feibisi / 2018年11月14日

Follow Your Passion Way Off the Beaten Track

The words of photographer Scott Rinckenberger as told to Lauren Covello Jacobs.

The Pacific Northwest is unlike most anywhere in the country in that it has every type of landscape you can interact with. Within a couple of hours of Seattle, you’ve got a wild, rugged coastline where you can surf or kayak. Go the other direction and you’ve got giant, glaciated mountains that are often compared with the Alps. A little further east you’ve got desert environments, rain forests. There are just endless ecosystems in which to explore.

I grew up in a rural, woodsy part of Washington, and my childhood was very much about being outdoors. My friends and I weren’t “sit inside and play video games” kids. We were into getting on our bikes and finding a new spot to make a jump, finding a new creek to swim in, catching lizards.

Scott Rinckenberger spotted in the great outdoors of Washington state.

Scott Rinckenberger spotted in the great outdoors of Washington state.

Throughout my childhood and into college, I was really obsessed with skiing. It was sort of my driving passion. By the time I was college age, I had devoted enough time and energy to it that I was one of the better skiers around in my age group. That morphed into a semi-pro ski career that had me traveling all over the U.S., Europe, and South America. I skied professionally from when I was in college at the University of Washington until my late twenties.

I’m still a passionate and involved skier, and that’s a lot of what I bring to my photography.

For me, skiing was as much a creative pursuit as it was an athletic one. I say “was” only to compartmentalize it; I’m still a passionate and involved skier, and that’s a lot of what I bring to my photography. But there definitely came a time when I needed a new creative stimulus to keep my mind sharp and engaged. I didn’t want to continue to relive the same year over and over. I needed some new input, and photography offered that.

So in the second half of my twenties, I started self-educating in photography and looking for jobs assisting other photographers. At around 27 or 28, I ended up landing a full-time job working for a photographer named Chase Jarvis. That became my real foray into photography as a career.

From there, I began developing an eye for these wilderness winter landscapes and creating imagery that I wasn’t really seeing anywhere else.

On weekends, I’d be out in the mountains skiing, riding my bike, or rock climbing. Eventually, instead of skiing mostly out of ski resorts, I started to do more backcountry skiing, where you climb the mountain on foot and ski down. All of a sudden, instead of skiing the same five resorts, I had an entire mountain range as a canvas to explore. It opened up all of these astounding, wild, rugged, beautiful places. I started feeling like I at least needed to bring a camera along to record these adventures. From there, I began developing an eye for wilderness winter landscapes and creating imagery that I wasn’t really seeing anywhere else. And that’s what started to pull me in my own direction.

Scott Rinckenberger's photographs capture the stories of nature, as told in the colors of black and white.

Scott Rinckenberger’s photographs capture the stories of nature, as told through the colors of black and white.

My best imagery is reductive and graphically simple. The mountain wilderness has so much power and beauty that, as a vast sort of panorama, it’s almost overwhelming. A lot of my work is directed at trying to reduce it to really simple elements that, when combined, translate into that bigger grandeur.

Safety is a constant focus. In the last 20 years, I’ve lost friends to avalanches, rockfall, and rope accidents.

That’s also the reason much of my work is in black and white. For me, eliminating color from my work serves as one of the final tests to see if the image is graphically strong. If you remove all the elements of a giant wide-angle landscape and you start to tighten up your scope in terms of composition, and then you remove color from the equation, you sort of reduce and reduce and reduce. And that allows you to see if the image is still strong without relying heavily on things like color or artificial lighting. Turning things into a monochrome state helps me take that reductive ethos all the way to its natural conclusion.

Safety is a constant focus. There’s no getting around the fact that the mountain wilderness is unforgiving. In the last 20 years, I’ve lost friends to avalanches, rockfall, and rope accidents. All of these things are ever-present dangers, and on some level you have to come to terms with it. If you come to the decision that it’s a big enough part of yourself and your life, you have to develop an ongoing education and respect for that environment. You have to religiously assess risk and carry the tools to deal with an accident or emergency. Going on an adventure is highly motivating, but making it home at the end is really the ultimate criterion.

This skier waits to tackle a steep angle down and deep powder stash.

This skier knows the importance of documenting a steep angle and deep powder stash.

Home, for me, is in Fall City, Washington, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Before we had our son, Cedar, my wife and I lived in Seattle. That was a lot of fun – there’s tons of culture, great restaurants, lots to do professionally. But once he was born, we got really excited about moving out to a landscape where he would have a lot more room to roam, and where going hiking or swimming in the river wouldn’t be a whole big “load up the car” mission.

It was a transition going from Seattle to living out in the woods, but it’s been one that fits us well. Cedar is definitely an outdoorsy kid. Every day he’s out riding his bike in the woods or hiking around or swimming in the river – all of the things that give a person a lifelong love of the outdoors. We love where we’re at and what’s nearby. We definitely don’t have any plans to leave.

 

feibisi / 2018年11月8日

Do Creative Ideas Work Better than Data-Driven Ones?

