If you’re not immediately struck by the cleverness of the Sharper Image logo on James Street, check your pulse.
The silhouette of a barber and his client in the stylings of the famed NBA logo doesn’t just serve as a welcome to the basketball-themed barbershop it’s emblazoned upon, but often as one’s first clue that downtown Lancaster, PA has begun. Unsurprisingly, this eye-catching brand art is thanks to yet another talented city native’s artistic vision. In fact, any regular visitor to Lancaster City is familiar with the graphic art of Adam Serrano and probably Adam himself. Seen longboarding the streets with his signature beard and black-rimmed glasses, it’s difficult to imagine a more recognized character of the city.
With a body of work like DFB Salon, That Shuu Girl Boutique, Attollo and Fruition Collective along with countless bands and other projects, the streets of Lancaster City are Adam’s portfolio. One could imagine the glamorous life this artist probably has with a job at some fancy graphics firm and a condo in the West End. But like many freelance creatives, financial stability is a constant struggle of looking for that next gig and the overwhelming urge to throw in the towel.
As a high school senior Adam spent most of his time at McCaskey High School’s computer lab eating up printer ink with his dense black vector art, leading his art teacher Mr. Lawrence to dub forever him as the ‘Inkfiend’. When Tyrik Jackson, owner of Sharper Image and ever a man of the community, came to the high school for a student-designed logo, Mr. Lawrence knew exactly how he was going to save on printer ink and maybe give Adam an outlet for his passion as well. According to Adam, that’s when his Inkfiend character broke. “I said, ‘well, should I give you a price?’ and he asked if I wanted money or if there was a thing I wanted. And at the time, I didn’t have a camera and I really wanted to start photographing. So I parlayed that job into getting my first DSLR.”
Adam followed the next logical step and enrolled in the first design school he could afford. “After a few years it felt more like an Advertisement school than an art school. Pretty much everyone went on to work for the same company.” Feeling creatively unchallenged and discouraged by what seemed like a limited array of career options, Adam dropped out in hopes of forging his own path. And as expected, that came with some obvious challenges.
“It’s hard to feel official or like you deserve to rise past a certain level when you’re among your peers and discussion breaks out about training and education. I can’t say that I did 3 years at some half-assed school before I was eaten up. It feels like no matter how much you love my work, it will all turn grayer once you found out I dropped out. So I dip-low for any opportunity because I know that to say to someone that can’t afford me to come back when they can, is a lost opportunity. Once that person can afford me, they’re not going to hire me. They’re going to hire Joe Schmoe at Joe Schmoe Graphics Agency because they can.”
But it isn’t just self-deprecation, it’s also the optimistic opportunist in Adam that drives him to provide his services for free or deeply discounted, “You meet so many people with so many great ideas and you see the potential in them. Even though they can’t afford you, you know that if they just had this one little piece of this puzzle, they could blow up and you’d be part of that”.
It would be easy to pity or pass judgment on anyone in this position. But before we go about feeling sorry for Adam, he’s figured some things out. “I’ve done a lot of bartering. If I love a band and don’t have money for their show, I’ll offer to photograph it. If I want to be a part of a project, I just generate some graphics for it and trade work for experiences. I can have complete creative freedom without the baggage of a website or portfolio and still network myself for paid work in the future.”
Despite one’s opinion on Adam’s lifestyle, a quick look around Lancaster City will prove the impact he and his art have had on our community. And while the condo, the car and other traditional shows of success are on hold for Adam, the reputation he has carved for himself in Lancaster as one of the city’s most talented artists cannot be purchased.