Awesome or Awful

Check out Awesome or Awful: A Self-Critique Tool for Young Creatives. Wish I’d had this around when I was first in portfolio school.

One of the authors is Erin Eby, a super-talented art director who helps run an agency in Geneva, Switzerland. I had the pleasure of working with her when I lived there, and we collaborated on a number of projects. I kind of wish this would have been one of them.

Amateur Creativity

This is a presentation I gave to the Chicago Portfolio School last month. 

I shortened the 45-minute presentation to about 12 minutes, so I had to cut out some of the showcase pieces.

I also had to rerecord my voice. I swear I sound much better live.

Please send any feedback on how I could improve this presentation to the comments section below.

The Maker Generation

Last week, I was able to catch up with my friend, mentor and first boss Kevin Lynch. Over lunch he said a few things worth sharing here. Paraphrasing, of course. My hands were too busy with my pulled pork sandwich to take notes.

According to Kevin, you portfolio students and recent grads are the Maker Generation. When Kevin or I were looking for our first jobs, if we wanted to pull something real together, we would have had to find a typesetter, a photographer, maybe a sound engineer. Nothing got produced that didn’t involve a team.

But today, people are producing work all the time with nothing more than a great idea and maybe a little tech shrewdness. I go to portfolio school reviews each year and more and more, there are students developing their own apps, fonts, websites, radio programs. It’s not just theory.

Kevin said this democratization of maker-iness means there’s no reason any portfolio school grad should go into a job interview where the person interviewing hasn’t already heard of them.

That’s a pretty high bar. Thing is, there are plenty of examples out there where portfolio school students (your competition) are already clearing it.

The Creative Ham

Here’s something I wish I’d had when I was graduating from portfolio school. It’s a site called The Creative Ham, which is a working list of ad agencies by city. Everyone knows Goodby’s in San Francisco and Wieden’s in Portland. But if you really, really want to work in Denver or Philadelphia or Houston, their Forever Incomplete List of Agencies will give you a good start. There are great shops everywhere.

The Creative Ham was designed by Alex, a portfolio student about to graduate from The Book Shop. High-fives to Alex.

The Importance of Hobbies

This guest post was written by Erin Eby, art director and co-founder of Cocktail, a boutique in Geneva, Switzerland.

When I found myself between jobs, I decided to nurture the “art” side of my “art director.” It was nice to be able to experiment, explore, and be inspired with no boss or client to answer to.
After I accumulated what I thought were some interesting pieces, I realized that I needed a way to share the work, so I started a little store, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results.

What started as a therapeutic hobby ended up being valuable in more ways than personal satisfaction. I can’t believe how many new techniques I learned working on my Etsy pieces that I now apply to client work. I connected with other artists and found myself more in tune with the design community *outside* of advertising. And (as a bonus) it turned out to be lucrative when some prints ended up selling.
The fact is that when people stop doing what they *have* to do and start doing what they *want* to do, great stuff happens. Hobbies are fantastic vehicles for growth, especially when they are focused, deliberate, and involve something that you love. If you’re reading this, advertising is probably your number one passion (or is at least pretty high up there), but what else inspires you and sparks creativity in your ads?
For the guys at Red Tettemer it was making gin. For Chicago-based designer John Christenson, it is self-made cheese and bread, ultra-marathons, and these amazing name puzzles, which are currently on my wish list.
Side projects aren’t just limited to designers and art fans. My husband, Jack, is a biomedical engineer and general science enthusiast. When he’s not in the lab, he’s scouring for cool challenges to submit his ideas to. He feels that his proposal-writing skills have vastly improved thanks to his submissions.
It doesn’t really matter what it is so long as in the end, you would be proud to discuss your experience and feel like you got something out of it.

The best side-projects in terms of being beneficial to your ad career loosely adhere to the below “rules”:
  1. It is *shareable*. You have some kind of documentation that this side-project actually existed. Even better if that documentation tells a story.
  2. It is somehow *relevant* to your chosen path in the ad industry. Or it’s just mind-blowingly cool and creative.
  3. Potential for *growth*. Nothing is better than a success story of a passion turned into a phenomenon, so the more scalable your project the better. Try to think about “what’s next” for your project so that it can grow along with you and your career.

Happy hobbying!

The Bronx & Their Mariachi Side Project

Today’s guest post is from Energy BBDO brilliant-guy, Peter Carnevale.

As a buddy of Greg and Jim’s, I periodically pass along stuff to them I think might be relevant to Makin’ Ads. Well, this is something I shared and they encouraged me to write a post. So here goes.

This documentary, while not particularly well-made, shows a bit of what Greg and Jim seem to cover a fair amount on Makin’ Ads: Doing something completely different creatively might make you better.

It’s about a band, or more accurately, two bands. (Note: They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but the bigger point remains.) The Bronx is a hardcore-ish punk-ish rock band. Mariachi el Bronx has the same members, plus a couple more, but they operate as two different bands. And yes, they perform in mariachi garb. The two bands are remarkably different, and the members discuss in this documentary how shifting gears completely has helped revitalize the creative process. Sound familiar?

I personally need to do more of this. I’d wager it would improve my work, and if nothing else, I’d probably enjoy the process.

Backstory of how Mariachi el Bronx came about: As I understand it, someone asked for an acoustic version of one of their songs for a compilation. They decided that they didn’t like acoustic versions of hard rock songs, so they did a mariachi version instead and it snowballed from there. Pretty cool.

First Stop

Art directors, designers, creative directors, copywriters, print buyers–pretty much anyone in the creative department is inundated on a daily basis by paper promo mailers from photographers, illustrators and their reps. In the age of digital, it’s a pretty antiquated way to reach people. Furthermore, all those trees could probably be put to much better use. CO2 reduction, for one. It’s not that we don’t love the samples we get–some of them are from the most talented artists in the business. It’s just that we don’t physically have place to store it all in our offices.

With that in mind, I’ve been helping a group of guys on a project that aims to chip away at this colossal waste of paper and money. We’ve created a site called that we hope will 1) be a good tool for creatives to search for photographers and illustrators–a kind of central directory, and 2) at least make photographers and their reps think twice about sending out paper mailers.

If you have time, please check it out. Send us feedback on the site and its functionality. What would be helpful to you? Feel free to sign up and submit work if you’re an artist. It’s completely free. And please spread the word. Thanks.