Seven years ago, while working for an ad agency, I presented a billboard campaign to my client, Russell Fisher. After reviewing the work, he sat back and asked me this question, one that would deeply impact my career for years: “What proof can you give me that these creative ideas are more effective for my business than just a straightforward message? And I’m talking real proof, not the usual marketing jargon.”

Russell’s question remains profound—and one the ad business has been battling over since the 1970s and the birth of creative advertising. Put in more simple terms, it comes down to: “Do creative ideas work better?”

To best answer this, let’s first look at the mother of all hard drives—ours brains.

Emotion Versus Logic

The age-old battle over creative advertising starts with a few basic elements—emotion and logic. Usually, we equate these with the two major hemispheres of our brain: the left, logical half and the right, creative half. The left helps us with denotation, or the literal meaning of things. And the right offers connotation, or the connection between things, such as understanding the punchline of a joke.

But the part of the story that we often overlook is the front of the brain versus the back of the brain. The large frontal lobe (the area just behind our foreheads) is what sets us apart as humans versus other animals. This chunk of the brain, often referring to the prefrontal cortex specifically, controls our executive function. It helps us manage time, delay instant gratification, and provides us with rational thought.

What Damasio learned by studying these patients was this: a brain that can’t feel, can’t make a decision. We need emotion, not just logic alone.

Understanding the relationship between logic and emotion is critical. And they are more intimately connected than we think. In their famous study “Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer,” psychologist Leda Cosmides and anthropologist John Tooby examined the relationship between animal instincts and human logic. They reasoned that we have more emotional instincts than animals, like our ability to love, have morals, and fear disease. And these emotions are what make us human.   

Another interesting study comes from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who worked with patients who had damaged a small area of their brains that controlled emotions. Even with this chunk impaired, he found his patients were still rational humans. But when he would ask them to make even the smallest decisions, they struggled. What Damasio learned by studying these patients was this: a brain that can’t feel, can’t make a decision. We need emotion, not just logic alone.   

Two Systems, One Brain

But because logic and emotion are so interconnected with all parts of the brain, many psychologists and neuroscientists prefer to speak about the brain’s functions in terms of two systems—your slow, logical system and your fast, emotional system. To me, it makes sense to call these your conscious and subconscious brains.

Several studies have been done to understand the capacity of these two systems. For our slow, conscious brain, psychologist George Miller found that our conscious brain can only hold around seven variables (“the magic number”), plus or minus two. This is why phone numbers are split into small chunks of three or four.  

As for the capacity of our fast, subconscious system, a recent study by the Salk Institute shows that our brains have the hard-drive capacity to hold the amount of data in the entire Internet. Imagine every YouTube video, every tweet, even the entire audio track from Zombo.com. Every human brain is capable of storing that much information.

How We Make Decisions

This brings us to the decision-making process. When making a decision, we first run any new experience past our library of previous memories to see whether there is a match. If there isn’t, our conscious brain becomes engaged. Our frontal lobe slows down and figures out this new experience. Once a new choice is made, the executive order is sent back to the subconscious through another burst of neurochemicals. These neurochemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, are the regulators of our emotions and are how one neuron communicates with another.

The stronger the emotion, the greater the chance of creating a memory.

The memory is then filed away for future use through a series of neurons firing in a pattern, called a memory trace. It’s just like the 1’s and 0’s we use to burn a file on a hard drive—except the pattern is powered by a small burst of emotions between the neurons. This is our biology. Memories are created with emotion, and when we make or remember a decision, our brains are flooded with emotion.

Once a memory is created, we retrieve the memory in the same way. The stronger the emotion, the greater the chance of creating a memory. And if a strong emotion is present during retrieval, there’s a greater chance we will remember it. That means creating brand memories and lasting loyalty with customers is all about the amount of emotion that’s present when those experiences are formed.

What This All Means To Marketing

So, should we as marketers place more value on logic or emotions when making decisions? The answer is they are equally valuable. We need both to successfully communicate to customers, to have them believe our message, and to retain their love and loyalty.

The marketing gut is not dead. Some say that data-driven marketing gives us all the answers and we don’t need all that creative crap. Don’t be fooled.

Here’s an interesting thought: If emotions represent a massive amount of past experiences, memories, and rational decisions, then emotion is logic. Lots of it. And all summarized in a quick emotional burst. Which means it isn’t creativity versus strategy, or art versus science, but a combination of both. Perhaps a simple marketing choice with only a few variables should rely more on logic. But a more complex purchase might require more emotion, like listening to our guts.

That brings me to this: The marketing gut is not dead. Some say that data-driven marketing gives us all the answers and we don’t need all that creative crap. Don’t be fooled. Data inspires ideas. Metrics drive creativity. They are not mutually exclusive.

Our guts have a wealth of past experiences and rational decisions that we can combine with digital data to make amazing experiences for our customers.

When making good marketing decisions, we should use all the data we can find, including the insight we get from our mysterious, subconscious guts. Our guts have a wealth of past experiences and rational decisions that we can combine with digital data to make amazing experiences for our customers.

