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Tracy Crutchfield How I became a graphic designer blog post boat photo
Jan 02

How Did I Go From Owning Of A Fishing Boat To Art Director At Red Rock?

By Tracy Crutchfield | Notes from the Rock

February 1990, the wind was coming out of the east at a gale. Three foot waves were predicted… they were at least five footers. I jammed my feet into the scuppers along starboard rail thinking that could help hold me on the deck and keep me from falling over every time a wave hit. Did you ever have bruises on top of your toes, in the winter no less? It hurts to walk for days if not weeks even in slippers.

It could be a tough job, but I was always interested in the ocean. I worked at a marine science lab in high school, my grandfather was a marine mechanic and I have been a risk taker since birth. When my boyfriend, who was a captain, said “we should buy that boat from Allen,” I thought, “Why not, that could be a fun adventure.” I wrote a business plan and convinced a bank to loan us the money. We had zero credit, zero down payment, but we had loads of energy and enthusiasm.


To keep my boat, the Poquahaug, and nautical lifestyle afloat, I worked second shift at a local newspaper running a horizontal reproduction camera and dark room. Five days a week I jumped off the boat at 2:30 pm, ran up the dock and changed in the marina bathroom to go to work by 3 pm, sometimes smelling like fish guts and thankful I was in the dark room by myself! Even with the daily mad dash to the job, I grew to love printing. 

After a few years of trying to make it work, our youth and inexperience caught up to us. We had to sell the boat or risk losing everything.  After a few years of trying to make it work, our youth and inexperience caught up to us. We had to sell the boat or risk losing everything. I went to work for a start-up label printer. They had sixteen employees, all men except me. It was exciting to be there from the start. The owners hired me to do their manual based pre-press operations. I convinced them to buy a Mac computer, an imagesetter, Pagemaker and Macromedia Freehand. I taught myself, with a little help from some friends, how to use it and maintain it. I worked insanely long hours, sometimes sleeping on the big rolls of paper out in the warehouse.

I learned so much about typography and what draws viewers to your product on a busy grocery shelf. The salesmen would hand me faxes with images of labels on them and I had to recreate them. It was here that I was introduced to art directors from big NYC agencies who came to the plant to do press checks on their printing projects. I started to create my own label designs and I quickly realized that I wanted to learn more. In 1995 I quit my job and went to art school for graphic design. I thought I would eventually work for an agency as a junior designer and someday an art director. I started getting freelance projects while still in school, first from a childhood friend who owned a billboard business, then others followed

The freelance world started to lose its charm and my financial responsibilities were mounting when I went to work an in-house freelance gig in 2004. A year later I was competing for this new graphic designer position at Yale New Haven Hospital. For a few years I worked as the only in-house creative on the communications team at Yale New Haven Hospital and that was where I really honed my organizational and relationship skills. 

I juggled multiple projects, deadlines and clients for years, alone. I had the opportunity to work with a talented group of colleagues - writers, public relations pros, photographers and clinicians who were on the forefront of the changing healthcare landscape. The projects ranged from bi-weekly newsletters, brochures, displays, signage, to a high-end case statement for the development fund at Smilow Cancer Hospital that helped raise $100 million towards construction costs.

In 2012 the healthcare landscape was shifting in a radical way. I became an Art Director when our three sister hospital marketing departments came together as one department and we shifted to a more global system structure. The department went from 12 staff members to 34 managing the needs of three hospitals and 20,000 employees. I was the design lead working directly with the Associate Director of Branding when we began the process of a large scale rebranding of Yale New Haven Health.

Fast forward to 2016. My husband was diagnosed with leukemia. Caring for my husband and my aging parents became difficult while balancing the demands of a traditional corporate environment. Tapping into some of the same risk-taking attitude that allowed me to start my own fishing business years earlier, I decided to explore options for a new chapter of this book called Life.

Everything clicked into place when Glen, who was starting to build Red Rock, asked me to come to a meeting as an advisor to healthcare based client. Red Rock seemed like the perfect setting for my next chapter. I love working with the team at Red Rock. It is a true collaboration, where all of us have an equal voice and we are all learning, encouraging and pushing each other to grow.

I look back now and realize, through all the chapters in my life, one lead to next as if it were planned. The next chapter, at Red Rock, is still being written.