I had the honor of emceeing one of the most spectacular conferences ever, Creative South. This conference simply isn't like others. It's raw, real, loving and filled with friends that feel like family. It's a beacon, glowing and radiating love, encouragement, humility and creativity, headed up with a man who's values reflect that nature: Mike Jones.
First thing you need to know about me: I love people, hard. I gush on people, I rub beards with men, I hug entirely too much. I kiss people on the face. I have zero personal space bubble. I know, I know, I'm beginning to sound like your new best friend. But for serious, I will force my body on you in a friendship grind. When I grow close to people, its like duct tape. Ripping it away hurts real bad, so yeah, coming out of the post summer-camp fog has been a bit rough. It's just something about me — Affection, physical touch and emotional closeness is a part of my DNA and core to how I feel loved. Design, illustration and all that artsy fartsy stuff — those are nice, but people. It's the people.
As co-emcee with one of the funniest, kindest, most neurotic native american men I know, Justin Mezzell, my perspective was a bit different than the average conference goer: amazing conversations speakers and attendees alike, but I still haven't heard any of the talks. Most of the experiences and lessons learned weren't from a quote on a slide, but through the love and light emanating from the people. Deep feels, y'all. I want to share the lessons that are still buzzing and knocking around in my head before they fade. I want to hold on to this loving feeling, whoa-oah-oh.
My ADHD...squirrel!... brain isn't an organized one, nor has it ever, been but bear with me while I whip out this big glob of love and creative goo. Let's talk about People and Witty Bits. tl;dr: I love people, so I want to highlight what I saw in them. It's my damn blog, so I'll do it how I see fit. The Witty Bits are a bit more digestible and or slightly funny.
She's a super spirited, whimsical lettering artist with Passion for days. The kind of passion that just bubbles out and can't be contained. She's gotta ooze it out, all over the place. Not sure if this is an insult, but she reminds me of myself. She geeks hard over her family, her craft, ice-skating, and her inspirations as of late, like Blackletter typography forms and renowned Disney artist, Mary Blair. Her passion is infectious and she brings others along for the ride, willing or not, you're mobbing deep.
As much as she's giddy about her craft, she is about her family. We talked about vulnerable moments of near-loss and fear and how much her family means to her. I love dweebing hard over art, but I love hearing similar stories of vulnerability more. It tells you more about the caliber of person you're connecting with. Also, shes a fan of hunchback of Notre dame, which is some obscure shit. Maybe one day we'll co-art on some Disney stuff.
First, I love this man. He's hilarious, brilliant, encouraging, and weird. My type of people. Brian's got a powerful message that will stick to your ribs: Find your weird and let your weakness become your uniqueness. It seems that at some point in my life, I became a zombie, working for the money and forgetting who I was in all of this. That turning point happened a few years ago, when I embraced the love I had for characters and story a few years ago. Oh thats not all folks, there's plenty more where that came from. But, I'll save it for another post.
It's in finding your weird, that you embrace you. My promise/curse on all of you is that you're gonna see a bit more weird coming out. But in embracing my weird, I encourage you to find yours. To give yourself grace to just be you. The you you've always been, but perhaps repressed. Let's just all be kids again...remember that silly kid in the corner, eating paste, blissfully? Let's eat some paste.
Something drew me to this man, like a tractor beam. Sucked me right in. Keep in mind, I've not heard his talk yet, so most of the connection is happening behind the stage, in small talks. A huge lesson (yeah, this needs to be another post) I learned last year is embracing and sharing vulnerability. That instead of connecting with folks over how rad and put together and handsome you are, a much stronger and deeper connection is through weakness and failure. You see, we all fail and fail hard. But we're all so damn good at the facade. Shining, smiling, little rounded rectangle faces glowing from the screen, proclaiming perfect, happy things.
Nobody wants to see your ugliness, but thats what I love about Lenny. He's ok with showing it, and he's a stronger man for it. People love and connect to Lenny because he wears his failures on his sleeve. He's incredibly encouraging and he makes people feel like they're his best friend when they're around him. What a beautiful man.
Shane is an incredible, earnest, thoughtful man. We had a bit to talk about life, issues and some of the hardship I've faced over the past year. We talked about his hardships too. I'm not quite sure I've ever met a man like Shane because it's just so obvious he cares and his love for humans is apparent and tangible. He also led the Creative by Design "Jesus session" that I was stoked to attend Sunday morning — more thoughts on that in another post.
At several occasions after we talked about my son's surgery (a week prior to the conference and he wasn't recovering well) and Shane repeatedly made an attempt to connect and let me know he was praying for my son. Shane may not have fit the typical conference goer stereotype: rather than wild, sporadic and knocking back a beer, he was calm, intentional, thoughtful and a self proclaimed "tee-totaler". Shane's quite a different cup of tea than the norm, but who wants a norm. I want a world with men like Shane in it.