However, far too often, business decision makers ignore the emotions. They don’t give creativity a seat at the logic table. If they think creative ideas are marketing fluff, they don’t understand how humans think. If you want to avoid risk, look at our biology and make sure strong emotions are present in all communications. If you want a sure bet on your marketing dollars, you need to embrace a balance of both. More often than not, this means understanding the value of emotional ideas in a sea of data and logic.

As we better understand how the mind uses emotion to function, it gives new insight into why emotional marketing campaigns are more successful. For decades, marketing pros have known that emotional messaging pulls better. But they couldn’t explain why. They just felt it in their guts. Now that we know how the brain ingests data, how it uses emotion to process it, and how emotion plays a pivotal role in decision making and creating memories, we have a universal answer that explains why emotional marketing is more effective. It’s based on biology. If we remove emotion from the equation, the results are suboptimal.

Once you better understand the science, you not only know the answer to Russell’s question, but you also can see applications where the right balance of logic and emotion can help you craft more meaningful experiences for your customers. If you want your brand to succeed, the question now becomes: Why wouldn’t you use strong emotions and creative ideas in your marketing?

This article was adapted from Morgan’s upcoming book Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business: Proving the Value of Creative Ideas with Science.

feibisi / 2018年11月7日

Jessica Hische: Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave

Procrastiworking (noun): The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.  

If you’re in the design community, you might already be well acquainted with this word and its definition. And even if you don’t know the term, maybe you know its creator, Oakland-based lettering artist, type designer, illustrator, and author Jessica Hische.

The 34-year-old originally conceived of the word to describe the advice she was giving to young artists who were having trouble figuring out a direction. “Over the course of my career I’ve tried to pay attention to the work that I do when I’m putting off other work,” she explains on her site. Passion projects can be very telling.

Hische discovered procrastiworking for herself at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, when her own passion for graphic design overshadowed her lifelong interest in drawing. “I took a graphic art class and found myself procrastinating from all of my fine art work to work on my graphic design projects,” she recalls. After graduating, Hische transformed this enthusiasm into a successful illustration and lettering career.

Hische photographed in her office in California’s Bay Area.

Today, Hische’s professional projects reach across mediums and range from corporate powerhouses like Target and Tiffany & Co. to more offbeat indies like McSweeney’s and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Hische might be as well known for her beautiful hand-drawn letters as she is for her hands-on approach to sharing professional insights. Her prolific, multimedium advice includes speaking at creative conferences, workshops, seminars, and on podcasts. The artist’s first side project, Daily Drop Cap, a website she created in 2009, offered bloggers an original daily letter illustration to make their blogs more beautiful.

She drew her way around the alphabet 12 times for the daily project that effectively transformed into a massive online gallery. Her “Should I Work for Free?” flowchart, an analysis of a question every creative person faces in their career, is online and also available in a letterpress print. Don’t Fear the Internet, a site she created with her web designer husband, Russ Maschmeyer, was meant to demystify HTML for beginner web designers. “I love making things and love creating, but I’m not immune to burnout,” she says. “The work that I do to help others is just the best motivator in the world.”

In her new book, Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave, that encouragement is extended to a much younger audience. It’s an uplifting bedtime story offering children the confidence to try new things. While her first book, In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector, literally walked readers through her own creative process, this one is a different kind of support guide. It recognizes that the definitions of success can be different for everyone.

But, Hische might agree, positivity and procrastiworking are good places to start.

Congratulations on Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. This children’s book offers encouragement to keep trying even if you don’t meet your goals right away. Have there been some moments where you have learned from the process of trying and not always succeeding in the way you imagined?

This theme definitely resonates with me. I feel like it ends up being a central theme of a lot of the public speaking that I do, and a lot of the one-off mentoring sessions I end up having with people. I’m a little addicted to getting coffee with strangers and playing design therapist. Part of the reason why it resonates so much for me is that “big picture” dreams felt so far off when I was younger and still kind of do as an adult. I can feel really demotivated by the scale of big projects and big life shifts.

Achieving is great, but the real accomplishment is pushing through the initial fear to actually start doing something.

Because of that, I’ve sort of adapted to be a person who “Tarzans” through life and through their career – moving forward by grabbing the closest vine, one at a time, until you reach something close to an end goal. Your path isn’t really a straight line and your choices can push you in directions you didn’t initially plan for. I’ve met a lot of people like me – people who for one reason or another feel too intimidated to start something they perceive as being bigger than them, or feel way outside of their comfort zone.

Almost everyone has a fear of failure, and that fear can be really paralyzing when it comes to both life and work. Achieving is great, but the real accomplishment is pushing through the initial fear to actually start doing something.

Spreads from Hische’s new book Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. Images courtesy of Jessica Hische.

Is this a lesson your own parents imparted to you as a child, and did it impact your own creative journey?

It definitely came about in my childhood, but probably through my parents trying to comfort me when I was being too hard on myself. I hold myself to a high standard and have a hard time forgiving myself when I mess up. When I was younger, I always felt that once I ruined something, the only way out was a total do-over, not just moving forward and accepting that things can’t always be perfect. I’ve abandoned dozens of sketchbooks because of one bad drawing. I’d given up on courses in school because I got one bad grade and my ability to have straight A’s was ruined.

