You say you’re not creative?

October 28, 2009

Owen skull&crossbonesWhether I’m talking with people about my work in advertising, or the painting I do for my own pleasure, the conversation often reaches the same point. In one way or another, people will tell me that they’re not creative at all.

It would be really easy to get on my soapbox at this point and talk about how pretty much all of us start off as creative kids, drawing and writing imaginative stories. But somehow we often lose that “skill.” Whether it’s our educational system, or kids’ peer groups, a lot of kids don’t stick with it. And like anything, if you’re not doing it often, you get rusty and that rust leads to a further lack of confidence.

Dead crowWhoops, what am I doing way up here? I must step down.

Anyway, I firmly believe that is not just about imagination, it’s about seeing — really observing — what is around you all day, everyday. There’s a beauty that we just don’t see — or worse, we take it for granted.  To really see it, you need to give your eye practice. You need to see in compositional terms. And one great way to do that is just to take a lot of photographs.

Grace blurI do. On the right side are pictures I’ve taken of my kids (I do this a lot because, well, they’re my kids. But also because I tend to paint portraits, so I like to look at how light plays across faces.) The crow was just a bit of road kill that I saw riding my bike home from work one day. I think it was worth getting off my bike for. You don’t need any good reason to take pictures. Take lots of them.

Which leads me to something that Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis is doing.  He’s taken the expression “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and turned it into a great iPhone app (the best “camera” iPhone app in my opinion, and I’ve used a lot of them), a book, and a web-based photography community.

Here’s Chase explaining it himself. Read more on his blog post.

I couldn’t have said it better myself (though I tried).

It can all change in the blink of an eye.

October 16, 2009

In the summer of 1987, I was not far out of college. Despite my accomlishement at interviewing at nearly every ad agency in Seattle, nobody would give me a job. So instead I hooked on as a writer on the client side. I knew that working at an agency was my ultimate goal, so I kept tabs on the comings and goings at various shops in town.

My Mom was a great lover of art and architecture. (Forgive the sharp right turn; it’s relevant.) She called me one day to see if I wanted to join her on a tour of downtown Seattle homes and condos. This was back in the day when Belltown was desolate — and actually living in downtown Seattle was still a bit of a novelty. Despite enjoying spending time with my Mom, I wasn’t too inclined. As bait, I’m sure, she told me that Mike Mogelgaard’s condo was on the tour. At that time, Mogelgaard and Associates was one Seattle’s hottest ad agency — and Mike was Seattle’s resident advertising bad boy. So I went on the tour.

I don’t remember much from that day. No idea how many condos we saw. But one memory is pretty clear — and while the detail may have fogged up in the ensuing years (decades!), the impression is crystal clear.

Leonard HaglerI remember walking into Mogelgaard’s bathroom and taped to the mirror was a newspaper picture. It was taken moments after Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their highly publicized title bout. I’m no boxing historian but this was a battle of the ages. Sugar Ray Leonard was on the last legs of his career and Hagler was the champion — widely awed and feared. Leonard, like a lot of fighters, wanted one more shot. He wanted to go out on top as the crowning point of his career. Nobody gave him much of a chance. in fact, if I recall correctly, people thought Hagler was going to simply annihilate Sugar Ray. But they would be wrong. Leonard shocked everyone. Most of all, Hagler.

The photo on Mogelgaard’s mirror showed Leonard with the belt around his waist and the crowd hoisting him onto their shoulders. The shot is from behind Hagler, and you can see him watching the crowning moment. This unbelievable glorious celebration that was supposed to be his. Everyone knew it would be Hagler’s moment to shine.

Only it wasn’t.

And as I recall, Mogelgaard had scrawled underneath the picture what I can only assume was a daily reminder to himself. “It can all change in the blink of an eye.”

I’ve never forgotten it. For me, there are many, many ways this has been instructive. Sure, there’s the most obvious interpretation. Don’t get overconfident because there’s always someone gunning for you.

But more and more I think about it in a slightly different context. This is a topsy turvy world we live in. “Expect the unexpected” is a cliche because it’s true. Probably now more true than ever. Think of all the things in life — or business — that you don’t see coming. Should you?

I suppose at that moment, standing in Mike Mogelgaard’s bathroom, I learned something not only about the advertising business, but about life.

Stay a step ahead. Never be surprised. Be ready.