Written by: Chris Crouch, Creative Director of GrovaBack to menu
Being a professional creative is an exhilarating job filled with amazing opportunities to help solve problems for clients, tell stories, and make things easier to understand or use, all while making the world a little more beautiful. It is truly one of the most fulfilling and purposeful things that has helped shape my life and define the person I am.
It can also be a little scary because when people know you to be a creative person—a designer, illustrator, copywriter, animator, videographer, musician, etc.—some may think it’s a skill you can simply turn on and off. This isn’t always the case. You often need to navigate through creative blocks, imposter syndrome, mental health issues, obstacles outside of your control, or any number of pitfalls that can affect your ability to create.
Your ability to push through these aspects of life in the workforce and adapt is something that will set you apart from others in your field. Finding YOUR way/s of empowering and uplifting yourself is crucial because, as much as I wish it was the case, you can’t rely on others to lift you up and keep you constantly motivated. I would love to normalize recurring gestures of encouragement and praise because positive interactions will generate more positive results. I suppose that’s a talking point for another day.
Because of the fact that everyone is different and responds differently, it may take a creative cocktail of sorts that works best for you. This blog is my way of sharing a key ingredient in my mix that may also work for you. This is also not limited to the creative field as it’s something that is common in almost all works of life though most of my references will be regarding the creative/advertising/marketing fields. Something I have found that works for me is to find a creative paradise that is filled with other like-minded individuals to learn from, share insights with, and establish a network of friends and potential assets for personal or professional endeavors.
A conference called CROP has been my most recent creative paradise and just celebrated its 5th anniversary of helping the creative community thrive late last month in the beautiful Austin, Texas. The CROP team has made an environment that is very welcoming, collaborative, and fun by pulling together many industry leaders to share case studies/work experiences/tips and tricks, lead workshops, and other countless ways to help stoke your creative fire. While it’s technically related to my profession, I like to think of it as an escape—a getaway from the day-to-day. Thinking less about the current and focusing on how I can soak up knowledge will produce better results in the future. Work is all about doing a particular job, but being a working professional means you are always striving to be better while keeping up with the times and maintaining your drive.
As an attendee, you’re able to rub elbows with and pick the brains of these creative icons while perusing through the vendor market and supporting other fellow creatives, sharing drinks at one of the kick-off/after parties, or chowing down at a local eatery. If you’re ever in Austin, two places that really stood out are Arlo’s Curb Side for the vegans—the BBQ burger was insanely good—and Tumble22 for the chicken lovers.
This was my first time visiting the city of Austin which was an experience on its own. During some of the downtime, I was able to explore the city by taking in the atmosphere, doing a little shopping, touring museums, and examining the local art and design—all of which are great ways to stay inspired for my own work. This tradition of mine when visiting a new place happened to be one of the several great talking points from local creative and keynote speaker, Emily Eisenhart. She reminded us to “stay observant” because inspiration can come from anywhere that you’re willing to let it. She also discussed the importance of professionality and working with clients in a malleable way. This ensures the client can get what they desire while retaining creative control. This allows for the artist’s self-expression to shine creating a happy middle ground and supporting the idea that clients and creatives that work together grow and thrive together. One of her talking points that applies to my field and overlaps in nearly any workforce is to “ground your work in story.” Storytelling is a tried-and-true way to establish a connection with the desired audience and enhance the overall experience of something thus generating interaction, sales, and shareability.
Emily shared the stage with six other astounding people/teams which I will briefly touch on and share some impactful tidbits. I obviously can’t cover everything because, not only would this blog become a novel, but I’d also be giving out way too much secret sauce. Rest assured, I will link their socials, so you can go give them some love, find inspiration, and perhaps even attend a conference of your own, whether it’s CROP or one more aligned with your field.
Meg Lewis hit the stage first, and she is a heck of an opener. Her vibe is bold and in-your-face (in a good way) with a bit of jarring hilarity, all grounded in fun and self-expression. Something inspiring that Meg touched on was her journey through self-doubt. Given her energetic confidence, I found this surprising but relieving. If she’s as amazing as she is and struggled with self-doubt, then it’s totally normal for me to experience it from time to time. She touched on how this mindset hindered her to some degree at first but now allows her to teach others that it’s normal and that thinking or doing things differently isn’t a flaw—it’s a personalized experience that you can leverage. A heavy hitter quote of hers was, “take charge of your personality,” which I intend to try and implement more of in my life.
Belinda Kou followed up Meg with her heartfelt story of how she landed in the wonderful world of art. Like many creatives I’ve talked to over the years, including myself, Belinda talked about her path originally being set on something completely different than what she does now. She discussed feeling the pressures of pursuing what would be a safer option with a STEM program and wondering if it was the right move. Over time, however, her passion for art ultimately pushed her to take the plunge and become a full-time artist, landing gigs with huge brands like The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and Pilot Pen, as well as getting featured by Apple. The big takeaway from Belinda for me was one of her inspirational posters stating, “It’s never too late to do what you love.” This mindset can be applied to specific work paths or even a specific project. If you’re not in love with the results, you can always pivot to put yourself and/or your clients in a much happier place.
