No Surrender

What’s the closest you’ve come to giving up and doing something else?

Every pursuit of a creative profession is different. I learned I will not stop being a designer a couple years ago. I was more anxious about a poster project than I had been for any other I’d ever worked on. I feared my career was on the line.

Momentarily, peace of mind came with the realization that even if the project is dropped completely, it’s not going to erase my ability to, or interest in design. In my head to that point, my entire career was at stake with each gig…

That’s an insane way to work. Operating that way makes the work suffer. It’s a disservice to you, your clients or audience, and anyone you care about. Do not do that.

It’s a weird topic…giving up. It can be interpreted different ways. It can be smart. Realizing you’re not equipped for whatever it is you’re doing, and putting your time and energy elsewhere…could be brilliant. It can be looked down upon…seen as not having the strength to work toward and achieve a goal. And it can be a bunch of other shit too…likely filled with corporate buzz words I don’t really want to use. So with that, let’s get to the thoughts of some amazing creative people.

Below, I have Dick Zigun, Joanna Hausmann, and Midnight Marauder to describe brushes they’ve had with creative instability, how, and why they persisted…


Dick Zigun,
Founder of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow

Dick founded Coney Island USA in 1980 and since then, has dedicated his life to the unordinary. Coney Island is a magical place, and Dick has everything to do with it’s modern identity. Coney is among the main elements in the make up of New York City. At the same time, it kinda has nothing to do with New York, and can even feel like something far, far away. It’s got it’s own thing going.

Dick established, and maintains that identity. He’s a complete, true creative, and seems hell bent to show the world that it can be seen differently. That’s what I’m shooting for as a creative, too. I don’t know Dick, at all, but he was wonderful enough to tell me a bit about himself…


What’s the closest you’ve come to giving up and doing something else?

“In Fall of 1995 we lost the lease on the Boardwalk building that had been our headquarters for 11 years. Half our Board of Directors resigned & we obviously had no funds & no right to keep on. I made a personal choice to lease another building on Surf Avenue, the 100 year old NYC landmark we now own…but at the time colleagues thought I was insane & I questioned my sanity as well. I maxed out credit cards to buy building materials I couldn’t afford & took a F/T outside job to keep our staff going. I lived in a tiny room with 2 snakes 2 cats and a dog.

For years I lived in the sideshow building with no real life of my own but…EVERYTHING good that’s happened since that insane decision 21 years ago has been the direct result of the insane 1995 choice when I should have given up & gotten a job teaching college.


Joanna Hausmann,
Comedian/Writer

In most instances, Joanna’s brain is likely to be in three places at the same time. Here, there, and everywhere. Her comedy and writing are manifestations of that. She’s studied, quick, and two steps ahead of you, albeit in a different direction…

I get the sense that she’s searching, creatively speaking. As a collaborator, that’s incredible to work with; it’s ideal. In my case, she makes me a better designer. That was not an alliance I expected to gain when I met her, a comedian.

I got to work with Joanna every day at a website called Flama, which previously employed us both. She’s now a correspondent on Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves The World, and a regular performer with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York. Here’s what she’s got to say…

What’s the closest you’ve come to giving up and doing something else?

“I think about giving up all the time. Every single time I have an audition I get so stressed I wonder what my life would be if I had a “normal” job with benefits and Keurig machine. Every time I have a big show I try to convince myself I don’t have what it takes to make people laugh. Every time I press send to an email that has a writing sample I spent days agonizing over attached to it, I think “this is stupid Joanna, you wasted your time.” I did the math. I have these sabotaging thoughts at least twice a month. And I used to take them seriously …. now I don’t.

The thought of quitting is never fueled by indifference; it is fueled by fear. The fear of failing. The fear of being judged. The fear of realizing my dreams are silly and unattainable. It’s seems easier to just quit and never find out what you fear the most; I’m not good enough. Once I realized the thought of quitting is actually a reflection of how much I cared, I knew I would never quit. The thoughts will come. And they will come religiously. But when they do, I know it’s a sign I’m doing something I fear which means I’m doing something right.


Midnight Marauder,
Designer

When I look at the film posters Midnight Marauder has made, I feel I’m spending a single moment with the film. His choice of image, what other image(s) it’s paired with, the colors, and type, all let me know what it’s like to live within that film.

He’s incredibly profound and articulate with the most basic ingredients…image, color, type, and composition. That’s it. His work is tonal, and atmospheric…it tells me very specifically what I’ll see, and so very little at the same time. That’s the perfect bait to get me to a movie. It’s simple, pretty, and enticing.

I’ve admired his work for a long time, and was thrilled to learn a bit about his background…

What’s the closest you’ve come to giving up and doing something else?