I put so much pressure on myself that my parents’ main job was to help take the pressure off. I think a lot of kids need this – they need to be pushed to try new things, but too much pressure ruins an activity, dampens your desire to learn and try new things, and can shut you down creatively and otherwise.

Extracurricular projects can be a low-pressure way of exploring new things and even opening new doors. Did Daily Drop Cap impact your career?  

Daily Drop Cap was my first big side project. I think the biggest thing it did for me was to give me a story beyond just being another designer doing client work. It was an exercise in creativity for me, challenging me to make new things every day even when I was busy or not feeling particularly motivated. It was a way for me to give away my work by letting people use them on their blogs. It’s the reason I started getting invited to speak on stage, which I think has opened doors for me and established me as a leader in the community.

Hische lives and works in northern California.

Has there ever been a case where side projects derailed your work? Or didn’t work out the way you intended?

I wouldn’t say that any have derailed my work, but a few of my larger website projects did become a bit of a burden. Inker Linker, for example, is a site that I was really happy to make and am definitely glad that I spent the time putting together, but I never intended to be a webmaster for a printer website forever. I haven’t done anything to make money from it – the only “ads” I’ve run were link exchanges – but I have to pay someone to help me update it and approve comments.

What did you learn from them?

I think anytime you make a project, especially an app or website, you have to consider how much ongoing maintenance is required, and you need to ask yourself if that’s something you’re willing to take on.

What are the most effective ways you’ve found to make a difference?

I think when I get to personally engage with people in a one-on-one way, it ends up feeling the most significant, both for myself and I think for them. I try to write everyone back who emails me, though I can take a long while to respond, and a few times a year I get a very personal and vulnerable email from someone struggling with something in their life.

Everyone knows the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness,” but making enough money is  important in contributing to the ability to be happy.

Sometimes it’s someone trying to re-enter the workforce after having children, sometimes it’s a new designer starting out, sometimes it’s an older person trying to start a new career as a designer. When I read their stories and hear about the things they feel are holding them back, it’s very moving. I try to give as in-depth of a response as I can, giving practical advice, encouragement, and sharing resources.

I’ve had a number of people write me incredibly moving and flattering emails about how something I said or did dug them out of a very specific creative rut, or that some encouragement that I gave them years before ended up being a turning point for them pursuing a new passion.

Is there a specific example that comes to mind?

Six years ago, a man reached out to me about helping him propose to his then girlfriend – she was a huge fan of mine and they were going to be in San Francisco and he wanted to propose to her there. He wanted to commission me to make a piece of art asking her to marry him, and we schemed to have it framed and hanging up in the restaurant they were going to for dinner. I was so tickled to be involved in such a significant part of someone’s life and story that I ended up refusing payment because it filled me with so much joy to do it. He wrote me back recently:

Six years ago, you created the most beautiful artwork to help me propose to my wife. Six years on, Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave is the first book I’ve preordered for our first child (to be born early July). I hope the years in between have been good for you, Jessica. As creatives, we have followed your career with interest. We’ve finally, hopefully (with fingers still crossed) succeeded after three rounds of IVF. But we have your artwork hanging on our bedroom wall every day to remind us of that most special moment.

It’s pretty impossible for me to not get teary-eyed over that. I’ve never met them in person, but just to know that our stories are woven together through these significant moments is so touching, motivating, heartwarming – all the feelings.

Okay, you seem to be pretty effective at changing other lives for the better. But how do you satisfy your own evolving sense of fulfillment?

Happiness, for me, is about living a life close to people I love with as little stress and anxiety as possible. The first part of happiness is just fulfilling your own and your family’s basic needs. Everyone knows the phrase “Money can’t buy happiness,” but I think that making enough money so that you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, and can make basic purchases for your life and family without stress, is  important in contributing to the ability to be happy. That’s one of the main reasons why I always encourage people to be aware of their basic life and financial needs and factoring those in when “doing what you love.”

I’ve found that I’ve had to navigate away from projects with unpredictable schedules and clients who require late-night and weekend work because of their own mismanagement of timelines.

Some people have the privilege of dropping everything to pursue their dreams but most people don’t. Most people have some form of debt: school, mortgage, or both; someone that relies on them for help: a family member, children; and personal needs – health and wellness – that can’t be ignored. Finding fulfillment is possible once all of your basic needs are met, and once you feel like you have a good handle on managing the stresses in your life.

I find it almost impossible to find fulfillment in my work when I’m derailed by something in my life, like the postpartum depression I experienced with each of my children. It’s all about keeping in touch with yourself, what you need in that moment, and adjusting expectations based on the hand of cards you’re currently holding. It is ever evolving, but that’s okay.

Would you mind sharing more about your postpartum depression?

The postpartum hormonal shift after both of my kids had an enormous impact on me. It was long-lasting, and manifested differently at different times. Sometimes it was crippling anxiety and all-day-and-night looping thoughts. Other times it was really classic depression symptoms, like being tired all the time or not being able to derive joy from things that previously made me happy. It made even minor tasks feel gargantuan, and then it would feel like all these little things I couldn’t motivate myself to do were snowballing on top of one another and turning into a big, out-of-control mess.

