“I’ll be an artist when I grow up.”
As a kid this felt undeniably true. I vividly remember sitting in the hallway in 5th grade. The teacher had given me the “special project” to make the bulletin board ready for winter. I carefully hand-painted each letter to look as though it was snow capped from a flurry the night before. My first decent drawing of a person was Florence Griffith Joyner, trying to get every muscle just right as she sprinted down the track. But the hands. Why is it so hard to draw hands!?! I think we probably could have made a photocopy from a book and passed, but I knew my written report wouldn’t be that great, so an illustration would help set me apart.
The art nerd
I wasn’t a gifted student, only average in the academics category, not a great reader, and slightly below-average in athletics. Never liked the idea of two-a-days for the high school soccer team so I stuck to club teams. Drama in middle school and choir in high school. So you’re getting a picture. A tall, lanky, art and music nerd that played soccer mostly because his friends did.
The art department
Fast forward to my 20th birthday and I’ve just married my high school sweetheart (14 years later, best decision ever!) and stayed in my hometown to go to the local state college Fine Arts program. The graphic design program was brand spanking new and its the dawn of the Mac G4. Our school had an entire room full of them! Still OS9, with lots of grey buttons, but a TON of semi-translucent color on that tower.
I loved that art department. Surrounded by creative people dedicating their lives to making. Ceramics, 3D, life-drawing, and basic computer graphics courses were food for my soul. I flunked the first class in my life, photography. I could blame the broken camera that took me most of the semester to fix, but in reality, I used that broken Olympus as an excuse to skip class. This was probably the first time I had failed. Previously, I had always managed to talk my way out of moments like this.
Give me a relationship any day
I found most classes not only boring, but without the aid of a relationship or a creative experiment, I just wouldn’t go. My English lit class, freshman year, is a perfect example. I had purchased a 100-year-old house to flip before I got married (a story for another post). I rarely went to class at 8 am. We were to read six books that semester. I had read one and did “ok” on the test. A few weeks before the end of the semester I went to my professor. I explained I’d been flipping a house and had missed class, realizing I was very behind. He asked about the work I’d done on the place and bingo! We found a common relationship point. The conversation lasted longer than I had planned, but it was worth it. “Read this book,” his book, “and write a ten-page paper reviewing it. I’ll base your semester grade on this.” I read the book, which was something about Native Americans. I wrote the paper, and I did mention that I had a super smart wife? She proofed it, as in nearly rewrote it, and I passed the class with a low B. Yet, it was my ability to bond a relationship that moved me through a class I had zero interest in.
I’ve always been willing to think outside the box. Take a science project back in elementary school.
Task: build a simple machine to move a vehicle across the gym.
The suggested machine was a rubber band wrapped around a large wheel with an arm that extended and pushed the object consistently across the room. My vehicle? A four-wheeled box, with a giant balloon attached. At the starting line I looked like a champion until my balloon puffed all the air out, shooting the car probably only a couple yards out, while the suggested rubber band design smoothly rolled a wheel all the way across the gym. Failure. Yet, I was willing to try the idea differently.
My art professors would often tell me I had an incredible eye, great ideas, good talent, but didn’t always finish well. I wouldn’t understand this until I stepped back and they pointed out the flaws.
I would go into what I call the fog when creating. I still experience it now, even as I’m writing this post. The fog is that mindstate of thinking so much about the big picture that I miss the details which would make it great. I’m sure this post, unless I have it proofed by several people around me, (yes, I write my own posts), might feel that way. The concept might be ok, but there are pieces that just don’t fit or are misspelled, or else I produce terrible run-on sentences as my mind rambles on. While I am in the fog, I can sketch the character, throw the pot on the wheel, draw the nude figure, and often with great results. But the failure is always in the details.
You get where I’m going, right? Academics is about the details. However, my mind works in the opportunities and relationships that I find within the fog.
A drop out
Two years into college, newly married and nearly finished on flipping a house, I would decide not to enroll in my sixth semester of college. I took a full-time job in a call center instead. Hated that job! Worked nightshifts to support my wife as she finished her schooling. I said that the plan was to go back to school, but my dream for that school was some art institute or design trade school, a vision of myself surrounded by creative people constantly making.
I never stopped designing. A poster or album cover here, a video there, and flash sites! I hope I can still dig those up someday and see what those early projects looked like.
My wife graduated college and we moved to KC. With my portfolio, I got my first design job. I worked for a small design agency with a focus on mission-driven organizations. I began to learn what it was like to create good work with other people full-time. It feeds you! Two years later, I would leave under unusual circumstances to start out as a freelancer, which would become Crema.
I own a business?
As Crema started, I often would go over-budget on projects to address the details. This is one reason I hated freelancing. I was alone in my fog. Slowly I found other creatives that would be willing to work with me on projects. Creative developers and other designers.
Then the business. I’m a creative. I could build a relationship and see the product, but I couldn’t prepare my books. I had no idea how to read an MSA, NDA, or negotiate payment terms. A business partner was a God-send. Especially one I trusted fully and who had recently finished his MBA. He sees the details.
As the agency has now grown to 20+, we’ve built many relationships. There are new employees, new partners, clients, vendors, an so on. We’ve invested in ideas and people to build many products. The details are now seen by some of the most creative people I know: designers, developers, managers, strategists, sales teams and our office operations team.
Using the gifts
My artistic journey has taught me about my own gifts. My ability to see ideas and fearlessly try things differently, and also how to surround myself with talented people who possess that eye for detail and allow me to spend time in the fog. Together we complement one another and are driven to create every day.
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