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Paul Sizer

What is your official title?

I am the CEO and Head Janitor of Sizer Design and Illustration. I’m pretty unapologetic about the fact that I am a one man freelance studio; I get the highs and the lows.


What is Sizer Design and Illustration?

It is my freelance design and illustration business. My training is in graphic design, but I’ve been a comic book illustrator my entire life. When I got out of college with my degree in graphic design, I worked in the private sector for awhile in Kalamazoo, and then had an opportunity to work part time at Western Michigan University. 20 hours a week in the design center, but I also had to account for the other 20 hours of the working week. I decided that I may as well put my money where my mouth is and fill up the rest of my week with freelance work. 20+ years later, that is (luckily)still the case.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

Sizer Design and Illustration is what I do in the mornings, so from 8:00am to noon I’m either answering emails, working with clients, or doing design work. After 1:00pm is when I work at Western, and like most people who freelance, every other hour that I’m not at Western, I’m somehow clocked into my freelance design work. I have enough clients who are in other time zones and countries that I have people that I could be talking to at 10:00 or 11:00pm, which is kind of interesting to try to organize that.

The thing I dig is that my dad was a teacher, and I really found myself drawn to teaching as well.


Tell us about the clients that you work with.

I’ve never had a job out of college that was anything like what I thought graphic design would be. It’s split right now that about half of the clients that I work with are not in the United States. Thank goodness for Skype! Most of the work I do is design focused with logos and identity work, but I do book design, poster design, and character design for video games. I work with musicians and design CDs and tour posters, and right now I’m designing beer cans for a brewery. I’m also working with a client on developing the look for a stage musical in the U.K.

It’s really weird and funny because the internet has helped level the playing field, so me, someone living in Kalamazoo, can bump into all of these people that I would never have a chance to intersect and work with. Through recommendations I have had the opportunity to work with great people, who have made requests of me that I may never have had the chance to work on. It comes down to the fact that people now come to me because they’ve seen stuff I’ve done in the past. It’s one of the things all designers hate doing, making cold calls and asking people if there’s something I can do for them; it’s way more fun to have people coming to me after seeing my work and getting creative on other things we can create together.


Any local companies?

Yeah. Over the years, I’ve helped Kalamazoo College redesign their Hornet. I helped them with their sports logo, but also helped them come up with their mascot that they use for things like greeting cards or identities for student groups. I got to use my illustration talents, but also got to get creative with the mascot, too.

Way back in the day, I helped design Buster Bronco, so the mascot outfit you see running around is based off of my original design. It’s so surreal seeing it now; it started off with a 2D drawing to help Western standardize Buster’s character. I graduated from Western, and when I left, I still had some contacts that I kept in touch with, which is how I got that opportunity.


Tell us a little about your background/passions.

I was born, raised and still live in Kalamazoo. I love living in Kalamazoo; I’ve have had opportunities to move to other cities, but it’s pretty great here. Graduated from Loy Norrix, and went to Western and got my degree in Graphic Design. I went out and worked for a couple of small design based companies in the area, working for the private sector. In 1993, I was working for a company that folded and I had an opportunity come up to be the Production Manager for the Design Center at Western; the thing was that it was only a 20-hour a week gig. It was also a good kick in the butt to officially become a freelancer with the other 20 hours of my week. Sizer Design and Illustration was born! It was time for me to put my money where my mouth was. Both gigs are flexible enough, and they feed off of each other, so I feel like I’m always kept on my toes.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

It’s funny, because when I was growing up, I liked the fact that it was halfway between Detroit and Chicago, because it meant that I was able to go to a big metropolis and have access to them if I wanted; I could go see an art show, or see a cool band. I loved that in college, because being halfway between those two cities, a lot of great bands would stop in Kalamazoo and perform at the State Theater or Club Soda on their way to the other big city.

