A lot of people come to Professor Sean Nixon (who is head of the graphic design program) for help with projects, and through him I got internships and freelance work all the time.
Local money, local ideas
Love what you do: Sharon Wasko Graphic Design opens in Rosendale
Chelsea Miller – BSP Reporter
Graphic designers are the unsung storytellers of small businesses. With the power to distill what makes a business unique and make sure they get noticed and stay noticed in the crowded marketplace, it’s safe to say that graphic designers are the secret weapon for anyone look-ing to make a mark. Although you may not know Sharon Wasko personally, there’s a good chance if you live locally that you know her work. The Rosendale-based graphic designer’s work can be spotted dotting the streets of busi-nesses and organizations from Stone Ridge to Rosendale and beyond (including the “streets” of the World Wide Web).
Back in 2000, Wasko earned her BFA, with a concentration in painting and a minor in women’s and gender studies, from Trenton State College, and while she did take one graphic design class her freshman year, which gave her the computer basics, she laughingly admits that, at the time, “I was not interested in such pedestrian ideas as ’employability’ or ‘useful skills.”‘
After graduation, Wasko would go on to found a successful dog-walking and pet-sitting business in Philadelphia. As fate would have it, one of her clients happened to be a man who is now her husband, Mike Erwin. After 10 years in Philadelphia, the couple began to look for a place to raise their kids.
“We visited Rosendale when we were checking out the area, scoping potential areas to move to,” says Wasko. “We liked the area because of its natural beauty and ideal distance from family in New Jersey, Vermont, New York City and Connecticut. We were arguing over how rural we wanted to live, and then we found the perfect house within walking distance of Main Street, and it was the perfect mix of rural and small town”
Wasko and her family moved into their home in 2013, and Wasko, knowing she didn’t want to start a new pet-sitting business for various reasons, focused on raising her two daughters and picking up retail work while she figured out what was next. She knew she wanted visually creative work, but Wasko wasn’t yet sure what shape that work would take. One of the perks of small-town living is that, unlike in large metropolises, you actually know your neighbors.
“I ran into Sean Nixon, who is my neighbor and teaches graphic design at SUNY Ulster,- one day at one of my retail jobs, and he told me a bit about his program,” explains Wasko. “I was intrigued. It took a couple years, but eventually I signed up for his class. I hadn’t been in a class-room in almost 20 years at that point, and I was super nervous, but I got comfortable pretty quickly!’
Returning to school as an adult – and a parent – was made easier due to the great leadership at SUNY Ulster, says Wasko. “SUNY Ulster really goes out of its way to make the experience of returning to school work for everyone,” she says. “They have classes at all different times, in both Stone Ridge and at their Kingston center. They have a childcare center, which was very helpful for the first semester, when my class was at a weird time that didn’t work with my kids’ usual daycare schedule. The teachers are also accommodating to parents. There were several times I attended class via Google Hangouts because I had a sick kid at home!
“I also just really loved the Graphic Design program in particular, because of its ‘Real World Classroom’ model,” Wasko says. “I got to work with real clients, with real needs, starting when I was only in my second semester of school. We had several organizations come in to get our design help, including the Jewish Federation of Ulster County, who chose to use the brochure I designed for them. A lot of people come to Professor Sean Nixon (who is head of the graphic design program) for help with projects, and through him I got internships and freelance work all the time. Real world experience and real world connections were exactly what I needed from the program, and that’s exactly what I got. It was worth every penny.”
Wasko founded her company, Sharon Wasko Graphic Design, in spring of 2018. Wasko has a passion for color (“I’m obsessed with teal, aqua and turquoise!”) and big, bold pattern. She has a long-term affection for abstract expressionism (with an abiding love of the painter Joan Mitchell), kitschy 1950s design and old floral fabrics. However, one look at her portfolio and it’s clear that when it comes to clients she processes a vast diversity of aesthetic capabilities. Wasko is adept in print design, websites, logos and branding, photography and video. Dipping into her website you’ll find thoughtfully designed brochures, like the one for the Jewish Federation of Ulster County (aimed at attracting new members) balanced with playful and progressive logos, like the one created for Quay Bakes. The striking simplicity of the logo for Blue Marble Arts is balanced with the busier aesthetic of A Potter on Main. “The most satisfying thing, that I hadn’t really thought about before,” says Wasko, “is getting to learn about all these fun projects, often just when they’re starting up. A lot of my clients are artists, like A Potter on Main Street or Blue Marble Arts, or musicians like Sheila Dee, so it’s a lot of fun stuff. I like that, on top of getting to do a thing I love, I get to help people make and promote the things that they love!”
Wasko is looking to grow more of what’s working now. “I honestly really love what I’m doing right now, and I’d love for it to just keep growing)/ says Wasko. “I’ve thought about getting a job at a local company and being an in-house designer, but then you have to work within their parameters and work with one brand all the time. That might be perfect for me one day, but right now I love the variety of clients I’ve had, and having new and different projects all the time is really fun. If I could keep getting more of these interesting projects until it’s enough for full-time and a sustainable income (where maybe I can also afford health care!), that would be the dream. (Maybe I could have an office that is not in my dining room, too.)”