Jamie Mixon knew from a young age that she would make a career in art.
“I definitely had the idea that I would be an art major,” even when she was a student at Murrah High School in Jackson, she said. “I was very determined about that.”
A summer job at Lamar Outdoor Advertising in Baton Rouge immediately following high school graduation strengthened her dream.
“I loved to draw,” she said. “It was an escape from reality.”
After graduation from Mississippi State University, however, opportunities opened in a way that surprised her.
“I was asked to teach (at MSU),” she said. “I was just flabbergasted. I never thought in all my years I would be a teacher, but I made that leap of faith. It’s been amazing. Teaching changed my life.”
Now, 25 years into her work as a graphic design instructor at MSU’s College of Art, Architecture and Design, Jamie Mixon has no regrets.
“I can’t imagine a life without having taught, and my involvement with students and graphic design at State,” she said. “I’m continuously amazed and surprised by each new group of students. It’s like a renewal each year.”
Jamie said many successful students have come from MSU’s CAAD program. In all the years of teaching, however, she never lost her energy for her own creative pursuits. The teenage girl who loved to draw became the concert artist and promotional manager for the student-led Music Maker Productions organization at MSU, which is in charge of booking musical acts for the university. In that post, Jamie fell in love with designing concert posters. She has designed posters for such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Waylon Jennings and Earth, Wind and Fire.
“I got the taste of it then,” she said. “It was the moment when I realized that I could really be a graphic designer.”
Her connection with Michael Marion, the faculty adviser for Music Maker Productions, eventually led her to a major freelance project with which she has been involved for more than a decade — creating more concert posters for the Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., where Marion is now the manager.
“In 2004, Michael asked me do posters for a few events. One day in 2004 he called and said, ‘Hey Jamie, want to do a poster? Want to do Eric Clapton?’ I laughed and thought he was joking,” she said. “He said, ‘No, I’m serious,” and I said, ‘Please let me do Eric Clapton!'”
From there on, Jamie became the go-to poster designer for many of the arena’s major events, including, but by no means limited to, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Taylor Swift.
“He hires me to do what he considers to be his big moments,” Jamie said.
Since the posters are commemorative and a copy is typically framed and given to the artist, Jamie has numerous photographs of major musicians holding her posters.
“One that was exciting for me was when I was able to present my James Taylor poster to James Taylor,” she said. “I drew him just for fun when I was 15 years old. For him to love my poster and me to just stand beside with him was a fantasy.”
Jamie attends the North Little Rock concerts as often as she can, where reproductions of her posters line the concourse walls, sometimes as big as 20 feet tall.
“It blows my mind,” she said.
Though Jamie is oftentimes a big fan of the artists, others are less familiar to her.
That’s where the design process begins. She listens to performances and researches the artists to get a better sense of them and their works.
When comedian Kevin Hart was on the slate, Jamie said, “I went and watched YouTube videos of his stand-up.”
She said Taylor Swift was one of her more challenging endeavors because Swift’s style changes over time.
“She’s so everywhere,” Jamie said. “She’s hard to pin down.”
She then hand letters her designs. In some of the designs, she imbues an added vintage theme.
“I am a rabid collector of pre-1900 advertising art and ephemera. I started collecting them in the ’80s,” she said. “I add a little recurring touch of that here and there, collage-style.”
Even as graphic design technology has advanced, Jamie has held onto a belief that initial designs are drawn by hand.
“I was trained that way. I’ll never get away from doing things by hand,” she said. “It’s my strength. It’s who I am as an artist.
“I typically use charcoal, brush and ink or graphite pencils,” she said. “Then I scan them at a high resolution, and I’m able to produce that print-ready artwork.”
Drawing by hand, Jamie said, gives designers a better handle on their direction and fosters a sense of self-reliance.
“Our students have lots of opportunities to do things by hand,” she said. “Our department believes that they need to rely on themselves first and let the computer simply help them finish.”
Now, the walls of her office at MSU are lined floor to ceiling with posters she has made. Jamie is confident and happy with her work, and she tries to help her students feel the same way.
“My goal is to pull them up and make them believe in themselves,” she said. “That moment when they take the reins, they have the power to do it themselves.”
Though her freelance projects are time-consuming, Jamie wouldn’t have it any other way. This spring, in addition to her teaching work and preparing to lead a study abroad program this summer, she’s also at work on posters for upcoming performances by Janet Jackson, Mumford & Sons and Carrie Underwood.
“To me, it’s not work,” she said. “To have this opportunity, I’m very lucky.”