I wanted to share this article from Allison Ford on The Gloss. In it, she details her decision to “give up on her dream” of becoming an actress. Her words and perspective resonated with me; and I think anyone who has struggled with career choices could benefit from reading her story.
Here’s the thing: You can have more than one dream. So many who pursue a career in the arts become obsessed with the one thing they THINK they want that they become blind to all the other possibilities that are out there waiting to be explored.
This situation is exacerbated by parents and teachers who encourage students to “follow their dream” and “pursue their passion” despite being able to (sometimes) see that the student is poorly suited for the path they are choosing.
When I was young, I wanted more than anything else in the world to be an architect. It took a while for me to understand that unless I could muster some interest in math, my career as an architect was an empty, pointless pursuit. As it turns out, I loved the IDEA of being an architect; but not enough to put in the hard work it would take to become one.
That situation repeated itself with music. Again, I had a huge passion for music, living and breathing records, tapes, and going to see concerts. My parents bought me a guitar and after two years of practice, I had gotten to be… atrocious at playing guitar. I was unable to parse that musical dream into distinguishing between loving music and playing music.
And then, finally, there was art. Always art; since early in elementary school. I dove deep into sketching, painting, sculpture, oils, watercolors, graphics, batik, etc. I was going to be a great artist. Except for the fact that I wasn’t a great artist. I was fine but far from exceptional. That was a hard pill to swallow.
Once I got into theatre, I fell in love with scenery design. I had a teacher who encouraged that love and I made up my mind to be a set designer. My reasoning was that it was sort of like architecture and relied on my art training as well. But again, that dream died.
It died when I saw The Police on the Synchronicity tour in 1983 at the Houston Summit. That night, I saw moving lights for the first time (they were in their infancy). I didn’t know what THAT was – but I knew I wanted to do it. So on my way to becoming a lighting designer, I left at least four dead dreams in my wake; and I regret it not one single bit.
As it turns out, my chosen career combines elements of many of those discarded dreams into one pretty sweet package. Had I known that could happen 30 years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble starting down paths I then abandoned.
But each of those paths added to what I ultimately became, so they were worthwhile after all. I still engage my passion and love for architecture, music, and art; in my career and in my life. So, ultimately, they don’t feel like discarded dreams – they’re just elements that added to the whole.
Pursuing your dreams has to be done with diligence, care, and thoughtful self-examination. Note that I said dreamS. You can have more than one!
I’m still figuring out what I want to say on the proposed elimination of the NEA and the NEH. So far everything I’ve tried to write has come out as a string of expletives; which doesn’t really further the conversation. So while I sort out my thoughts on that, I thought I’d just share a quick simple post from Creative Something.
Now, I realize few people get truly inspired by lists; and the quick format often favors somewhat cliche phrases – but every now and then a quick shot of inspiration is needed, so things like this can come in handy.
My faves on this list are:
2. MAKE YOUR OWN INSPIRATION.
Totally agree. Don’t wait to get inspired!
7. SHARE WHAT YOU LEARN
This may just be one of the most important lessons in art AND life. Share your knowledge. Share your inspiration. Share your passion. Use your talents and gifts to bring out the best in others.
8. IGNORE THE CRITICS.
With this one, I disagree. You can learn from critical commentary or analysis of your work from a qualified, thoughtful individual. A better entry might be IGNORE YOUR DETRACTORS.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the morning I stood on the balcony of the Maka’ala and saw a glorious rainbow emerge above Waikolohe Valley. In Hawaiian, rainbows suggest transformation and that’s certainly an accurate word to describe my experience here.
The first guests were welcomed to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, located in Ko Olina on the island of O’ahu five years ago today. In that time, the resort has quickly become one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the world. What happens when Disney, a company of storytellers, comes to Hawaii, which is full of storytellers?
Magic. That’s what happens.
