BayouArtist Jake Dugard is many things: artist, designer, professor, coach, husband and father. “My favorite thing is doing a lot of things,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes.”
article by April Clark Honaker
photography by Scarlett Garcia
To do so many things, Jake wakes up early and makes it to CrossFit Ruston by 5 a.m. to workout and jump start his day. Since starting CrossFit four years ago, Jake has made himself a morning person and has also added CrossFit coaching to his repertoire of skills. According to Jake, CrossFit has made a huge impact on his life, improving his overall health and giving him the energy to take on new responsibilities. “I’m a different person than I used to be,” Jake said. When he walks in to teach his 8 o’clock classes, Jake is pumped and ready to go. Because most of his students have just climbed out of bed, his energy and enthusiasm help wake them up and get them interested in what they’re doing.
Building others up is one of Jake’s passions, and he is fulfilling his second year as an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Louisiana Tech University. But before taking on this role, Jake spent ten years advancing his education and building experience in his field. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communication design from Louisiana Tech University in 2009, Jake worked for Sarah and Brian Warren at Emogen Marketing Group in Ruston and also pursued his Master of Fine Arts, which he earned from Louisiana Tech in 2014.
While in graduate school, Jake was able to complete an internship with Hatch Show Print, an iconic letterpress printing company in Nashville that has been in business since 1879. In letterpress printing, the cut type is arranged and locked in place by hand, a process that has continued to influence Jake’s work. He said, “I enjoy the textures, type and imagery coming from old letterpress studios and early to mid-century ephemera.”
Also while in graduate school, Jake and his friend Cassidy Keim opened Makers Union, which was a design studio and retail space in downtown Ruston that was dedicated to connecting people to unique, well-crafted products and teaching creative processes. “I think it helped foster a community of makers and doers and to help put their work in front of people,” he said. The space is now in transition and will be repurposed, but Jake is still carrying on the mission of Makers Union through his work as a designer and teacher.
Reflecting on the experiences that have shaped him, Jake admitted that he didn’t always know he wanted to be a designer. “Honestly, when I came to Tech,” he said, “I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I had developed an interest in art growing up.” Ironically, some of Jake’s first creative experiences involved science. As a kid, Jake and his family would visit Sci-Port in Shreveport, which is where he grew up. At Sci-Port, he said, “I was able to move, mold, smell, touch and make things. I was hooked. I needed to make more things and I did.” He found opportunities to transform school projects into conduits for his creativity and described a science project he had done that required him to collect and label leaves. Looking back on the project, he said, “I could see myself searching and trying to do something a little more organized than my peers.” According to Jake, the project wasn’t great, but it was one of the first signs that he had a natural inclination for design.
When it was time to decide what path he wanted to take in college, Jake was able to tour Louisiana Tech. During the tour, he was introduced to graphic design for the first time and was drawn to it. However, after studying it for a year, he felt himself pulled toward teaching as well and temporarily changed his major to education. Despite being pulled in two directions, Jake eventually returned to design and finished his degree. He attributes that decision partly to the influence of his friend Christian Dunn. At the time, they were both students, but Jake said, “Christian was one of the first people to really push me in that direction. Just watching him work really inspired me to pursue art.” Sometimes they still do projects together for fun, and Jake has discovered that choosing design didn’t mean disregarding teaching. Now, as fortune would have it, he gets to do both.
Jake said he ultimately finished his degrees in design specifically because it mixed his interest in art and his interest in organizing information.
“I HAVE A PASSION FOR GRIDS, ORDER, MODERNITY AND CLEANLINESS,” HE SAID. “I ALSO JUST LOVE THE PROCESS OF CREATING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING. I LOVE EMPOWERING PEOPLE’S IDEAS AND HELPING THEM BECOME A REALITY.”
The practicality of design was also a factor in his decision. Although a lot of emphasis in education is now being placed on the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Jake said, “Design is engrained in every aspect of those fields. It might not be a conscious thing, but it is very much a part of everyone’s lives. The tools, devices, user interfaces, charts, data, books and machines have all been designed–good or bad.” As a result, designers like Jake will never want for work.
