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Grad Interns at Prestigious Design Firm

During his freshman year at Notre Dame College, Jeremy Backo wrote a 10-page paper for one of his business classes about a graphic design firm in Vermont. The company, Jagar Di Paolo Kemp Design, or simply JDK, creates branding, print advertising, animation and video for clients such as Microsoft, MTV and Nike. Ever since writing that paper, JDK has been on Backo’s mind. “The design firm struck me right away as a place I always wanted to end up,” he says.

Now, four years later, Backo has graduated NDC with a bachelor of arts in both graphic design and marketing, and has ended up at, you guessed it, JDK. Though only in a paid internship, he is excited to have realized his dream.  

One of the shirts Backo designed for King's Ransom.“I have had a few chances to interview for fulltime jobs elsewhere, but this opportunity far outweighs a bigger paycheck in my eyes,” he says.

Backo will spend the summer working at JDK’s New York office in Soho, focusing mostly on client services.

“I plan to quickly make a big impression. By the fall of 2010, I hope to either be working full time at JDK or another exciting company this internship sets me up with,” he says. “Working at JDK will surely help me to push both degrees I received at NDC.”

Backo is just one of many Notre Dame graduates who picked an internship, paid or unpaid, over an entry level position right after graduation in hopes of eventually landing that dream job. Over the past few years, he has chosen exposure over pay checks to build his portfolio, projects that didn’t pay well but helped get his name out.  

Backo has designed a series of t-shirts for Cleveland-based King’s Ransom Clothing, which sold at Leaders in Chicago, Heart & Sole on Cleveland’s Coventry Road, Next in Beachwood Mall, and Martini Skate & Snow in Macedonia, Ohio. He recently also designed an album for the Cleveland band Smoke Screen.

Backo creates his shirt designs, as well as most of his comic-like art work, with hand drawn images that are colored and cleaned up on the computer. Many of his illustrations start out as a sketch on a napkin or scrap paper.

“The value of hand drawn images for me is of the highest importance,” he says. “My digital illustrations are works with a sense of style taken directly from my sketch books.”

After displaying them in his senior art show at Notre Dame in the spring, Backo placed most of his prints in local galleries and stores around Cleveland. Some of his art work can be purchased at Heart & Sole on Coventry Road and Salty Not Sweet on Waterloo Road in Cleveland. He exhibits all of his work at www.JeremyBacko.com.

A print from Backo's "Let Go" series.Backo’s interest in graphic design started when he received Ed Emberley’s "Big Green Drawing Book” for his seventh birthday.

“I can still remember trying to draw every single image in that book,” he says. “Since, I have never stopped experimenting and doodling on anything within my reach.”

Backo also credits his dad, Rick, a city worker who studied art and paints on the side, for sparking his interest in graphic design. His mother, Chris, worked as a bank manager for 25 years.

Combining the interests of both his mom and dad, Backo double-majored in graphic design and marketing at Notre Dame College. He admits the core business classes such as corporate finance and accounting were a challenge for him. But he credits his business professors, Sr. Helen Burdenski, Natalie Strouse and Sharon Kerschner, for going out of their way to help him graduate within four years

“I know all my teachers by first name,” says Backo, who originally wanted to attend school in San Diego but then decided to stay closer to home for financial reasons.

“I wanted to transfer out, but I really liked it once I got here,” he says. “If I had gone to a bigger school I wouldn’t have had that one-on-one and nobody would have told me, ‘Hey, you are lot smarter than you are applying yourself.’ And I really needed that.”

“Jeremy was a standout from my first encounter with him. He always had his own unique style and career path in mind,” says Associate Professor of Fine Arts Rachel Morris. “I found it very rewarding as his academic advisor to watch him evolve as an artist and entrepreneur.”

“He developed his quirky drawing style early on and it has served him well,” Morris says. “His drawings may look simplistic and childlike but he is very calculated and meticulous in his methodology.”

Backo thanks Assistant Professor of Fine Arts Reed Simon for channeling his creative energy and teaching him the intricacies of graphic design.

Simon said Backo's contribution to the graphics classes were immense. "Jeremy's classmates benefited from his self motivation and enthusiasm for the graphic arts," Simon said. "With his motivation and strong personal vision, I never felt that I was teaching him at all, once he entered the level 3 graphics classes."

“There’s a lot of new technologies involved in design, but Reed makes students realize the importance of understanding how it used to be done,” Backo says. “He is also very open to me trying different things, putting my personal touch on projects.”

Backo’s personal touch has already caught the eye of a clothing company, a band and now a major graphic design studio. He is sure that his internship at JDK and his education at Notre Dame will help him launch the career he has always dreamed off.

Some samples of Backo's work:

Art work by Jeremy Backo. Art work by Jeremy Backo
Art work by Jeremy Backo. Art work by Jeremy Backo.

By Christian Taske '07, editor and writer at Notre Dame College.