So, while much has been written in the travel press about the resort and it’s amenities, I want to give you an artists look at Aulani, and share some of the ideas and concepts behind it. In other words, it’s time to “talk story”…
Central to Aulani was the concept of “ahupua’a“, a complex system of land division dating back to when the islands were ruled by chiefs. An island would have multiple ahupua’a – wedge shaped plots of land that stretched from the mountains to the sea. Within each ahupua’a were most of the necessities to sustain a community – water from mountain streams, koa and other trees in the upslopes for building structures and canoes, farmland in the valley for animals and crops of taro, the lowland and beaches for living, and the sea for fishing. Whatever could not be found in one ahupua’a might be traded for something of value from another; enabling trade and commerce. While this certainly seems a practical approach, it’s actually rooted in Hawaiian spirituality. The Hawaiians believed in the interrelationship of humans and the elements. The ahupua’a infused all of the elements of nature into the activities of daily and seasonal life. Not only were all of the elements necessary and important but so was each person and their contribution to the community. You hunted, or built, or gathered, or cooked, or fished. Each person had value. Each contribution to the community had value.
If you look at Aulani, you’ll see that the hotel towers begin far from the beach. They represent the mountains, and just like the mountains, decrease in height as they approach the water. Large timber elements grace the facades of the towers, representing trees in the upper reaches of the mountains.
In the Waikolohe Valley below, multiple sources of water meander through areas thick with lush, overgrown foliage; spanned by “old” bridges. Dark-colored textures and stones appear within this area of the valley.
As you get closer to the beach, the landscaping thins and the stonework becomes more arid, similar to the Ewa plain upon which the resort is built; and as you get closer the beach, small structures begin to appear as they would have in the lowlands of old Hawaii.
Another element underlying Aulani is that of gender duality; acknowledging that everything has a masculine and a feminine side. This is expressed primarily in two areas. First, on either side of the Maka’ala as you enter through the front doors of the resort, there appear two streams. The one on the left (the Ewa side) is tranquil and calm (feminine). The one on the right (the Waianae side) is lively and boisterous (masculine). Further representation of this concept can be found on the towers themselves. The Ewa tower features rounder, softer graphic elements. The Waianae tower’s graphic elements are sharper.
Additionally, the sides of each tower capture, in magnificently oversized bas relief, key Hawaiian legends
Aulani is suffused with the Hawaiian concept of “look twice, see three times”. This is perhaps most evident in Pu’u Kilo. At first glance it appears to be a caldera. Upon closer inspection, there appear to be discernible shapes. An even closer look reveals silhouettes of island animals carved into the face of the caldera.
A HALE (or home) FOR ART
Guests are welcomed to Aulani through Maka’ala. Maka’ala is distinguished on the exterior by three large arches, echoing the inverted hull of a canoe (which is how the first polynesian settlers arrived). The interior of the lobby features a wraparound mural telling the story of the islands, from its pre-contact days through the present. The mural, along with the rest of the art on the property, was created by Hawaiian artists. The resort houses the single largest collection of original Hawaiian art (outside of a museum) in the world.
Hundreds of details abound across the property. Instead of tiki torches, the resort has custom designed torches inspired by one of the Hawaiians first sources of artificial light – the Kukui nut. At the entrance, you aren’t greeted by tiki figures (tiki is not Hawaiian) but by Hawaiian Ki’i figures). The guest room carpet features sculpted Taro leaves, one of Hawaii’s original food sources. Everywhere you look, graphics and design elements rooted in Hawaiian history tell a story.
None of this would have happened without a concerted effort and outreach to local leaders, artisans, elders, Auntys, and Hawaiian historians and scholars. They shared their history, their knowledge, their stories, and their hearts with the Imagineers who were tasked with designing and building Aulani. That desire to honor Hawaii and its people is abundantly clear; and the resort delivers on its original intent which was to be authentically Hawaiian, yet distinctly Disney.
For those who have read his book, “Cabinet of Curiosities“, this exhibit is especially thrilling. In the book, readers get a view inside Del Toro’s suburban Los Angeles home (named “Bleak House”). The home is packed with all manner of unusual oddities, props, artwork, and collections.
In this exhibit, those collections have been placed on view for the public; and it is horribly magnificent. The show is not a retrospective of Del Toro’s work; but a look at his influences and inspirations. In keeping with that idea, the exhibit is laid out thematically. Paintings, drawings, maquettes, full size sculptures, and more bring Del Toro’s unique visions into full relief in this exhibit that surrounds and immerses you into one mans fever dream.
The work of many artists is on display, and its easy to see where Del Toro derives his inspiration.
