Moving to a new country is never simple. In this episode of Career Relaunch, lettering artist Alex Trochut will share his story of moving from Barcelona to New York City. We’ll discuss the importance of paying attention to your professional desires and ways to rekindle your relationship with your own work. After our conversation, during today’s Mental Fuel, I explain what I do to keep my own work exciting and interesting.
Check out this short film by Daniel Soares featuring Alex Trochut on what it’s like to be a freelancer in NYC.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, my challenge to you was to find one way to make your work more exciting for yourself by changing one part of your work routine. It could be something as simple as listening to music or working in a different café or it could mean investing more time into that side gig of yours or finding a way to get more involved with that project that truly excites you.
Start this week. Rekindle the relationship you have with your job. And see what impact it has on your work and your life.
After completing his design studies at Elisava Superior School of Design, Alex Trochut established his own design studio in Barcelona before relocating to New York City. Through his design, illustration and typographic practice, he’s developed an intuitive way of working that’s resulted in his expressive visual style. He’s partnered with some of the world’s most iconic brands and artists – from Katy Perry to the Rolling Stones – to bring their album artwork to life. He’s been nominated for a GrammyAward for Best Recording Packaging, recognized for his inventive lettering style by the Art Director’s Club, and selected as one of the top 5 of the 20 most influential designers in the last 20 years by Computer Arts Magazine. He’s recently embarked on an artistic collaboration to convey the meaning behind the word Truth.
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Teaser (first ~15s): Our careers are like marriages. Routines can step in very easily, and then somehow, what was exciting is not exciting anymore, because you’ve been doing it a thousand times. It’s very important to make your relationship with your work exciting again.
Joseph: Alex, good morning. Welcome to Career Relaunch. It is great to have you on the show.
Alex: Thank you so much, Joseph. I’m very happy to be here.
Joseph: We are going to talk through your geographical move to New York City, your life as a designer, and also some of the ups and downs of establishing yourself in a city like New York City, but I was wondering if you could start by first explaining exactly what you’re focused on right now in your career and your life.
Alex: Right now, I’m in Brooklyn. I’m in a shared space with six other freelancers in Greenpoint. My life, it’s very simple, and I love it. I would love to keep it like this for as long as I can. I live not far away from here.
Probably, the challenges that I’m facing right now are like dealing with the world of commercial commissions and how to introduce or dive more into my personal work. Maybe the challenges towards a 10-year plan would be like, ‘Will I be doing this in 10 years or will I step more into personal work and just go more for an artistic field or not?’ It’s kind of the big questions that sometimes I wonder.
It’s another step of changing careers that I’m not ready to get a lot of determination yet, about what’s the best strategy, to be honest. I’ve been working as a graphic designer, illustration, letterer, for the last 12 years as a freelancer. Before, I was in Barcelona. Pretty much all my life has been surrounded by creating images that many times involve letters.
Joseph: We’re going to get into the details on all of this and also would be very interested to hear about some of your future plans, as I know that that’s always something that people wrestle with is balancing the present and the future.
I’ve worked with plenty of designers myself, Alex, both right now in my current business but also when I used to work in brand management, and you’re actually the first letterer I’ve come across where you focus on the actual lettering as a designer and artist. Could you just explain exactly what a lettering artist does?
Alex: Letter design is a little bit like the nonverbal communication of design. It’s really not what you say. It’s like how you say it. That happens through the visual side of letters.
You could say, for example, ‘I love you.’ You could write it in a letter that is very plain, or you could do something like extremely flourished and beautiful. Then the message can come across way more intentional, and the style becomes a message itself.
That’s a little bit of what I play with, like trying to work with context that it’s given by specific letters. It’s not alphabets. It’s kind of like just working with, for example, a name, a headline, a logo. Those are the structures, the letter structures I need to play with in order to create a communication through those letters and embody a message that a client or a brand will need.
Joseph: I know one challenge, Alex, that freelancers and entrepreneurs can struggle with is what to focus on, which is definitely something I’ve always wrestled with myself. How did you decide to focus on this particular niche of design?
Alex: In that sense, I believe a lot in just trusting your satisfaction or putting your professional compass where your fun is focused. Just try to really answer your exciting needs, because the key is like just converting any effort into a natural will.
For me, it’s almost like a necessity of like, ‘I really want to do this.’ If I’m doing something else, I’m thinking about these other things, so what I try to do is just try to go where my heart was going. Through that, I think I started to develop more of a knowledge about how to do certain things, certain way. It was really just like following a little bit your own needs more than anything else.
Joseph: Let’s go back in time a little bit here. You haven’t always lived in New York City. You actually started your career, as you mentioned, as a designer in Barcelona. Could you tell me about what sort of work you were doing at that time, and then we can move forward from there?