It takes a long time to travel the globe to find the most adorable, kind couple in the world, but we got a winner. Go figure, these two are insanely talented (I'm guessing earned through ridiculously hard work and persistence) as well. But thats the great thing about Creative South — people just aren't talking about their work. We've all got creativity in the veins, so there's this natural undercurrent running through conversations. I love that it's not about the work, but about life and relationship. But seriously, their work. Radness.
Conversations with these two dikedds, rambled on about Australia, stereotypes, lads, lollies, bogans and dickedds. They're incredible sports to field all of my questions like "what's the most derogatory Australian term you can teach me". I'll limit my gushing here, but it's fair to say that the Colemans are good people. But, let me never fail to mention that Dave's pirouetting was a thing of epic beauty.
My people dance. They dance. They're my people. I didn't have too many opportunities to connect with these two in conversation, but they were a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor. Finley's a bit more refined, and, no offense to Alicja, but yeah you sort of dance like me: Full-freak. But really, its a thing of beauty.
In college, I let loose and danced like a wrecking ball. No, seriously, I remember on several occasions I wiped people out. I claim the whole floor. I use the space. It's been a long time since I let that freak out of the bag and I want to thank these two: also, hat tip to Ismael Burciaga and Jill Bragdon for encouraging this in me too. I think, if I remember correctly, I did some sort of Napoleon Dynamite like bird flapping dance and I'm 62% certain it was nothing short of dancing Gold. Thank you Jeff and Alicja for helping find my way back to me.
Aside from dancing, these two sparked off two thoughts in separate encounters. Jeff is rebirthing and re-finding himself and its encouraging to watch: his journey so far has to have been hard, but I didn't see him focusing on the hardship, but embracing life...and the art of dance...and oh boy is he good. Alicja has a heart for people and wants to reach out to women and be a light. She's bold, intentional and goes after what she wants. She's shockingly direct and I love that about her. Both Jeff and Alicja wear their vulnerability on their sleeve and I heart them, hard.
Mike and Karen Jones
First let me say that Mike is Creative South. It's his heart and spirit that reverberates throughout. From the overabundance of hugging #hugnecks to the motto of the conference "Come as Friends, Leave as Family", I've never quite seen the undercurrent of a single person's life philosophy sweep so many people up in its tempest. Mike's true, real and just himself.
Karen was hovering around the conference for quite some time, until we connected on the last day. First, I know why Mike married her. Girl is awesome. She's incredibly dedicated to what her husband is building in Creative South, to the point where she lived and breathed his mission, until it's become her own. Something I've learned about conferences is that you never stop going all chips in on relationships. Sure, you may have found your posse, but there's another member to add to your mob just around the corner. Karen and I instantly connected on choosing songs for the Creative South dance off.
To say this man is gorgeous is a truth. You know, like one of those universal truths like Bud Light is undrinkable swine urine. Tad is arguably one of the most successful illustrators/designers out there with accolades galore. You should have seen his merch booth. Tad had to hire underage laborers to man his booth due to demand and sheer quality and quantity of his works.
This isn't about how awesome Tad's work is though. It's about his kindness, excitement and embracing of others, regardless their skill level. We all felt valued and loved on by the Tad. Dare I say the Tadpole? I dare not. He broke a kid's nose in the third grade for calling him that. So yeah, I dare not. I guess simply put: Creative South is a place where the ground is level. Students hang out with the accomplished elite. It's not about elitism and Tad embodies that well. Also, he embodies a great body. Man, he must work out.
Once again, a designer far too humble for his own good, Jason bought some of my merch. I draw cute shit and he bought it. That makes me feel so good. But seriously, what a great dude. This guy has skillz for dayz and the personality of a lion. He's also helping me choose my first tattoos. Seriously, dude has a Black Panther tattoo that is amazing. His reasons for getting it are even more amazing: His wife told him whatever tattoo he got, just don't get a black tattoo. He got one.
Holly is one of the volunteer hands for Creative South. You probably don't know her, and she probably doesn't care if you don't. She's an amazing, humble, genuine and encouraging person. She consistently told the speakers and my co-emcee Justin and I "y'all are amazing", "y'all are doing a fantastic job". She laughed at our behind stage jokes and she's got a servants heard of gold.
In a world full of people wanting to be noticed, wanting attention, she wasn't that. She loved others selflessly to help them shine. That is one of the coolest qualities a person can every have — That they elevate those around them. Sure love you, Holly. hashtag hugnecks
Rocky's a wierdo. Sorry, dude, but you are. And I love it. I've bumped into Rocky on several occasions and he's solid. Solid freak. I'm mostly jealous of his smeagol/gollum impressions, 90% due to fact that he destroyed me in a gollum voice competition. I love that he's always pushing to better himself: from great leaps in weight loss and a healthier lifestyle, to his fantastic sketches and illustration work thats consistently improving. Rocky's a keeper and watch out for him as an upcoming force in the illustration world. Dude's gots chops.
