The year was 1999, and I was in a musty classroom in Woodbridge Senior High School. I was new to the Northern Virginia area after my family moved from our small, simple Texas town that previous summer. I wasn’t big into school, studying, grades or standardized tests. But I was big into art, any time, any where. That’s where this story starts, the back of my freshman math class. Surrounded by the “open air learning” system created by the weirdo designers from the school’s original conception (big three-sided cubical class rooms that you could throw stuff over the walls in). While no doubt doodling something in my sketch book, a kid turns around and says to me “Hey man, you do art? My band has a demo tape and you should draw the sleeve!”. For you younger readers, this was like the Facebook cover photo for crappy music recorded in a garage. And so, I came up with a strange, graffiti character, alien guy that had comically massive studio can headphones on and dubbed the demo “Music for the Deaf” – they loved it.

Fast forward to my escape from High School with a decent art portfolio and no clue what to do with it. I did a little bit of Community College locally and even picked up photography, which was really great. We even still used dark rooms back then! Had to fight off dinosaurs and angry cave men to get there, but we used them. After a year in Community College I made the switch to a trade school for graphic design. That school was the Art Institute of Washington. What a name! Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I was getting what I wanted from the lesson plans. So after each class ended, I would grab my bag and my Powerbook G4 and make the trip across the Key Bridge to Georgetown. Back then, M Street was mostly bars and restaurants. And I went into every one of them and asked if I could design something for them for free. Usually it was a Myspace (yeah) flyer for an event or something going on. I never got a dime for that work, but I got something even better. I got experience in the world of design and client relations. I learned how to interpret what the client wanted and deliver a project that worked for them within the parameters of the available technology while maintaining a visual appeal for their customers. It was a blast, plus it felt cool to sit at a bar in the middle of the day when I wasn’t even legally allowed to consume their product.

After I was finished with school, I took what I learned and immediately jumped into the freelance world. I got lucky with a couple of big clients right away. I did club flyers for an event that was one of D.C.’s best parties. I even got to do a spread for them in the Washington Blade. The other big client was a major switch in direction from the ladies night flyers. A major residential developer in Northern Virginia needed help resizing their ads for different periodicals. I had no clue how to price for things, so I just blurted out a number that I felt wasn’t insulting. When they immediately accepted with joy, I knew I was going places. Not far away places, the number was low and gas was expensive back then. But when I got that first check from The Hylton Group, I just knew I had found my place in the world. I was a Graphic Designer, officially and undeniably.

I spent the next decade bouncing around from print shop to sign shop to another print shop and back to the first sign shop, all while working nights on freelance design. It was a long road, but I learned a ton from my many bosses. I learned how to price, produce and provide. I learned the right and wrong way to do things as a business owner. I learned that I couldn’t keep up this pace for long, especially now that I was a self-described old man with a wife, son and another child on the way. So in May of 2015, I marched into my bosses office and gave my notice. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But it was also the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

It was over a decade of experience and building relationships with my freelance clients and vendors that allowed me to pursue this career. It allowed me to build Metro Nova Creative into the company that it is today. And hopefully, it will allow me to help your business grow.

Thanks for reading,
Dan Craddock