Alex: I started working in Elisava. That was when I was around like 20 years old. After that, I did my Erasmus. I went to Berlin for half a year and then came back and started to do some internships in this studio called Toormix, where I learned a lot about how to rationalize my ideas, try to not express yourself just for the sake of it.
I remember when we were working at Toormix, every project had to be discussed previously. We did these meetings where we all hear a brief, and we all have an opinion towards how to approach it. The approach had to be discussed beforehand and agreed by all the team. To me, that was crazy because it was very hard for me to rationalize things before doing them, but they were great creatives for thinking and concepting.
After that, I went to another studio. The approach was quite different. I went to Vasava, where the approach is way more emotional. Of course there’s an agreement towards what is the direction, but there’s a lot of things that they allow every creative to drift with and allow everybody that was taking the project dive into their own process and let the process show you what’s the best solution.
There was a point, after spending two years over there, where I decided it was time for me to manage my own time basically and just try to find my own clients. I thought, ‘Let’s go find my clients on the internet.’ It was a perfect moment in time where internet was really allowing for you to hunt clients outside of your city.
That was what happened. I made my website in English. Little by little, I was starting to get commissions from outside Spain, which allowed me to connect with narrower target of clients that maybe were looking forward to commission stuff that I like to do, rather than me adapting to whatever clients I had in my local territory.
I started to get some agents, reps that help me to grow in my career. After six years, I decided to move to New York, because I needed a change. I already had my agents over here in the U.S. My landing in New York was already with a work stability, which is very fortunate. I’m very grateful about that.
Joseph: Before we get to when you actually did physically land in New York, this move from Barcelona to New York City actually seems like a pretty big move. How did you decide to leave Barcelona behind and move internationally to United States?
Alex: It was a swift moment. It was a moment of changes. It was a moment of looking at my life through a different perspective. It was when I was 30. It’s this time that’s like a pivotal moment where you’re thinking, ‘Is this where I settle in, Barcelona? Is this the city, or is there a new chapter for me?’ There’s maybe a surprise for my life that I could try to discover.
I was looking forward to establish myself in Barcelona after traveling for six months in around Asia. Then I went to New York, and I just had this moment of like, ‘Wow.’ I met people. My agents were telling me, ‘Hey, if you want to move here, we can get you more work.’ It was like, ‘This is a moment where I need to make this happen or not happen.’ I was telling myself, ‘Allow yourself to fail,’ basically. If this is not going to work, it’s fine, but allow yourself to fail this time. If it doesn’t work, just come back to Barcelona.’ Here I am.
I was really excited about everything, that it was such a bigger challenge in New York rather than Barcelona – like first of all, getting your—all the steps that you need to do—get your visa, get your social security, get your credit card, get your credit score, all these little steps that will mean nothing if I am in Barcelona. They were like massive achievements here in New York. Doing all these stuff, it felt very rewarding.
Definitely, New York is a tough city, but also it grabs you from the beginning if you fall in love with it, and then things are starting to get better little by little.
Joseph: My sister lived in New York City for many years, and I would go and visit her. I know the city’s really incredible, and at the same time, it can be very intimidating and overwhelming.
It’s funny you mentioned that you’ve made the decision to move at the age of 30, because I was just thinking about my own situation in the past. I actually moved from San Francisco to London when I was 31, right around the same time where you’ve got to make this decision about ‘are you in or are you out?’
I don’t know about you, Alex, but I can still remember the very first week after I arrived in the U.K. I was wondering, can you take us back to the moment when you landed in New York City for the first time? What was that like for you? What was running through your head as you exited the airport?
Alex: It’s funny, because there was not quite a moment where I was like, ‘I’m definitely 100% moved here.’ It was navigating a personal relationship. I was in love at that time, and I was just taking it slow to like coming for three months and then going back to Barcelona. It was a very slow transition.
I didn’t want to say no to anything. I didn’t want to say no to Barcelona yet. I just wanted to say yes to everything. I had to decide at some point, because my life was a little bit chaotic. It was a lot of back and forth.
New York was very welcoming in that sense, and I felt like everybody’s an immigrant in this city. It felt always very recharging, the energy that you find from the people. I don’t know how it is in London, but in Europe in general, there’s a lot of people that are born and raised in one place, so you feel a little bit detached from the culture.
Unlike in New York, the culture is whoever arrives and sets up something new. It’s so hungry for new stuff happening. In that sense, everybody has an opportunity, and everybody needs to prove themselves that they are somehow part of this city.
Joseph: Now, I got to ask you about how you landed some of your projects, because especially for those people out there who might also a be a solopreneur or a freelancer or even someone just trying to gain some traction on one of their side projects, there’s always this question about how you land your clients or your gigs. How did you end up creating the album covers for artists like Katy Perry and the Rolling Stones? Because that sounds like a pretty big deal.
