Jon Sorrentino: [00:00:00] Welcome to Wellfed a podcast for hunger creatives. I'm your host, Jon Sorrentino, a designer based out of New York, and on this podcast, I speak to some of my creative heroes to learn from their experiences and discover the ingredients to grow within the creative industry. On this episode, my guest is Connor Bram, AKA Connor tomatoes.
Connor is a graphic designer and illustrator based right outside of Seattle, Washington. While Connor may have graduated in the middle of a global pandemic, he has not let that stop him from getting his work in front of as many people as possible. Through experimenting on social media, he's carved himself out a nice slice of the interwebs that has allowed him to share his passion for design, illustration and t-shirts. My favorite series from Connor currently is his designing a random t-shirt for a random business in a random city. And I would highly recommend checking it out on TikTok. If you haven't already.
Before we get into the episode, I just want to share a few things with you first. If you want to stay up to date with the podcast, you can head over to wellfedpodcast.com, where I have all the episodes as well as videos and articles with tips for creatives, just like you.
Second for this season, I just launched a Slack group that you can join by going to wellfedpodcast.com/community. There you can share work and connect with other designers, illustrators, and photographers from all over the world. Last, but not least I'm doing free one-on-one portfolio reviews over zoom for anyone that signs up for the newsletter on the website wellfedpodcast.com. I've already had a few of these with listeners and we've talked about things like getting more clients, ways to present your work on your website and a bunch of other topics. All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter over at wellfedpodcast.com. Now that we got that out of the way, I hope you enjoy this episode.
Alright. Well, Connor Tomatoes, thank you so much for joining me today on this episode of wellfed, um, You know, I think it's, uh, it's just a result of some of the stuff you've been doing on TikTok. You know, I've scrolled past your videos plenty of times, uh, have been really intrigued by the work that you've done.
So I'm excited to talk to you a little bit about your experience as a designer and what kind of brought you to the platform and what you're up to now. So thank you, you so much.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:01:55] Thank you, John. I'm honored to be here,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:01:57] So if you're ready, I'll put 50 seconds on the metaphorical timer that we have here. Um, first question, if you had to give her bread or cheese, what would it be?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:02:05] I would give up cheese. I'm not much of a cheese person myself, and while that might be a hot take I'd pick bread and butter any day.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:12] Uh, what's your sign?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:02:14] I'm an Aquarius sun, a Scorpio moon, and a Sagittarius rising.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:18] Oh, damn. Okay. You know. Connor cat or dog
Connor Tomatoes: [00:02:24] While I love it. Both. I have to say dog. I have a little rug rat of myself.
His name is Phineas. He is a six month old Longhair miniature dachshund, and I love him dearly.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:32] Cute. Eh, if you could, if you could eat one thing everyday for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:02:39] No brainer. I would eat frozen raspberries. I might not be able to sustain that long eating, only frozen raspberries, but I would enjoy every minute of it.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:47] And Connor of last question, Spotify or Apple music.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:02:51] I would have to say Spotify and I don't really have a good reason for this. It's kind of just the platform that I stumbled upon. I'm no Spotify stan, but it's an all I know.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:59] What was the last thing you listened to on Spotify?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:03:01] The last thing I listened was my discover weekly, I can tell you exactly what song.
It was called. How do I get to that? It was called. Look, get recently listened to Wellfed. It was True Blue by Bright Eyes.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:15] Bright Eyes. Cool, cool. Big, favorite, big, favorite. Connor where you are from Seattle?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:03:23] Yep. I was born and raised just outside of Seattle, about 30 minutes East in a small, small town called Fall City
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:30] Fall City and I guess, like, have you moved around in that area or is it if you just kind of like grown up in that just general, you know, close to Seattle.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:03:38] Yeah, I've stayed pretty close to Seattle. My whole life. I grew up in the same area. I've lived here pretty much my whole life. And then I went to school just about an hour and a half North of Seattle.
I went to university there. So I've been, I've been in the surrounding area for pretty much my entire life.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:52] Cool. Cool. What were you up to when you were a kid? You know, growing up, you know, like, uh, were you into art? Were you into drawing, stuff like that? Like, you know, what was young Connor like?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:04:03] Yeah, totally.
So. I, I definitely have always been into illustration ever since I was a young, young kid. I've, I've always drawn. And I kind of like when I, when I think back on my life, I feel like I've always kind of been into design subconsciously long before I knew it existed. Like an example of that is I have a younger sister who is six years younger than me.
And when she was born, I was six. Obviously I drew her a color-coded map of our house. As if she would be able to comprehend that. So I've, I've definitely loved illustration and I've, I feel like I've been into graphic design subconsciously ever since I was a kid, but aside from illustrating and drawing and doodling, I grew up playing a lot of basketball.
