Nick Healy: All Over the Place

Nick Healy is just one of those guys.

Out of school less than six years, Healy has already accomplished a lot: He is a successful art director at Mascola Group, an award-winning advertising agency in New Haven. He is Vice President of the CADC for the 2007-2008 season. And he has just launched an online limited-edition art gallery and clothing company called One of Twenty.

We talked to Nick about how he got to where he is, and where he wants to go from here.

Your art education started early, attending the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven. What was this experience like?
The ECA is an amazing high school. It’s a magnet school in downtown New Haven — a very inspiring place to be — and kids from all over New Haven County come there to study Fine Arts in their specific disciplines, whether it be Visual Arts, Theater, Dance, or Writing. I would go to my regular high school in the mornings to take my general courses of Math, English, and Science, and then after lunch I would take the bus to New Haven and be there from 1 until 4 o’clock.

For me, it was a great introduction into the huge diversity that there is in the art world. I got to meet a lot of students who were not just practicing the traditional style of realistic drawing and painting that I had been doing at my high school in Milford. It was also a very humbling experience — a lot of the students there were already far beyond my skill level and it motivated me to work harder.

I think ECA’s format of 2-3 hour studio session style classes also prepared me for the types of classes I would be taking once I got into college.

You then attended Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford, graduating in 2003. What drew you to the school and/or the Visual Communication Design program?
It’s pretty funny — while I did attend an art-focused high school, I was still pretty involved in sports. One of the main reasons I looked at Hartford was the fact that they had a great art program and I could play rugby too. It wasn’t until I got to Hartford that I made the decision to major in design and not pursue a career as a traditional artist.

I think the Visual Communication Design program there does a good job of having its students study a combination of art and graphic design theory versus technical/software know-how. They do teach how to use specific programs and applications to its students, but this wasn’t the main focus. Anyone can learn how to work a program — but without a solid basis in color, type, concepting, and spatial layout, you are going to have a really hard time producing quality work that stands out amongst the clutter and really communicates to the viewer once you’re out of school.

On top of that, the professors there also did a great job of connecting me to the professional world through internships, guest critics, studio tours and professional organizations like the CADC. I still stay in touch with my professors while on the CADC board.

Outside of my design education, University of Hartford was definitely a positive experience. As I said before I got involved with the Rugby team there, played, and became the president of the team for three years and still stay in touch with the friends I made on the team. I think a physical sport like rugby helped to ease the tension that critiques, deadlines and the looming prospect of having to find a job can bring.

And to tie it all together, for my senior design project I rebranded the rugby team with a new logo, uniforms, posters, fliers, and website. I was pretty excited to find out this past year at alumni weekend that they are still using the logo I created for everything.

You are now at the Mascola Group. Was this your first job?
Straight out of college, I spent about a year freelancing and then worked for a year as the internal graphic designer for Slocum & Sons, a distributor of high end wines.

Since then, I have been with Mascola for four years. I was hired as a Junior Art Director when I first started and made my way into the Senior Art Director role over my time here. So the majority of my time in the working world has been at Mascola.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to work with some extremely talented people and also the company has been good enough to once a year send me down to AdHouse portfolio school in NYC. It’s a program that has concepting classes with the Creative Directors at big agencies like TBWA and smaller creative shops like MadInjection. For me this is huge — I feel like the worlds of advertising and design are constantly changing and you need to be continually learning to keep up and to keep yourself fresh.

Mascola now bills itself as “building brands that unlock and tap into the disposable income of the mass affluent markets.” What can you tell us about this switch in focus?
This was sort of a natural switch for us that was really born out of taking a look at our client roster and articulating what we were already doing. Ever since I have been at Mascola, our client list has been centered around the worlds of boating, skiing, and tourism. Our new positioning was really a clear way to state what we were already doing, when pitching potential clients within the industries we feel like we already specialize in, and give us the ability to go after other companies that have a similar target audience.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the fact that these are the clients we cater to. In the past two years, I’ve gotten to go on week-long photo shoots in Miami Beach and the British Virgin Islands. Working vacations on trips that I certainly couldn’t afford at this point in my life.

In 2007, Mascola was featured in the Hartford Courant as “focused on fun.” Do they still live up to this statement, and how important is that to you?
I think the environment you work in plays a very important factor, I spend more time with the people I work with than I do with my wife. So I’d better like what I’m doing and where I’m working. Prior to the Hartford Courant article, no one here stated that we’re “focused on fun” we have always just had a good time.

I think Chuck Mascola, who started the agency, has spearheaded that. Chuck realizes that to be able to produce good creative work and to retain employees, you need to keep a relaxed atmosphere. And you need to have time to step away from your work and breathe to keep a fresh perspective about the clients you are working on. Once a month we have agency lunches (that usually turn into afternoons). At the building we have a basketball hoop and an air hockey table. And we do at least two agency trips a year. In the past, we’ve hosted Oktoberfest parties for the Ad Club and a 3-on-3 basketball tourney for the CADC. That being said, we also do our fair share of late nights, working and crunching to meet deadlines.

This year you were Vice President of the CADC. How has your involvement in the CADC helped your career?
I joined the CADC right after college to network and help find a first job — but it has really become a way to stay connected to former classmates and professors, and a way to stay in touch with what other creatives are working on in Connecticut. My favorite event of this past year was our open portfolio night, where people just brought in what they’ve been up to lately. If not for events like these and the Awards Show, I wouldn’t get to see what work is really out there or see that there was such good stuff coming out of Connecticut.