Alex: It does, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like that. It’s so crazy sometimes, like how crazy things happen in the luckiest way. I feel like it’s always a combination of hard work and some talent and then luck.
In the case of Rolling Stones, every now and then, you get these projects that they are like, ‘Do you want to pitch for this project?’ It sounds great. You’re going to be willing to put so many hours into do a presentation, and then they’re going to present this to a big team above you that you have no communication with. They’re going to put it in a focus group, and of course, it almost never happens.
The one time that it happened was for Rolling Stones, and I was in shock. I remember I accepted the project, thinking, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this, because it’s probably not going to happen.’ But it’s Rolling Stones, so I would always say like, ‘Look, I did a version for whatever record is going to be released.’ I think that’s always the best way to approach a certain pitch for projects. The more confident you feel about the proposal, the less likely is the thing going to happen, weirdly in my head.
My expectations were very low, but I did my best. Very surprisingly, the focus group approves the proposal, and it happened.
Joseph: How did you get discovered to be one of the four people featured in that solo New York City short film, which is actually how I first learned about you?
Alex: That was Daniel Soares who was a person who I didn’t know at the time. He’s a guy from Portugal, very talented filmmaker and very good eye for cinematography. He just contacted me through Instagram. We met, and he said, ‘Look, I have this project. I would like to do a little interview with you and do this small film about different freelance in New York,’ and I was one of the people he selected. That’s how it happened.
After that, Daniel came to the studio here in Greenpoint, and he stayed with us for a few months, almost a year. He became a friend after that.
Joseph: The last thing I was hoping to cover before we wrap up with one of the projects I know that you are working on right now, Alex, is just some of the things that you’ve learned over the years of freelancing, then moving in New York City, and also creating a name for yourself globally as a designer. I’d like to start by talking through a couple of the things you mentioned in that short film we were just referencing. One of the things I thought was really interesting that you said there in that film was, ‘Beginnings are always rough.’ What is it about starting something new that you think makes it so difficult?
Alex: When you start, all you have is your will, your heart, a little bit innocence. I think that brings all of the excitement. Knowledge is power, but the unknown is so big too. You don’t want anybody to tell you how it is. You want to discover it by yourself, and there’s going to be a lot of failure involved with the process. At the same time, if it’s the one thing you decided that was worth it to do, it’s going to create so much drive towards your goal.
Beginnings are rough for sure, because you haven’t established anything yet. You are an unknown person that doesn’t have any perception towards any of the people that you talk with. You need to prove yourself from every action, and you’re going to keep building towards something that will create a perception as an individual, as a brand, as a designer, as whatever you’re willing to become. It’s the moment where you have that sort of opportunity to create a stamp on every experience with everybody. This is something that you just take very good care of, ‘I’m going to sculpt this thing beautifully, and I want this to be perfect. I’m not going to let anything go wrong.’ It’s very exciting.
So many times, of course, there’s a lot of struggle towards the people you encounter, the people that are questioning you, the people that decided not to take you seriously because why should they, and how you need to navigate all that and prove to yourself and them that you’re worth it.
It’s all about having fun. If you’re having fun with what you do, you just turn everything into a natural will and not an effort. That’s so important, because everybody is born with specific traits in their brain. There are certain things that they’re not free will. We’re just wired in a certain way to like certain things, and we need to listen to what we like a lot because that’s what we were probably born to perform the best for.
Those are the things that we cannot create, we’re born with. Listening to those clues that desire create for us, I think, is very important because they’re very, very unique. In the long run, you are going to be doing the best you were supposed to for who you are, if you follow those things, I feel.
Joseph: It’s probably a good reminder to everybody out there that we all sometimes put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get things right, and as you said, perfect, especially when you’re about to start off on something new. It’s a good reminder that, I guess, a) you got to remember to have fun along the way, and also b) to not second guess yourself too much and to listen to your intuition, which is not always the easiest thing to do.
Alex: I feel like intuition is so important. It’s almost something that you don’t think. You just feel like, ‘Okay, yeah. I guess I got to do this.’ I’m not so much of a thinker. I’m just more like a doer.
Joseph: I’ve been trying to work on that myself recently. I’m more of a thinker myself. I’ve been finding recently that sometimes my thinking overrides what I’m feeling, and it ends up not being the right decision. I’m trying to get better at listening to my own intuition.
Another thing that you said in the video was that you need to create excitement again in your long-term relationship with yourself. What did you mean by that? I thought that was very interesting.
Alex: Our careers are like marriages. We are attached to a way of doing. Routines can step in very easily, and then somehow, what was exciting is not exciting anymore, because you’ve been doing it a thousand times. It’s very important to kill your darlings every now and then and try new things. Make your relationship with your work exciting again. It can come through circumstances that can push you. For example, I was not looking for work to learn 3D at all in my career, but thank God, that the circumstances pushed me towards that.