“That’s a pretty refreshing question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before from anybody.

It’s definitely happened quite a few times, I’ve had some major set backs and failed a few times along the way. I don’t want to give up … I don’t want to give up on myself or my family. I’ve always wanted to work in film and I kinda fell into graphic design cause I failed in comic books and illustration. So this means everything to me. My passion is that strong and I won’t give up, ever !!


Whether it’s staring you in the face, or something you always notice at just a bit of a distance, that fear of everything going south always seems to be there. Ain’t that some shit.

You have to respond and adjust to the circumstances before you in order to survive. Change, and grow, yes…but give up, nah.

More info on Dick at coneyisland.com.
More info on Joanna at joannahausmann.com, or youtube.com/johaus89.
More info on Midnight Marauder a midnight-marauder.com.
Header image by Derek Gabryszak.

Thanks for reading Question Market 8!

Derek

Professional Practicer

Do you practice for the work you do, and if so, how?

I very rarely practice, in the traditional sense of exercising specific skills. I do a lot of studying…looking at the work of other designers and other creative people’s work, but practice is rare. Round 1 presentations to clients are the closest thing to practice that I do. It’s where I’m experimenting and working out a bunch of ideas and executions that will likely be killed. Is that unprofessional? Irresponsible? Likely, I think.

My working style may be closer to an improvisation…in that the work I’m doing for my clients is exploratory. It could have a dozen different interpretations. I aim for that more than executing a style that I’ve practiced and perfected and then plug their information in to that.

What’s unfortunate is that I’m certain I’d be a better designer if I practiced more. And perhaps my work would be more original…less derivitive. Or more technically successful. Less studying, more practicing…

Practice is safe ground for failure. They’re kind of one in the same. Failure and therefor practice, could be among the most obvious steps to successful work. The benefit is undeniable.

To dig further in to this, I asked Adam Lowitt, Adam Maida, and Steven Feinartz to describe the role practice plays in their work…


Adam Lowitt,
Comedian/Writer/Producer

Adam started working for The Daily Show as an intern in 2002 and has been there since. Not as an intern. He’s an executive producer, writer, and on-air correspondent. I think longevity is somewhat rare in creative jobs. So working with the same company for that long is certainly something I admire. In addition to what Adam contributes to the Daily show, he consistently performs stand up comedy as well.

Whether you enjoy The Daily Show or not, he goes to work every day for one of the most respected and prolific comedic and cultural platforms America has to offer. With that…

Do you practice for the work you do, and if so, how?

“Practice” in comedy is always an interesting concept because the term denotes that there’s a final product.  At least where I work, on The Daily Show, you could say the making of that day’s show is just practice for making tomorrow’s show.  I think “refining” is a better term, which is what we do all day, everyday.  Can this joke be funnier? Can this graphic be clearer? Can this take be stronger?  And once the episode airs, hopefully the staff doesn’t get too drunk after work, and we’re able to make an even better show the next day.

I treat my standup pretty much the same way.  Each set is practice for the next. The writing and rewriting of bits, figuring out how to perform a joke instead of simply saying it.  There are no comedy drills for that, it’s just logged hours onstage. That being said, I’ve often fantasized about some comedy version of Duke’s coach Mike Krzyzewski that i have to meet up with at six a.m. every morning to hone bits.  We’re both wearing tear away pants and he’s got a whistle that he blows every time I forget to enunciate the word “Jewish” in one of my punchlines.


Adam Maida,
Designer

Working out of Rochester, New York, Adam is one of the best designers in the western New York area. He’s created some incredible work for the New York Times, and Criterion Collection, as well as for other entertainment venues and social causes.

I’ve gotten to collaborate with Adam on a handful of projects. He’s always had great ideas to contribute, and executes them in phenomenal ways. He’s got a great sense for how to use collaged and illustrated elements. He uses them in different ways than the rest of us.

His work is so interesting to me, and I regularly revisit (or study) it. So, I was curious to know more about what goes in to it…

Do you practice for the work you do, and if so, how?

I find that simply experimenting with my own work, wether its for a client or just personal, is the best form of practice. Anything from simply combining two opposites in collage to animating something i’ve painted. I think the action of playing with our work is inherently the best kind of practice for any artist . It is one of the few methods one can partake in to simply find something internally or externally which ceased to exist beforehand. This I believe improves our abilities to not just draw or design better, but to think and communicate better through our work as well.


Steven Feinartz,
Director

Steven is a director who is primarily in service to the comedy industry. I was introduced to him when I worked on posters for a documentary he directed about a stand up comedian (who I chatted with for QM2) named Eddie Pepitone.