I did a bit of skateboarding as well, so just kind of making, making the most of my surroundings, I suppose.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:49] Totally. Okay, cool. So you have like a nice kind of combination of like skate culture, sports, things like that. You're. From what I can tell in your videos, you're pretty tall as well, right?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:04:58] Um, I'm about six foot.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:02] Okay. So basketball seemed to work out pretty well when you were younger, I guess.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:05:06] Yeah. Yeah.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:09] That's cool. I'm, you know, I'll a lot of, uh, some of my guests that I've had on the podcast before, um, you know, have also sort of grown up skateboarding. I did a little bit myself. Um, and you know, it's, it's just being familiar with that kind of like graphic language within skate culture, within skate brands and things like that. Were there any brands that really, that you gravitated towards as a kid, you know, kind of growing up.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:05:33] Yeah, there were definitely a few, I, I started off loving like Creature and Death Wish and just like kind of those graphics really.
And then I came across Poler. I ended up loving Poler, Welcome. So I'd say my four core ones were Creature, Deathwish, Poler, and Welcome. Um, did
Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:50] You go through high school kind of like taking a lot of classes, uh, you know, typical kind of art student vibe of just like drawing whenever possible.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:05:59] So it's actually interesting.
So I'm going to bring it back a little bit before high school. When I was growing up, I kind of, when I started illustrating, when I was a young kid, I kind of started tracing like cartoon characters, like from the Simpsons and family guy, because I didn't really have any of my own ideas and I want it to be like a great illustrator.
And I had this tunnel vision idea of what a great illustrator was. And I thought it was having the straightest perfect lines with the cleanest proportions. And I didn't really, like, I didn't really think of like anything organic like that. So in order to what I want to do, when I wanted to achieve those, I would spend a lot of time just drawing straight lines on paper, like getting closer and further away, trying to work on my line work.
And I did that all throughout elementary school. Once middle school came around, I started like drawing my own, my own ideas, I suppose. But in high school, I kind of lost. I didn't really, I never looked at it illustration as a job or like something that I could pursue. I didn't even know graphic design existed when I went into high school.
So once high school came around, I kinda lost sight of my, I I guess, passions and hobbies. And I stopped drawing as a whole. I didn't draw like at all in high school. And I kind of got a little off the rails, so to speak. I, I started getting into a wee bit trouble. And then I, at the beginning of my sophomore year, I actually ended up being sent to boarding school.
But before boarding school, I spent a few months in what was called wilderness therapy. So pretty much in the summer before my sophomore year, I hadn't drawn in years. And I got, I picked up in the middle of the night by two very large individuals. And they told me that I was going to be going to Utah for six to eight weeks.
Of course did not want to go, but I didn't have a choice. So they flew me to Salt Lake. They drove me South to Canab. They dropped me in the middle of the desert with eight other kids, and an adult. And I kind of spent the next 10 and a half weeks just hiking every day. They gave me a journal. And with this journal, it's kind of when I started picking, drawing back up.
So my whole freshman year, I did not ever draw. I don't think I drew a single time, but now that I was in the middle of the desert with nobody to talk to and nothing to do with this journal and a pen, I kind of started, I picked it back up a bit and I started doodling. And this was, this was like the first time.
When I think about my life and my illustration, I never really applied it to anything. I just drew and drew. It was kind of like aimless and mindless. But when I was in wilderness, I started to kind of like apply my illustrations in a way where I started drawing these like concept skateboards, like as if I was drawing a graphic for a Creature or, or Death Wish.
And I kind of did that most days for the next 10 and a half or so weeks. Until I ended up getting out of wilderness and moved on to boarding school. And even at this point I was one, I think I was 16 at this time. I still had no idea that graphic design existed. I just was drawn to draw. I never thought of it as a career.
And I, I didn't know. I didn't really have, I felt like I didn't really feel like I had a purpose. Yes. At this point in my life, I kind of, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I loved to draw. I knew that, but I didn't know that there's anything beyond that. And so I got into boarding school. I kept drawing because I've been doing it.
That was pretty much like my only outlet when I was in this place called wilderness therapy. And I ended up having a counselor because I was like, at this point I would be middle of my sophomore year. So I kind of had this like college counselor that I would talk to about my future and my aspirations and my goals.
And I explained to her that I enjoyed illustration and all that. And she's actually the one that brought. My attention to graphic design and told me that, that existed. So I was mid middle of my 16th year existing is when I found out that graphic design. Well, something that I could, I could pursue. And I was definitely intrigued because I felt like I had no purpose at this point.
And I started looking into graphic design, realizing that I've kind of been doing this subconsciously with my drawings and just like in the way that I think, and I feel like in this moment and when I was in boarding school, that's kind of when I realized that there's something I could do with this and that kind of like gave me a purpose.