Comfortable is easy, but at the end it’s boring. You always need to create some pain to get some gain. It’s like going to do exercise. At the beginning, nobody wants to get up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym, but when you’re in the shower after your workout, you are very happy about it. It’s always trying to find that effort that you put in it, and then it’s going to be very rewarding towards the end.
Joseph: I’d also be curious to hear what you’ve learned about yourself, having reestablished yourself in a city like New York City that’s full of opportunity and excitement but is also quite ruthless and unforgiving at times. Is there anything that has been especially surprising that you’ve learned about yourself along the way?
Alex: Looking back on how much my life was very simple when I was before 30, it was so much focused on work solely and only about work that it was very imbalanced. It was kind of necessary to be where I am right now. I think if I took away a little bit of the focus that I had in those times, maybe I will not be in New York. At the same time, it was kind of like an unsustainable lifestyle. I feel like my life is more balanced now, and I’m able to look at things with a more relaxed way, I hope.
I’m learning about myself, about the patterns that everybody steps into and trying to balance your life as much as possible. In the end, you do produce better things when you are less tense, less stressed, and less focused on one thing, because you narrow your vision a lot. When you’re more relaxed, your brainwaves are in another scope. It’s wider, and you allow yourselves to take longer paths and look around and see things that maybe others don’t. In a way, I think it’s better to be less obsessed. That’s maybe the one thing that I learned.
It’s always changing. So many times, you don’t control the things that happen to you in the professional world, especially when you work for others and clients. You’re not an artist that you just do what you are pleased in every time. It’s more about adapting to circumstances.
Sometimes, the circumstances are overwhelming, but yeah, trying to remind myself not to stress too much and take things a bit easier with myself, I think.
Joseph: For anyone listening to this who’s maybe been thinking about making a big move in their career, is there something you wish you had known that you now know about creating a change in your life, after making your big international move?
Alex: When I decided to start, I was very anxious to prove to myself and others that I was able to do it. That was necessary. I feel like that being gifted with myself, it was important in order to accomplish it, but in the end, if you want something, it ends up happening.
Everything is kind of like, the decisions that you can take towards something are reversible in a way. Allow yourself to make a mistake. It’s good. I feel like Americans maybe are easier on that term, because everybody tries things. They might fail, and it’s okay. You can just do something else.
Life is long. There are so many stages in it. Sometimes, I feel like in Europe, you feel a little bit judged if things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to. What is important is just to keep trying and enjoy the process, because in the end, it’s right here. In the end, certain things, they will not repeat, and we just need to enjoy the process more then.
When you get to your goals, what happens is I always feel like, ‘Oh, I did that,’ like it was so important for me. Now, I’m here, and then I need to start again. It’s another process, so it’s better to enjoy there. Whatever path you choose to do, do something that you enjoy, because you’re always suffering if not. It’s important to just take it easy sometimes.
Joseph: Well, that’s a great segue into one of the projects you were telling me about before we recorded this interview that I know you’re enjoying. Can you tell me a little bit more about your current artistic collaboration, focused on the word ‘truth’?
Alex: We are working with a bunch of different artists for animations of a concept. I’m working with David McLeod, Teo Guillem from Dvein, Javier Leon from Leon Studio, Frank Guzzone, and Jordi Pages, a bunch of 3D artists that I really admire. We are all doing this collaboration that it’s animating the word ‘truth.’ It’s going to have an online presence through our website that it’s going to be also like a sound experience, where every animation is a channel of a big, big track that it can sound all at once. All the videos could be playing at once or only one.
Somehow, it’s an artistic interpretation of what our current political, philosophical landscape looks like, where I feel like the certainty about facts and truths is so relative these days. Truth becomes the opposite of a solid matter. It’s like smoky. It could be liquid. It could be bending. It could be divided. It could be like so many metaphors that visually drive you to see the word evolving into different things. That’s what we’re doing, and it’s a project that’s going to be open to many other people. I’m hoping to get as many versions of truth as possible.
Joseph: Very cool. If people want to learn more about you or your lettering art or this collaboration around the word ‘truth,’ where could people go to find out more?
Alex: I bought this domain called Truth.af. I’m also on my Instagram or website, which is @trochut for Instagram and AlexTrochut.com for my website.
Joseph: We will include all those links in the show notes. I just wanted to thank you so much, Alex, for telling us more about your life as a letterer, the things you’ve learned along the way, and the importance of enjoying the ride along the path of your career. Best of luck with your projects and all of your design work.
Alex: Awesome. Thank you so much. It was very nice talking to you, Joseph.