The CADC seems to have gone through some positive changes this past year.
I think what has been going on with the Club have been a combination of the Board listening to member feedback, and to changes of people on the Board itself. We have tried to have a variety of events this year that range from purely social to very informative, in as many areas of the state as possible.

The Awards Show specifically claims, “This year, we’re doing things differently.” How so?
One of the main complaints we heard from last year’s Awards was that the presentation section of the show goes too long. I think it was over two hours this past year. So for this year we are planning to really cut down what is being presented to the top awards, and let the majority of the show’s time be dedicated to the hung artwork and the socializing aspect of the first half.

We are hosting it at The Woodwinds in Branford, which will be a nice central location for people coming from Fairfield County, New London and Hartford. In my opinion, people go to the Awards Show to catch up with former colleagues and look at some award-winning creative. Not to sit and watch people walk up on stage, shake hands and get their award for two hours.

As if you weren’t busy enough, you also found time to start One of Twenty. Tell us about it.
One of Twenty is an idea for an online gallery and clothing company that my younger brother Jeff and I have been kicking around for the past year or so. We actually launched the site on April 1.

Jeff actually had a similar background as I did, going to ECA and then art school, although he studies painting and not graphic design. He and I have a similar twisted sense of humor, so we naturally wanted to do something together. As we began kicking around ideas for a website, we found that there are a ton of small independent t-shirt design places out there. All along, we talked about how we wanted to marry the art we created to the clothes we’d be producing. So we took the idea of limited edition runs from the art world and applied it to the clothing — also as a way to try and stand out from the pack.

What about your family/background seemed to nurture two artists?
While neither of my parents — or our older brother Chris — has any talent when it came to art, our extended family has always been very art-friendly. My Grandma Jean was actually one of the first women to attend Yale University’s art school, our parents cousins Colin and Myra have a touring bluegrass group, and my cousin Erin Healy also attended the University of Hartford as an illustration major. So from a young age, my mom and dad always nurtured our interests in drawing and painting and it always seemed like the natural thing.

My brother Jeff moved back into the area about a year ago and we began talking about creating art together and the idea for the website as a way to showcase our work and a collective of our friends who are also just starting out.

Who does what on the site between you and your brother?
The website creation and maintenance I have been taking care of, with my limited knowledge of Dreamweaver — and so far I’m not in over my head.

Most of the One of Twenty artwork up there now if Jeff’s, but just having the website up has really forced me to get back into creating art personally. Which I’m excited about; it’s a nice way for me to do whatever I want without the restrictions of brand standards and client’s personal preferences being added into the mix.

The clothing is a pretty split mix of ideas and designs from Jeff and I that we came up with together.

We made a separate section for “friends” because we didn’t wish to limit other artists to our concept of limited edition. Even though right now that section is just Rorke Green’s photography we have three more artists going up in the next month. We hope to really get a wide variety in the way of styles and mediums up, and our next three artists range from working in ceramics, to paint, to glassblowing.

How do you produce the t-shirts? Are they hand silkscreened?
For now, we have partnered up with Shogun Screen Printing in Wallingford. They are a local silk screening company that does a lot of shirt graphics for local and national punk, hardcore, and rock bands. It’s a shop of about three guys that was recommended to us by friends. We eventually want to purchase/build our own press, but we figure in the meantime we can support another small, local group of people.

The first round of shirts were all on Gilden brand, which is a sweatshop-free company.

Where do you see One of Twenty going from here?
I think the pie-in-the-sky hope for One of Twenty is sort of two-fold.

The clothing end of things will most likely always be Jeff and I. We hope that the idea of One of Twenty at some point might have to grow to One of Two Hundred or Two Thousand, but no matter how large it gets, it stays limited and on a much smaller numbers scale that the rest of the competitive set. For now, we are just focusing on designs for hoodies, hats and long-sleeve shirts, and moving beyond just t-shirts.

For the art side of things, we want to grow the collective of artists showing their work on our site, maybe to 20? The agreements we set up with artists are meant to benefit them more than us. It is completely non-exclusive and we hope that the more variety in the work that gets online the more eyes will want to view and purchase the work. We plan to by the end of this summer have group gallery shows that will be combination art and fashion show and large party.

You obviously keep yourself pretty busy. How do you balance art versus business in your
personal work and in your career?

Right now, my art is a passion that keeps me creatively motivated at work. When I’m working on a brochure layout, where the entire design has changed because the client’s wife doesn’t like the color purple, it’s nice to know I can go home and work on a presidential campaign for a fictional person that is running in the 2032 elections. Also, it needs to be stated that everyone at Mascola has been super supportive of the side project. They know that it’s what you do outside of work that keeps you sane during the day.

What are your ultimate career goals?
I really haven’t thought that far ahead. For right now I am trying to find a healthy balance of my full-time job, my side projects and my family. I guess the natural progression of my career would be moving into a Creative Director role, but I don’t think I’m at all ready for that — I know I still have a lot to learn and I’m really happy in the position I have now and the type of work that is coming across my desk.

Who are your art/design influences?
I have a huge range of influences when it comes to what I’m working on. In the advertising and design world, I really like the work that has been done recently by Goodby Silverstein & Partners, TBWA/Chiat Day New York, Modern Dog, and Rethink Communications. And any time I need quick inspiration I have been wasting time at and at Ads of the World.

I have been really getting into the work of stencil artists like Banksy, Nick Walker, and Shepard Fairey. For the clothing work Jeff and I have been getting into, I think we are really influenced by skateboard and snowboard brands like Volcom and Element — for their clothing, and for the fact that they started off as small idea between a few people like us.

Another great spot that I have been looking at a lot to keep up on new artists is the website for Juxtapoz magazine.

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