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“My greatest asset is that I was smart enough to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.”

Herb Zebrack, president of Lithographix, uttered these words in response to the question, “What’s the secret to your growth?”

I heard Herb make this statement years ago when I attended a Top Management Network event offered by the Printing Industries Association, Inc. of Southern California.

The event was held at Lithographix’s 250,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles. What impressed me most was that Lithographix started out as a 1,600 square foot print shop. Right then I realized, Herb must know what he’s talking about.

During my tenure here at Westamerica Communications, I’ve done my best to surround myself with smart people.

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you

One of the “smart people” I’ve surrounded myself with during the past 14 years is Courtney Hay, a graphic designer and Associate Art Director here at Westamerica Communications. I’ve been blessed to work with Courtney on some amazing projects.

Recently I had the chance to talk with Courtney about his life and how he became interested in print and graphic design.

When did you become interested in graphic design?

As a child, I had little awareness of what graphic design was. I did appreciate the art of comic books, illustrated children’s books and famous paintings. Growing up, I became more aware of the concept of commercial art but never thought about making a career of it.

I spent a lot of my childhood drawing and doodling. Over time I got pretty good at it. In fact, I got so good that I became known as the “go-to artist” at my school, Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California. After attending the University of California, Irvine and pursuing a degree in Biological Sciences, I finally decided to turn to my passion of illustration and enrolled in a graphic design school.


Which designers do you like and which have influenced your work?

Growing up, I was a comic book fan and enjoyed the artistic works of Jack Kirby. He and Stan Lee co-created the Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk, and others. I also enjoy the work of Steve Ditko. He also worked with Stan Lee to co-create Marvel’s Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.

I like the work of more recent comic book artists like Frank Miller, of Daredevil and Elektra fame. And, of course, I enjoy the work of comic book writer/artist, Alex Ross. Besides his comic book work, Ross also does commercial work, like me. He’s created DVD packaging art and magazine covers.

It should be no surprise, that if growing up I was a comic book fan, that I’m also influenced by the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Michael Bedard. All of their works have the feel of the comic books.

Lichtenstein’s use of dot patterns reminds me of the CMYK dots used to print color images on paper. When you print on newspaper stock, like that used in old comic books, you can see the dot patterns, if you look close enough.

I really like Haring’s use of primary colors and simple lines and shapes. And Bedard’s storybook characters have such a simple, clean look about them. And I love the way he can illustrate expression in the looks of the animal’s faces.

Did you go to school to train or was most of your training on the job?

I earned an Associates Degree at Platt College’s School of Graphic Design. However, about 85% what I know now I subsequently learned on the job.

What’s one of your favorite projects at Westamerica Communications and why?

I really enjoyed creating and designing the multi-page, magazine-style quarterly newsletter for Northwest Federal Credit Union, The Northwest Difference. I was given free rein and the adequate time needed to create a newsletter without the restrictions of set brand guidelines and styles. I enjoyed treating each newsletter article as separate projects and utilizing full, two-page spreads.

Have you worked on any cross-media projects? If so, what challenges did you face and how were they overcome?

We work on a lot of cross-media projects here at Westamerica. I usually participate in the print portion of the projects. It’s important in cross-media work to keep a consistent look with the print and online work. To make this possible, I take artwork I have created for print and convert it into JPEGs to be used online. I’ve also turned some of the print artwork into GIFs for use in online projects.

It’s very gratifying to work with other team members here at Westamerica on cross-media projects. It’s interesting to see how the print work I designed is then repurposed for the web.

Surround yourself with people that are fun, too

Much like some of the comic book heroes that Courtney enjoys, “by day” (or more accurately, 364 days a year) he’s a mild-mannered graphic designer. But one day each year – on Halloween – Courtney lets his wild alter-ego side out. He pulls out all the stops and is a home-crowd favorite perennial winner of our company Halloween costume contest.

Surrounding yourself with smart, creative, and fun people really helps your company run smoother. It’s great to collaborate and create projects that make you happy and your clients successful.