Always Onward: Creative Works 2023 Recap

Written by: Chris Crouch, Creative Director at Grova

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In the ever-changing world of design, marketing, advertising, and all things creative, staying at the forefront of your field is essential for professional success. Living on the cusp of innovation is a proven tactic for streamlining workflow processes, increasing productivity, igniting creativity, and offering more impactful solutions to clients, all while feeding your passion. One powerful way to achieve this as a creative professional is by attending design and creative conferences. These events offer countless benefits for professionals seeking to enhance their skills, expand their network, and gain fresh inspiration.

Recently, I attended an amazing conference called Creative Works, held annually in Memphis, Tennessee. It is apparent that the founder, Josh Horton, has immense respect and passion for the creative community and for empowering those who represent this group. He and his team packed three days of keynote speakers and workshops with an impressive lineup of incredibly talented industry leaders.

Image of Josh Horton speaking at Creative Works 2023
Josh Horton at Creative Works 2023


In this blog, I will recount some of my experiences while exploring a few takeaways and advantages that attending conferences like Creative Works can offer individuals wanting to stay ahead of the curve and significantly impact their career and creative journey.  

Showing Up

I arrived in Memphis a day early to get the lay of the land before the festivities began early Thursday morning. Of course, being in Memphis, I knew the first thing I needed to do was find some barbecue and record stores. I had an exceptional rack of ribs from Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and explored River City Records and Memphis Music. Throughout the conference, multiple speakers touched on the importance of showing up—one of the easiest ways to advance in any venture. In retrospect, by just being there, I was taking a step that many others don’t.

Putting in the Work

The act of showing up, while essential, is only one of many steps to success, like getting set in the starting block before the race begins. The other steps that get you past the finish line depend on the work you put in. The more effort you put into researching, exploring, learning, and doing, the more efficient each stride will become. To quote Robert Generette III, a fantastic illustrator and Creative Works speaker, “Drills build skills.

Image of Robert Generette III speaking at Creative Works 2023
Robert Generette III at Creative Works 2023


One of the ways I put in the work during the conference is by attending workshops. Workshops offer a more hands-on setting with industry professionals who provide insight, feedback, and inspiration to enhance participants’ creative abilities. There were several workshops scheduled, but ultimately, I chose the two for designing timeless logos and creating captivating illustrations.

Workshop #1

The first workshop, “Creating Logos that Last,” was hosted by Allan Peters, a renowned logo designer who has worked with companies like Target, Nike, Amazon, and Patagonia. I’ve been following his work for a while and was very excited to see what I could utilize from his workshop in my own practice. Allan explained his multi-step process in phases with examples and success stories in a way that was easy for beginners to understand but in-depth enough for more seasoned designers. One step that I found particularly useful is developing a noun list to generate appropriate image concepts for an iconic logo mark.

Image of Allan Peters speaking at Creative Works 2023
Allan Peters at Creative Works 2023


In this session, we worked on a personal logo project while implementing the previously discussed process. Naturally, we couldn’t complete the entire process because creating a meaningful logo takes time. However, we went through some of the beginning phases, which included making a noun list and sketching multiple concepts while getting feedback and pro tips from Allan.

Workshop #2

The second workshop I attended was with the ridiculously talented illustrators in MUTI, who ventured all the way from Cape Town, South Africa. I do a fair amount of custom illustrations in my work, and MUTI has been a huge inspiration for the past couple of years since stumbling across their work. So, taking this workshop was a no-brainer. Custom illustrations are a great way to have authentic and specific representation with a personalized style, allowing clients to be proud that they have something truly original. Of course, there are occasions when stock assets are needed, but custom is king in my book.

Illustrating can be time-consuming and laborious. MUTI walked us through some projects, explaining their process and how they generate ideas quickly, from quick conceptual sketches to help narrow down a direction with a client to exploring stylistic choices before fully rendering a piece.

Image of someone speaking at the MUTI workshop at Creative Works 2023
MUTI Workshop at Creative Works 2023


Something I found helpful was a tactic they use during the approval process of a big project. They fully render a small section of the illustration to give the client a clearer vision without spending extra time. This occurs after a sketch direction has been approved before they move forward. I plan on implementing this in my next big illustration project. They also provided a mock brief with a magazine article and placements for illustrations. We then worked on them live while they critiqued our work. This session was wonderful, inspiring, and hosted by the absolute nicest team.

Keep Learning

Aside from the workshops, Creative Works packed the lineup of keynote speakers with heavy hitters in the design world. Each speaker was so open about their experiences, failures, and successes and was very generous in the information they left. It’s entirely too much to include in a single blog.

I do want to touch on one unexpected point that resonated a lot for me. A hilarious and highly talented design team named Young Jerks made a point in the statement, “Design thinking is for cops.” This was a quirky way to discuss issues in advertising and marketing, where everyone focuses on analytics, statistics, and impressions. So much so that we sometimes place ourselves in a box of safety and lose sight of our purpose. For design professionals, our role at its core is to communicate. To do this effectively, we need to allow ourselves to get emotionally invested and explore provocative ways to impact people on a psychological level.

Image of Young Jerks speaking at Creative Works 2023
Young Jerks at Creative Works 2023


When I heard this, I immediately thought about one of my favorite quotes by Bruce Lee, “Don’t think, FEEL.” If we spend time understanding our clients’ needs better, we can craft more meaningful solutions. This can allow us to generate an authentic emotional response from the target. After that, all the other things that quantify the success will fall in line.

Have Fun

In addition to the work-related advantages we bring home, Creative Works makes it a safe space to have fun networking with peers and crossing paths with those you admire. Each day, there were after-parties at different locations in downtown Memphis. We enjoyed delicious food and live music while relaxing and unwinding from soaking up all the knowledge that day.

There are conferences for nearly any field! To catapult your career, break a plateau, create connections, or stay ahead of the game, I suggest investing in yourself. You won’t regret attending a conference like Creative Works. Your future self will thank you for it. If you’re looking for a service, understand that a good investment is working with those who invest in themselves.

Photo of the hotel for Creative Works 2023

Shoutout to my employer, Grova Creative, for this incredible opportunity to continue learning, growing, and forming connections in the creative field!

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