what advertising taught me about being an artist


Before I became a full-time artist, I spent most of my 20s working in Advertising as an Art Director. This seriously was the coolest (and toughest) job ever. I loved it. I loved the high-energy, the intensity, high-pressure pitches and late nights. I gave it my all and thrived on every bit of it. One of the best things was having the chance to work with some pretty incredible, talented people. I introduced you to two of them in last week's post and could write many more about the loads of amazing-ness coming from my former life at Chicago agency Ogilvy & Mather.


I just learned the other day that my former boss, Joe Sciarrotta, was promoted from CCO of the Chicago office, to co-CCO of the entire US agency. (You can read about it here on Adweek.com) An incredible accomplishment, but not one bit surprising. Joe is by far the biggest Creative Giant to ever cross my path. I owe an incredible amount of gratitude to the wisdom he passed on to me and the much-needed encouragement he gave to keep me pushing forward to be the best creative I could. Joe also took a chance on me when I made the leap to the creative life, and for that I will be forever grateful.

So much of what I learned working for Joe and in Advertising, is wisdom I cherish and try to apply to my creative practice as an artist. These rules apply whether you are a fine artist, a writer, a chef, or simply someone who wants to lead a more creative life. So here's what Creative Giant Joe Sciarrotta taught me about creative:


Joe had this uncanny ability to look at what appeared to be a wall of amazing ideas and pare it down to the very few (if any) that made worthy cut. He was that master at this. At first, we'd all stand in shock and awe and the ideas that lay scattered on the floor, destined for the trash can, but once we pause, we'd undoubtedly realize he was right. You have to filter out the ok, the pretty good, to land on the great. There's a feeling we get, when you know you've created something great, an excitement, an inner knowing. These are the ones to fight for and keep. If it's not giving you that feeling, toss it in the bin, or put it to the side. But filter out what's not cutting it. Show the world the good stuff. 


Don't settle for ok. Never give up. Keep working. Keep creating. The ones with the best ideas usually aren't any more talented than the rest, they are the ones that keep creating, pumping out more and more work. For every 100 ideas, one may be great. It ups the odds that you'll be the one creating the good stuff and you learn along the way what doesn't work so you can find the way that can.  Thomas Edison famously said about his 1,000 failed attempts before creating the light bulb, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” 



Everything that is every created exists first in the imagination. The only limits to what we can do or accomplish are in our heads. Be bold, crazy enough to think of larger than life ideas. Don't look at what's already been done or what others are doing, think bigger. If you can imagine it, you can create it. 


The culture that Joe created made it clear that it was all about the idea. It didn't matter where you came from, what college you went to, what the last great campaign was that you worked on, what your title was..it was all about the idea. Period. Ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. He created this method of lining the office with these huge 8 ft black boards and everyone was encouraged to pin up their ideas, no names on them, just the ideas. This is how work was filtered, ideas where selected...the best idea wins. 


One of the coolest things about his method of posting work/ideas, is the magic that would flow out of a group of creatives working together, building upon each thought. There's a power to this because we all would feed off of each other...one idea would spark another, someone would add the missing element and suddenly it would all come together. It would be amazing to watch this process unfold even more when we'd collaborate with a photographer or director outside the agency and they'd bring a viewpoint and talent that would bring the idea to a whole new level. (word of caution, the filtering rule applies here, aim to work with the best, those that you just know are going to make the idea more powerful through collaboration...an ill-fitting collaboration can be the surest way to squash the greatness out of an idea, so be open but fight for greatness!)



Feed your head with stuff that inspires you...collect books, great art books, photography, travel books...they are full of creative inspiration. Try something new. Do something different on the weekend. In a rut? Get up and go for a walk in the city, let the world around you trigger something new. Some of the best creative ideas often come from connecting two seemingly unrelated things, so you never know when the next great idea will strike but you can get a leg up by constantly feeding your mind with all kinds of inspiration to get it going. 


We are familiar with the traditional methods of advertising, but let's be honest, most of us can't afford the big advertising budgets of big brands and corporations. We have to get creative, a bit scrappy, more grass roots. Actually, some of the most effective marketing for these big brands, has been the non-traditional, grass roots stuff. One of my favorites that came from my agency, was a youtube video for Dove that went viral:


There's so much opportunity to get creative and really connect with our audience in a fresh, real way. Joe constantly pushed us to not just think about a print ad or TV commercial, but to think 360, and come up with simply ways to get your voice out there. And to do it in a way that doesn't feel too forced or corporate, but real, like you're speaking to a friend. 


Being an artist, you are essentially creating a brand. Your personality, your style, the kind of energy you and your work gives off. Like branding, it is so important to make sure you are giving off the right kind of feel consistently across every bit little piece of you that touches your audience. The more you can define what your ethos is and use this voice though out all of your communications, the easier it is for your audience to connect with you and want to keep coming back. Your website, social media, business cards, the emails your send, the voice of your customer service, everything should follow the "brand" of you as an artist. 


So that's it. I hope this inspires you to unleash your inner creative rockstar just a bit more. Be bold. Be fearless. Go out there and make those ideas a reality.