So that kind of put me on the path that, you know, That's why we're why we're here talking today. So I definitely had this like kind of strange high school experience, like juggling back and forth between drawing, picking it up, putting it down. So it was not, I wouldn't, I wouldn't really stay with your standard.
Art school experience in that regard.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:10:19] Yeah, definitely. I mean, it sounds like, obviously that's a, there's a lot there, but it sounded also like drawing in a way, became like a companion, you know, like it was just something, someone that was always there to kind of like, I guess, get your thoughts down, you know, and kind of like, I don't know, like when you think of therapy for me, my therapy and while like getting into the zone and working for a couple hours is therapeutic for me at times. But like, for me, it's like writing a lot and I, in a way it sounds like this kind of journaling, but drawing in that same way was, was that for you?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:10:54] Totally. Yeah, definitely something I can always circle back to.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:10:58] That's awesome. So, so you, you go through school, you start to kind of, I guess like, really welcome this idea that you're passionate about drawing, and you're actually talking to someone that is encouraging you in a way, what is sort of what starts to, what are the ideas that start to come into your head?
Like, you know, Oh, I can do this whole graphic design thing. Do you have a clear sense of like you know, graphic design exists, but like, what does that mean to you at that time? You know?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:11:26] Yeah, totally. I, when I, when this counselor first told me about graphic design and I did my research. I definitely had no idea, like what I wanted to do.
I knew that I loved to illustrate and that's pretty much as far as that went, but I did, when I was doing my research, I stumbled across the Adobe suite and I ended up getting that. And I've always loved clothes. I've always like seek out clothes and like loved clothes and love, like picking out outfits and all that, all that jazz.
So when I first got the Adobe suite, I would just, I ended up starting as drawing in Photoshop and Illustrator pretty much the same thing I was doing on pen and paper, not applying it to anything, just kind of drawing, figuring out the ins and outs of. Of all that, all that stuff and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. But I started, I definitely, the first thing I applied to too was like, t-shirts I started drawing like what could be a t-shirt I never actually made anything, but I was drawing them with the idea or the intention as if it were to be going on a t-shirts.
So that's definitely that definitely like kicked off my graphic design pursuit was thinking about it in terms of, of clothing. Cause I didn't really know. I didn't really know about packaging or branding or, or UX or UI. I kind of just knew what I knew. I wore clothes. I knew somebody had to make the clothes that I was doing.
So I was like, why not? Why not do that? So that's definitely where it, where that started was, was clothing.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:12:40] Where does this idea, or this passion for like t-shirt and clothing, like, were you just really admiring people like that were really stylish? Like, did you have like sort of interest in fashion in some way?
Or like, were you just looking at, like, what was that.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:12:53] Yeah, that's a good question. But you know, I don't really know. I guess, I guess I grew up with a few friends that were definitely into like clothes and streetwear, whatever that means, but I, I never like really wanted to pursue fashion, but I was always interested in fashion and I was interested in illustration and knowing that people put an illustration on a shirt, I guess that like subconsciously fascinated me.
And I kind of just gravitated towards that because I guess maybe I looked at it in a way that like, I love drawing this person, drew something and put it on a shirt. I could do that. And maybe, maybe before I even thought of it like that, that's kind of how I felt about it. Like, it was something that I could relate to in a way that maybe I could make that happen.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:13:34] It felt really tangible. It's like, it's like one of the most tangible forms of design because it's like, If you get to a point where you can just produce so much of it, then like you can see it on people, other people wearing it. And it just feels really, it starts to like you get that cozy feeling inside.
What happens after high school? Like, um, you know, this was all in sophomore year, you start to kind of broach the topic of design. You go through the last two years or so like, like fill in the gaps there.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:14:00] I actually, when I was in boarding school, it was a. It was like self-paced school program. So you could pretty much do as little or as much school as you wanted.
Like there were kids that came in freshman year and they left after 12 months graduating high school because they decided that that's all they wanted to do with school. So I came into it as a sophomore and I actually finished all of my high school within that 12 months of, of boarding school. So when I got out of boarding school, I was stuck 17 and I already had graduated high school because I did this self-paced. The self-paced school. So I got out of boarding school. I had the Adobe suite. I was drawing in it most days. And I, the first thing I can remember doing is I worked at this pizza place, but I, I, I, uh, was like printing on this, like transfer paper, these illustrations, that looking back now, they're quite awful, but I would print on the transfer paper and iron, on these shirts.
So I'm kind of doing that, just like experimenting, I suppose. Doing more research. And then eventually in that same year, when I was 17, I applied to a Western Washington University to be in their graphic design program. And I ended up getting in and yeah, that kind of sent me on the path that I'm on. I'm on today.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:15:17] What are some of the things that you came away with going through a program? Um, or going to a school, right? Like. I think the more, the longer I do this podcast, I get a lot of questions around, you know, do you have to go to school? And I, and I, to, to be a graphic designer to do design and to enter into that, into this field.
