When you know Day 2 consists of Jason White & Aaron Draplin, it’s gunna rock your world. Jason was really funny during his presentation and was so fun to see his work and his process. I felt like he is a great example of “build it and they will come”. He had a ton of work that he did just for himself and put out there to the inter webs that received a lot of attention and ended up bringing him new client work. I loved seeing examples of his Drive poster and the Far Cry 3 work he did. He must have shown us a good 10-15 variations of the Far Cry concept work he had, and it was such a great view into his brain. So often we admire work and only see the end result. Maybe it’s beyond our technical know how, or beyond what our creative imagination usually generates, but I always feel when you get to see steps 1 through 10, you understand how they solved the problem and it gives you the confidence that you could maybe do something like that too. I’ve worked almost entirely in Illustrator for the past year (unless something demanded PS, ID, or LR), and James’ work really wanted me to get back to what initially called me into graphic design. I still want my focus to be on lettering and illustration, but for the raw joy of it, for my own personal self and no client work, I wanna experiment again in my free time in this style of work. I look forward to what I’ll create…
The DDC brought it. End of story, nothing left to say.
Just kidding. Draplin brought down the house to close out the conference. The man who practically “is” Futura Bold, really left me with a lot to think about. I loved hearing how hard he worked to get where he is today. Washing dishes to pay off his art school loans, to working on some graphics for some *everyone shut off your cameras* very important people. I loved hearing the passion in his voice for his work, for making stuff because he loves it and not stopping at a client’s budget but going above and beyond because he feels he can do better and wants to deliver it at no extra cost. I loved hearing how important family was to him. The joy of bringing his parents to a parking lot and because of the success of his career, doing something for the people he loves and buying them a car as a thank you for loving him all his life. We can talk about design stuff all day, but it all comes down to who we are as humans that truly defines us, not the pixels we whip up and post on the web. As a resident in the Orange County area who pays WAY too much to live in
a closet an apartment, it was good to hear Draplin recognized the life he would live here. Work his butt off to get by and hope he made enough so as not to be broke by the time he died. I almost moved to Oregon a few years ago, and I got my wife hooked on the idea after going to Newberg/Portland for our honeymoon. Draplin, you may have some new neighbors in a few months, I’ll buy the beers, you show me some cool signs. Deal?
I’m glad I got an early nights rest, because I woke up pumped up and ready to soak up some design knowledge. Chiu and I grabbed a bite to eat at Iron Bank Coffee (totally rad joint) and then headed in to get some seats as the morning got going.
Mike started the morning off right. He asked us all to bow our heads, remove our caps, and prayed over us to have an weekend packed with learning, friendship, and inspiration. Now, I’m sure the room was filled with people of all walks of faith and life, but every single person was respectful and joined in. It’s something I love about the design community, no matter our beliefs, we are united and respect each other’s values and opinions.
Chiu and I booked it upstairs to hear Ryan Hamrick’s talk. As someone who’s admired typography for years and is now trying to shift a big part of my design focus on hand lettering, his talk on “The Value of Custom” was great. We all have access to the same digital assets, fonts, etc, but when we do something custom it stands out and can always fit the needs of the client. Let’s be real, we designers generally all love the same hodgepodge of fonts, so after awhile, they become overused background noise that we see left and right… By taking things from analog to digital, we develop a unique process that gives us an original final product. One thing I really took away from his talk was the process in which he goes about lettering. He’ll develop something he likes, stops, scans it in, then continues to work on it some more. If he messes up, he’ll reprint a scan and start over. This allows him to be time efficient and explore more varieties of a concept. I’ve done this sometimes, but more times than not, I hand letter something and if I don’t like it or mess up, I scribble it out and start over. I’ll end up with something I love, BUT the process to get there could probably have been achieved earlier and maybe even resulted in a better end product. This is now a permanent aspect of my workflow.
Up next was Rogie King. Now, one of the most important things I learned this weekend is that it’s pronounced raw-gee, not rouge-e (which I had been doing for almost a year). I’ve been watching dribbble with jaw dropping excitement every time he posts an illustration. I just can’t get enough of his style. Now Rogie is one funny dude. He uses the word “whimsy” a lot, and it sums him up well. He talked about awkward homeschool moments, his love for Disney, and basically loving that he’s gotten back to being a kid at heart. There was a great many nuggets of practical design knowledge dropped during his talk, but it was his passion and drive that I admired most. Rogie is an amazing designer, BUT it’s his passion and drive that take him to a whole ‘nother level. Because he LOVES what he does so much, he puts every bit of himself into it and it results in design magic. It really shook me at my core to come home and find the things that move me like Disney moves Rogie.
