You know that old saying, “if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life?” I guess we’ve all long suspected it’s kind of a myth. If you love what you do, and do it every day for work, maybe you’ll wind up not loving it quite so much any more.
That’s the theory Travis Kane is working on at the moment, anyway. By day, he’s a product designer at video-sharing app TikTok; by night (and sometimes morning, too) he creates some superbly well-crafted and on-trend graphic work.
The Washington D.C.-born, L.A.-based Kane graduated from the visual communications program at Virginia Tech in 2015, and has already amassed a whopping 19,500 followers on Instagram (at the time of publication). It’s little surprise when you see his work—all acid brights, weird bespoke type, amalgams of insignias ranging from the tropical to the religious.
That army of admirers grew steadily as he shared a project in which he, like many designers before him, committed to creating one poster every single day. He lasted an impressive 260 days or so, but eventually the commitment became too much. “I was waking up before work and designing, then going to work and designing, so it was 12-13 hours a day, and that takes its toll,” says Kane.
What the project did offer him was the chance to create whatever the hell he wanted. “I’d been working as a product designer for about eight months at that point, but I come from a visual design background and growing up I always used to make a lot of stupid online graphics,” says Kane. “I’ve always had a passion for personal work and taking the client out of the equation, just making stuff for the hell of it, and to express how I’m feeling.
“I learned that the end result doesn’t really matter: it was more learning about myself in general than about design. Being able to accept that putting things out there I wasn’t super happy with is okay; taking the ego out of it is really important.”
The poster-a-day project also led to freelance commissions, mainly across music and fashion (he’s created sleeves for German techno artist Klangkuenstler, for instance). Clients come to him for his style alone, giving him the freedom to create the work he loves, but now, for cash. However, what most appeals to Kane about design—and one of the reasons he’s reluctant to leave his day job to make graphics full-time—is the catharsis it offers.
“My work can be quite introspective,” he says. “There’s something freeing about just making stupid graphics that don’t have a purpose. A lot of what inspires my work is how I’m feeling at the time: if I’m having anxious thoughts or something I’ll put it onto a poster. I’m not afraid to get dark.”
For Kane, the move to L.A. has been a boon in terms of the graphic style he loves—“more experimental stuff, cool underground rave flyers”—and has also led into his delving into the world of old-school punk flyers.
Like the rest of us though, Kane’s still very much on the ’gram when it comes to looking for Insta-inspiration. However, the balance between being inspired and being overly-indebted to social media is always a tricky one to navigate. “It’s not a perfect platform, but it’s really broadened my horizons and I’ve met a lot of people in real life through it,” says Kane. “When I was posting every day I could tell it was getting addictive, so after I posted I’d immediately turn my phone off and say ‘Fuck it, I don’t care how it’s going to do.’ It was freeing to put stuff out there and not worry about how people are going to react to it, and let it do its thing.”
“I learned that the end result doesn’t really matter: it was more learning about myself in general than about design.”
Like many of his well-followed peers and the designers he admires (David Rudnick, Braulio Amado, Mirko Borsche, et al), Kane’s work is characterized by custom type, unusual color palettes, and unexpected compositions. What does he reckon we should term this sprawling, multivalent, but pervasive graphics trend? “I don’t know… postmodernism? No. It just feels current,” Kane muses. “In general there’s a whole ironic culture going on with meme culture and so on, and design fits with that new wave of stuff. Maybe to the average consumer that sort of work doesn’t look super attractive, but the people that know it get it, and like internet culture generally.”