And I think more and more, um, I'm finding it harder to make the argument of like, I mean, I never was really solid on it. Yeah. I mean, I went to, I went to a school, but again, like, as I get older, I'm like, I don't know. You can like talk to people. You can like learn so many different things now. Um, and I'm curious, like what did you come away with it that you thought was really helpful?
And then, you know, maybe looking back, like, what are some of the things that you think you could have either got on your own or whatever it may be.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:16:04] I think university is great. I do not think that it is necessary by any means for me, it, I, when I get, when I get in the spot of like being comfortable, I have a very hard time getting out of that and going to university.
It, it definitely like forced me with like the projects and the different things that you're experimenting with. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone and it, it allowed me to realize that. There's so many more things I could do if I wanted to do them. So it definitely did that for me. And, but while you don't need university, because ultimately the internet is like a university in and of itself, if you allow it to be.
But what I, what I find people struggling with the most, when it comes to trying to teach themselves graphic design or whatever that might be is they don't know where to look that they know what they want to do, but they don't, they don't always know where to look or what to look up and with the university, I feel like that definitely guides you into, like knowing where to look and what to look, it gives you those resources that you might not have came across otherwise. So it D it kind of like streamlines the process of it. It's definitely not necessary. A lot of what I did at university. I'm sure I could have done on my own, but what I have done is, is really the question.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:17:13] Yeah. I think, I think that's a good point of, like, it really does provide a sense of direction. And also, because I think like in, in the same way, you know, for you in high school where you had no clue design was a thing, you were just strong. I started off as a painter and was just painting. And then I was like, man, I got to figure out what I'm going to do now, because like this, this is fun and all, but it's running out.
And so I've, you know, wandered into design and the same thing, it kind of provided me that direction because I had no clue. And so I think, I think that is the one thing that I keep coming back to as like. Is one of the benefits definitely for school, but like you said, you know, I could see in like three, four years having the same conversation and being like, yeah, school is kind of like becoming a harder and harder to, or not necessarily harder and harder, but like it's getting easier to get the same benefits outside of school, outside of a program at times.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:18:03] Yeah. Totally.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:18:03] How, um, how long was the program at, at, at the university you went to?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:18:08] It was a three-year program. So I did it. I did it all throughout my four years, but it was like credit wise. And in class wise it was like a, three-year a three-year program. It started out, it starts as a two year program.
And then you can like apply to be in the, in the third year. So I ended up doing that because I was already going to be, I was already going to be there so.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:18:27] And when you get to the end, you know, do you feel prepared? Like you're ready to enter the job market? Are you looking for, like, what was your idea coming out of school?
Like what did you want to do? Did you want to work for agencies? Did you want to work on your art? Like what was the goal there?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:18:39] Yeah, totally.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:18:40] Or if you didn't have a plan at all, because I think a lot of people end up doing that too.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:18:44] Yeah. I think, I think I had kind of a mix of both because when I was at university, I kind of like, I started this clothing brand and I ran that on and off throughout all four years there.
And I loved, I love the idea of being my own boss. I was also doing a little bit of freelance on the side, so I really liked what I had going there. Of course I would never, I was not able to live off of it. It just was kind of like putting a little extra bulk to my pockets, but it. So I liked that idea and I loved that, but I never really thought of that as like a, a long-term thing.
It was kind of just like a something I was doing while I was there. And when I got out of, when I graduated from university, I had the idea in my mind that I wanted to do branding and a reason for that is because. I, I find myself wanting to do a lot of different things. I don't, I don't want to do one thing with branding.
It's so broad. You could do, you could do packaging, you could do a logo, you could do an illustration. It offers all sorts of, of avenues. And, and I knew I wanted to do illustration. That was like my only real criteria. So a lot of branding kind of like offered that for me. So when I graduated. I had the idea in my mind that I wanted to work for a very small, like four to eight person branding firm in who knows where I think I wanted, I was looking in Portland, Seattle, New York, San Francisco.
So just kind of just kind of seeing, seeing where I could when I didn't have like a clear idea, but I also knew in the back yeah, my mind that I wanted to work for myself too, like always kind of had that, but I never, I never really allowed it to. To grow any further. It was just kind of like this idea. So when I graduated, I had a few firms that I had written down that I applied to, that I, that I wanted to work at, that I would've been happy to, to work there.
I applied to those never heard back. It was kind of just like, it was like a waiting game a bit. And I knew it was that I graduated like in the middle of COVID. So I knew it was definitely a, a peculiar time to. To be pursuing a job, but I never ended up hearing back from them. I kind of started thinking like, all right, well, I definitely need a job.
