How Clarifying My Artist Statement Hatched a Creative Breakthrough

Most artists i know hate writing artist statements. For many of us, writing isn’t really our forte to begin with and visual art often is difficult to explain with written language. It doesn’t seem to be a requirement for other art forms: I’m pretty sure neither Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Miles Davis nor Stanley Kubrick had one.

But for dance, music and movies, there’s a built-in human connection that arises naturally from the people performing. When we hear a particular sound, we respond on a subconscious level to the inflections, the uniqueness of the performance. When I hear Jimi Hendrix’s bold rendition of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock I get a little choked up.

Visual art is rarely performed. It’s something we ship out to the world for viewers to experience on their own. Sometimes they just stand on their own, but history has proven out over the centuries and people often don’t “get it.” The Impressionists were shunned as having “unfinished” paintings. The Fauves were “beasts.”

How can we invite a connection for people in a way that’s meaningful for them?

That’s the reason for the artist statement.  It might be intended to be cryptic – just beyond language. Dreamlike. Or completely abstract with no intended “object”. That’s ok, it helps if the audience understands that. Otherwise people will stare at it like clouds and try to make sense of it, deciding it’s a poodle or an alligator. The brain naturally tries to make sense of things and when sense is made, a light bulb comes on.

I needed to rewrite my artist statement recently for a submission I did and it forced me to better clarify what the hell it is I’m doing. It was hard, mostly because I wasn’t sure myself. I sat down for several sessions and wrote with absolute honesty about the place it comes from. I wrote about the process and after I did that, I realized my new process is a natural “way” of painting that was born from the ashes of my life to that point. A light bulb came on for me too and I’m feeling a little less “stuck” lately. I used to call this part of my life the “growing pains” of becoming my new true self. My paintings will just have to experience those pains along with me.

Up From the Ashes

I got to catch up with an artist friend of mine the other day. She had suffered an absolutely terrible year, with a divorce and the death of her mom. It was as if life for her had built to an enormous crescendo of pain. Then by spring it ended, like a wave of grief that washed over her, she told me. It swept past and she felt like a phoenix rising up from the ashes…as if newly born from it. Life had been so serious, but now she saw the world from a fresh perspective. She was giddy with the thought of new possibilities – and nervous all at once.

 

It reminded me of my own divorce and illness six years ago. I left my home and my marriage. When health returned months later, I felt so incredibly alive I wanted to experience everything I could. I climbed mountains, skied, camped and biked. I journeyed to new places. My life became filled with new friends, love and laughter.

 

I wanted my paintings to experience the same infusion of energy. Since it took the destruction of myself, in a way, to create this new and exciting life, I’ve used a similar “destructive” process to breathe life into my paintings. The process of destruction at each painting session takes courage, as there are always things I like about the state of the unfinished painting. But even making a mark on a painting destroys it – changes it – builds on it. I like to leave something of the previous sessions in the painting, like a memory or a scar – a reminder of the journey that becomes more interesting and more beautiful than before. The painting is finished when it has “experience” and I find a new vista of awe. My work now has new life and a new uncharted destination. The journey continues.

Happiness Journal

I had dinner with a good friend of mine after a mountain bike ride the other night. He was telling me about a woman he had dated once who kept a journal of everything bad that ever happened to her. He said it helped contribute to the angry person she had become. So he endeavored to do the opposite and write down all the good things that happened…especially the little things that could easily be forgotten, like dinner with good friends after a mountain bike ride. At the end of the year, he looks back at the pages, then he tears them out and throws them away. Why? He says he likes to think fondly of the past but not live in it. He prefers to live in the present. I decided to start my own Happiness Journal today and it started with dinner with a good friend over beer and laughs after a lovely mountain bike ride. But I plan to keep the pages. For me, the challenges in life are easy enough to remember. It’s the happy moments that I want to remember.