For both kids, it took about 13 months after having them to start to feel normal again. It gave me incredible empathy toward people who struggle with mental health issues all the time, and made me see just how toxic our work culture can be when you’re not at the peak of health and well-being. We’re thinking about having a third child, and I already told my therapist that I’m 100 percent going on SSRIs [antidepressants] next time because I just didn’t realize how bad it was until I was out of the woods.

How has becoming a parent changed the way you work in general?

Mostly in what kind of projects I commit to. I’ve found that I’ve had to navigate away from projects with unpredictable schedules and clients who require late-night and weekend work because of their own mismanagement of timelines. I feel excluded from working on last-minute campaigns, which can be very lucrative, because I’m unbending in my boundaries about family time. I have to be more proactive about projects and pursue different kinds of work that can fill the gap left from high-pressure, crazy-timeline agency work.

I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way, though. I know that years from now I won’t have regrets over passing on a client project that could have been cool but would have insane regrets about missing out on key time with my kids when they were little.

Hische photographed in the Bay Area.

Speaking of adjusting the way that you work: You’ve talked about how craft doesn’t scale. Growing your business often means spending less hands-on time with the creative work and more time on less interesting, though necessary administrative aspects. How did you decide to scale down your business?

Part of coming to that realization was just a fear of stepping into uncharted territory. I am a pretty risk-averse person, and making the jump to growing a studio versus managing my own career feels significant. It also puts me directly in charge of someone else’s – an employee’s – future. I love mentoring people and advising others, but having that direct and dependent relationship with someone is definitely intimidating.

Art is my meditation.

Ultimately, though, what I found was that I need to be creating: that the act of making work and spending an inordinate amount of time slowly crafting something is very therapeutic for me. And it helps me manage a lot of the stress and anxiety that I can tend to feel. Art is my meditation.

When you imagine your professional future, what do you see?

I think the not-so-far-away future will mean more writing, kids’ books and otherwise; more making physical products, motivated by having my own retail store; pushing myself to experiment more in different mediums: jewelry, apparel – who knows? Mostly, I want to see where the wind takes me. It feels like it’s been picking up speed lately, and, if I can just convince myself to put my sails up, even if it takes me to uncharted territory, everything will work out.

feibisi / 2018年11月7日

Mike Perry: Good Vibes

Mike Perry is generally humble but there’s one thing he knows for sure: He’s the best damned tour guide you’ll ever meet.

“I can give a tour like nobody’s business,” he says with a laugh while showing off various objects in his 2,300-square-foot art studio in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. It’s a skill he picked up right after college, when his stint as an RA meant he could stay in student housing for the summer. During that time, he worked as a campus tour guide.

Perry couldn’t have known then how that experience, like so many others, would shape him. But it has. They all have.

Tall, barefoot, bearded, and bespectacled, Perry, 37, looks the part of a Brooklyn artist. Originally from Kansas City, he came to Brooklyn more than a decade ago. In the 10 years since moving into this studio, he’s built a small team of designers and creatives to join him on the journey. Together they produce a spectrum of work that matches the breadth of their color palette: everything from print ads to animations and large-scale physical structures. Their most famous work is on the popular Comedy Central show Broad City.

Perry working on a piece in his studio. Photographed by Eric Ryan Anderson.

While the subject matter changes from one piece to the next, the joyous, unabashed use of color is consistent. It’s most apparent in Perry’s paintings, which line nearly every inch of the huge but homey studio space. No matter what the image – nude women, flowers, a spray of wiggly shapes – the tones are rich and lively.

That liveliness is essential to Perry’s creative mission. “To be in the privileged situation of being able to make imagery, I should fill the world with positive things,” he says.

Here, Perry reflects on his life, his art, and the tonic-like effect of neon pink.

Perry photographed in his studio.

Your office is filled with so many cool things. If you had to flee in five seconds, what would you take with you?

My sketchbook.

How come?

It’s my whole memory, my journal. It’s everything I’ve gone through and all of the opportunities to reflect on the past. The sketchbook is so important to me. Like, you put something down on paper and it sits there and you don’t necessarily know what it means or why it’s there. And years later you come across it and you realize it now makes sense, and it changes all your work. And you say to yourself, “Hallelujah! I’m glad I wrote that down, because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have had this epiphany.”

You’ve been drawing since forever, but you say painting is your first love. What sparked that love of painting?

My grandfather was a painter. I didn’t really have a close relationship with him, but he would show up randomly in my life. He was very overpowering – one of those “No one has anything to say except for me” kind of guys. For some reason, he gave me a tackle box of oil paints for my birthday. He probably just pulled it off his truck and was like, “Here’s some paint.” But I got it, and it f***ing changed my life, genuinely. I basically fell in love with painting. Painting was this thing that is so different than drawing; it still is. It has completely different challenges; I mean, you can’t do certain things with paint that you can do with pen, and so on and so forth.

So I basically painted all the time. When I graduated high school I had over 300 paintings. I was, like, painting something, then painting on top of it because I’d get an idea and not have another canvas. I’d go to construction sites and steal wood and take it home and paint on that. I mean – obsessed.

