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How this ex-Shifter skipped college and hustled her way into advertising

Art Director and Illustrator Alysa Browne tells us about the new creative community she’s fostering

Illustration by Alysa Browne

Alysa Browne started out as an actor and bartender before making a career transition to a graphic designer and illustrator, via D&AD Shift. The creative, who is now an Art Director at McCann New York, tells us about her newly launched passion project — a series of interviews with female illustrators — and how she learned that being different is a superpower.

What’s it like working as an Art Director at McCann New York?

I started during the pandemic, which was a bit harder because it felt a little isolating since I wasn't meeting everybody at once. Now, going into the office once a week, it's been nice to see faces and meet more people. I think every agency works differently, so it was interesting to see how the Verizon account that I work on and other accounts are basically like mini agencies in themselves. You're really doing your own thing and isolated from what else is going on, that was interesting to realise. It’s been intense, but good.

What was your break into the creative industry?

D&AD helped me to break into advertising. Prior to being an art director, I was an actor and bartender, and later a broadcast designer on the Today Show. I think it was 2018 when I started to learn about advertising as a lucrative creative career and just learning more about big campaigns and meeting people in advertising. I still had no idea that was a viable career path. I started trying to break in, but I wasn't getting any responses or leads, and so D&AD Shift was a godsend. Getting into the Shift programme and making those connections and really fostering those relationships helped me start freelancing first, and then get a job. It really changed my career.

Illustration by Alysa Browne

Can you tell us a bit more about your experience on the Shift programme?

For me, the Shift programme was a major transformation, in the sense that it shifted my perspective about myself. Not having a four-year degree prior to the programme was really holding me back and I was feeling a lot of shame or not good enough. Going through the programme, I really realised that, actually, it’s the thing that sets me apart. Being resourceful and just having had to hustle helps me think differently. It's funny how I used to try to dodge that question of where I went to school, and now I'm kind of proud of it. I didn't go to college, but I just really hustled and made it work and I think D&AD Shift helped me find comfort and confidence. I realised that what you think holds you back is actually what makes you different. And it's really your superpower.

What’s your favourite project you’ve ever worked on?

I'm definitely excited about my new passion project. I created an interview series called This Is Her Work, which spotlights underrepresented females across a variety of disciplines. I think you read a lot of interviews with artists who have huge followings, and sometimes it feels a little unattainable. I follow so many female creatives who are doing dope work, who maybe have a smaller following, and I'm still like, “How did they do that? What's their journey?” And I've just decided to take it upon myself to reach out and start interviewing all of these people I've really admired.

Illustration by Alysa Browne

What was the biggest challenge that you have faced on your career journey and how did you overcome it?

I think just getting over self doubt has been the most challenging thing and D&AD Shift helped a lot with that too, where it is validating because you're with a bunch of creatives who have non-traditional backgrounds who are doing dope work. Also, I thought breaking into the industry and getting a job was the hardest part. I was interviewing for nine months before I got a full time offer but the hard truth is there are a lot of challenges you have to navigate. When you're at a big agency and new, you can kind of feel lost in the crowd, so you really have to advocate for yourself, set boundaries, and speak up. That can be uncomfortable.

Has anyone helped you on your career journey so far, if so who?

Juliane Chung, Creative Director at SYPartners, and Ryan Paulson, Group Creative Director at McCann New York, were my mentors during Shift and really helped me a lot. Juliane really helped me set my goals, and Ryan has just been a huge advocate and cheerleader of mine; he definitely recommended me for a lot of jobs.

Who are three creatives who have inspired you, or who you think are doing interesting work?

Karen X Cheng, because what she’s doing in the AI space is really fascinating. Emonee LaRussa because she’s an incredible motion graphics artist and just started a non-profit to get computers to lower-income kids. Aurelia Durand because her work is stunning and her career and collaborations are dream goals. I would love to interview them all for This Is Her Work.

What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the creative industry?

Stop being so hard on yourself and your work. We all start somewhere and it's just about staying curious and wanting to get better. Also, just reach out and ask for advice. I think in any industry, it's about building real relationships. Reach out by email, LinkedIn, Instagram DMs, just really start thinking about fostering relationships.

Get in touch with Alysa Browne @alysabrowne on Instagram, and check out her project This Is Her Work @thisisherwork

Meet more rising creative talent including photographers, motion designers, illustrators and visual artists.

D&AD Shift with Google is a free, industry-led night school programme for new creatives. If you are over 18 and don't have a degree-level qualification, Shift is for you.