Monday, 15 June 2015

Humble but not Shy!

At WeUsThem we have a saying, both for ourselves and our clients:
We are "Humble but not Shy".

Recently, we have taken it a step further:
"Humble but Never Shy".

I was recently asked by President (Paula) Wallace of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to speak to graduates at the 2015 commencement ceremony. Before I knew it, I touched down in Savannah and was greeted by one of the Directors of External Affairs, Alison.

Let me tell you folks, southern hospitality is alive and well. From the second I met Alison to the time I left, she reminded me that I was her guest and insisted on doing everything for me, from carrying my bags, to giving me a personalized tour of the SCAD campus, to taking care of every little detail from my gown to the hat, to meals, to .. well, you get the idea.

I arrived at the steps of Magnolia Hall, the physical embodiment of that same southern hospitality. Referring to Magnolia Hall as simply the President’s guest house is a sincere understatement, as to truly appreciate Magnolia Hall would need a vacation on its own. Even President Wallace herself was involved in designing its interior.

Think of Magnolia Hall as a chic bed and breakfast with historical architecture, with fine artwork adorning every inch of every wall, with amenities in the interior that would rival any five star hotel. Overseeing Forsyth Park, the Hall provides for a sense of grandeur that can be felt over the centuries, without missing a step.

History is carefully maintained in Savannah and SCAD goes to great lengths to both curate it and endow it with their own creative touch. It is no surprise Paula took the lead on Magnolia Hall, its magnificence exemplified by her direction. You can have a peek at Ann Street Studio’s visual essay along with my own pictures of Magnolia Hall, it truly is one to be experienced.

Magnolia Hall has been home to guests like Oliver Stone, Mark Jacobs and Marina Abramovic, just to name a few, minus the wonderful people who I shared this beautiful abode with. My stay at Magnolia Hall had me mingling with the Board of Visitors and Trustees of SCAD, along with the other guest speakers for this year’s big commencement. If you know anything about these captains of industry, you know they are the who’s who of the creative world across all disciplines.

As I met each of these individuals, the notion of “Humble but not Shy” was not just evident but was the practical and very real application of it. My first interaction happened to be with Mr. Domineco De Sole, with a corporate history that includes running the fashion house of Gucci and being on the boards of Sotheby’s, Gap and Tom Ford. Domenico was to be given a honorary doctorate and had the enviable task of introducing Disney Pixar’s John Lasseter (more on this later). At one of our tours, Domenico turned to me and said, “I know everything about fashion, but I know nothing about John” and continued to say, “Eleanore, made me spend a night watching Finding Nemo, Cars and Toy Story to get an idea of the business John is in”. Eleanore De Sole, Domenico’s wife, was also to be honoured with a doctorate for her work in the global support of the arts at the commencement.

Domenico even spoke to Tom Ford to ask who John was and Tom’s response hilariously was, “Do you mean The John Lasseter? Me and my son have watched Toy Story over seven times. We love his work”. With that, Domenico had done his homework and shared his tale of how we got to appreciate this year’s fellow commencement speakers’ art.

Speaking of John Lasseter—here is a guy who really loves the characters he creates and is so immersed in them that he doesn’t realize he told me he own a two-mile long steam train track in his backyard. As I picked my jaw off of the floor, John showed me pictures on his phone that he was too eager to show me, with a twinkle in his eyes that would let someone mistake him for a child. This was the man whose creative work has brought Pixar more than $8.5 billion and more than enough Oscars and Golden Globes. Wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt (they are actually laden with characters all over), John is a creative genius who regales his creative process to me while having the glow of a proud papa who was to see his son graduate that weekend. If you missed it, listen to how this guy passionately talks about the Sheriff Woody story (Toy Story) in his commencement speech. This is how you create and understand what it means to actually see creativity and art blossom to a point where it is immersed in the lives of people across the globe.

What do you have to do in a lifetime to have a portrait of yours to be hung in the Louvre? First, you have to be a woman of style and substance. Enter Anita Thomas. Anita is on the Board of Trustees of SCAD, is a contributing editor to various magazines like Southern Accents, Verandah, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, has her designs featured in The New York Times, and is a cultural icon to be reckoned with. This lady has fine tastes and is extremely generous in her support of SCAD, directing her upcoming birthday gifts straight to the school. Incidentally, she invited me to her birthday, to be held at the Guggenheim in Venice next month—any takers?

Not to be left behind, my first interaction with this group of elites happened to be with Eleanore De Sole. Eleanore was curious about who I was, what I had done thus far and how I had grown personally and professionally. A cultural elite, Eleanore has supported and served boards locally and internationally such as The American International School of Florence in Italy, The Madeira School, The Benjamin West Group of The Royal Academy, Benjamin Franklin House and The Aspen Art Museum.

My most personal conversation was with Sally Waranch Rajcic, President of the Ronald C. Waranch Charitable Foundation and the owner and director of the Sarah Bain Gallery. Her curiosity of my life thus far resulted in us sharing a personal moment on the love we have for our families. I will leave it at that, and with respect to her and my memories, I will certainly take credit for how my need to continually learn over the years was a bug she was now bitten with. Who knows—SCAD may now have a new student in one of their Trustees.