In addition to that documentary, Steven has directed and produced comedy specials for Seeso, Netflix, Comedy Central, and Showtime. I know he keeps busy, so I was wondering how he stays sharp…

Do you practice for the work you do, and if so, how?

I do try to practice as much as I can, but practicing can mean a lot of things as a Director. I try to absorb what other work inspires me and at the same time try my best to develop my own voice. I’ve also taken to become a little more hands-on with the camera than I used to be. Exploring what different lenses and lighting techniques do to the image is so crucial to being able to express what you are looking for visually to your collaborators.

Most of what I’m working with is in the comedy space. Whether its documentaries, specials, shorts or music videos, I always need to think what best serves the subject or story. For specials in particular, I practice in becoming accustomed to the comics’ style or tone, and plan on shooting as true to that as possible. As a Director, you have to be available to so many people and at the same time you are the one making the final decisions. There is still nothing better than on-the-job training. For me, it’s how I’ve learned from my mistakes and apply that to what I’m doing that has made me stronger.


It seems that each of us have integrated practice in to the work itself in one way or another. I think that’s interesting. We probably all used to practice in a more traditional sense, and now we just do the work.

For professionals, it seems, practice is an ambiguous concept. I suspect Larry Bird would disagree.

More info on Adam Lowitt at adamlowitt.com.
More info on Adam Maida at adammaida.com.
More info on Steven at stevenfeinartz.com.
Header image by Derek Gabryszak.

Thanks for reading Question Market 7!

Derek

I’ve Always Been For Sale

How important is selling your self or your work?

We all need to sell our selves or our work in some capacity. Whether that’s in the traditional form of presenting products to customers, or on a smaller scale, say, defending a creative decision we’ve made to a colleague or potential employer.

As much as I can, I try to let my work do the talking (he says as he types a blog instead of designing something). Making good things feels like the easiest, perhaps purest way to approach success to me. I’m always a little uncomfortable when I’m actively trying to sell something, so a quality or honest product helps keep a clean conscience. I say this in spite of the fact that technically I’m a commercial artist. It’s kinda my job to sell shit…whatever it may be.

The following insight comes from people in commercial arts. People who sell, help sell, or make things intended to sell. With that in mind, the measure taken to present ourselves really interests me.


BRETT MIKOLL,
Designer

Brett does a bit of everything. And he should. He has the energy, imagination, curiosity, patience and dashing good looks for a bit of everything.

He’s not without focus though. Brett is the design half of Oxford Pennant, a pennant and flag company based in Buffalo, NY. With Oxford, Brett explores the history, function, and aesthetic of pennants. In Brett’s hands, the company and it’s products look great and actively participate the history of their medium.

Brett and I have been pals for over a decade. Occasionally he’s my house guest. Other times he’s my collaborator, savior, competition, confidant, cheerleader, and/or coach. I trust him creatively, so am wondering where this question sits in his head…

In what you do, how important is selling your self or your work?

“The term “personal brand” is thrown around a lot – but it’s useful when considering if, how, and when to promote myself in my work.

My successes in design have come from being consistent on social media. Rarely a personal photo, mostly relevant stuff that compliments my work – sketches, travel photos, good bullshit. A proper website is still necessary, but being mindful on social apps is so much more important in attracting the right people to see my tastes, and ultimately get in touch. “Don’t post pictures of your kids.”

That said, with Oxford Pennant my business partner and I have made a purposeful effort in remaining faceless. With the exception of attending trade shows and meetings, we try and let customers tell our story by reposting their product photos – which is now our main source of social content. The human element: include a hand written note with every order, it’s company policy.


JESSICA HISCHE,
Designer/Author

As I’ve said before, Jessica is incredible. As a designer, she’s thinking, knowledgable, and her talent seems limitless. She’s also generous enough to give me another answer for this little project. She answered Question Market 4 a couple months ago about stress and anxiety.

She’s created fantastic work for projects large and small and I picture her putting the same amount of thought and care in to each project that comes across her desk. I was curious how she views presenting herself to clients and the world…

In what you do, how important is selling your self or your work?

“Selling yourself” isn’t quite the term I would use—I’d more call it “establishing trust or confidence”. When I’m working with a new client, my first job and the job I really need to accomplish at every presentation with them, is for them to feel like I’m really devoting myself to the work and that they made a good decision in trusting me with the project. As far as “selling myself” to others online, I just try to be real. I share things that I’m excited about, nervous about, angry about, etc. I don’t let clients bully me into sharing and hash tagging on their behalf. I have built up an audience that is interested in me and work, and it’s important to me to not betray them by being disingenuous.