What Makes a Good Client

As a graphic designer I’m fortunate to have gotten to do some really great projects for many different clients. Over the 15 years that Connexion Creative has been in business, we’ve had opportunities to design brands, print materials, animations, websites, trade show booths, packaging, software GUIs, emails and integrated marketing campaigns. Our team gets to be creative about how we write and give voice to many brands as well.

 

But in the last 9 months, I’ve been redefining our focus. It comes as a result of some core personal shifts, namely the desire to reach my lifelong goal of being a fine artist. I’ve cut back on the number of days I work each week to build in time to paint.

 

So I had to make some hard choices about which clients to keep…and which ones to let go. Actually the decision wasn’t that hard. And it had little to do with the types of projects or opportunities to make cool stuff. It was simply this: if I only have 3 days a week to devote to clients, I want to work with people who are good people to work with.

 

Clients are people. Some are impatient, demanding or just rude. As an example, I had a young client “yell” at our designer over a misunderstanding about a first draft concept and why there was a watermark in an image. It was an email, but the tone nearly brought our designer to tears. The client got a personal call back from me about how we strive always to nail the concept and assured her that the watermark would be gone once the image was approve and licensed. But we expect to treat each other with respect. I was calm but direct. The client was apologetic and admitted she was under pressure. Soon afterward the relationship ended. She hasn’t been missed.

 

But then there are the clients who are really great to hear from and I’d want to keep in touch if they weren’t clients. Their willingness to make our relationship a two-way street means they also listen to my opinions and recommendations. They make us feel like a part of their team even though we’re “contracted.” They invite us to attend meetings, offer ideas and submit designs with headlines that are compelling and tailored for their audience. They know that we’ll take the extra time to get to know their company, their industry, their competition and come from an informed place that no one else on the team has time to get a handle on. They know we’ll research new technology solutions or creative ways to solve a problem and tell their story. And it works! These clients often see the reward in increased sales figures or donations. That’s rewarding for us too, since we take pride in our work and in our clients’ successes.

 

It’s true that some of the less-desirable personalities may represent larger companies with bigger budgets. Sometimes standing up for yourself means risking leaving money on the table. But by not standing up for yourself or your team, you risk humiliation and more of the same treatment. People will only treat you the way you expect them to. The best possible outcome for everyone comes about through true partnership and respect.

 

I feel so fortunate to have some really great clients who I’ll stick with as long as they want my help. Some have been clients for many years and call on us even after moving to a different company. And I’ll always be invested in their success. (btw, if you’re wondering if you’re one of our good clients, you probably already are!)

 

Leslie Jorgensen is the owner of Connexion Creative, a boutique group of independent designers, writers, developers and marketing professionals with a proven track record. You can see her new venture into fine art at www.lesliejorgensen.com.

Work/Life Balance: 10 Tips for Designers

There’s work-life balance, and there’s Design.

 

Most graphic designers I know fit into one of two categories: workaholics and, well, actually that may be the only kind I know. Our profession demands it. Working with clients, managing teams and deadlines, chasing down information and making each design thoughtful and unique. We top it off with the ever-important eye for detail. These things take time and brainpower. It’s hard to stay creative every day and we risk serious burnout.

 

The answer sounds simple. Find work-life balance.

 

I found it ironic when one of our AIGA board members recently wanted to do a session on the topic, but everyone she reached out to said no. They were all so overworked that she couldn’t find anyone who actually had achieved that mythical state of nirvana that most of us can only dream about. Thankfully she eventually found a great speaker for the event. I was too busy to go…

 

I consider myself something of an expert on the topic, mainly because I’ve done it wrong for most of my 25 years working as a designer. But I can tell you, based on what I’ve done, what not to do. So here are my tips. Do the opposite.

 

  1. Start each day early, (like bleary-eyed dark timeframe) with a strong cup of coffee and your email inbox. This will ensure that you’ll need readers by the time you hit your 40s.

