive club. And yet, I'm not really too sad about leaving. In fact, I'm actually pretty excited about the next chapter.


the grumbles said...

I'm so, so proud that I know you.

Cameron said...

This is an awesome post. Excited for new opportunities for you, glad you have such an amazing background of experiences. Awesome, awesome. :)

the corbett kid. said...

more amazing things are yet to come! clap clap! xo

Lara said...

This is so great! You're one classy gal and this next chapter is going to be amazing!

PS - I think you guys just liked saying "pupusa"

Anonymous said...

Yay frien! I feel like I experienced these things along with you. It was awesome but frien has a new callin'!

pierre said...

Thanks for sharing!

I worked at PF in it's infancy with just Ben and Paul around 98-2000.. Ben was always the most positive and energetic (to a fault sometimes) person to be around. He was commited and always did explain very well why things were intended. Although, i had to break his reliance on CorelDraw and teach him the Illustrator ways...which was probably version 4.0 back then! It was a nightmare converting all those files...he was the man behind the curtain.

We moved into an old quiksilver building, and i remember pushing our chairs down the street a few blocks, and racing them downhill at times carrying everything piece by piece to the new office. We ended up hiring Parker, who i'm still constantly amazed by - his built up creativity just leaks out on everyone. Ryan is a great guy too once you get past him being the mayor of Orange County...and the john mayer music...haha. Paul himself isn't credited enough for pushing the direction of the company to the beast it grew up to be. He really had an impact on me, and it's a shame that the break up happened as it did...

But PF as a whole has always done a great job at having a fun work environment since the beginning, and I wanted to return after college...but working in LA for you was Orange County for me..and i had to escape that jungle. I dearly miss that place, but it was my first official design gig, and i've worked some great places since then keeping the foundation of what i learned to heart. I can't believe it's been 12 years.

I wish you luck in your future! BTW, i got this link from Parker's post on FB...

kelly ♥ let's die friends ♥ said...

Thanks everyone!

Thanks for commenting Pierre, that was a great story!
When I started in 2005, Paul was still around, but he didn't come in very often and when he did, he really only spoke to certain people. He was a hero to me, and I was too shy to strike up any conversations with him, so I just (very nervously) said hello when he came in. That was silly of me.

Unknown said...

This makes me so happy and so sad at the same time. Brought tears to my eyes. I miss those times but am so thankful we got to experience all that is Paul Frank industries. BTW,I commute to LA everyday now. It sucks. Thank you for this xo

keri gross said...

Unknown is Keri Gross, don't know why my name didn't show up

Mika Kat said...


Your post brought back so many sentimental memories for me. I can relate to your bittersweet feelings of leaving Paul Frank, and I am so excited to see what the future brings for you!

As "pierre" mentioned above, I was lucky enough to be a part of Paul Frank from it's humble beginnings. I remember Ben's hamster Spiccoli, rolling around the tiny office in his plastic ball, Paul drawing his designs with a pencil and swearing off "evil" computers, and *almost* watching the building go down in flames when the field behind it caught on fire.

The convergence of creativity that filled Paul Frank over the years still astonishes me. I look back at all of those memories with such fondness. The talent and imagination of everyone I worked with through the years still inspire me to this day.

You're right about the witchcraft - it's the only way such magic could've taken place.

Good luck Kelly!! :)

swonderful said...

Kelly! I read this post on my iPhone when you first posted it and just reread it now, clicking every link. You should be high-five-clapping yourself, lots. You're just as awesome as those coworkers. You fit in there for a reason. And I can't wait to see what is next!

Anonymous said...

what a great tribute. i'm so proud of you and you are going on to another amazing adventure

<3 Zoeys Nana

Gracie said...

This post is amazing, what an adventure!! I love what a hard worker you are too. I feel a bit emotional reading it even though I didn't work there - but then you wouldn't like that, ha ha

Alex Funderburk said...

I single tear fell from my eye just now..