Not sure what to say about this guy without crying. He's been a close friend for years. He and I have hashed out some deep, vulnerable issues, attempting growth together. We've shared moments of fear and doubt as we push through life together. He's opened up his life, his family and his home to me. He's also shared some of his better bourbons with me, so yeah, basically, he da bess. He's real, intentional and he calls you out on shit if he sees you can improve.
Justin was asked to emcee this event, and I was the tagalong he invited to get a taste of the glory. Go figure, the dude is amazingly witty, I mean he's scary fast at coming up with hilarious stuff on the fly. He's perfect for emceeing, but hell, he's also just great at talking in front of humans. Conference organizers, do what ever you can to get him in any capacity.
Justin and I hashed out lots of ways to tackle this event, but ultimately our goals were the same: be earnest, honor others. This event was never about us. It's about story and those taking part of the narrative. We wanted both the speakers to feel honored, welcomed as well as the audience to feel like they were special. Hell, we have quite a few ideas that never got implemented to bring more glory to the audience. Justin was the perfect man for the job, well, aside from ditching me for nearly an hour to take a dump at the hotel...who knew it? He's some sort of germaphobe and literally has to take a dump in private. Not to mention, the time spent in the bathroom is of epic, half hour long proportions. Me, 29 seconds. I got the plumbing of a warrior.
In every conference or camp, there's someone your heart knits to and you don't know why. The connection is magnetic and after a few days, you're left with a friend for life. Meg definitely isn't one of those, she's lame. Sike. I kid. She's one of those. I'm not sure if it's that she just fits like one of the fellas, or maybe its her similar, pale skin canadian sun deficiencies, her lack of tact, or the fact that you can literally be yourself and say anything around her and she just gets it. That sounds insulting, I know. She's amazing.
Meg was attached at the hip to Justin and/or I at any given moment. But it wasn't all about the fun, conversations, radonk jokes or general carousing. I have yet to hear her talk, but for a moment, I caught a slide and I'm not sure if I'm butchering the quote, but it hit me:
"Let go of who you think you should be, to make room for who you are."
That lesson has hit me hard for the last year, so maybe its the reason for the connection, but no matter why or how, it's the lesson I'm breathing in life. I'm letting go of what the design world thinks I should be, I'm gutting the perfection, I'm dropping the facade, to be who I am. Thanks, Meg, love you.
- Bourbon is your friend. Beer is to be used sparingly, as a source of hydration. Watch out for hopsecutioner.
- The double birdie is a great way to both start and stop conversations. Especially when paired with a pelvic thrust.
- Always remember there might be kids present. Yet again, remember.
- Hug everyone. All the time. No worries if you have no words.
- Conferences are like Vegas. Bring a ton of money and leave with none.
- Buy people drinks more than they buy you drinks. Make sure that ratio goes untouched. Never dip below. Belittle people that try to buy you drinks and then buy for them instead. Keep Karma levels high.
- Only like 1% of people are good dancers. We're not that lucky. Yes, you're going to look like a moron. Embrace that fact and gyrate.
- There's a rhythm of talking about deep feels, getting vulnerable and tossing out the occasional Fuck Dreamweaver comment. Use wisely.
- Talk to strangers a lot. They become besties if you talk to them more often.
- Theres an invisible line where you stop meeting new people because you think you've found your posse. Push further and talk to more dorks — you might find a dorkier friend in the next 5 minutes. Collect dorks like Pokemon. Lather rinse, repeat.
- It's not about what you make or how good you are. It's about relationships and going all chips in. You'd be amazed at how little people are talking about their jobs.
- Do not try to fit 30 people in one hotel room. Ok, do, but be prepared for the cleanup and loss of booze and gaining of friends. Heck, you never needed the booze anyway. Hat tip to Andy Keil.
- Always add new people to your group.
- Don't ditch people to hang out with "cooler" people. Just love the ones you're with.
- Say hello to as many people as you can. Or a smack on the ass. Just do something to establish connection.
- Look people in the eye, and give them the time of day. If they're wasting their time on talking to you, they're worth wasting your time on talking to them.
- Be approachable. Be friendly.
- Everybody is "cool". No seriously, they all are. Take the time to mine them and find it. They're out there like a school of salmon, waiting to be fished. Cast a line.
If we met and I didn't mention you, I still have more love in my tanks for you. Don't leave! Let's hug. Peace and love, guise.