After breaking for lunch, we came back to hear Josh Long. Now as I mentioned earlier, I’m a total Execute fanboy and Josh’s talk might have been my (and Chiu’s) favorite of the week. Josh’s talk was the only workshop of the event (at least of the speakers I attended) and it was great to have the audience involved and participating. Josh stood up and said, “Who’s up for writing a book?”. If you can’t tell from the 1,983 words (including Friday’s recap) you’ve already read up to this point, I was all for this. The book would be sold and all money would go towards a charity. Fantastic. We basically did a brainstorm session about what happiness is, what is isn’t, and how we can achieve it. After we finished, Josh talked about his opinions on achieving happiness and his advice to all of us. To sum it up, create things for yourself that you want out there in the world, become your own boss rather than relying on client work (which let’s all be real, we love our clients but to say there aren’t ups and downs over our design careers is a lie), and having some type of residual income. This really motivated me. I am working on taking my own company to the next level to obtain better and more exciting design work, creating a product I’d want out there that can be a source of residual income for my family and give us some financial security. I’m excited for what the future holds. I’ve begin some projects already and can’t wait till they’ve been “shipped”.
After Josh, we heard Amy & Jennifer Hood. Their talk was by far the most “polished” of the conference. I literally had no notes from their talk (they’ll be publishing their slides as an e-book soon), as they covered all their points hand in hand. I’ve followed them since they first launched their website 2 years ago, so it’s really cool to see how far they have come and how well they have developed their own business. I’m stoked to now call these girls my friends and look forward to hanging out with them in our own town now and geeking out about design, motorcycles, maple bacon donuts, and all things awesome.
The last speaker of the day was Mat Helme. Now I’ll admit (perhaps to my own embarrassment), I didn’t know of Mat before Creative South. He really made a good impression on me at Friday’s dinner and I had to hear more from this guy. Man am I glad I met him! Mat is a superbly talented guy with a really well rounded skill set. Great illustrations, web know how, and a passion to make cool stuff. His talk was really hands on and you can tell he gets his hands dirty when he works. His talk showed more process work then a lot of the speakers and it was so rad to see how we got from start to finish. It wasn’t one of those “here is my chicken scratch sketch” and then a “bam, look at this amazingly refined final product”. Mat has a teaching series being released from Treehouse on Illustrator soon and he goes WAY in depth about the process, real applications, and it will teach folks of any level. I’ll definitely be signing up for the course after meeting Mat.
P.S. If you were in Mat’s room, or heard a loud “thump” downstairs… I was that guy who broke a chair and hurt my bum on the floor. How all 150 lbs of me managed to break a chair is beyond me, but it made for an awesome conversation starter at the after party later that night.
After the talks, we went to dinner with the Hoods, the guys from Wier/Steward, and some other folks to The Black Cow. The shrimp and grits were killer; a meal that is unheard of on the west coast. Again, a fun time around the table with our community of designers chatting away.
After dinner we headed back to The Loft for the “After Party”. We arrived at 9 and I got to talking to some amazing people. This was maybe one of my favorite parts of the conference, as I got to hang out and make new friends. It was wonderful to meet with people who were just starting out in the industry to vetted experts in our field.
Again, I got to pick the brain of Ryan Hamrick a little more. I always have trouble perfecting the swoops and decorative elements. Sometimes I nail it (but don’t know what I did to do so) or totally miss the ball and end up with scribbles all over my sketchbook. Ryan whipped out a Field Notes (see that product placement Draplin!?) and started sketching out examples of what works and why. I’ve been practicing what he taught me and it works, plain and simple. We chatted some more about how he starts a sketch, how he decided to break up letters in a script sketching, etc. Since this talk with Ryan, I have an insane amount of pages in my sketchbook, on sticky notes, receipts, anything I can pen practicing what he showed me and the results have been great (I’ll post some on dribbble soon).
One of my other favorite people to chat with this night was James White of/aka Signal Noise. Now again, embarrassing moment #2, I didn’t recognize James when meeting him *which maybe made him even cooler to me after realizing*. Let’s overlook the retros 80′s flaming pink SIGNAL NOISE shirt staring me in the face… He introduced himself and was the fun guy of the night. Now, after seeing James’ work later, I’ve known his work for YEARS. Some of James’ work is actually what initially sparked my interest to become a designer years ago, but I never knew the name tied to that work. Lately my style has been more minimalistic, hand drawn/lettered, etc. but I use to eat up this fancy Photoshop stuff for breakfast. When James gave his talk the next morning, I recognized all but maybe 2-3 projects he showed. James told us all about crazy belt buckles, working with Kevin Smith, and all things desert chrome.