 

  1. Put “Go to the gym” as an auto repeat in your calendar, then never go. You’ll have good intentions, but by the time your eyes are in focus, your clients will be sending emails asking “how’s that layout coming along?” which is code for “I really think I need this in an hour.” Pour second cup of coffee.

 

  1. Say yes. To everything.

 

  1. When considering adding to your calendar, don’t worry about how many days you fill up. If there’s an empty slot, it’s fair game. Definitely don’t allow extra travel time or the leeway to fit in errands while you’re out.

 

  1. Remember that you are the only person who can possibly do the job right. Don’t enlist help or spread the work around.

 

  1. If you don’t know how to do it, fake it and say yes anyway. Figure it out tonight when things are quiet. That’s what after-dinner hours are for…along with the charity project you took on pro bono. (my current one is for an art center)

 

  1. This one is important: take everything seriously. Like your life depends on it.

 

  1. Do not learn how to manage up. Always let stuff roll downhill and wait at the bottom with a catcher’s mitt.

 

  1. Answer the phone.

 

  1. Eat at your desk and work weekends.

 

jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj Sorry. I dozed off a minute because I’m writing this at bedtime when I should actually be asleep.

 

If you follow these 10 tips, you’ll enjoy rewarding relationships, stay fit and be happy in life while you advance your career. Ok, no seriously, (LOL) I hope you do a better job of this than I have. Those 25 years went by like THAT. One day you might wake up and realize things you missed. Forgive me, but I won’t be in the studio this weekend. I just decided to go skiing.

 

 

Leslie Jorgensen is the VP of Communications for AIGA Colorado. She’s also a fine artist and is the founder and creative director at Connexion Creative, a design and branding firm in Broomfield, Colorado.

 

What’s an Integrated Campaign?

In today’s message-heavy environment, we’re bombarded with ads everywhere. Your message needs to stand apart from your competitors and quickly communicate your key advantages. But it also needs to be repeated in several places your customers are likely to see and/or hear it. An integrated campaign creates opportunities for your audience to get the message in several places…and begin to make the connection back to you.

 

With so many possibilities, where do you put your ad dollars?

Placement opportunities are becoming increasingly…well, creative. I was on a chair lift at a ski resort the other day and saw a Jeep ad right there, next to the trail map that’s printed on the safety bar, along with an ad for a local restaurant. There was a Coke ad on the printed map that I used to find my way to the trail. Ads were even placed inside the bus from the parking lot and in the gondola where we spent what seemed like a very long time to get to the base of the resort.

The key to placement is to know your audience. Jeep knows their audience isn’t just in front of the tv watching their commercials, but they are out on trails enjoying nature and ski runs. To get the most of your ad dollars, it helps tremendously to work with someone inside the industry who knows their way around the details, such as the cheapest time slots for TV ads or when to use radio if your audience is likely stuck in I-70 traffic to get to the ski resort. Your ad team should have personal connections with local radio, tv and news outlets and experience with contracts.

 

There’s Safety (and Payoffs) in Numbers

One ad in one place won’t do the trick. You may as well save your money because that one ad will be quickly forgotten. There’s too much interference with all the other noise out there. If it’s time to advertise, it’s time to jump in. Throw your message where it makes sense and be careful with the spend, but do it in multiple places your audience is likely to see. Social marketing, HTML emails, promotions, web ads and postcards are cost-effective mechanisms you can add to a campaign to amplify your message.

 

Get Creative
FirstBank recently held a a promotion with Copper Mountain ski resort and Never Summer, a local snowboard company. The message was basically “we’re your local bank” and they had a scavenger hunt for little orange cubes around the mountain. They placed clues on a special website about where to find each one on any given day. If you solved the clue, got first tracks to that location and found a cube, you won a Never Summer snowboard…boom, right on the spot! It was clever. I happen to love supporting local businesses, and would have opened an account right there. No, I didn’t win a snowboard, but the message drew a nice connection with a family-owned ski resort and a well-respected local snowboard company.