Taking its inspiration from the tone and architecture of Bleak House, the exhibit is housed in an architectural shell, with long hallways that twist and turn, opening into room after room. The walls and other elements are in muted tones of black, gray, and blood red. The use of rafters overhead is enhanced by lighting that casts shadows onto the ceiling and surrounding walls.
One room in particular is modeled after Del Toro’s writing room, in which a perpetual rainstorm falls outside the “windows” of the room.
The exhibit is truly wondrous. It’s a through and detailed examination of artistic inspiration and process. A good example is that there are several of his notebooks on display. Since they could easily be damaged by the public, all the pages have been scanned and patrons can flip through them virtually on a touch-screen adjacent to the actual notebook. It’s a great way of revealing the artist while preserving the work.
I have only two small quibbles with the overall exhibit. The first is that it appears to have been put together quickly. The finishes on the display vitrines are somewhat slap-dash, with visible paint brush marks and drips. One would think that an exhibit with this sort of “draw” in the marketplace would have warranted a greater attention to detail. My other minor negative comment is that I would have loved to seen LACMA embrace a greater degree of theatricality through lighting and video. The black costume from “Crimson Peak” is especially poorly lit, diminishing its detail and beauty.
He believes, like may of his creative brethren, that creativity is “combinatorial”. I have to say I agree as well: The idea that in order for us to create, we have to be able to connect the seemingly-disconnected and cross-pollinate ideas from a huge variety of sources and inspiration; then combine/meld/fuse all of this input and craft it into something new. Makes perfect sense to me.
Today’s share comes from Katherine Brooks at Huffington Post. It’s a list of brief reminders/habits/thoughts from fellow artists than can help with getting out of a creative rut. Here are a few of my favorites:
#10: When in doubt, ask for help.
I’m absolute crap at asking for help, so this one is good for me.
#11: Find inspiration in mundane places.
This one fits perfectly into one of my core beliefs – inspiration is everywhere. We have to work hard sometimes at seeing it, but it’s always there.
#14: Let yourself be impulsive.
This one can be tough. Between deadlines and other obligations, we often feel we can’t just go off and see/do/experience. But every now and again, it’s creatively rewarding to break away from the routine.
A while back, I had a Facebook conversation with a couple of friends about the Oscars; specifically which musical performance we thought was best. One of my friends said, “Please don’t tell me you thought it was U2”.
That sent the conversation off in a different direction, with him maintaining that they hadn’t done anything good since “The Joshua Tree” and me begging to differ. He then posted a youtube video of “Lemon” from their “Pop” album – not their greatest song, and certainly not their best album. I responded that I’d support risk-taking artists over the ones that churn out the same music album after album. His response was, “Well, having the bravery to fail magnificently over and over is commendable”.
I started thinking then about the nature of failure and how we define it. In U2’s case, what is failure? With 145 million albums sold and 3 of the top-grossing tours of all time, one would tend to believe that they have garnered more success than failure. Even when a new CD doesn’t sell as well as it’s predecessors (“No Line on the Horizon“, for example), the tours still sell out and break records. Most people would be perfectly happy with that sort of “failure”. So, are these critical failures? Artistic failures? Failures of expectation?
Deciding upon your definition of failure is important. If you have a clear definition of failure (and of its lovely opposite, success), you’ll be better able to recognize them when they present themselves. For me, the greatest failure (as trite as it sounds) is in not trying. Sometimes, that’s extremely difficult. It’s tempting to stick with the tried and true, especially when there are deadlines looming. Because of that, I actively challenge myself to try new (or at least new to me) ideas as much as possible.
In the case of “Pop” which sold 1.5 million copies (dismal sales for a major band), one could argue that fans expected a different album than what they got. That’s because U2 decided to not sound like U2. They wanted to experiment and it failed in a big way. What followed “Pop” was “All That You Can’t Leave Behind“, one of their finest efforts critically and commercially. The failure of “Pop” forced the band to examine what they were about and what they wanted to do, and what their fans expectations were. This illustrates to me how important failure can be IF YOU LEARN from it.