GRAHAM POLLACK,
Photographer

The majority of Graham’s professional work is photos of products and things that his clients hope people buy. He’s shot for Tiffany & Co., Barney’s New York, Nylon, Milk Makeup, and Martha Stewart. And, had work published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, WWD, and Bloomberg Businessweek. He works for companies and brands that have a long, and distinguished history. His work has to live up to that.

Graham has an incredible sense of composition and color. He brings that to his clients and their products so seamlessly that I almost don’t notice his personal touches. Which is exactly the way it should be for a great commercial artist.

With that…

In what you do, how important is selling your self or your work?

As a freelance photographer, selling myself is very important, but I don’t think about it in this way. I’ve never wanted to be a salesman and it’s my least favorite part of running a business.

I put that ‘selling’ energy into building and maintaining honest relationships with other creative people. My work is a natural extension of myself. Knowing me is understanding and hopefully appreciating my artistic vision and process.


Seems like honesty really helps ease the burden of “the sell.” Mean what you say, and it’ll all sort of put itself together.

More info on Brett at dierichgettrying.com, and oxfordpennant.com.
More info on Jessica at jessicahische.is.
More info on Graham at grahampollack.com.
Header image by Derek Gabryszak.

Thanks for reading Question Market 6, I had the damnedest time trying to figure out if yourself, or your self was the correct usage in this scenario.

Derek

Stefan Sagmeister By Hand

By Hand is a new feature on Question Market. It’s something I’ve been doing privately for years. Writing a letter with some specific questions about creativity to someone I admire and hoping they write me back.

There’s an incredible site called Letters of Note that explores hand written correspondences throughout history. That’s what inspired me to start this. I love the layer of context that’s added by getting something in writing. You can tell if the person was in a hurry, or took their time enough to add drawings, or extra notes, or anything else. Maybe the envelope gets beaten up along the way. It’s added character. There’s intimacy to it.


STEFAN SAGMEISTER, designer

If you’re a designer, there’s not much new I can tell you about Stefan Sagmeister. He’s towards the top of our food chain in terms of success, knowledge, and talent and I assume you know that already.

For anyone else that stumbles across this…Stefan’s body of work as a designer is heady and pure. He runs the studio Sagmeister & Walsh with his partner Jessica Walsh and has landed some of the biggest gigs you can aspire to have as a designer. Album covers for the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Jay-Z, and others. Work for Levi’s, BMW, and the New York Times. He’s exhibited and discussed his work all over the world.

He’s fascinating and someone I think all creative people can look up to. In addition to his success as a designer, he’s also one of the deepest, most sincere, and intellectual creatives working. He’s active in the design community and always trying to put more meaning in to what we do as designers and humans.

When I was first learning and practicing graphic design, there were designers and artists that I admired, and imitated. But when I saw Stefan’s work…things like this, and this, and this…I realized design’s ability to be thought provoking and expressive.

I know this seems obvious, but how creative design can be. His work unlocked that for me. I was learning the basics…grids, letter forms, color theory. Laying out things like letterheads, stationary, websites, advertisements…in pretty standard formats. When I saw his work, my design brain took the next position on the evolutionary chart towards being upright. I’m still working on it…

In 2010, I wrote Stefan a short letter and asked him:

  1. What is something all creative people have in common?
  2. What was one creative habit you had as a child?
  3. What is one creative habit you have now?

He generously wrote back the following… (transcript below as well)


ByHand_Sagmeister


His insight is wonderful and I can’t read these answers without his voice in my head. And, I love that he plans for certain tasks to be completed in the morning. I have a feeling that is something that’ll be explored again here.

TRANSCRIPT

Hey Derek,

Here are some quick answers:

  1. A desire for the new. A certain amount of fearlessness & guts
  2. I don’t remember being particularly creative as a child
  3. a) Work on many projects simultaniously. Switch to another one when I get stuck.
    b) Start with the difficult parts first thing in the morning.

Good luck and many greetings,
Stefan Sagmeister


Thank you for reading, and thanks to Stefan for allowing me publish this.

Derek

My Ideas Are Great, I Think

What part of your creative process causes you the most stress or anxiety?

There’s a group of posters in the Museum of Modern Art by a graphic designer named James Victore. His work and general attitude are loud, and aggressive, and incredible. During a Q&A several years ago, I asked how stress affects his work. “Well shit, Doc…how much time do you have?” he said.

A lot of stress in creative jobs is self-generated. There’s very little right and wrong in what we do. A lot is left up to subjectivity. I’m right, you’re wrong…none of it matters really…you are right, I am wrong. And the other way around. It’s always this way.

That’s how I see stress in creativity. Constantly, I’m wondering and poring over the question…is this decision right?