Because Jake splits his time between designing, teaching, coaching and family, he is only open to a few freelance projects a year. He has done design work for local companies, such as CrossFit Ruston, Gibson’s Natural Grocer, Ruston Farmers Market and Kelly Moore Bag, a company that has received national recognition in Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, Parenting and other magazines. He said, “It’s been awesome to partner with business owners who understand the importance of creativity and design. I love being able to come alongside someone and help brand their idea and give it a sense of credibility and importance. It elevates them. And these entrepreneurs are the driving force of the economy, so it’s an honor to help their efforts as I see everyone in Ruston see the benefits of these local businesses.”
Jake has been in Ruston for 11 years and has really enjoyed seeing what the arts have done for the community as a whole. “Ruston has become an awesome little town with a burgeoning arts community. And I’m not just talking about art crawls and shows, although those are incredible things. I’m talking about just the growing creativity in this town to enrich the lives of everyone. It has been incredible to watch this community mature and become a place that fosters creativity and entrepreneurship.” He believes Ruston’s growth has just begun. “Come back in 10 years,” he said, “and it will be a new city.”
Ruston and its community are certainly important to Jake. In fact, one of his most popular items is actually his unofficial Ruston sweatshirt, which has the word Ruston printed on it. “Sometimes the concept is simple,” Jake said, “I wanted a shirt to rep my town, so I made one.” The design of the sweatshirt exemplifies qualities present in much of Jake’s work. “What you see is what you get,” he said. “There doesn’t always have to be some overarching, complicated concept to make something. I want it to be fun, approachable, affordable, and I want to make something people want. The older I’ve gotten, my work has become more matter-of-fact and, ironically, more fun and playful. Ain’t nobody got time to take things too seriously.” These characteristics of Jake’s work align with much of designer Aaron Draplin’s work. Jake said Draplin has been influential partly because he’s loud, funny and entertaining, not stale and austere, and also because his work is practical and approachable.
Although Jake’s designs, including his sweatshirt, are often straightforward, a lot of time and attention to detail go into them. “When I print something and put it out there,” he said, “I’ve really made an effort to balance quality and affordability. I constantly battle with pricing, but the goal is always to have the best quality for an affordable price.” In fact, it took him a month to find the perfect sweatshirt to print his design on. “And I nailed it,” he said. The shirt is super soft, durable, affordable and made in the USA. It is printed using soft water-based ink, and it’s tagless. Instead, care instructions, Jake’s name, and sizing are printed directly on the shirt. Jake said, “These little details add value and make the product special. For anyone who has bought a shirt from me, I hope that it brings a smile to their face to wear it. I hope they feel confident in wearing it.”
He hopes to have a similar impact on other customers as well. “What a customer is to me could be three different things: client, CrossFitter or student. For anyone who has bought a print or any other object from me, I hope it brings a smile to their face when they walk by that print hanging in their house, that it brings them joy or is a reminder that life is good. For anyone that I’ve coached, I hope they feel empowered, confident and excited to move.” When it comes to teaching, motivating his students is important. Jake wants them to be interested in their field and to care about what they’re producing.
One of the things Jake enjoys most about being involved in so many different things is the interplay between them. For example, he feels coaching is just a natural extension of teaching. “The cool thing,” he said, “is that they’re interchangeable. Both require you to learn how to read people and figure out what they respond to.” In addition, his work as a designer and coach has carried over into what he teaches his students. “There have been times,” he said, “when I’m learning a new process or when I learn something I wish I’d known as a student, and I have the chance to share it with my students.” Jake also tries to teach his students some basic things he’s learned about life. When he was a student, Jake said he always felt strapped for time, but now as an adult with multiple jobs and a family, he’s realized that he can accomplish a lot if he uses his time efficiently. As a result, he tries to impress strong time-management skills on his students.
Just as his design work and coaching carry over into his teaching; his teaching carries over into his design work. “I think it’s interesting,” he said, “to revisit some of the material I didn’t fully process when I was a student myself.” He compared this process of layering his understanding of design concepts and processes to layering a book’s meaning with each new reading. Jake strives to evolve his understanding of what he does, because doing so translates into high-quality, distinctive work. “When I have ownership over something, I try to find the best way to do it, whether it’s teaching, designing or training at CrossFit,” he said. “I love what I do. I live a quiet life and work with my hands, but it gives me a sense of purpose, and I have been able to develop friendships with people that wouldn’t have happened if I was in another field.”
When it comes to his many endeavors, Jake said, “I hope people see my passion for investing myself in whatever I do whether it’s teaching, coaching CrossFit, graphic design work, my family or whatever.”