So you’re running around painting everything you can touch. What did your family think?

[Laughs.] My mom was really supportive. She was just really happy that I wasn’t, like, going out and doing bad teenage things. I was inspired, and I think she saw that. She’s amazing.

Was your color palette always this bright?

I remember using a lot of fluorescent colors. I loved fluorescent pink when I was a kid. I would wear fluorescent shirts, had a fluorescent-pink baseball cap. I think I’ve always just been attracted to color. When I started painting I was really into Impressionism. I actually think it had to do with my glasses; I definitely had a weird relationship with my glasses. I didn’t want to wear them – I was a teenager – so everything was kind of blurred. With Impressionism it was amazing, because I didn’t have to get lost in the details. I realized it could be about the color relationship. That’s what I took away from it – it’s about all the colors coming together to make something. That’s what I’m excited about.

Perry photographed in Brooklyn.

At the risk of sounding like a second grader: What’s your favorite color?

That’s a tough one. [Long pause.] I’m really into blue right now; I’m trying to figure it out. It’s such a crazy color. It’s everywhere and it’s so rich and complex and there are so many different variations. I like what it represents; I like how it can be positive and contemplative and dark at the same time. Pink is probably my favorite color; I think fluorescent pink provides some sort of mental satisfaction to me. I don’t know – it just makes me feel good. It’s like a drug that I get to create with.

Probably because of the blue/pink thing, I’m trying to also figure out purple. I find purple to be one of the most challenging, badass colors. It’s probably the least represented color in my everyday experience. So when I see it, it really stands out. I like it, and it’s fun that I get to figure out how it works.

Going back to the Impressionist thing – it’s like all of these colors exist and they all become everything. So having some sort of priority for one thing or another seems impossible to me because they all do all of the work, all of the time. I mean, it’s such a rich reality of color. [Points to a low cabinet nearby.] This is not beige. It’s blue, pink, tons of yellow, some red. Our brain merges them into this kind of flatness. I love that I get to geek out on all of this complexity.

I did see a news headline recently that blue is the world’s favorite color.

Yeah – it’s interesting. I was in Greece recently, on this island called Paros. When you’re there, you can put yourself in a place where all you see is blue. I think my upbringing in the Midwest is dedicated to a split line where you have blue on top, and then either green or brown on the bottom. Well, not brown actually – a golden-yellow color that’s like the f***ing sun. There’s this hard line there of complementary colors. But as I’ve gotten older and traveled more, I’ve seen these places where you can just see two blues talking to each other. These blues are just reflections of each other that create this glorious forever landscape. It’s just so present that it makes sense blue would be number one. 

Perry out walking his dog in Brooklyn.

As an artist, you’re kind of a combination of Keith Haring, Matisse, and Lisa Frank…

Cool.

…in an awesome way.

Sure. Yep.

Do you foresee a time when your style will be totally different from what it is now?

Who knows? That’s the fun part. Every day is a discovery of process.   

So you’ve had this studio for over a decade. How did it all happen?

I went to Minneapolis College of Art and Design to study painting and was really excited about it but didn’t feel inspired by the program. Graphic design was forced on everybody, and it became really relevant to me because it allowed me to use my ideas to make things, not to make things of my ideas. It was presented as this boundless opportunity to solve problems and come up with fun, creative solutions. That really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what art can be. It left me super inspired and hungry to make things in the world.

I switched from painting to interactive media (interactive media was not my speed; I don’t have the most “math-friendly” brain) to graphic design. After I graduated, I applied for jobs in Minneapolis. It didn’t go all that great. I ended up applying for a job at Urban Outfitters’ corporate office in Philadelphia as a designer. I got that job, moved to Philadelphia, and worked as a designer there for three years. During that time I met my wife, Anna Wolf, who is a photographer – we worked on a job together, hit it off, and fell in love. It soon became either she moves to Philly or I move to New York. It was a simple answer; I moved to New York. That was a long time ago: about 2004.

I moved to New York and I wanted to start my own studio but I genuinely didn’t want to do it for a long time. I thought, “I’ll work for another 10 years, and I’ll have some sort of understanding of how everything works, and then I’ll start.” But I had some relationships from Urban that I had nurtured over the years and started getting freelance work. And my wife had this freelance existence, and she was really helpful in educating me about how that lifestyle works. I mean, the lifestyle is so different from the 9-to-5 job; there’s so much freedom but there’s so much responsibility. You know, I joke about this Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Like, sure I can do whatever I want all day. But if I do that every day, the whole thing falls apart. There’s this education that needs to be learned in order to make this lifestyle work. I was so lucky to have a guide.

You mentioned you weren’t a math person. Was it daunting to start a business?

Yes, definitely. One of the things I’m trying to get better at is recognizing the things I’m not good at. I think that’s very liberating. Obviously I have to have a basic understanding of how everything works because it ultimately falls on my shoulders. I have a bookkeeper who I’ve worked with for a long time, and that’s very helpful, and my accountant has been with me since day one. It’s about knowing what’s going on and being economical; the studio survived the recession, which is fascinating as a concept. Now, our political situation is so volatile and it’s stressful, and I’m like, Okay, we did it once; we can do it again. It becomes this constant journey of trial and error and figuring things out. We don’t have any other option. This is what we’re doing.