 

As always, be sure the message you broadcast and your advertising objective is clear. This will make it easier and more effective to form and launch your integrated campaign.

Branding…Where to Start?

When it comes to your brand, knowing where to start can seem overwhelming. Every business needs a logo, a color palette, a look…a Style that communicates who they are and what they’re about.

Where to Start
1. Identify your business objectives, your customers and competition. If you make desks, find out who else makes them in your area. Pull up websites to see how they market their products, how they price them, who they seem to be writing for. If you tend to sell high-end desks to an up-and-coming crowd, establish the approximate age range and trendiness of your customers. This can tell you where to start with a look that will appeal to this audience.

2. Do your homework. By understanding your customers well, you might get a sense of their motivation for making buying decisions. And by researching your competition, you may find a key differentiator that sets you apart.

3. The Selling Point: Once you find a key differentiator that matches your customer pain points, this becomes your key selling point. It’s also a logical starting point for developing your brand message. Hint: It’s not always what you think it is. Your best customers are sometimes the best sounding board to be sure we’re getting it right.

4. Create a visual and written style to communicate uniquely with your audience. Then leverage your new brand to create a marketing campaign that is consistent for all your communications (website, email, printed collateral, social media, trade shows.)

When you combine the visual communication with a written tone that resonates with your audience you begin to gain traction in your market.

My Move to WordPress

studio2I finally did it – although I resisted for a long time. We’ve built many websites over the years, always with a custom design. I have a designers’ pride about creating each piece fresh, even though it means reinventing the wheel every time.

But with the evolution of marketing moving toward social and mobile media, the need for more frequent content updates has become a reality and some of our clients are finding the need for an easier way to stay current and update sites quickly in-house. So we started doing WordPress sites. WordPress is a blogging tool based on PHP and MySQL. It’s an open-source content management system (CMS) that’s become increasingly popular for building websites.

Yet because of the move away from HTML as the programming source, design customization gets tricky. We’ve designed and created custom-designed WordPress sites (see www.pureplayparks.com) but these projects take more time and money than traditional HTML sites. So I finally did the unthinkable…I built my own website on a (gasp) WordPress template.

Here’s why.

1. We Needed to Walk the Walk. If we’re going to provide the option of templated sites for our clients, we need to make ourselves the test case. That means working out formatting kinks, pushing the limits of what the templates can do and developing a more collaborative process.

2. Time. I wanted to see how quickly we could do it. Time is money and there are more urgent deadlines for creating websites now than ever before.

3. Money. Though I initially planned to customize our WordPress site much more, the quality of the templates have improved, with faded animation sliders and other functionality built in. Plus this really was an inexpensive route. If it works for us, imagine the savings we can bring to our clients.

4. Frequent Updates. As we do more social media, we’re realizing the benefits of staying visible and using that network to spread our message. The new CMS will make it easy for all of our team – designers, writers, developers and customers – to get a hand into each project more directly and add updates more quickly and easily.

What I’ve learned: While this may not be the right choice for every website, I’m excited for the additional option we can offer. It certainly has its design limits, but luckily we can do semi-customization thanks to some talented people on the development side of our team who are smarter than me (Jennifer and Idelle). And for a fast, easy, cheap CMS…this isn’t bad.

 

APEX: Continyous Campaign

APEX Analytix, an auditing software and company, needed a new brand to help customers see the benefits of their offerings. Working with John Sawyer of Anvil-Chinook, Connexion Creative set out to focus their message and spice up the brand. Together they came up with a campaign that centered on their reputation for customer service (they reportedly would leave money on the table rather than sell a customer the wrong solution). Sawyer’s brilliant result was a new tagline “Continyous,” a twist on the industry buzz phrase “continuous controls monitoring.” Leslie Jorgensen of Connexion Creative brought the idea to life with images of unending roads and sweeping vistas that embodied their long-term commitment to customer success.