So I started applying to crazy jobs. I applied to be a technical illustrator for like a missile company. I applied to be a couple, I applied to a couple medical illustration jobs, just random things that would allow me to illustrate and do design that would get me by, because I knew I had to start somewhere.
I didn't look at these as like a forever for everything, but. I didn't hear back from any of those either. And in the back of my head, I didn't really want to hear back from any of those, but I knew I had to have something, so, but I never ended up hearing back from those. And that's kinda when I sat back and I was like, I could, I could keep playing this job hunting game.
And that's what I probably should do. That's what I think I should do. But I also, at this point I had like one to four consistent freelance clients. Again, I wouldn't be able to live off of it, but it was something I had. I had that in the back of my pocket. So I kind of started thinking, maybe I'll give this whole, this whole freelance thing a try.
And that was probably around end of August is when I kind of gave up on the, on the agency firm hunt.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:21:30] Just quit on the sending the applications. They're like, I'm done wasting my time, sending this over and over again. No shit. Um, you mentioned that, like you had this idea that you want it to go to like a, a small studio, like four to eight people.
Like where does that come from? Or what was your, like, what was the inclination for going to a small studio? Like what did you think about that?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:21:51] Yeah, so, uh, when I was in my last year of university, I go an internship at an ad agency in, in, uh, Seattle, and it was, it was lovely. I loved the people I worked with.
I learned a whole lot, but I definitely did not love the work and it was a big place. So I was working with a lot of people and while they were all great, I was, I was a very small part of the larger process and what I liked about, I toured a couple of smaller agencies through university also, and what I liked about what I saw with those is.
One person is doing heaps of things. One person, while they're animating a logo, they're also doing an illustration for packaging. While this person's like designing a website, they're also like creating a brand guideline. And I liked the idea of being able to put on a bunch of different hats, because I didn't want, I didn't want to be stuck doing one thing, pushing a couple of pixels around all day.
I wanted to like touch a bunch of different kinds of products for a bunch of different types of clients. So that's kind of, that's kinda what I had the idea.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:22:51] So the opportunity for that like Swiss army capability of like being able to just throw yourself into something new each project.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:22:58] Yeah. Keep it interesting.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:23:00] That's cool. Yeah. I mean, I, you know, obviously I think like there is always that idea that the smaller studios, because there are less team involved, you're doing a lot of different things and the work sometimes is super creative. You have a little bit more freedom with clients and it's lovely, but at the same time, I've heard.
Uh, I've worked. I worked for one of my first jobs was a small city. I got fired within three days, but like, it was, um, you know, it was cool. Like every person in the studio was working on something different, so it was a lot of fun. Um, so you decided that you're going to go freelance and. What does that mean to you?
Like, like you have these four clients, you know, they're able to kind of get by with them. What is the plan as you know, someone who's young, who's just kind of starting off, just graduated. Like, what's your game plan at that point? Or what are you, what are you thinking is gonna get you to that next level in a sense?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:23:53] I went into that definitely with the social media mindset. And I think the reason for that was because I had ran that brand throughout university. And I had done some like algorithm.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:24:03] What was that brand called? The one that you started,
Connor Tomatoes: [00:24:05] It was called Social Recluse. It was awesome. I was an introverted and extrovert.
That's kind of the idea, but it's no longer exists, but yeah. So I ran that brand. I did some social media experimenting with that. And my last year of university, when the new animal crossing game, I'm a huge animal crossing fan. When the new animal crossing game came out, I started this like in game animal crossing clothing brand too.
It was called animal crossing archives. And I branded that out folios. It was a lot of fun, but I also treated that as like a social media experiment. So I'd done a lot of experimenting on social media and with social media, but it was pretty strict to Instagram. And so I kind of, I wanted to see other avenues of exposure, whether that be through the Instagram algorithm or another app, like TikTok.
And I was on TikTok. I did not have an account, but I I'd been on the app. You know, I would, it would be 3:00 AM and I'd be scrolling.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:24:57] Just digging through the feed.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:24:58] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I'd done that. I knew how it works sort of, and in a lot of my. Like exposure, like pretty much researching ways to gain clients, like how to get my work out there more than I already was is, is pretty much the root of my research.
And TikTok came up frequently and I kind of always knew that it had this like crazy organic algorithm, but. I kinda, I didn't really view it. I viewed it in like, you know, how people that don't know a lot about it, like in the dancing, like, it kind of like, seemed like that niche. And I, and I didn't, I did not want to do it.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:25:30] You're like, no way can I apply the dance moves choreography and all of that to like design and actually like attracting cleints.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:25:37] Yeah. So the more I looked into it and the more I researched, I kind of realized that there was already this like existing graphic design niche on the app. And. And I, so I, I decided somewhere along the way that I was going to pursue TikTok.
And the next step that I took was, was figuring out what I wanted to do on TikTok because I definitely was treating this as a way to get my work out there more than I already was. But at the same time, I also on the side. The same reason why I wanted to work at a small agency, working on a bunch of different things and keep it interesting.