Art schools tell us to be really good at one thing. I think that’s helpful, and what I do is conceptually one thing. But within that umbrella, I think it’s really important to diversify and be prepared. The income stream is mostly client work. That’s how most of this is run. To subsidize it, I sell paintings, we have these exhibitions, I make books – things that have longer streams of cash flow. Those things really subsidize the day-to-day.

What’s your advice to young creatives trying to do the same thing?

Keep your overhead low. This desire to grow is something we need to have a conversation about. I feel it in my own self all the time. Why is it that we need to grow all the time? I don’t know. Personally, we all need to grow as humans, and I believe in that truly. But does every business need to be hundreds of people, or is there a rationale for staying small and agile and needing to – I don’t know – be barefoot? [Laughs.] The journey is what I care about.

Left: Perry in his Brooklyn studio. Right: Illusional Space, 2018. 9 color silkscreen print. Image courtesy of Mike Perry.

Walk me through a typical day.

I’m a morning person. I try to get up around 5 a.m. I make an espresso for myself and I make my wife a cappuccino; she sleeps for about another hour, so I put the cappuccino on the furnace and then start my day. I come into the studio. It’s usually dark out and quiet. I listen to a lot of podcasts, classical music. Radio is easy because there are no decisions involved.

If I get in at 5:30 a.m. I get a few hours to myself to figure out what’s going on, what I have to do today, and how long it’s going to take. I’m a task-oriented person; I like to cross things off my list.

Normally at 10 a.m. the world starts – people are here, the phone’s ringing, the emails start coming in – so I go into that phase of the day where it’s about correspondence, maintenance, and basically just running the studio.

We watch The Simpsons every day at lunch. We’ve been doing that for like two years. Most of the time we make food; I’ll make a big lasagna and bring it in to share. I’m a really big fan of not ordering out. I hate the waste; it makes me insane. Especially when there’s been a bunch of people here and we order lunch and there are like 50 to-go containers.

The second half of the day is usually something more conversational – meetings, conference calls. And then I try to get out of here at a decent hour. Especially if the goal is to make dinner, I have to be out of here by 6.

You’ve done a lot of awesome work but many people know you best for your animations on the TV show Broad City. How did the opportunity come about?

Broad City came about because I met Abbi [Jacobson] at Art Basel. We hung out and that was it. Six months to a year later, someone from Comedy Central reached out. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I turned down the project initially.

You turned down Broad City?

Yeah. I was really busy, and it was one of those busynesses where I felt if I had anything else I would basically lose my mind. They ended up reaching out [again] about a month later, and I was luckily free and ready to do it. It’s one of those pitches that I didn’t really understand would change my future. I had so many ideas and was really fortunate to have a creative director at Comedy Central who was comfortable with the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. That was my first real animation project; I had done some personal GIFs, whatever that means. [Laughs.] But here I had this creative director saying, “We’re here to help you.” They really were genuinely there to help me.

I’m very fortunate to be part of the Comedy Central family. It’s been five years. I feel like that’s really exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

As humans, we’re all pretty concerned about legacy. I feel like we can get deep here: What do you want to have someone say about you?

I don’t know. “He was a good person, tried really hard.” Honestly, I did a talk at FIT a while ago and this woman came up to me afterward. She had watched the Broad City “Mushrooms” episode and said it gave her a flashback to this time 30 years ago when she and her best friend did mushrooms together. She had completely forgotten about the entire thing. And she watched the episode and was flooded with all of the memories of that experience and it led her to reconnect with her friend. And I was just like, “Success!”

feibisi / 2018年11月2日

Weighing the Risk: What’s the Cost of Not Making a Life-Changing Career Choice?

Welcome to our new column that explores the one element that almost every career decision is affected by—Risk with a capital “R.” Should we take the high-ranking job at that work-in-progress start-up, or stay in the predictable position at the stable corporation? Should we pitch that unconventional idea with loads of potential, or should we present something safe that we know will please our boss? Should we ask for a raise when we think we deserve it, but our company isn’t exactly profitable?

Since every choice we make carries a risk, Good F***ing Design Advice co-founder Brian Buirge is going to examine both sides of the equation behind the decisions that creative entrepreneurs have to make. And joining him in this column is GFDA co-founder Jason Bacher who will be designing the visuals that accompany each piece. (Fittingly, the duo lead a workshop in The Art of Risk-Taking.)

In this first installment, Brian reflects on the decision he made when two career opportunities unexpectedly opened up at the same time—a fantastic job offer normally reserved for someone with more work experience than he had, and acceptance into grad school at Kent State. After years of being a self-described “freewheeling-freelancer” Brian decides there is only one way forward.

* * *

For nearly eight years, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the GFDA story with audiences around the globe. Save for a few bleary-eyed conversations at the bar, I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to discuss the experiences that landed me in the position to meet and befriend my co-founder Jason Bacher. So, it seemed opportune and appropriate to share a bit of my post-undergrad/pre-GFDA lessons in risk-taking to kick off this new column.

