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

I Definitely Look Like This

How important is style in what you do?

What the hell do you think Houdini saw when he stared at a straight jacket? For a lot of creative people, perfecting a style is the achievement…the goal. It’s what enables a career to unfold. Once you establish a creative identity (style), the more articulately you can express yourself, or interpret the world.

In context of my own experience, I see a designer’s job as one that transforms gig to gig. The look should be determined by the message you need to communicate. I think not being tied to a style is part of the fun of my job. I understand that for some, it’s exactly the opposite. And for others it’s even a dirty word. That’s why I think it’s such an interesting topic. Is having (or not having) a style a necessity, or result of what we do as creative people?

What I am sure of, is that working within a style can be one of two things…incredibly limiting, or profoundly freeing. With that in mind, I asked Jay Shaw, Tom Papa, and Keith Buckley about how important style is in what each of them do.


JAY SHAW, Designer

Jay’s work is incredible. His ability and aesthetic evolution seem to be in constant motion. As creative director for Mondo (the Alamo Drafthouse’s equivalent of an art department), he’s contributed to some of the most successful major studio and independent film releases (and re-releases) in recent years.

Jay is a pure, true designer. I think he has an interesting relationship with design history (key art specifically). His knowledge of design history is apparent in his work, but each new piece of work he does also takes a firm, deliberate step forward.

Admiration aside, Jay has been friendly to me whenever I’ve reached out, so he generously gave me a little closer look behind his curtain.

How important is style in what you do?

“I think if I were a more competent illustrator having a “style” would be important to me. As it stands I really don’t. I go through phases where one approach appeals to me but I tend to stay pretty versatile aesthetically. If I have any consistency in my work it would be that things tend to look like they were created 40 years ago. I’ve got such an affection for commercial art of the 60s and 70s I can’t help but ape the popular methods of the time. The only drawback to moulding your look to the needs of the project are that it gives you (and the client) a little too much wiggle room sometimes. I envy artists who commit to stylistic parameters.


TOM PAPA, Comedian

Tom Papa is a classic. He’s a wonderful blend of new and old schools matched with an interesting depth. I think he makes interesting choices creatively. He’s got a relatively polished, clean style, but then he’ll have Rob Zombie direct his special, and dress the set like a game show from the 50’s. I love shit like that.

I worked on a tour poster for Tom a few years ago. As inspiration for the poster he explained to me that in the set (which became his “Freaked Out” special) he discusses fears such as aliens, our families, old age, and the possibility that there is no God. That description was as good as I could have asked for. It’s silly and profound, just as he is.

It could entirely be because I enjoy a drink in the same way he seems to in his bit about fitting in…but I get such a sense of comfort in my own skin after listening to him.

How important is style in what you do?

“It would be impossible to say that style isn’t a big part of being a comedian. However; I see style as almost a byproduct of what we do. Comedians often talk about their ‘voice’. Which is uncovering or discovering their true self that they bring to the stage and convey through the jokes they tell. Naturally when this happens you could say the comedian has a certain style.

Of course, one could manufacture a style without having anything to say but that is closer to a clown. Not that I’m knocking clowns. A guy who walks around with a red nose and worn floppy shoes certainly has style. But you may not want to hear his ‘voice’.

KEITH BUCKLEY, Musician and Writer

Keith and I share the home town of Buffalo, NY. I assume it’s lost on most people how accurately the band he sings for (Every Time I Die) embodies Buffalo, NY. It’s a personal connection for me. They’ve successfully interpreted the attitude, tone, energy, and spirit of the city in to their music.

I’ve always admired his range creatively. On a dime it seems he can go from smart to funny to loud, quiet, aggressive, or weird. I move slower than that.

He’s a fascinating combination of intellect and instinct. Perhaps style is the result of those two things meeting… With that…

How important is style in what you do?

“”Style” is the signature you put on performance. our music can’t hang on a wall like other art forms, so our style -the way we do it- is how we let the world know who it was done by.”


A straight jacket…something literally restricting, and yet completely liberating creatively…

More info on Jay at kingdomofnonsense.com.
More info on Tom at tompapa.com.
More info on Keith at everytimeidie.net.

Thanks for reading Question Market 3,

Derek

To Stay Sharp

What is the most recent skill you’ve developed?

I’m trying to figure out if creative development is something I need to stay focused on, or if it’s something that’s inevitable. I suspect that if I keep designing…if I keep creating things, it’ll be inevitable that I learn new skills in one way or another.

By committing to my work, I’ll either be adding more of myself in to the work, or developing new design-specific skills like figuring out a better way it retouch hair, or use geometry to help tell a story. Perhaps those are two ever-evolving avenues of creativity; how articulate you can be personally and professionally.

If you’re committed, I really think those two things are impossible not to evolve.

