For Jordan Wetherbee, design is about dreaming. Wetherbee taught himself art in his late teens while touring the country as a musician and is now a full-time designer and business owner in his hometown of Grand Rapids. When he’s not crafting work for bands like Rend Collective, Switchfoot and Lifehouse, he’s branding companies such as Civil House Coffee and The Michigan Box, as well as co-running his own business, Spacebar.
Tell me about your artistic past.
I didn’t grow up as the artist kid. I grew up as the music nerd, playing guitar endlessly alone in my bedroom wishing I was a rock star. I more got into visual art as a pastime while traveling and doing music. Music led me to visual art, which I quickly realized I loved way more and was way better at naturally. I was 19 when that first started.
What types of work do you do?
The two main things I work on are bands and brands. I love working with musicians, and I really like working with companies that are just getting started by creating visual identities. For me, it’s about dreaming up crazy ideas that communicate a message. Let’s run around the Back Forty (Saloon) with our shirts off — let’s do stupid stuff like light shit on fire. Let’s do whatever, try weird things and do creative, crazy stuff to build something that says something.
What are your goals when working with a client?
My end goal with every client is that I would create something that is beyond what they could have asked me for but so accurately fits what they need. I ran into a client yesterday at Lyon Street Café that I hadn’t seen in five years — I was so excited to see him. He told me once, and it’s stuck with me now for almost six years probably, ‘You took the words that I said and created something beyond what I could have expressed, but it so perfectly works.’ Ever since he told me that, I was like, ‘Yes! That’s what I want to do with everyone!’ It’s more than just creating cool art.
What’s it like to be a freelance artist in Grand Rapids?
How do you structure your days?
Well, I started off working out of coffee shops, and that can only last for so long. For me, I needed more structure than to unpack all my stuff, set up, work a couple hours, pack all my stuff up, and go. So, another freelancer and I started a creative co-working space downtown called Spacebar. That’s helped me create structure, and it’s helped me create a work-life/personal-life balance. Long term, I want to keep doing this. I don’t want to work for a company, and I don’t want to be a part of an agency. If in 10 years I want to still be doing this, I have to set myself up now to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle that benefits and doesn’t suffer from being freelance.
Jordan Wetherbee - Portrait by Jonathan James Photography
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while being a full-time artist?
One of the biggest challenges is that I can’t become stagnant or slothful in the slightest. The moment I stop hustling, I go down. The ebbs and flows of freelance life are that sometimes your inbox dries up, and sometimes it’s overly busy. Finding how to navigate the highs and lows — where some months you’re just slammed and other months it’s crickets — that’s not always enjoyable. I’m OK with that. I can roll with the punches, but that can be a struggle.
How about your biggest successes?
I would say that my biggest success in the freelance life is I wake up every day excited to do the work that I do. I’m passionate about the people I work with and designs I get to create. Success to me doesn’t mean a whole lot of money, working with high-status people, or all these accomplishments. Success to me is being fulfilled and loving every day with the work that I do, whatever it is that I’m doing, and that I’m making a difference, and I’m loving it. And I really do with this. It’s amazing.
Find Wetherbee’s designs at wetherbeecreativewetherbeecreative.co.