Graphic designer Glenn Crawford will celebrate 10 years of success with his company Jack of All Trades this year. Crawford designs everything from websites to posters to advertisements, and his clients include Capital Pride and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).
Crawford is known for his innovative and, at times, sexually charged designs.
“He does great work. He seems to understand our needs, sometimes better than we do ourselves,” says John Sharp, CAS’s national coordinator for the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life.
“You don’t have to go into a lot of details or explanations about things with Glenn. I wish every supplier was as responsive and responsible,” Sharp says. “He’s very quick on the uptake and seems to almost intuitively know what we’re looking for.”
One of Crawford’s favourite designs is his 2005 Capital Pride poster. Inspired by bisexual Polish art-deco pioneer Tamara de Lempicka, he based the promotional artwork on her 1932 painting Adam and Eve, opting to present two Adams and two Eves, paired off by sex. The finished product shows two semi-nude men embracing.
Additionally, Capital Pride’s 2005 theme was Back on Track, and Crawford reflected this theme with a 1920s-style train.
“2005 was the first year after the Bank Street catastrophe
[when Capital Pride’s debt totalled $120,000 following the Bank Street street party]. I was working as sponsor and helping Capital Pride rebrand itself. I didn’t charge for my design work,” he says. “The theme was getting the festival back on track, moving forward and repairing the past.”
A decade ago, before founding Jack of All Trades, Crawford knew he wasn’t in the right field. He had worked in retail for many years but says an artistic career was always his calling. After taking a website design course at the Ottawa branch of the Toronto School of Business, he landed at Xtra, where he worked as a journalist and graphic designer.
“That was a great experience for me in terms of on-the-job experience with graphic design and establishing connections with the GLBT community,” he says.
He says working at Xtra also encouraged him to come out of the closet and helped him to see that Ottawa’s queer community isn’t all the same.
“I came out late in life; I was 28,” he says. “It wasn’t until I started working for Xtra that I actually started to realize what a large community we have. That particular job benefited me personally in terms of finding a sense of community and recognizing what’s out there.”
Over the past decade, Jack of All Trades has grown exponentially, almost exclusively by word of mouth, something Crawford finds ironic.
“I’m in marketing and advertising, but I don’t do a lot of marketing and advertising. The majority of my business is through referral,” he says. “For me that’s the most satisfying way of building my business because it means that people are happy with my work. I’m grateful for all the things that have come into my life that way.”
Real estate agent John King, who owns the Westboro Property Shop, has recommended Crawford to several colleagues and says he is more of an artist than a graphic designer.
“He’s very creative. I would say he’s the kind of guy who is a little outside the box,” King says. “He’s not typical.”
King says Crawford’s exemplary customer service, contemporary style and use of colour on his business cards and promotional posters are what have solidified their working relationship over the past 10 years.
“In my business, when I want or need something, I need it yesterday,” King says. “He’ll work to meet my deadlines. It’s not all about him, versus some people where it’s, ‘Well, I can do it because this is my schedule.’ He’ll work with me around my deadline, which is wonderful.”
Crawford has considered the financial compensation that would come with working for a large design firm, but, he says, working in mainstream advertising would not be as artistically rewarding.
“As a small business, I have a large client base. Therefore, I have a wide variety of projects, so that keeps it interesting. When I work with a client, I have to understand what their specific needs are and how they want to brand themselves,” he says. “I’m constantly getting ideas from them, and so what I do is not really fine art, but it’s collaboration; it’s commercial art. The ideas and the projects are not completely from my imagination. They are based on specific requirements and parameters for the client. That always keeps the work fresh and it challenges me.”
Crawford also finds time for volunteer work with queer charities, noting that he’s grateful for his success and feels it’s important to give back.
“If I can do design work, which I love, and also help organizations get the word out about the important work they do, then I feel doubly blessed, and I feel like I’m doing what I can to help make us stronger,” he says.