The difficulty comes in discerning what lessons failure is trying to teach us. Failure is often accompanied by embarrassment, frustration, and disappointment; none of which are helpful when you’re trying to decrypt the situation for lessons. At that point, I shut off the negative voices in my head (I swear, it’s a veritable opera in there sometimes) and focus on evaluating my failed idea or plan (and my execution of it) to look for clues. To embark on that questioning path with all of the other baggage accompanying you is a sure way to lead to an unclear answer.
The other thing I take way from this is that the only way to succeed big is to aim big; the risk is, of course, that you’ll fail big. Many people are just not willing to fail big. In some ways, who can blame them? Our political system, business climate (and often, sadly, our art environment) demands and rewards only success. No one is “allowed” to fail gracefully. This mindset forces many people to scale back their risk; it rewards timidity and sticking with what is known; instead of fostering creativity and innovation. In a 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” I couldn’t agree more.
This is a very cool post I want to share today. It comes from one of my favorite sites. Danielle Laporte is a Canadian entrepreneur, motivational speaker and blogger. She’s also a best-selling author, having written four books about various aspects of personal development. Prior to that, she was Executive Director of The Arlington Institute (a think tank in Washington D.C.).
These days, she primarily focuses on spreading what she believes to be “white hot truth” to audiences around the world through her speaking engagements, books, and the blogosphere.
In this post, she shares some thoughts on how creatives can focus and be productive. Productivity is something more often associated with task-based work and can be somewhat amorphous to measure in creative types. This list is a quick read, but contains some choice info nuggets. My three favorites are:
Approach everything as a creative opportunity. There is no separation between life and work. The same opportunities to express yourself or get great ideas are at the dinner table, in the stock exchange, and on the subway. Put yourself out there.
Obsession is essential. Know your art and your science. Immerse yourself in the cultures you love and work in: read industry news, the teachings of spiritual masters and successful entrepreneurs, listen to what the people you serve are longing for, asking for, and leaning toward.
Celebrate other people’s creativity and prosperity. Honoring other people’s creativity and success helps shake loose our own brilliance. Whether it’s a hot website, a terrific outfit on the street, or a well known author – go out of your way to say, “You’re great!” “Way to go!” “I love what you’ve created.”
There’s something about breaking out of your normal surroundings that refreshes and rejuvenates your creative soul.
I had the opportunity to visit New York recently and it was remarkable how it shifted my perspective. I was there to attend a series of courses presented by Live Design magazine called the “Broadway Master Classes”. These multi-day courses consist of panel discussions, workshops, lectures, and meet-n-greets with notable, award-winning Broadway designers in the area of lighting, projection, sound, and scenic. The highlights for me included a discussion and demo of LED fixtures against conventional fixtures by lighting designer Don Holder, a workshop/demo on color presented by lighting designer Beverly Emmons, and a lecture on what projections needs from lighting presented by the incredible projection designer Wendall K. Harrington. These are three designers who I hold in very high regard. To hear them speak about their craft and demonstrate ideas was a wonderful experience.
I also had the opportunity to attend seven shows; “Lucky Guy”, “Peter and the Starcatcher”, “Fuerzabruta”, “Newsies”, “The Nance”, “Matilda” and “Kinky Boots”. All of them were quite good, with “Peter” and “Kinky” being the standouts for me personally. It was overwhelming to see so many shows in a short period of time, and to see how all of the different designers supported their respective scripts.
The set design for “The Nance” was seemingly simple but ingenious. It was a large periaktoi set upon a turntable, with numerous staircases and doors, and additional set pieces that would fly in or track on to change locations.It really captured the feel of a specific era in New York’s history.
For “Matilda”, the set nearly stole the show, with oversized children’s blocks at it’s heart. Each set piece in some way reflected this structural geometry. It was the opposite of “The Nance” in that it was intricate, massive, and complex – but served the storytelling beautifully. I was confounded a bit by the lighting. First off, it’s the easiest thing in the world to “armchair” other designers work; so instead of not liking others work, I tend to just have a lot of questions. It’s a beautiful design with some absolutely stunning looks but I had lots of questions after “Matilda”. The costumes in this show are simply incredible.
“Lucky Guy” is an intricately crafted play and all of the elements work seamlessly together. The scenic, projection, and lighting felt of one mind; though designed by three different designers. More than any other show I saw, the design felt woven into the fabric of the play. Getting to meet and speak with the lighting and projection designers afterwards was wonderful as well.