I got to hang out with Mikes Jones for a good part of the night, along with Daniel, Brooks, and some other guys who helped put this weekend together. What an amazingly genuine group of guys. After talking with them and expressing my transparent bitter resentment for their cost of living out in GA vs CA, the thought of moving and hanging out with these guys on a regular basis is all too appealing. Shane Helm was another guy I got to spend some time with. He’s one of those soft spoken guys who makes an impression with few words, check out his work when you get some time.
Now, no trip to the south is complete without making a Waffle House run at the wee hours of the morning. Mike Jones, Nick Slater and I made a run at about 1:30am and didn’t make it back to the hotel till 3:30am since we were too busy laughing and telling stories. Apparently Waffle House was the place to go, as we ran into Mackey Saturday, Ryan Hamrick, and a ton of other folks over there as well.
Anthony and I landed a few minutes before Amy & Jennifer Hood and we carpooled into the event together. Now Amy & Jennifer probably live 10 miles from me, we’ve been chatting back and forth online for months, and heck I’ve even won a LE signed poster of theirs in a contest way back in the day, but we’d never met up before. It was great to finally meet them and get to know these two rad girls. Genuinely good people with a passion for what they do and a really good business head on their shoulders. It was fun finding out how many mutual friends we have back home and it’s a wonder we never ran into each other through social circles or at local coffee shops. I got to hear about how they got started in the industry, some sneak peeks into their talk for the weekend, and share some advice back and forth to each other on some freelance projects we’re working on.
I was able to attend the VIP dinner on Friday night before the event. At my table (from my left back around to my right) was Rogie King, Josh Long, Jeff Finley, Bill Beachy, Ryan Hamrick, Sean McCabe, and Mat Helme. Talk about a design power house. It was so great to talk design with these guys as well as hear a little more about their personal and family lives. I’ve been following these guys and their work online for some time, so to be sitting down and sharing a meal with them was unreal. When the meal first started, I felt like that kid at the zoo with his face pressed up on the glass of the polar bears swimming around completely in awe. After about 5 mins in, I felt like I was on the other side of the glass and was part of the crew. It felt freaking great to be in such company.
My goal in the future of my design career is to really hone in on my skills as a letterer and illustrator (I’ve been doing mainly web and branding recently *which I do enjoy*). Hearing how Sean McCabe and Ryan Hamrick got into the game was wonderful. They even gave me their secret… Hard freaking work. Countless hours of practice, practice, and more practice. I watched this video of Sean (http://vimeo.com/62195136) a few weeks ago and I fell in love with his outlook on life and his work even more than previously. Most of all I love how humble he is. All the speakers were incredibly genuine and humbled, but Sean’s humility is something on a whole mother level. I thanked Sean for his humility and told him how to me, that is something I admire about him possibly even more than his work.
I was pretty set on what speakers I was going to hear over the weekend, but Ryan Hamrick threw a wild card on the table at dinner for me. I was planning to hear Nick Slater first thing in the morning, but Ryan’s story really connected with me. He started the “dadsigner” two years ago and has spent that time since going from more of a UI/UX and branding designer, to one of the best hand letterer’s I’ve seen. I don’t have kids (just got married this summer), but my goal is to develop my own business and practice, refine, and master my skills for my own business and be successful like Ryan has become. Hearing him talk about how two years ago, no one knew who he was, to where he is now really inspired me and I made sure to be front row center for Ryan’s talk the following morning.
The rest of the dinner, we chatted about various things like favorite projects, where we all want to be, how we handle different freelance situations, how to be better designers and most and most importantly, better friends, family members, and husbands. Let me tell you, this table values family more than anything, and we are all so thankful to our wives (and kids for some) that support us in what we do; love you Kelli ! Nick Slater joined our table and we hung around for about a half hour after dinner had finished and all showed up fashionably late to the mixer outside on the hotel patio.
Myself, Rogie King, and Nick Slater got to talking some more in the hotel lobby and met up with some of the guys from Mailchimp and Real Threads where we spent another good 30 mins chatting about all kinds of stuff. I’ve been using Mailchimp for years, so it was fun to hear how much work they put into it, their branding guidelines, the direction they are moving etc.
