Once upon a time in a far far land in upstate New York there was a hardworking and honest couple, Stephen & Sandra Helme. Sandra was expecting her second child as she had a son named Benjamin 22 months prior. The date was November 9th, 1983.
Sandra gave birth to a 8 pound hairy little monkey named Mathew Helme. Thats right only one ‘T’ in Mathew. According to Sandra she felt Mathew was going to be a very special unique boy, thus she spelled his first name wrong. :) Thanks mom.
As long as I can remember I’ve always loved to draw and create. Seeing that my father was a motorcycle mechanic and my mother a baker, becoming a designer was in my blood. Being a designer is creating and fixing, creating and fixing. Thats exactly what a baker and a mechanic does, creates and fixes.
Some of my earliest memories were that of drawing and obsessing over Michael Jordan. Ironically my childhood friend and Art Buddy growing up Jordan Fripp took part in this obsession for years. Jordan is one of the leading Graphic and Motion Designers in todays industry. You might best know him for his Nike Fuel Band interface and branding graphics. For about six years of our lives we would do nothing but draw anything and everything Michael Jordan. When I say everything I mean it. Every art project was Michael Jordan related. I remember sculpting Jordan VI signature shoes in my second grade art class.
Art continued for me in those awkward adolescent years. I started off with basketball, baseball, soccer and ended up racing BMX and snowboarding. I went from Boss Jeans and WuTang Clan to JNCOs and Earth Crisis. My art shifted as well, whatever I was into at that point in time is what I was drawing or creating. I became the local go to kid for NYHC band posters. All hand drawn with a gel pen, smeared with spit for gradients and xeroxed in the teachers break room.
My sophomore year in high school I became fascinated not only with the idea of sculpting clay, but sculpting myself. My idols changed from Pablo Picasso to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was such a radical change. I left the kiln room and found myself in the weight room. This odd transition began my four year career as a meat head. I put all life ambitions aside for stuffing my face with protein and moving heavy objects.
This was not only one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made but the best thing that ever happened to me. Up until this point of my life everything came pretty easily. Teachers were hiring me to do their portraits, students were bidding my paintings out of the art cases. I was expected to pursue art, everyone told me this was my path. I didn’t want that, I wanted to make my own stubborn decisions, I wanted a new perspective.
After a four year hiatus of brutal training, anatomy and physiology and partying way too much in college I knew I needed a change. It was time to truly ask myself what I really wanted. The answer was pretty simple, I wanted to create. It was always the one thing that truly made sense for me. I needed to get back to square one and start creating again.
I ended up graduating from college with an Associates in Fine Arts & Management. Unfortunately my skills were so unbelievably rusty. It took me years to get back my hand eye coordination. However the creative process was still there. To this day I still feel my technique was better when I was about fourteen.
My last semester in getting my associates degree I enrolled into a basic Microsoft Word course. Up until this point I had never really been exposed to computers besides AltaVista and AOL. I excelled rather quickly finishing the course with an A+ and two weeks early. I became immediately hooked to the digital world. The big light box with a keyboard was starting to make sense.
With my Associates degree in hand I was ready to propel forward. I realized if I wanted to get into the art world I needed to move out of Upstate New York. Also after I had an internship at a non profit called Sculpture Space, I knew the Fine Arts industry wasn’t for me. I wanted something else but I wasn’t sure just what that was yet. At this time my childhood friend and art buddy Jordan had one year left to finish his degree in New Media Design program at RIT. Once I figured out what that was I wanted in.
I found a school in Orlando Florida called IADT and moved all within one week to make the start of the semester. That semester I took Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML, CSS, Pro Tools and Final Cut Pro. My mind was blown, this was all too freaking RAD. I chuckIe about it now but I used to carry a USB around my neck to show off my super gnarly photoshop skills to all my friends, what a nerd I had become, it was great.
Unfortunately the credits from my previous degree wouldn’t transfer even though it was of a higher accreditation. This caused me to move back up to New York and enroll into an online school that matched my degree and credits. It was about double the price in enrollment but I was instructed that I needed the degree to get a “Real Job”.
Through persistence and relentless passion I acquired a Graphic Design position immediately after moving back up the New York. Now this was only with about six months of application training. I luckily picked up on large format printing and began my career as a designer. I commuted an hour in the morning, then work an eight hour shift without lunch and commute back home. At night I would complete my school work and what ever time I had left would go to freelance or learn Flash 3D. I remember sleeping for about three to four hours a night on the couch while my one gig processor rendered 3D. I loved every minute of it, but I was so, so broke. This was the first time I was actually on my own and had to provide for myself. Barley scraping by I knew I needed a change after I got my Bachelor degrees.
Here I was with three degrees and not even a year experience. I thought I knew everything. If you would of asked me at the time what I was ready to do, I would confidently would have said, “Anything… You want a logo, website, commercial? You name it I can make you the best product ever”. Let’s just say I had a strong case of the “I-know-it-alls”. Boy was I wrong.
I soon learned “You know everything, once you figure out you don’t know everything”. Struggling with freelance for about two years and thought what every new designer in the industry thinks, “I need to work for the biggest brand possible”. What I really needed was a mentor, probably would of saved me about two-three years of bad habits.
Nothing but the VIP room for this guy, lets pop bottles. I made it, I finally made it. I landed the biggest corporate job ever. My seat was one of fifty cubes in that particular floor and wing. My cube kick and I were best of corporate friends. We would instant message each other all day with our backs turned. The creases in my khakis were so crisp as I woke up twenty minutes early everyday to starch and iron. All of my rich and conceptual ideas were taken and watered down by my upper management with all of the credit given to them. The break room was filled with more gossip than the girls locker room.
I finally realized I didn’t want to work for the biggest brand. I didn’t want to work the corporate life. In fact I wanted to do the exact opposite. I was mislead, misguided and miserable. I absolutely hated going to work. For the first time in my life I despised art and technology. This was a scary feeling, I knew the corporation wasn’t going to change so I needed to make the change.
One day I finally caught up on reading my RSS feeds and found a contest post on the Think Vitamin blog. The post was for a design position with Think Vitamin Membership, soon to be Treehouse. The only problem was the deadline. It was in 28hrs from the time I read the article. The contest was to create a fully designed app, functional if possible. How was I going to pull this off? There’s not enough time.
I’m currently a Designer & Educator at Treehouse. I entered the contest almost finishing the project. I took the next day off work and stayed up all night submitting my project at the last minute. I designed and coded for 24.5hrs straight. Finishing third over all, I was offered another position as a Design Teacher. I couldn’t be more happy now. Working for such an amazing company and team. Its been a long road and I wouldn’t change any of it.
If you made it this far, thank you so much for getting to know me. Feel free to contact me via email or social networks, I would love to hear your story.