I think that translated into the arts for me. I really love the art community here; you can feed off of the big cities on either side, but we have a sustainable community here that is vibrant. I think it made it more palatable to me to be able to say, hey, I can get big city stuff if I need it, but don’t necessarily need to commit to living in a big city. I can do everything that I want to do in Kalamazoo, and in growing a business, as long as I have good Wifi and FedEx, I can work with people all over the globe, but still go outside to the park and walk my dog or go down to O’Duffy’s Pub.


What kind of music do you jam to?

My long relationship with music started with my friends giving me mix tapes starting around 1979, and that relationship continues on. I love music. I love dance music, I love techno music; I grew up listening to synth-pop, ABBA, punk rock, and show tunes. The question “What music do I love?” really depends on what hour of the day it is. I wake up and want to hear German techno, but by noon I want to listen to ABBA and Erasure, and in the evening I want to listen to drone ambient music. It’s all over the place, but generally, because I love DJing, I love music that gets people dancing.


How do you take your coffee? Or do you?

Two shot latte with a shot of vanilla syrup. I’ve been berated for what I do to coffee; I’m not hardcore by any means.


Do you have a go-to spot in Kalamazoo?

It kind of depends on what I want to do. If I need to get out of the house and just do some brainstorming, I like going to Fourth Coast or the Waterstreet Coffee Joint. There are plenty of restaurants that are great – O’Duffy’s, Oakwood Bistro and Cosmos are terrific. I’ve lived all of my single and now married life in the Vine neighborhood. When my wife Jane and I were looking to buy our house, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t so far out in the suburbs that we couldn’t get to the cool stuff downtown. I love that I can walk to the Arcadia festival site for a concert, and the Alamo Drafthouse for a meal and movie.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

The advice I’d give to myself is, dude, shave your head. Looking back at pictures, I saw so many shots where it was like, you know, it’s not going to get any better, stop pretending, and commit.

In a weird sense, though, the advice I would give my younger self really manifested in an interesting way. When I was in high school and college there was a musical artist named Thomas Dolby, who had a big hit in the 80s with “She Blinded Me With Science”. I was a huge fan of this dude. Through my time in college, I found I really loved music and design, so I was this fan boy nerding out over my favorite artists and the design of their albums. Flash forward 20 years, through happenstance, I find out through Dolby’s website that he is having a t-shirt contest, and says anyone in the fan community can design a shirt. I did the design and sent it to the fan forum, and got an email a day later from the moderator; she told me they were planning on doing this for two weeks, but they loved my design, so I needed to act surprised in two weeks when they announced the winner.

A day later, I got an email directly from Thomas Dolby saying, “Hey Paul, thanks for the t-shirt design, do you by chance do any other design work?” My brain was just exploding! That evolved into working with this guy for three years – I designed his latest album, the promotional design work for two tours he’s done, the design interface for a huge interactive game he did leading up to the release of the album. All through these projects, I found myself thinking, “This guy is your idol!” If I could go back in time and talk to 1986 Paul, I’d whisper to myself that I was going to have the opportunity to work with this guy, so take chances; you never know who you’re going to meet and who’s going to come into your life.


What is your dream for the future of Sizer Design and Illustration?

I would say that probably the most satisfaction I’ve gotten in my life is being able to take what I do and bring happiness and fulfillment to people through the work I do, whether it’s helping them communicate what they feel strongly about, or it’s a design helping someone get their ideas to a wider audience, or drawing a picture of a dragon on a cocktail napkin for their kid.

My parents and everybody that I’ve really respected in life have instilled in me the idea of paying it forward; if you’re fortunate enough to be doing what you love, show other people how they can do it. If I can have any measure of success with the work I do, I hope it can inspire other people that can find a way to do the things they care about as well; if I can do it, you can do it. I want to keep doing the things that I’m doing until the last day I am able – I want to share my love of design, my love of music and my love of storytelling to as many people as I can. That’s my dream; I want to keep paying it forward.


Paul, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Paul and his company on facebook. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.