Meeting Dr. Walter and Linda Evans once again was a treat as always. Especially when being exposed to their collection of their African American art at the SCAD Museum of Art, it was quite evident their love for the arts were unmatched and truly a reason for why they are identified as the top 100 collectors of art by Arts and Antiques Magazine. They were such down-to-earth people, and truly embody the definition of “Humble but not Shy”, continuing to support the love of the arts at SCAD while promoting it wherever they go.

My conversation with Paula (yes, I know she is President and Founder Wallace of SCAD, but she is so approachable that somehow titles get in the way) was, simply put, gratifying. The loved ones in my life have always been a great support system for me, but to hear a fellow creative of her stature say “I’m proud of you” and “I’m proud of your achievements” has a place all of its own. It somehow gives you that stamp you needed to have to signify you have done your profession right. Paula is welcoming in this fashion and is very approachable to the Trustees and students alike. She is quite simply the force behind what SCAD is and has run the university in a fashion that makes it the premiere institution of arts and creativity in its own signature style.

As I left Savannah, I thought about how I would capture what I had just been through. And then it hit me. The words we live by, “Humble but not Shy”. All the experiences and the conversations... they revealed one thing quite loudly. We all need to be “Humble but Never Shy”.

The three days I spent away from home can almost be equated to an extended party at the Gatsby’s, but it was more than that. It was more than just coming back to university. It was more than being like coming home, like being in the midst of creative genius and amateur creativity all in one.
It was, to put it quite simply, surreal.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Don't Dream, DO!

I was born creative, as we all are, but with a difference. I was drawn to it (excuse the pun). It was what made me happy. Not everyone needs to be born loving the arts or being creative, but for me it has always been a calling. Some if not most of you probably know what I’m talking about.

Society had a difference of opinion, from what I loved to what I could make a living at. After attending a bunch of prestigious schools and universities, and building a career I was proud of, I was left asking “what if?”

Dreamers ask that question a lot.

At the time, I chatted with a few people. They thought I envisioned a career change, moving away from my successes to do something different. I wasn't. I just didn't want to be a dreamer with a “what if?” scenario haunting me throughout my life. I wanted to be a Doer, to bring my dream to fruition. I had a great support system in my family that supported this dream chasing, and it eventually led me to SCAD.

SCAD did not just allow me to explore creativity across mediums; it forced me. Finally, I was given the creative play-dough I had been sorely missing. The faculty were phenomenal (Dominique and John, this goes out to you!), the education was top notch, the facilities and resources were amazing, and the work I produced here set me on the path to where I am today.

Like you, I donned my cap and gown and crossed this stage to get my degree, and what resonated most that day was the fact that this was just the beginning of my journey. I still remember Whoopi Goldberg standing on this very stage and telling me and my fellow graduates, “Sure you could try to go work at a bank, but I promise you that all of those checks that you’re looking at are going to have doodles on them. You’d be writing plays on the back of people’s contracts in the lawyer’s office because it’s just there. It’s in you.” And so I say, the world is waiting for you as it was for me. Don't deny that world one ounce of your creativity, and give yourself the chance to explore that world fully.

On the road I travelled, I created WeUsThem, a marketing, communications and public relations agency.

No. Wait. Let me call it what it really is.

WeUsThem is another dream.

We work with techies and businessy people alike, and our projects mean so much to us. We build such long lasting relationships that we like to say we don’t have clients – instead, we like to say they’re friends.

Our space is a child’s dream and a mother’s nightmare, pairing digital devices with oil and acrylics, clay and stone, canvas and tablets, all under one roof with a singular focus: to create. My time here at SCAD was a huge contributor to this dream being a reality.

In addition to my support system at home, I had good mentors. Mentors who believed in me, who pushed me to create and explore without judgment. I still have great mentors, but I now also have great mentees. As a teenager I was sure there would be no way people would ever look up to me, but height be damned, they do now!

I encourage you all to remember your SCAD mentors. Stay in touch with them. Look for others too, in every place you live and work. Find those who spark the brain cells that fight the logic centres and instead incite the creative, happy ones, to spurr great ideas and great work. People you can trust, people who will give you the right advice and provide you with a ladder to ascend the great heights you’re all destined for.

I was recently named Canada’s Most Powerful Woman in Arts and Communications. At our studio we always say, we are humble but not shy. I pass that on to you as you leave SCAD. Be humble, but not shy. Know your strengths and be your best ambassador, but do so with humility.

At this crucial moment in your life, you are limited only by your doubts and fuelled endlessly by your imagination. Make those dreams happen. Doers do and ask “what next?”

Which do you want to be? A dreamer or a doer?

Don't sit back, don't wait for it. Make it happen! You get out of things what you put into them, and if you give everything you’ve got, the rewards will be greater than you know. Take my word for it.