After Belinda enlightened us with her delightful drawings and ensured us that a switch-up may be necessary to improve our happiness, creative coach, Scotty Russell, took the stage. He gave us loads of alliterations and actionable items to make setting ourselves up for success as easy as piecing together the perfect pizza. The crust serves as the foundation for the zesty sauce, and the meat and cheese make up the bulk of the pizza pie. Being a digital creative coach primarily, his recipe ratio read: coaching (50%), video (30%), and web (20%). Scotty also hit us with the hard truth that when we say we’re too busy to do something, we’re really saying “it’s not a priority.” He continued explaining how if it’s worth saying yes to then “make it a priority,” and, “if it’s not a Hell Yes! then it’s a Hell No!”
I have been passionate about art and design for a long time and have been a fan of hip-hop even longer, and I am embarrassed to say I’m kicking myself for not knowing who Cey Adams was prior to this conference. I grew up with his work influencing me without even knowing the brains behind the operation. As Creative Director at Def Jam Records, he spearheaded some of the most influential and iconic campaigns and visual identities of all time. Cey has worked with legendary artists like Beastie Boys, RUN-DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Notorious BIG to name a few. For me, this is a testament to how important conferences like CROP are—they open the doors for you to experience and learn things from those that touch your life even behind the scenes. Cey talked at length about loyalty and creating connections with people that will help propel you in your life and how it’s your duty to do the same. A couple of things he said that really stood out in this regard are, “develop and nurture relationships,” and, “honor your friends.” In today’s age of scrolling, liking, and moving on within seconds, it’s easy to get lost in the mix. Narrowing your focus and sticking tight to your core circle creates a bond that will be a force to be reckoned with over time.
Florida’s own wife and husband duo, Brittany Reagan and Clark Orr, under the company name, Hellcats, also took the stage sharing their story of becoming entrepreneurial leaders of the South by developing products, designing packaging, producing, and distributing all the items they conjure in their mind. During their talk, they gave advice on sourcing materials, working with vendors, and how they come up with the items they want to produce. A tool they use to help stay on track with their purpose is a list of requirements to refer to that they call a “vibe check list.” In this proprietary list, there are questions for potential products regarding inclusivity, brand alignment, and personal interest levels. This is something that I believe everyone should create for themselves whether it’s for their profession or for personal use to keep yourself in check with how you spend your time.
Closing out the speaking engagement were brothers, Don and Ryan Clark, as Invisible Creature. The work this team produces for a multitude of tremendous clients is nothing short of amazing. Using a multifaceted approach to creating work for clients ranging from Target, NASA, LEGO, and Apple to music acts like Kendrick Lamar and Alice in Chains has led to numerous publications and 4 Grammy nominations. Watching them speak, seeing their case studies, and hearing aspects of their creative process was a pivotal moment for me in my personal and professional life. The power of putting in the work for the sake of producing the best possible outcome and being adaptable to a variety of situations is a broad stroke statement to attempt to cover their insight. Being organized and creatively adventurous were also huge talking points, but one note that struck a chord is that “optimism is infectious.” In a world that is seemingly very discouraging whether it’s self-imposed or triggered by trolls, maintaining a level of assurance will instill trust in both yourself and those you wish to affect. Similarly, self-help author, Napoleon Hill, once said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
In addition to these amazing speakers, I was able to participate in a screen-printing setup hosted by Industry Printshop and leave with my own handprinted commemorative poster. I was also able to sit in a workshop with logo legend, Aaron Draplin. I’ve seen his talks before and watched his Skillshare classes but being part of a live logo session with the ability to interact with him was light-years better. I was able to walk out of the workshop with a swag bag of goodies, some time-saving skills and techniques, and an experience others dream about for which I’m extremely grateful.
Creativity is a catalyst for progress. It’s finding new and better ways to explain concepts, persuade ideas, explore the world, tell stories of our existence, and document history. Without creativity, innovation would fall behind and lead to a bland, confusing, and all-around uninteresting world. Like all things in life, you can lose your spark if you don’t continuously feed the flames and breathe new life into your work. I challenge everyone to seek out conferences as an opportunity to challenge yourself, learn new things, and create lasting relationships to elevate you on your path whatever it may be.
A huge thank you to Matt and Ariadne Dawson for creating this experience for me and my fellow creatives, and I look forward to seeing y’all next year.
And to my employer, Grova, for making this trip possible by investing in my professional growth and knowing the insights and knowledge I gain will be valuable to the agency.
IG – yourbuddymeg
IG – belindaskou
IG – coachscottyrussell
IG – ceyadams
IG – hellcats.usa
IG – industryprintshop
IG – draplin
Matt and Ariadne Dawson
IG – staygrayponyboy
IG – staygrayponygirl
IG – cropcons