I wanted to like “Newsies” more than I did. This is likely more about me having lost my taste for conventional, big, splashy musicals than a reflection of the show itself. Again with this show, the scenic, lighting, and projection design worked incredibly well together; functioning as multiple locations in a specific period of New York’s history.
“Kinky Boots” was the unknown for me. I hadn’t seen the 2005 movie, but with a book by Harvey Fierstein and a score by Cyndi Lauper, I couldn’t resist. A fun story, warmly told, with some lively songs; this show surprised me. The costume design on this show is pretty spectacular as well. The set and lighting design both serve the show well.
I’m going to skip “Fuerzabruta” because it’s more of an experience than a show. It’s really hard to describe; but if you find yourself in New York – GO.
Which brings us to “Peter and the Starcatcher”; a “grown up prequel to Peter Pan”. The set (by Donyale Werle) is pure genius. Assembled from found objects it supports the style of story wonderfully; in which actors use every one of the props and set pieces (in a seemingly makeshift manner) to represent a variety of locations. The lighting (by Jeff Croiter) is simply magnificent; beautiful, layered, textured with little unexpected surprises peppered throughout the show.
Perhaps, though, the best thing I observed in any theater while I was there that three of the shows (“Matilda”, Newsies”, and “Peter”) all had a significant amount of young theater-goers in their respective houses. From around 8 years old (“Matilda”) to late teens (“Peter”), the crowds were rapt and responsive. It was so heartening to see hundreds of future theater-goers enjoying their experience.
I didn’t have much time but one of the benefits of traveling alone is being able to do A LOT very quickly. I managed to spend a decent amount of time in SoHo, the Village, and Little Italy all on the same day, with even a quick jaunt to Ladurree (for macarons to take home) on the upper east side and Grand Central Station. One of the many things I love about New York is how all the neighborhoods feel different. Each has it’s own vibe, it’s own voice.
I had the opportunity to visit The Cloisters, a museum near the northern tip of Manhattan built in the 30’s and housing medieval art and tapestries. The museum is a beautiful space, with an intricate design and a great use of light and texture.
Access to the museum is through Fort Tryon Park, where the flower fields were really beginning to show off their summer colors; such an interesting juxtaposition to the skyscrapers of the city and the medieval architecture of the museum.
One of the first things I did was take a walk on the High Line; an abandoned elevated railway track that has been re-purposed to include gardens, jogging paths, gathering spots, and cafe’s. It’s a stellar example of taking blight and re-imagining it into something completely different. It’s now the centerpiece of the neighborhood, used by the whole community and is a point of pride. As I sat in the sun, enjoying my bagel, I marveled at how the will of a community can change their surroundings and bring something like this into existence.
A little farther south, a much larger re-imagining is being undertaken on the site of the World Trade Center. Near the 9/11 memorial, new buildings are rising. It is an intricate, expansive story of tragedy and re-birth; and is somewhat awe-inspiring to witness. I spent some time there, thinking of that day and how much it has changed our world. The memorial, built on the footprint of the former twin towers, features two square waterfalls, each 30 feet high, which collect in a reflecting pool, then plunge into an unseen void in the center. It is a powerful piece of architecture and its amazing at how the sound of the falling water masks much of the city noise, making the space almost eerily muted.
A brief walk through Central Park led me to the Bethesda Fountain. Adjacent to the fountain is an arcade of stone and tile arches, where a small group of musicians was performing. Their voices, in this acoustically-friendly space, were magnificent.
I also stopped for a moment in Strawberry Fields, where there is a fitting tribute from Yoko Ono to John Lennon – black and white tiles, inset into the path that say, simply, “IMAGINE”.
With that, I started thinking about how every input we receive changes us. How one new thing can alter your perception. How a trip to a busy, chaotic city can seem peaceful and relaxing. And how, in this magnificent city (and many, many others), there are artists and creative people doing that they do, pushing forward, creating new work, giving us new things to see, to hear, to do, and to experience. This is the wonderful thing about travel. It forces you to re-engage all of your senses. It demands that you pay attention to the new surroundings and stimulus. And by re-opening yourself, you allow in new material, or content, or inspiration, or whatever you want to call it. All of that new inspiration is then sitting there, in your reserves, ready to come out in support of your next creative endeavor.