Finally, someone dragged us out to the patio where we got to hang out with anyone else who got in early for the event. Even though I had dinner with Josh Long, I hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to him about Execute yet. I tune into The Industry weekly and love the work of Drew Wilson (who’m Execute is about) and have since read Execute twice through. It was a great feeling to walk up to Josh, shake his hand and give him a sincere “thank you” for writing the book. I got laid off from my job designing for Mariners Church last month, and I read Execute (for the first time) after my last day on staff. It totally charged my inspiration battery and put me in action to MAKE stuff, rather than keep lists of things “I want to make when I have the time”. I read the book a second time on the flight into Atlanta to make sure it was fresh in my mind for talking with Josh. It was really cool to see the genuine joy on Josh’s face as I told him how much those words he wrote meant to me and how it was pushing me to be a better designer, maker of things, and husband. We continued talking for 15 mins or so about Execute & Treehouse and he even showed me a working beta of the new Execute Ventures project, which I will be purchasing the moment it gets put out on the App Store.
I got to meet a ton of other people at the mixer, but my favorite was the big man himself, Mike Jones. Mike and I had been talking for a few weeks leading up to the event so it was great to give the guy a bear hug. His Pastor’s son goes to Mariners Church so we just had this instantaneous friendship since we first spoke weeks ago. Mike introduced me to a ton of people, and we all hung out for quite some time laughing and talking shop.
I took off a little early (11pm) to make sure I was sharp for the morning talks.
This weekend changed my life. Now that’s a pretty bold statement to start off a post. This post ended up being really long, so I broke it up in to 4 posts. **Make sure to check out all the posts about Creative South ’13: Pre-Conference, Day 1, Day 2 & A Full Event Recap (Summary). I encourage you to read them all as I go over everything I experienced! (If not, read the overview at the end if you don’t want to try and soak up as much as you can from my experience. *but let’s be real, you want to*). I’m going to recap things as they happened, so you may see my interactions with speakers jump around, rather then slam a paragraph out about each speaker that combines the days. Here we go.
I had the pleasure of traveling out to Columbus, Georgia with one of my longtime pals, Anthony Chiu for the Creative South design conference. He had been thinking of entering the creative field, and I was stoked when he said he wanted to make the trip with me to learn more about what goes on in the world of design and web dev. This was my first design conference and I wasn’t totally sure what I was in for; would there be workshops, would it be overhyped and not deliver, would the speakers talk about things we already all know or really deliver a great message worth hearing. Yes, no, no, yes.
The beauty of this conference was the intimacy of the community. You got the opportunity to meet and talk with everyone, speakers and attendees who spent 2-3 days GEEKING out over design.
I plan on going again next year with my buddy Anthony, and if my wife can get the time off work we’ll make a family vacation out of it and stay in town longer. Mikes Jones, Daniel, Fran, Rich, Brooks, Markum, and the whole team just did such an amazing job of putting on a stellar event. The quality of the speakers, the setup of the event and swag bags, and most importantly the community that they created. I’m sure you’ve seen Twitter blowing up before, during, and still after the conference with people talking about the event, the friends they made, and the good times they had.
Those that attended gained inspiration, practical hands on knowledge, and a larger friend base for having gone. We were remembered to follow our passion, do what we love, and make what we would want to see and use ourselves. I’m really looking forward to keeping a timeline of my work from now until Creative South ’14 and seeing how I’ve grown. I look forward to showing the people I’ve met the work that I do, getting their feedback, and becoming a better designer for it, and striving to help those I’ve met become better as well.
To sum up my take away… Do good work. Value custom and hand tailor everything for your project/client to stand out. Love what you do (maybe that means a leap of faith and *wisely* leaving/transitioning out of your job). Make the time. No excuses, work hard and make the time to do so. Hold family close, cherish them, thank them, and spend time with them. Be a part of the community. It’s so vital to have friends who give you REAL feedback (not tell you Derpy Belle looks good). Lastly, and maybe most importantly, keep the fire burning. Remind yourself what brought you to this field initially and charges your inspiration battery. Pursue that thing and let it drive you to create better work each and every day.
To the speakers; thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve greatly impacted me through your work, your words, and your actions this past weekend. I really look up to you all for more than just the pixels you post on dribbble or Twitter.
P.S. If we met this weekend, and I got your business card, I’ll be in touch with every one of you soon. If we didn’t swap info, follow me on dribbble & Twitter and I’ll add you back, I’ve created my own little “Creative South” groups on both platforms to keep up with this amazing community of people I met here.