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Sailing, Whaling, and Good Design: Inside the world of Ger Tysk

Ger Tysk

When Ger Tysk joined Groundwork this summer, she was tired of working from home. And it’s no wonder, considering her pre-COVID adventures. Ger (pronounced like “chair” with a g) is a graphic designer, branding specialist, and a professional tall ship sailor. Ger has a deep appreciation for New Bedford’s whaling history and is full of fascinating stories– read on to be inspired!

What’s your profession?

I have a couple of different professions, but the main reason I joined Groundwork is for my work as a freelance graphic designer and branding consultant. I do branding, web design, and marketing consulting for nonprofits and small businesses. My primary clients are nonprofits and creative businesses that are focused on arts, community involvement, and education – so museums, artists, musicians, and educational institutions. The majority of my clients are located in New England but I have a couple located across the country as well. Apart from my design work, I also write and lecture on the history of American whaling and its role in immigration, which is why I moved to New Bedford (I’m originally from Texas).

Describe a typical work day for you.

After I get done with all my morning routines and make myself some coffee, I’m at my computer by 8:30 AM responding to client emails and putting together my to-do list for the day. For September, my clients include a university, an arts education nonprofit, a local artist who wants to redo her online storefront, a mobile dog grooming business that wants to expand their services to include doggy daycare, and a maritime organization in Rhode Island.

All of my clients want different things, so I’ll toggle between tasks depending on what I think I can accomplish that day and how urgent the need is. I’m currently laying out an annual publication for the university, which is due for print at the end of September, so that might take lower priority than the dog groomer, who needs a logo done before she can move forward with her website. I have to admit that sometimes I forget to eat lunch, but I get really into what I’m doing. Most days, I’ll work until about 5, but if there’s a client on the West Coast that wants to have a meeting, I may be working until 10 or 11 pm.

What’s the biggest challenge you face at your job?

I’m in a creative career, which means I feel like I constantly need to be creating, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed (and sometimes even when I sleep honestly). I can have a hard time “turning off” from work. I think a lot of people who work for themselves also feel this way. I’ve put a couple of rules in place that force me to stop working, or at least take breaks. One of them is that after I decide I’m at a good stopping point for the day, I close my email and don’t check it until the next workday. I don’t have my work email on my phone, and I also don’t have any social media apps on my phone except Instagram. Not being able to instantly see if someone emailed me or messaged me on Facebook or LinkedIn makes me think about work less.

Do you have a morning routine?

I usually wake up around 6 or 6:30. I have to admit that I don’t get up right away and lie in bed for longer than I’d like checking my phone and sometimes playing Pokemon Go. If it’s Wednesday morning, I go rowing on Buzzards Bay with the Azorean Maritime Heritage Society’s whaleboat rowing team. On other days, I try to get some meditation, yoga, or journalling in with my morning cup of coffee. I have a meditation/mental health tracking app on my phone that has been really helpful during the last few months of stay-at-home.

What are your favorite productivity tips of hacks?

I’m one of those people that likes to cross things off lists, so having a to-do list is really rewarding for me. Also, relating to my above point where I have a hard time stopping work, taking at least a day off a week helps me recharge and makes me extra productive the next few days. I don’t always get to have weekends off depending on the timeline of the projects I am doing, but then taking a random Monday or Tuesday off when the rest of the world is working feels like a special treat.

What do you listen to during the day?

I’ve been really into the low-fi/chillhop 24/7 streams on YouTube and Spotify. There’s ChilledCow (the one with the girl studying), and Chillhop Music (the one with the racoon studying).

They’re just background-y enough to not be intrusive, but have a distinctive sound that’s not too elevator music. I also listen to a lot of K-pop. My favorite artists are IU, Blackpink, 2NE1, and Girls Generation. Finally, the New Bedford Public Library has a lot of awesome audiobooks available for checkout, so the Hoopla app syncs with the library’s collection and has enabled me to keep reading even when the library was closed.

How do you benefit from using a coworking space?

Pre-pandemic, I did a lot of work “from home,” but most of that time was actually spent in coffee shops on the free wifi and drinking a lot of lattes. I find myself more productive in an open space that has people coming in and out and with ambient noise in the background. When I was actually forced to work from home in my home, I didn’t feel like I could produce as creatively. Plus staring at the same wall in the same room for the last six months was pretty crushing on my sanity. When I saw that coworking spaces were opening up again, I figured that I would see if I could change things up a bit. Coming to Groundwork 2-3 days a week has been awesome for my mental health and productivity.

What’s in your digital toolbox?

As a graphic designer, I work primarily with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I also sometimes need to use Premiere if I have a client who wants some video editing done. For apps, I find that Canva, the social media design app, is a huge time saver with its saveable templates, and is easily customizable for quick social media posts that I don’t want to design from scratch. Adobe Lightroom also has a great photo editing app for phone photos. I also have to be honest and admit that I write 90% of my copy either in the Notes app on my iPhone or in Notepad on my laptop (I’m writing this in Notepad right now).

What is the most surprising or unusual aspect of your life?

I am a Coast Guard licensed professional mariner (200 ton mate near coastal) and have spent the last six years of my life sailing tall ships on the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I’ve done lots of different jobs aboard ships, starting out as a ship’s cook and ending up as a mate, and I’ve also sailed on lots of different kinds of ships. I sailed on the whaleship Charles W. Morgan when she came here to New Bedford on her 38th Voyage in 2014, and I’ve also crossed the Atlantic (Canary Islands to Dominica) on an oceanographic sailing research vessel. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 sailing season never happened for the tall ship industry, so I’ve shifted most of my focus to my design business, but I’m hoping that I can go sailing again in 2021!

What inspires you?

My biggest inspiration is a guy named John Manjiro, the first Japanese person to live in the United States. He was a Japanese fisherman who was rescued by a New Bedford whaleship from a typhoon in 1841 and ended up in Fairhaven, learned English, and lived and worked here until he went back to Japan and became an important figure in the opening of trade to the West in the 1850s.

Manjiro had a lot of different careers, starting out as a fisherman and then becoming a cooper, steward, and then harpooner on a whaleship. He traveled out west to pan for gold in the Gold Rush, traveled to Hawaii, and then upon his return to Japan he worked as an English interpreter and ultimately became a professor of nautical science at Tokyo University. As an Asian-American person living in New Bedford today, his accomplishments make me feel like pretty much everything is possible and that if I’m interested in something, I should give it a try.


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Caitlin Joseph