Today, Steve Hodowosky joins me for a conversation about his work. Along with his wife, Sallie, Steve runs Signal Theory, a boutique advertising agency. He is also a successful painter, having shown in galleries and art shows throughout Southern California.
You know, one of the things that always fascinates me with people who work creatively is what influences them. Can you tell me a little about where your inspiration comes from?
I would characterize my creative influences by saying that I’m kind of like a sponge. I take bits and pieces from everywhere and everything – art, advertising, travels – then process and store them away for later use. Whether it’s graphic design or fine art, it’s all influenced by the world we live in. That being said, I’ll give credit to Ansel Adams, Edward Hopper, Ed Ruscha, Phillipe Starck, Steve Jobs, Catherine Opie, Julian Opie (that’s a bit odd), Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Frank, Natalie Dee, Pokemon, Tibor Kalman, Richard Branson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Cindy Sherman, Kelly Wearstler, Kit Kemp, Derek Jeter, Karl Lagerfeld, Jonathan Adler, and my beautiful cats and wife Sallie, without whom I doubt I would never have started painting again; so that’s BIG, yeah.
That’s a diverse and fascinating collection of people. I see the Hopper and Sherman in your work for sure. Tell me a little more about the why behind Richard Branson, Derek Jeter, and Steve Jobs. I think it’s important to be tuned into people outside your field, so to speak, and I’m curious as to what they offer.
I have to say I could list a lot more but let’s just say that Richard; sorry, Sir Richard Branson, is a trailblazer who is always having a good time and genuinely seems to be happy, much like Jonathan Adler. Every time I go in one of his stores his employees are all happy too. There must be something to this. As for Steve Jobs, I can’t imagine a day without an Apple device, can you? For creatives, he changed the way we do business (and live!). And I threw Derek Jeter in there because I’m a huge Yankee fan and he is the captain of so many championship teams – again there must be something to this. He has no bravado, tattoos, and is kinda quiet, yet he still seems to lead…interesting.
Yeah, I’d have to agree and I definitely see the thread that links all of them. Okay, circling back to the beginning, what was life for a young Steve as an artist?
When I was young I would escape my bickering parents by going in my room, closing the door, putting on headphones (Kraftwerk on 8-track – yeah!) and DRAW, sometimes for hours. I would draw anything – animals, sports scenes, design fantasy stadiums – whatever; and it was good. I was blessed with this talent. I got praised in school for it and that was really all it took for me. It’s so important to get that little nugget of praise from the outside world to propel you forward and give you hope. My family did not offer me any artistic vision whatsoever. They lived in a brown house with brown furniture. They were blue-collar and simply didn’t believe you could make a living at “art”. You can’t blame them. Even a career was something out of their realm of thinking. A good job was all one could hope for unless you had a ticket out.
And what was that ticket for you?
I went to “career day” at my high school in New Jersey with my dear departed mother. My art teacher, Mr. Michnowiz, told her that he wanted me to go to New York and apply for a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts. I think she was really surprised by this revelation (and I think I was too!) and she agreed to help me take the necessary steps to get there. I worked some menial jobs to earn the money to go to New York. I bussed tables at IHOP. I put stickers on bottles of nail polish at Revlon. I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could work in such a low-energy environment for their whole lives. I had to get out.
So you made the break and went to New York?
I went to take the test for the few scholarships at SVA that were offered every year. At the time, SVA was not the school it is now. It was really just getting off the ground and was still affordable. So I took my little portfolio and showed it round, took the written test, and low and behold…I missed out on a scholarship. But between my jobs doing paste-up (damn you wax machines!), my mother and I made it work anyway; and off to New York I went.
That had to be a heady experience; to be a young artist, in that time, in that environment…
I’ve always like to watch old movies late at night and my visions of New York were ones stolen from those black and whites, specifically “The Thin Man”. I thought everyone had a fabulous life, in an equally fabulous apartment, wore tuxes at night and wielded martinis. I just had no life skills or experiences to deal with the intensity of New York. I only share this as a cautionary tale of drinking and partying that can lead one off the path of creativity to one of despair. If I made any mistakes in my career, they were due to the excesses of the 80’s which I’ve always joke that I barely survived.