Here’s a glimpse of that from a designer, comedian, and helicopter pilot.


 JESSICA HISCHE,
Designer/Author

Jessica is quite simply one of the best young designers America has to offer.

She’s created incredible work for some of the largest and most respected companies, people, and institutions there are to work for. So with that, I’m thrilled she’s as grounded as she is talented and gave this glimpse in to her creative process.

What part of your creative process causes you the most stress or anxiety?

“I’m probably the most stressed out right after I get off the first creative call with the client, before I have time to sit and think and scheme about what I want to do. Once I sit down to research and brain storm, I feel so much better about the project as a whole. Another time I generally feel stressed out is when pricing a job. It never gets easy for certain kinds of jobs.”

BRUCE HAFFNER,
Helicopter Pilot/Photographer

Bruce drives a helicopter around while photographing things for a living. What an insane combination of disciplines. Please read the following, but absolutely look at his incredible video reel to properly understand what exactly he captures while high up in the sky.

I discovered Bruce several weeks ago because Twitter is amazing. He’s a photographer, television broadcaster, and helicopter pilot and works primarily in service of the entertainment and news industries.

His work is amazing and that’s why I’m fascinated with what his working relationship with stress and anxiety is…

What part of your creative process causes you the most stress or anxiety?

“The anxiety comes as we broadcast live reports from our airborne production studio and since our reports are “Live” we only get one chance to get it right. Coordinating our “Live Shots” with the TV station’s control room producer via two-way radio, coordinating helicopter shot location with the pilot, the pilot coordinating with the air traffic controller, thinking of what I’m going to say live on TV during our report, cueing up recorded video to hot-roll live which helps tell the story, keeping our fingers crossed the live TV signal from the chopper to the viewers homes stays locked are some of the details behind the scenes of the live report you see on-air. When everything goes smoothly it’s a beautiful symphony, but with so many links in the chain anything can go wrong and it is common. Then I have to ad-lib while I quickly work out the problem live on TV while making it seem natural. We fly everyday and produce a bunch of aerial television so we get a lot of practice.

I was a television news photographer on the streets for 13 years winning 15 Emmy Awards before I learned to fly the helicopter. Those years of experience working on the ground really helps me in the air, I understand the big picture and where we fit in.

A highlight in my career was recently flying actor/comedian Will Ferrell and dropping him off in center field during a baseball game for the HBO special “Will Ferrell Takes the Field”. The final approach into the stadium could have been stressful but Will was so cool, he made the landing fun. The beauty of my job is that I’ve never had to work a day in my life, I’m fortunate to have chased my dreams… and caught them.”


JEN KIRKMAN,
Comedian/Author

Jen is the shit. She’s funny and smart and intellectual and a potty mouth and a bunch of other great things. I’ve worked for her in little bits and she’s always been friendly and attentive.

She’s a veteran comedian, a New York Times best selling author, actor, writer, and has a new special on Netflix. She’s a perfect example of a creative professional and because of all that I also assumed she’d have valuable insight on stress in the creative process.

What part of your creative process causes you the most stress or anxiety?

“The most terrifying part of the creative process is that I don’t schedule time to be creative. I don’t sit down from nine to five in a coffee shop to “write jokes.” My jokes just come to me. I write about my life so I should say that the way to talk about things in my life just comes to me. I’ll go through phases where I physically feel energized and my head feels full – like if somehow a head cold could feel good – I feel foggy and stuffy and full of ideas that have to come out. I’ll usually take walks or just be in my apartment with lots of coffee and wait. And when things start to shake out of my head I make notes. Wherever I am I make notes. I’ll write them on paper or I’ll put them in my notes section of my iPhone. Words and phrases like “Mom met Paula Deen” or “eggs assault small talk” that make no sense to me but are at least five minute stories that are very intricate.

So, when those moments of inspiration DO NOT COME for a while – I worry that I’ll never think of anything funny again. I beat myself up for not being the type of comic who sits and writes every day and I feel it’s too late to learn and I don’t want to learn and I then I start spinning out. No one would know I’m spinning out – this is all done in the privacy of my head.

And eventually the writer’s block is over and more thoughts come to me – and then I’m back to thinking I’m so divinely inspired totally forgetting that a few minutes earlier I thought I was a piece of shit who doesn’t know how to write. And this repeats forever basically.”

Was this decision right? The stress and anxiety that goes along with creative professions is complicated.

More info on Jessica at jessicahische.is.
More info on Bruce at chopperguy.com.
More info on Jen at jenkirkman.com.
Header image by Brett Mikoll, and Derek Gabryszak.

Thanks for reading Question Market 4,

Derek