I’ve Always Been For Sale

How important is selling your self or your work?

We all need to sell our selves or our work in some capacity. Whether that’s in the traditional form of presenting products to customers, or on a smaller scale, say, defending a creative decision we’ve made to a colleague or potential employer.

As much as I can, I try to let my work do the talking (he says as he types a blog instead of designing something). Making good things feels like the easiest, perhaps purest way to approach success to me. I’m always a little uncomfortable when I’m actively trying to sell something, so a quality or honest product helps keep a clean conscience. I say this in spite of the fact that technically I’m a commercial artist. It’s kinda my job to sell shit…whatever it may be.

The following insight comes from people in commercial arts. People who sell, help sell, or make things intended to sell. With that in mind, the measure taken to present ourselves really interests me.


Brett does a bit of everything. And he should. He has the energy, imagination, curiosity, patience and dashing good looks for a bit of everything.

He’s not without focus though. Brett is the design half of Oxford Pennant, a pennant and flag company based in Buffalo, NY. With Oxford, Brett explores the history, function, and aesthetic of pennants. In Brett’s hands, the company and it’s products look great and actively participate the history of their medium.

Brett and I have been pals for over a decade. Occasionally he’s my house guest. Other times he’s my collaborator, savior, competition, confidant, cheerleader, and/or coach. I trust him creatively, so am wondering where this question sits in his head…

In what you do, how important is selling your self or your work?

“The term “personal brand” is thrown around a lot – but it’s useful when considering if, how, and when to promote myself in my work.

My successes in design have come from being consistent on social media. Rarely a personal photo, mostly relevant stuff that compliments my work – sketches, travel photos, good bullshit. A proper website is still necessary, but being mindful on social apps is so much more important in attracting the right people to see my tastes, and ultimately get in touch. “Don’t post pictures of your kids.”

That said, with Oxford Pennant my business partner and I have made a purposeful effort in remaining faceless. With the exception of attending trade shows and meetings, we try and let customers tell our story by reposting their product photos – which is now our main source of social content. The human element: include a hand written note with every order, it’s company policy.


As I’ve said before, Jessica is incredible. As a designer, she’s thinking, knowledgable, and her talent seems limitless. She’s also generous enough to give me another answer for this little project. She answered Question Market 4 a couple months ago about stress and anxiety.

She’s created fantastic work for projects large and small and I picture her putting the same amount of thought and care in to each project that comes across her desk. I was curious how she views presenting herself to clients and the world…

In what you do, how important is selling your self or your work?

“Selling yourself” isn’t quite the term I would use—I’d more call it “establishing trust or confidence”. When I’m working with a new client, my first job and the job I really need to accomplish at every presentation with them, is for them to feel like I’m really devoting myself to the work and that they made a good decision in trusting me with the project. As far as “selling myself” to others online, I just try to be real. I share things that I’m excited about, nervous about, angry about, etc. I don’t let clients bully me into sharing and hash tagging on their behalf. I have built up an audience that is interested in me and work, and it’s important to me to not betray them by being disingenuous.


The majority of Graham’s professional work is photos of products and things that his clients hope people buy. He’s shot for Tiffany & Co., Barney’s New York, Nylon, Milk Makeup, and Martha Stewart. And, had work published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, WWD, and Bloomberg Businessweek. He works for companies and brands that have a long, and distinguished history. His work has to live up to that.

Graham has an incredible sense of composition and color. He brings that to his clients and their products so seamlessly that I almost don’t notice his personal touches. Which is exactly the way it should be for a great commercial artist.

With that…

In what you do, how important is selling your self or your work?

As a freelance photographer, selling myself is very important, but I don’t think about it in this way. I’ve never wanted to be a salesman and it’s my least favorite part of running a business.

I put that ‘selling’ energy into building and maintaining honest relationships with other creative people. My work is a natural extension of myself. Knowing me is understanding and hopefully appreciating my artistic vision and process.

Seems like honesty really helps ease the burden of “the sell.” Mean what you say, and it’ll all sort of put itself together.

More info on Brett at dierichgettrying.com, and oxfordpennant.com.
More info on Jessica at jessicahische.is.
More info on Graham at grahampollack.com.
Header image by Derek Gabryszak.

Thanks for reading Question Market 6, I had the damnedest time trying to figure out if yourself, or your self was the correct usage in this scenario.


Stefan Sagmeister By Hand

By Hand is a new feature on Question Market. It’s something I’ve been doing privately for years. Writing a letter with some specific questions about creativity to someone I admire and hoping they write me back.

There’s an incredible site called Letters of Note that explores hand written correspondences throughout history. That’s what inspired me to start this. I love the layer of context that’s added by getting something in writing. You can tell if the person was in a hurry, or took their time enough to add drawings, or extra notes, or anything else. Maybe the envelope gets beaten up along the way. It’s added character. There’s intimacy to it.


If you’re a designer, there’s not much new I can tell you about Stefan Sagmeister. He’s towards the top of our food chain in terms of success, knowledge, and talent and I assume you know that already.

For anyone else that stumbles across this…Stefan’s body of work as a designer is heady and pure. He runs the studio Sagmeister & Walsh with his partner Jessica Walsh and has landed some of the biggest gigs you can aspire to have as a designer. Album covers for the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Jay-Z, and others. Work for Levi’s, BMW, and the New York Times. He’s exhibited and discussed his work all over the world.

He’s fascinating and someone I think all creative people can look up to. In addition to his success as a designer, he’s also one of the deepest, most sincere, and intellectual creatives working. He’s active in the design community and always trying to put more meaning in to what we do as designers and humans.

When I was first learning and practicing graphic design, there were designers and artists that I admired, and imitated. But when I saw Stefan’s work…things like this, and this, and this…I realized design’s ability to be thought provoking and expressive.

I know this seems obvious, but how creative design can be. His work unlocked that for me. I was learning the basics…grids, letter forms, color theory. Laying out things like letterheads, stationary, websites, advertisements…in pretty standard formats. When I saw his work, my design brain took the next position on the evolutionary chart towards being upright. I’m still working on it…

In 2010, I wrote Stefan a short letter and asked him:

  1. What is something all creative people have in common?
  2. What was one creative habit you had as a child?
  3. What is one creative habit you have now?

He generously wrote back the following… (transcript below as well)


His insight is wonderful and I can’t read these answers without his voice in my head. And, I love that he plans for certain tasks to be completed in the morning. I have a feeling that is something that’ll be explored again here.


Hey Derek,

Here are some quick answers:

  1. A desire for the new. A certain amount of fearlessness & guts
  2. I don’t remember being particularly creative as a child
  3. a) Work on many projects simultaniously. Switch to another one when I get stuck.
    b) Start with the difficult parts first thing in the morning.

Good luck and many greetings,
Stefan Sagmeister

Thank you for reading, and thanks to Stefan for allowing me publish this.


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