With that in mind, I asked Eddie Pepitone, Michelle Poler, and Dustin Stanton about what skill each of them have developed most recently.

 


EDDIE PEPITONE, Comedian

I’ve worked with Eddie on a few things, and he’s always been incredible. He’s responsive, friendly, courteous, etc…everything you could want from someone you’re doing business with. More impressive than those great things though is his creative energy. He’s a stand-up, and as an actor, he’s appeared in some of the best comedies of the past two decades.

His stage sets are like an intense massage. There’s pain in it, aggression…but you leave feeling lighter, relieved, and seeing things brighter. He’s calculated, in control, and completely reckless at the same time. That contrast is incredible. This set is from a while ago, but is so interesting. He flexes every muscle a comedian has. Watch how far away he holds the mic at certain points, while still being completely effective.

I hear he’s even dabbling in politics and community organizing. I love that someone as versatile as Eddie continues to develop, but he does…

What is the most recent skill you’ve developed?

“I think the things I learn how to do are ongoing. Modulating my voice from the rage to soft-spoken guy is something I’ve been working on as I realize it’s very funny to go to extremes vocally with an audience. I have been more conscious of varying my tone and range and it’s all about just being more present and not panicking as a performer.

I used to think I had to get a laugh every second and I’ve finally realized that the silences or the spaces in between are just as important as the jokes. In fact it sets up the jokes!”


MICHELLE POLER, Speaker

Michelle created 100 Days Without Fear. She’s Venezuelan and after studying at SVA in New York, she worked as a designer and art director. Then, through the process of conquering a list of fears she began telling her own story in a way that connected with others.

Her curiosity is what impresses me most. She’s been able to translate an exploration of herself in to exploring and influencing people across the world. She’s an interesting example of that intersection of personal and technical skill. I’m so happy that she said she’d answer my question…

What is the most recent skill you’ve developed?

“I believe that as artists we are constantly developing and polishing the skills we already have trying to become every day the best version of ourselves. 5 years ago when I got married I decided to buy a GoPro to capture in video my honeymoon adventure. We were going to Hawaii so I wanted to put together a short video to share with family and friends and also to keep for ourselves. My little brother was in film school at the time and he kindly edited a nice little video about our wedding day. I quickly learned the things you need to put into a video to make it entertaining, creativity was the main component. Two weeks after we came back from our honeymoon I gave editing a shot. People started to go crazy about the cool video I made and started to ask me to edit videos for them about their personal experiences. Shortly after, I became the official video person of the family and in my circle of friends. I created videos about meaningful occasions as gifts for the people I care about the most, but I never thought about doing something serious with my video making and editing skills. I would only do it for fun.

 Last year I decided to become a braver person by facing one fear a day for 100 days. I wanted to share my progress through social media so I decided to record myself facing the different fears, editing and uploading one video a day. After editing 100 videos consecutively I can see how much I’ve grown and how my skills have improved enormously. The thing I used to do for fun became my full time job. Most recently, I started developing video blogs (vlogs) which is different than shooting an adventure. So I had to learn all about cameras, lights, audio, tripods. Just when I thought I had everything under control, I had to start from scratch. So, yeah, we actually never stop developing and polishing the skills we already have. I wonder what kind of videos I will do next.”

DUSTIN STANTON, Designer

Dustin is a graphic designer for the entertainment industry. He’s created lots of great key art, but his contributions to Paul Thomas Anderson’s films have always shook me up most. His interpretations of the stories are so nuanced and personal…exactly the thing those films need.

I worked with Dustin on a gig poster for Bill Burr. The poster was for a tour of California and Bill gave us the idea to interpret the drought that California was in. Dustin built a great narrative based on that concept which I followed through on.

What I learned from working on that project is that a designer should be able to think their way out of any problem. You’re given a creative problem, you figure out an answer to it, and then execute it. Having a purposeful answer is an underestimated tool. That seems obvious, but more often than I’d like to admit, I find myself trying to figure it out as I go. My point is that Dustin sharpened my creative problem solving skills. So, I’m curious what he’s been working on for himself…

What is the most recent skill you’ve developed?

“One of the recent skills I’ve been developing is self editing.

I once heard (or read) a quote somewhere: “He with fifty ideas has none”. I get it. I think I’ve been trying to work that philosophy into my work and provide my clients with more quality and less quantity – putting forward the ideas that I believe in and have good reasons to present to them. So far, it’s been working well with the people I work with.”


I’m glad that our relationships with creativity seem to keep evolving. It feels like there’s security in that. Something of comfort that can constantly shift from being personally rewarding, to professionally.

More info on Eddie at eddiepepitone.com.
More info on Michelle at michellepoler.com.
More info on Dustin at dustinstantoncreative.com.
Illustration by Brett Mikoll, dierichgettrying.com.

Thanks for reading Question Market 2,

Derek