You look back on those sorts of times and shake your head, “What was I thinking?”. I guess those times are a necessary rite of passage for a lot of people. Alright, having survived that, what did the next chapter look like?
After the four years of fun at SVA, I was hired straight away to the Graphic Design department at Citicorp. I had a great office overlooking Central Park, more money than I ever knew, and a slew of new friends. I learned under the tutelage of Jack Odette who was very “Mad Men”. This was my first real job where I had to show up on a consistent basis, 5-days-a-week. I did that for a few years but eventually the nightlife of New York that I previously referred to got in the way, and I was fired.
Ouch. That’s a tough lesson to learn.
I eventually cleaned myself up and re-established my career at some pretty cool agencies like M & Co, Kirshenbaum & Bond, and eventually wound up as Design Director for Margeotes, Fertitta, and Weiss. Then, because I wanted a real change, we moved to LA, and things got even better!
Sallie (my wife) and I started Signal Theory, a small advertising and branding agency in Beverly Hills. We now have a diverse roster of clients including Pokemon, Nintendo, Shopzilla and others. We do a lot of animation as well as print, web, and corporate identity design. We plan on doing this for as long as we possibly can. We’d like to grow to be at least a dozen people full-time, if not more. I really enjoy working with our Pokemon client and they’ve been so loyal to us I have no reason to believe that relationship won’t just continue to grow as we move forward together. We’d also like to expand our client roster to other fields that we enjoy – fashion, travel, pets, etc… so that will be our main focus in the new year.
And when you’re not working, what occupies your time?
We travel a lot. Usually once a month we’re off somewhere to refresh and get a different perspective on things. We love New York, Paris, and London, as well as Hawaii, which is the ultimate recharging station. I also find peace by exercising at the beach. We’re so lucky here in SoCal to have amazing weather and we live just 15 minutes from the Pacific, so we try to take advantage of that beauty on a regular basis.
Indeed. Recharging is so important and it seems like a lot of artists just keep going constantly. You have to re-fuel now and again. Okay, now when you guys started Signal Theory what was that like? Stepping out on your own can be a very daunting thing given the considerable amount of risk.
I was kind of lucky because one of my previous clients handed me an account as I was leaving a previous agency. I had gone freelance with the Nintendo Power magazine Direct Mail account and after doing that for two years the client asked us to stop working on that and launch the Pokemon Trading Card Game. So here we are twelve years later and it’s still a phenomenon, if you’re a 6-12 (or 53!) year old nerdy boy, that is. I don’t know now that I could go back to working for another agency as, say, a Creative Director. It would be hard now after running Signal Theory.
I’m sure it would. I think that’s the case for a number of people who get to a certain stage of their careers. I see people struggle with the idea of “stepping back” quite a bit. Alright, so now, in addition to all of that, you’re also an accomplished painter…
I paint regularly. Every weekday morning I try to do a little bit on a piece. My art is all original oil paintings of urban landscapes and architecture. Lately, I’m also dabbling in some larger scale abstract pieces. It’s just another challenge to think differently. I’m always hopeful of making a connection that will further my exposure to the art loving public. I do show occasionally and have sold over 40 paintings now; but there’s always room for improvement in both technique and sales!
That’s quite a few sales – congratulations. That has to feel good, when your work resonates enough with someone that they take out their wallet and buy it. They are compelled strongly enough to incorporate your artwork into their lives – that’s a powerful thing. So, looking back on those earlier days compared to how things have worked out…
It’s way more creatively fulfilling than I ever imagined. All I wanted was to get out of New Jersey and be an “artist” of some kind. I mean, after all, that’s all I know how to do!
It’s difficult to get that message across sometimes to younger artists, who in some ways are our younger selves – so here’s your chance: Advice for the future?
I would tell younger creative to trust your gut. Don’t go for money right off the bat. Do your own work and good things will follow – I guarantee it. I’d also encourage them to develop a thick skin because they’re going to need it as they meet with rejection of something they’ve created on an almost daily basis. In the end, you have to be true to your inner voice and just forge ahead; no matter if it’s the cool thing to do or not.
Not worrying about what’s cool – I think that’s excellent advice.