The first two years after I completed undergrad were a chaotic array of service jobs, false starts, bad freelance opportunities, and harsh lessons about business and life. During most of the first year I slept in hotel rooms, on floors (carpeted and uncarpeted), in chairs, on couches, next to friends, on tables, in attics and basements, and on the occasional mattress for good measure. Both my back and my personal relationships suffered as I struggled to pull together something that, if you squinted, looked like a career.

After a few months, I was finally able to afford my own apartment and traded in the compound job-title of freeloading-freelancer for the much more streamlined and attractive version of, freelancer.

Along the way I managed the ethically-flexible position of temporary long-term, designing in-house at an ad agency in Cleveland. After a few months, I was finally able to afford my own apartment and traded in the compound job title of freeloading-freelancer for the much more streamlined and attractive, freelancer. I held that coveted position for two whole weeks before getting promoted to unemployed.

The economy of 2009 wasn’t a particularly stable one, and, as the budgets shrank and clients dried up, so did the work they had to offer me. Betrayed by fate, I manically skulked in my misfortune as I fervently searched for any kind of work in the field. I was burnt out, and things weren’t about to get any easier.

As though that weren’t enough, my dad suffered a debilitating stroke about a week after I lost my job. My brooding turned into a constant state of fear and anxiety. My dad precariously recovered in the hospital over a period of weeks peppered with brief moments of relief that he survived in the first place—and was improving against the odds.

Through a bit of good fortune, I managed to land a part-time job teaching the intricacies of Adobe software at my recent alma mater Kent State. It was the ideal position I never knew I wanted. It paid my bills and, being part-time, it gave me the flexibility to travel back home to Pittsburgh during the week to support my family while my dad recovered.

After the pandemonium of the previous year, I needed the stability of a normal job with regular hours and reliable pay. Health insurance and a bed frame to go with my mattress were also priorities.

Teaching was a new experience. Working with students helped to brighten my disposition, and even though life was stressful at the time, I knew where I was going to sleep every night.

I continued teaching into the spring semester, and, as my dad continued to regain his health, I spent less time at home and more time squatting in the graduate studio between teaching classes. While there, I interacted regularly with the design department’s handful of grad students, in particular a sharp-witted and sharply-dressed Jason Bacher. We hit it off as we had both done our undergraduate at Kent State. We shared an unhealthy passion for good design, and we spent most of that semester finding ways to collaborate.

With things settling down in my life, and the economy picking up, I began to apply for jobs again. After the pandemonium of the previous year, I needed the stability of a normal job with regular hours and reliable pay. Health insurance and a bed frame to go with my mattress were also priorities.

It was the kind of job that I thought I’d need a decade of experience before even having a shot at.

In addition, and after some encouragement from the senior faculty, I applied to graduate school at Kent. While I enjoyed teaching, in my head, it was a back-up plan if I continued to fail at becoming gainfully employed.

Much to my surprise, I received both a fantastic job offer and an acceptance letter to graduate school a few days apart. Up until this point, my future seemed like it was going to be a miserable series of leaps from one place of desperation to the next.

My preference was weighted heavily in favor of taking the job and beginning my career. It was the kind of job that I thought I’d need a decade of experience before even having a shot at. On the other hand, I had graduate school. In retrospect, it was a great offer, but I was naive and didn’t look at it that way at the time. I couldn’t clearly see the benefits of going to graduate school. It looked like a mountain of work and zero security. A big part of me felt like I’d be staying in place, back in school again and not starting my life.

Something gnawed at me, though, as I contended with my hunger for security. I weighed my options and distinctly remember standing at the doorway surveying the grad studio listening to a voice in my head telling me, “If you don’t stay here you’re going to miss out on something important, and that guy you’ve been collaborating with over there has something to do with it.”

We tend towards viewing risks as the actions we could conceivably take, and we forget about the risks inherent in the actions we don’t take.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but I gave up that job and stayed in Kent. Becoming a student again would forever change the direction of my life. Six months later over early morning coffee, Jason and I laughed about an idea for a website called Good F***ing Design Advice.

The rest of that history is still being written (literally, we’ve got a book coming out next year!), but looking back on that time and those choices makes me think about how we often (incorrectly) weigh the costs and benefits of taking risks.

In my experience as an entrepreneur, designer, and workshop facilitator, it appears to me that we often gauge our capacity for risk-taking without taking both sides of the equation into consideration. We tend towards viewing risks as the actions we could conceivably take, and we forget about the risks inherent in the actions we don’t take.

There are an inexhaustible list of concerns associated with doing something like striking out on your own, or maybe smaller but nonetheless consequential things like taking risks on your next project or asking for a raise. Just starting to think about them might be enough to stop you dead in your tracks and go vacuum the rug. You need to balance the equation and consider the risks (and perhaps benefits) of not doing the thing.

In the coming series, we’ll take an honest, balanced look at risk as it applies to being a creative and an entrepreneur. Hopefully, after a few real-world examples have been laid out for you, you’ll be better equipped to contend with your own set of risks, personally, and professionally.