Whenever I would get in a creative block, I, I would give myself some random challenge, like just like designing a brand branding, a random non-existent company. My favorite portfolio on my pro on my, my favorite project on my portfolio, which is some random brand that I just branded for fun. So I would, I would do those exercises frequently.
I would make a random t-shirt. For a random city or off a random word. Those were things that I was already doing when I would get bored and wanting to challenge myself. So I kind of, and I love doing t-shirts and I knew that if I could do anything in the world, that's what I would want to do. So I kind of took that approach towards TikTok and I was like, okay, if I end up getting this exposure, I'm probably going to be contacted to do work that I'm posting.
So I'm going to post t-shirts because that's what I want to do. So I kind of had that in my mind, but then my next step was. Was through my algorithm research. I kind of came across that a great way to get reach would be creating like a, a series or posts that encouraged engagement and really what that is, it means to me at the time was, was kind of incentivizing people to, to like be curious it's about what you're doing and to comment, I guess, really.
So I, I came up with the idea, the first idea was designing a t-shirt based on a random word because. This, well, this was fun for me. And it offered me a new challenge every time. This also, like, I'm sure people would be interested in this because they'd want to see their word become a t-shirt. So with that idea, I hoped that I would do this.
It would obviously take a little while, but then eventually people would start commenting their word and then. It kinda would snowball.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:27:49] Yeah. I mean, this is exactly kind of the, I mean, this is exactly how I, I ended up stumbling upon your videos, you know, like I think the concept is great in terms of a series, you know, I, it went from, uh, and correct me if I'm wrong and went from like the random word to now the random city, which I think is great.
And to see the amount of, um, to one. I think for me, the thing I appreciate is to see the creativity and the, the random city series, because, you know, you'll land on like a hotdog stand and you can go crazy with that, but then you'll also land on something like kind of boring and you're like, alright, I got to do this anyway.
Let's make it as fun as possible. Um, and, and just to see, you know, the reaction and people in the comments and people when the, the, the random word one as well, um, It's it's grown so much that I imagine, you know, one you're getting clients from it, but you've also gone ahead and actually started to like, release these t-shirts under your own name. Right? So like they've gone from trying to attract clients to actually attracting an audience and releasing that. How has that. How let's talk about that one first, and then let's talk about how it's resulted in clients as well. So like, how has the releasing t-shirts um, how has that come to fruition? How have you been maintaining that?
And, and what's the result been?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:29:03] Yeah, totally. So I definitely, when I started tech doc, I started it with the hopes of getting my work out there mainly for the purpose of, of freelance work. I definitely didn't start it. With the intention of starting like a brand or dropping real clothes. And that kind of came about with just a lot of people asking if they could buy the shirts.
So I kind of like, I kept getting those comments and I never really like acknowledged them in the sense of like, Oh, maybe I will do that because that wasn't like the purpose. And sometimes that just like adds this extra stress on things, but then it eventually, it just like, it kept my page kept growing the videos kept getting more views.
I kept getting more requests and I was like, Maybe I'll maybe I'll drop a couple, a couple of my favorite of these shirts and just kind of like test the waters and see and see where this goes because I, and I definitely didn't want to become like a clothing brand. I wanted this to just be like an outlet of, of something that I was doing.
So I picked what was it? I think I picked five to six of my favorite and I ended up releasing those. And I got many more orders than I anticipated, so, which was lovely. And I, I kind of realized like, okay, wow, maybe this is maybe this is something that I can, and I enjoyed it. I love doing it. And I love seeing people like give me feedback and wear the shirt.
So I just, I loved the experience while it was definitely caught me off guard. In terms of volleying orders, it was. It was a very welcoming kind of situation. So I kind of realized, and I've always loved making shirts. I was like, maybe this is something I, I should slash can.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:30:34] It kind of opens up like a new door of possibility.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:30:36] Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:30:38] And before this, you know, as we were talking about like getting clients and stuff like that, how is that working? You know, where are you getting consistent clients, where you're getting a lot of inquiries that you know about working together, but some of them may fizz out.
Some of them actually may actually go through, how has that, how has that going along?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:30:53] Coincidentally and luckily my first random, um, my first random word t-shirt ended up going pretty big. I think it's 700 something thousand. And that was like, when I hit like 6,000, I was like losing my mind 6,000 views. I was like, Oh my gosh.
And. I had my, just like my normal personal email, um, linked on my Instagram or something. And I, I was getting so many emails. Like I couldn't even keep up. And a lot of them were people just like looking to start a brand, but a lot of them were like, Merchandise agencies or like pretty, you know, serious clients in terms of like they're in the industry.