I remember a project here at SCAD where I incorporated Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, a classic that I continue to use through life choices both professional and personal. As I peeked over the horizon at the time, as you are today, to what I had hoped would be my own future, it's only fitting to close off with his words: “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Fellow creatists of 2015, find your unique paths and chart your own journeys. Make this life your own, and when you’re out there creating, look for me and look for each other as we continue our own unique journeys. This community of creatists will always be your home.

Good luck and congratulations!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Equal Not Special

by fa10

As we bid adieu to yet another International Women's Day, I am left wondering about some of the feedback and commentary questioning why women continue to require a special mention in organizations.

I have read umpteen reports, articles and independent opinion pieces talking about statistics showing how women entrepreneurs are less funded compared to their male counterparts, how we occupy fewer roles in senior management or within the boards of organizations and, in some cases, how the recruitment process tends to have a bias against women.

How does all this translate to requiring a special consideration for being a woman in the business world or in the community at large?

Let me be clear. I don't want special consideration. I never have. I believe in my work, my attitude and the results speaking for itself.

I do, however, continue to speak about receiving equal opportunity and equal consideration for every demographic out there, whether it's based on age, gender, race, geography, culture or anything else that may segregate us as human beings.

In my studio, we have a clear methodology of sifting through applicants for the right talent. If you are willing to compete and work hard to present exceptional executions, it won't matter what your gender is.

I look forward to ridding our society of International Women's Day and, perhaps, having International Person's Day in its stead. Let's move towards having no more special days, and having societal norms that are equally exploitative of the superb talents that all our citizens bring forward. 

Much like the futuristic ideals of Star Trek, let's truly "go where no PERSON has gone before".

Live long and prosper!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Power corrupts, absolute emPOWER corrupts absolutely .. as it should

So what does it say that I was just celebrated as Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women? Power as a concept has been used by a lot of people in a variety of ways, mostly in a fashion that has been detrimental to us as a society.

Its not a new concept, but I believe in the notion of emPOWER than I do the naked purity of Power (and yes its a little em to the mighty POWER). Lets deal with the obvious question first, why is it a little ‘em’ compared to the rest of the word? Then we follow it up with what does that have to do with being Powerful?

Believing you have power is a a false notion. Power is thrust upon or entrusted by those that give it, it isn't something that you can magically have one day. To have power, be it the traditional sense of positional power or some other form of it, is a falsehood that people believe they have due to position, money, status, etc. This is a fallacy.

The reason we look at empowering and consider the little ‘em’ is because, empowering, unlike POWER is not a ‘P’owerful action (if you will excuse the obvious pun). Empowering people requires finesse, mentoring, coaching, leading, most importantly trusting and this is not an easy task. To truly empower somebody is to give the reins up, even for short amounts of time to those that you believe should have it and perhaps could be good at it. Forcing people into a position of power does not get you their best, it gets you their highs and in most cases, their lows. Empowering, by and large, brings about positive highs and even with the interim lows, eventually a long term high.

We then look at this correlation of empowering and power and realize that it is more of a notion of empowering than it is of giving someone power. To have those that you lead, work with, partner up with, mentor or grow with, empower you to lead them or lead an initiative or an organization is a trust rarely given without that same level of trust being received. Imagine my surprise then that those that I admire, and I work with, both entrusted and empowered me to these great heights and recognized me in this fashion.

With that said, I am humbled to be in a league of powerful women who I’m sure, empower and lead others by their words and actions each day. To be in this cadre of leaders, not just women, is a honour that cannot be replicated.

Those that empower me to have received this great accolade, know that I could not have done it without you. Your kind words and your thrust up of this leader is humbling and certainly appreciated.

Until Soon,

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


by fa10

“Being creative on demand is, well demanding. Sometimes ideas won’t flow without a little extra prodding in the brain cells.”
- David Sherwin

And it’s quite true. The creative process really is a combination of hard work & dedication. Sure there are creative juices that flow, but as sexy as being an artist, creative explorer or agency person sounds, its not all pancakes & syrup. Once the design brief is understood and research data at hand, it is time to create and evaluate concepts that may solve a problem, design or perhaps even a business problem.

I often find that creativity thrives better under a tight deadline. The more time you are given the more the creative mind goes astray and projects never seem to meet their deadlines. Creativity under pressure brings to bear the best, sometimes the worst, but eventually, if you are truly a “Creatist” (yes it’s a new term that I would like to coin; a creative that’s an artist), you put forth the best possible rendition of a concept.

The creative exploration stages of an artist is achieved in a variety of spaces, mediums, locales and periods that are more often NOT while working during a client project. This creative exploration is what creates that mental catalogue of ideas, that helps with the ideation & creation process and a true Creatist would tell you, this more than all else is the most important phase of one’s career or work life.

So to all my fellow designee’s out there, take a pinch of creativity and a bucket full of hard work and watch the magic happen. If you creatively explore like the seafarers of the past, catalogue like the die hard librarian and work like the grasshopper, you are bound to create create & create some more. We need more Creatists and less Designers. We need true creativity that complements the ideas not oodles of design that kills the elegance of a creative execution.

With that, Be a Creatist & lets meet out on the horizons of creativity, leaving behind the old days, looking forward to a future full of creative possibilities.