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Hope Scope: Behind the scenes with Courtney and our Newsletters

Meet Courtney, our graphic designer at the Mission. He is the artist behind all our beautiful newsletters and has been a part of the Mission for over 16 years. We’re so excited for you to hear his funny story of how he ended up at the Mission, what makes him passionate, and more so keep on reading!

1. Even though some of our readers never met you, there is a good chance that they have seen your work already. You are the graphic designer for the newsletters at the Mission, an invaluable part of the team, but before that you had a robust career working both in the NYC and Boston area. Can you tell our readers more about yourself, your journey, how you ended up at the Mission?

I just had a meeting with a bunch of other people at the illustration program at the Rhode Island School of Design, which is where I went to school, and we were all giving our different perspectives. My perspective is a bit unique because that is the only school I applied to. I was the class artist, and I was the guy who did the posters and cartoons in the newspapers, so I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I went to Rhode Island School of Design thinking I was going to be Picasso and about three weeks in I realized that that was not going to be the case because I had Da Vinci over here and Matisse over there, and you’re in an art school with everybody who is so incredibly talented. So, I went from painting to illustration because I had to make a living. I got married in my sophomore year two weeks after I turned 19 and we had formal wedding, I had a child by the time I graduated. My now my ex-wife and child stayed in Rhode Island and I went down to New York to get a job. I had gotten an A on my portfolio, I was in the world of illustrations, and I did a lot of great work, but there were no full-time jobs for illustrators. So, I met the art director at Viking Press, and he said, “Why don’t you take these illustrations and put them into commercial settings?” That was like the third month of me looking for a job. I was desperate, I went back up to Rhode Island and rejiggered my portfolio and suddenly I became a graphic designer. I got a job in two weeks and I was off to the races.

I worked for sales promotion agency in NY, from there I taught for a year at my own former school. Then, I went to New Hampshire and my ex-wife and I started a gallery, and I was going to do freelance work, but the stress took a toll on our marriage. We separated and went back, separated, and went back, and then we divorced. I stopped at the first city I came across, which was Boston, and I worked for a variety of corporate art departments. I started with Radio Shack and then went to First National Stores. I didn’t really like advertising. I had freelanced and I had part-time taught at the Boston Center for Adult Education and at what was then Butera School of Art, which was a school on Beacon School that is no longer there, and Montserrat school in Beverly.

Then, one of the people that I had recommended for a job reciprocated and recommended me for a job at Bunker Community College. I went to the interview, got the job, and the person who was there for one semester went on elsewhere. So, from 1978, I ran the graphic design, or what we called it in those days, Graphic Art and Visual Communication department, and I pretty much started the department and kept it going. This was all pre-computer. So, by the time the computer came around, I was already freelancing and using computers in my freelance work. I was very fortunate to have a friend of mine who worked for a law firm management company as a writer. He needed an art guy, so I was the art guy. He would write brochures for law firms because the early 80s was the first time they could advertise themselves. So, he wrote the brochures and I designed and produced them. I got into the computer aspects of design and then brought that knowledge to the college and I convinced the college to transition to computers.

So that went really well, the department grew, we hired more faculty, and it’s now a pretty substantial program. Because they’re a community college there is a high variety of students. But, many of them, I would say a third, go on to art school. Matter of fact I just got a message on LinkedIn from a student who wanted a recommendation because he’s been the art director of NESN New England Sports Network for 15 years. Many of the students go on to four-year colleges. So, I had the the ideal world because I had a teaching job that I loved, paid the bills, etc., but I also had a freelance studio, so I would finish teaching and go to my studio. I didn’t have a boss.

One day about 15, 16, 17, 18 years ago, I shared a studio with my fellow Bruce Jones and he was of Bruce Jones design. I already had my freelance clients and I had another income, so I wasn’t out searching for clients while Bruce was. He gets a call one day from Curt Brettin, from the Boston Rescue Mission. Curt is looking for a graphic designer, but Bruce is up to eyeballs in work. Bruce is a very very nice, good person and he didn’t want to just shoo him away so he asked me, “You think you can do this newsletter? Could you produce the newsletter?” So, I called Curt and here the story begins.

Working with Curt has been a divine pleasure, no pun intended, he’s just a great guy. He’s such a steady guy.

Of course, now I’ve been doing it for so long now, 15, 16 years easily. Everything that is done is resident in my computer, I have all the logos, the typeface, the Pantone Matching System colors. I think my value with the Mission, besides doing the work, is institutional memory because I’m the only one who knows the typeface of the logo. I make contributions to the Mission that are outside of my payment from the Mission, I think it’s very valuable and underreported, so many people have never heard of it.

2. What is your favorite part about designing newsletters?

I told this to so many people, [my favorite part] is reading the stories. Hearing how people’s lives are very different because they came to the Mission, knowing how to present those stories so they’re readable etc.

In terms of the newsletter, the story is the issue. They have small appeals and large appeals and those are mostly aesthetic decisions, like falling leaves for fall, but the biggest impact for me is the personal stories. I’m sitting here and looking at this person’s picture for 6-7 hours, you just look at this person’s eyes and he/she is finally recovered and he/she has finally won this battle. Here’s this person’s story and I’m silhouetting the person and I’m changing the color and I’m looking at the person, one in the front and one in the back. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not be touched.

3. Do people ever ask you if you are Red Sox fan or Yankees fan?

So, I grew up in the era of the Yankees, the Yankees, the Yankees, the Yankees. Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Gil Hodges, in Rockaway there is an avenue named after Gil Hodges.

But, coming up here, how can you not [be a Red Sox fan? I had a friend of mine who grew up with me and he came up here with his son looking at colleges, and I met him for lunch. He’s a high school friend, and he said, “What’s the deal with the Red Sox?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Half the people in the city have Red Sox hats on? What’s the story? If that large percentage of people in NY had Yankees hats on, the hatmaker would be a millionaire.”

4. Any final words for our readers?

I think the Mission does incredibly valuable work, I think every person I met there has been 100% committed, I volunteered there on Thanksgiving or Christmas, one thing that struck me was how comfortable the clients are at the place, in the place, with the place, with the people, with the environment, everything. That’s a testament for what a good job they’re doing.

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