And I was like, well, this was definitely like what I hoped for. I, I was definitely caught, caught off guard, so, and it's interesting because that's kind of how it works is. Is now I get a pretty consistent amount of clients coming to me, but whenever a video goes really big is when my email like gets, gets really bad.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:31:49] You know, there's going to be a rest in peace inbox.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:31:53] Awesome. I couldn't ask for more.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:31:55] It's a great, it's a great problem to have right?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:31:57] Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it definitely is. But yeah, it's just funny because in a lot of the bigger clients, in terms of like big on the scale of like a firm or an agency, they. I think every single one of them has told me that they found my TikTok through scrolling through the hashtag graphic design, which I thought was interesting.
So it wasn't like a random for you page thing. They were actually seeking out. I guess in a way, a designer in my, my video happened to stumble up in the hashtag at graphic design, which I thought was fascinating.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:32:26] That's cool. I, I do find that there's a little bit more intention. I don't know why, but like, it just seems like hashtags now mean slightly more on TikTok.
I just don't get it. Like, I'll just let it do its magic and just let it happen. But, um, so, so you have this situation where you have. You have these two great possibilities, right? You have things picking up with actually like releasing shirts and, and, and, uh, designs on your own. And then you also have client inquiries that are coming in.
Um, how do you balance that now? Like, what is the, what is the, the mindset, right. Like, you kind of mentioned you, weren't really sure that you wanted to have your own brand, but obviously it's a lot of fun for you. So like, are you looking to do more of one than the other? You're going to try to do 50 50, like what's, what's the goal there?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:33:10] When I, when I first I think my, I dropped my first random word video, like end of December or beginning of January. And I was getting all of these clients or these commissions and I, and I never, I never experienced this before. So I was like, Oh my gosh, I'm going to do all of these. I'm going to try to do all of these.
So I like created this, just crazy large waiting list. And I ended up working in January. I was like crazy hours, like 20 hours a day, seven days a week because I was doing the clothes and the clients. And I was like, okay, this is not a sustainable way to live while it's sure it could be great money is extremely unhealthy.
So I kind of, yeah, in February I kind of stepped back and was like, I got to really figure out a system here because otherwise. It's not going to go. It's not going to go great. So, because I was trying to respond to every email. Whether that be to, to tell him it wasn't gonna work or to put them in the books.
I was, I was responding to every email and that, that in and of itself was too taking up hours of my day. So in February I kind of stepped back, I kind of took way less clients. And I was like, okay, what are we going to do here? And I decided that I couldn't or respond to every email while, while I hated to leave people on read or ignored it, it was not feasible for me.
I couldn't spend all those hours. Emailing people. So, and I hated that though. I hated not being able to respond to them or even, even just to let them know that it wasn't gonna work. It just wasn't really feasible at the time. So I, I thought about it. I was like, okay, well I do wanna do these clothes and I do want to do this client work.
How am I going to, how am I going to make that work? So throughout February, I was kind of just like brainstorming that I didn't, I didn't release anything in February. And I've now came to the conclusion. And it's still a work in progress, but I'd like to, I'd like to drop three to five shirts at the end of every month.
And I I've recently hired an assistant who is my who's my partner. She's lovely. And she will be responding to her. Her job is essentially responding to yeah. It's client relations, but she's also going to handle the t-shirts seeking out the manufacturers and handling fulfillment. So that gives me time to focus on, on the freelance and the, and the design work, because I was spending so much time doing both, but also like trying to figure it out because it was all happening at such a crazy speed. I had an awful system. I was like keeping track of clients in like my notes app or something like that.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:35:33] You've had like a crash course in like business in the last like three months essentially.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:35:37] Yeah. And I, I didn't learn as much as I should, because I was like, I would start like trying to keep up in Excel and then I would like, forget about it.
But no, so now, now I'm, I'm hoping to do t-shirts at the end of every month. And I'll open up the store for a week and then do production at the end of that week. And then, yeah, just keep the, keep the clients coming. But now I can happily say that every single person that inquires me or commissions me through the email that is now in their bio, we'll get a response. Whether that be, to say that I'm currently booked out or to push the move the project forward, but everybody will get a response because I hated like getting an email multiple times and I would respond to people at then at that point, but I just felt bad.
Like if someone wanted to work with me, I wanted to work with them too, because they were interested in what I was doing, but I felt bad that I wasn't able to get back to them.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:36:27] It's like, you've been given this gift and. Did you just don't have enough, like time in the day that to actually receive it in a way.
And so I can, I can understand that. Right. Um, like again, it's a very great, it's a great problem that I have at times, for sure. Um, so I mean, that's awesome though, because again, you, you sort of have this crash course in business. You realize that like you are not able to do everything at once and taking the time and bringing someone else in as a partner is probably the best decision because it allows you to grow.
It allows you to kind of scale up a bit. Um, so that's awesome. Um, You know, I, I, in addition to, um, you know, continuing making videos on TikTok, doing the, these t-shirt productions at the end of the month and, and balancing and juggling client projects, like, again, you're you graduated a couple months ago and now I guess like, really the sky is the limit still.
So like, Is there anything be, are you looking ahead beyond those or right now, is it just so much like, I'm, I'm totally content with what's in front of me. I'm very like, you know, I'm happy about that. Um, or is it so much that like you have bigger plans as well?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:37:38] Yeah. So, um, I'm kind of still figuring that out.
Like I'm definitely very happy with the way things are going, especially now, but. I do, I do want to definitely do more. I've I've juggled with the idea, and this would be definitely a long down the road, but I've juggled with the idea of potentially opening, like a small studio and like hiring maybe a couple other designers.
But at the same time, I do kind of like, just like, I don't, that kind of adds like this whole other element of like business with might take away from me actually being able to design. So I'm kind of playing around with that. And it's also tough because a lot of the times when people reach out to me, they're reaching out to me because they've seen what I've done on, on, on TikTok.
And they want me to make their shirt because I've like tried to refer some friends or people I know, but people aren't always interested. So it's kinda tough about with that. Like, would people be interested in other people doing it maybe? Or would that take away from me actually designing? So. Right now I'm pretty content with, with what's going on.
I recently hired this assistant, like just a few days ago. She started on Monday. So I'm going to kind of see where this goes, see how this scales the business and just kind of take it, take it slow for now because. I definitely have not figured everything out in terms of what I'm doing right now. So I feel like I need to get to that place where it's smooth sailing.
There's no, there's no like anything up in the air. And then I think there'll be lots of room for considering future, but right now I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. So I'm going to, I'm going to keep riding that train.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:39:05] Totally. That makes sense. Um, Connor. I've been asking my, my guests, um, you know, before we end the episode, if they had to send themselves a note, um, to their future selves, um, with some advice on it.
What would that, what would that be? What would, what would you send yourself a future self? Yeah.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:39:22] Interesting. Okay. Well, I think I mentioned earlier, I think what I would send myself is when I, when I, when I get in a comfortable place, I have a hard time getting out of that. And I have a hard time experimenting and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
So I think the advice that I would give myself would be to experiment and to step out of my comfort zone much earlier. And don't only do what you're good at because you think that's all that you're good at because anybody can be it's so cliche, but again, it's cliche for a reason, but anybody can really be good at whatever they want, as long as they really give it a solid shot.
So step outside that comfort zone earlier.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:39:58] Awesome. Um, Connor where can people find more of you get in touch with you and more of your work and potentially see some of your videos as well? Yeah.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:40:06] So I am @connortomatoes. That is C O N N O R T O M A T O E S. Connor tomatoes on TikTok and Instagram. And if you're looking to work, you can hit that email link in my Instagram bio and the contact page of my website, which is connortomatoes.world.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:40:25] Kind of before we end, I actually forgot to ask about this as well. So your, your last name is Connor Bram. Where does tomatoes come from?
Connor Tomatoes: [00:40:33] Yeah, so I wish I knew who I wish I could give the person credit, but I do not remember, but somebody along along the timeline of my existence, they called me Connor tomatoes, because.
I have rosacea. So my cheeks get quite rosy from time to time. I got that from my lovely mother. It's not quite as, as intense as it used to be, but I have, I have pretty rosy cheeks. So somebody, for whatever reason, they called me Connor Tomatoes and it kind of just stuck.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:40:58] Nice. Nice. Well, Connor, thank you so much for joining me today as a guest.
And I really appreciate, I look forward to seeing more of the, uh, more of the random city, random t-shirt videos.
Connor Tomatoes: [00:41:09] Thank you, Jon. It was, it was a great honor to be here.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:41:12] This podcast is produced by me, Jon Sorrentino out in Jersey city, New Jersey. Editing mixing and music are all done by my friend, Kevin Bendis out in Greenpoint Brooklyn. Definitely check him out. You can find out more about Wellfed and where to listen at wellfedpodcast.com or on social media at wellfed.podcast.
Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you soon.
Have you ever had an idea for a project or a series that would maybe help get client work? My guest on this podcast episode did just that!
Meet Connor Tomatoes! A young designer that is creating an awesome community on TikTok while also sharing his love for design, illustration, and t-shirts. Yes t-shirts! Connor graduated during COVID and while making an effort to send in job applications, he started to experiment on TikTok, sharing his design process. He eventually created one of my favorite series called, "Designing a T-Shirt for a random business in a random city". Over time Connor's video gained popularity which lead him to not only gaining clients but also opening up his own webstore where he sells some of his work.
I am really excited to have Connor as a guest because we break down so much of his process that I think this will be super helpful for young designers and creatives looking to get a head start in their career.