This year I took my first trip out to Cleveland, Ohio for the 3rd annual Weapons of Mass Creation Festival. As far as I know, I was the only one representing Atlanta (a big contrast to the group of folks from Wisconsin) and I was able to fit right in with everyone else. It was literally like meeting my twitter feed in real life. At any point of the weekend I could look over and see folks like Tad Carpenter, Dan Cassaro, Mikey Burton and Erik Marinovich all in one social circle. There was 20 amazing speakers, a kids breakdance competition, amazingly designed SWAG that you actually want and a chance to hang out with some of the best designers and illustrators in America (and some from Canada!). What other festival can boast about this? I was going to start out with 5 of my favorite speakers from WMC Fest, but I couldn’t cut it below 6. After that I explore some of the things I’m going to work on after WMC Fest. Read on!
Top 6 Things I loved about WMC Fest
Nate is a dude who somehow finds time to design, collaborate with some of the best graphic designers and make music. His talk was nothing short of completely inspiring. He started off with a quote “You can’t be anything you want to be. Only more of who you are.” and shortly set out to disprove it. After talking about his love for the midsection of Genesis career, he shared his early roadblocks with getting Ferocious Quarterly, his collaborative publication, to fruition. He teased the audience with the upcoming 4th volume of Ferocious heading into a Deep Sea/Space territory. In the end though, his message of “Let’s Be More of Who We Are. Together” really rang true with everyone in attendance.
Bonus Points for Nate:
1. He clearly had the best designed keynote presentation of the festival
2. Nate mentioned the mid-section of Genesis discography
3. He played sax in his band Metavari on Sunday Afternoon
The title of his talk was “Love It or Leave It” but there’s no uncertainly in Tad’s career that he’s loosing love for what he does. As with many of the other speakers, Ted brings what he knows/absorbs from the midwest into his creations. Every ounce of his passion comes out when he speaks and all his works reflects that. He’s created restaurant identities, and it was great to see him show explorations of Atlanta-based YEAH! Burger in his presentation. Tad came up with the idea of a children’s book called “Sad Santa” on his honeymoon. He’s always in a creative mindset. There is no limit to what he will create; brand identity, illustrations, kids books, journals and lots more. Towards the end of his presentation when he bellowed out “We get to do THIS!” it was like a rally with the audience. We were hooked on every word.
Bonus Points for Tad:
1. Going through his process of YEAH! Burger for this Atlanta native and showing the contrast with a similar identity for another burger restaturant.
2. Showing off and talking about his work with Adobe (using the quote above)
Friends of Type
The coolest kids at WMC Fest were clearly Erik Marinovich and crew rolling in the auditorium as Friends of Type. Hopefully you know them from their high-octane, high-quality type blog with the same name. What was the biggest revelation to me was that the idea was thought of and created in just 8 hours, from a series of instant messages. It has me reflecting on how fast I can get an idea through execution. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s one of the things that most speakers were pushing throughout the talks. Their talk focused more on the items and obsessions that push their ideas in type creation. Legos, comics and abandoned strollers fill up the good, the bad and ugly for Friends of Type. Finally, when all was covered, they ended with “Find Inspiration in Everything and Don’t Be Afraid to Fuck Up”. Sounds like great advice from a group of guys who often design type around poo jokes.
Bonus Twitter Hashtags from Friends of Type’s Talk:
When I wasn’t being blown away by how calm and cool Matt Stevens was, I was admiring his huge breadth of work in the past few years. He started with a timeline of his design career highlighting how much time he’s spent not doing the work he wants and being stuck in an agency job. For those unfamiliar with Matt, he did a passion project where he did an identity for Dunkin Donuts 60th anniversary. He did it just for fun. It ended up the basis of a April Fools post on the branding showcase Brand New, but it opened up other opportunities. It’s amazing to see that he did that for fun, then tried to help out another restaurant that copied some of his graphics and failed with that. Then he finally got the restaurant branding opportunity of his dreams. It speaks to the rest of the designers that fail at things once or twice to have a great opportunity opened up for them after that.
His other area of awesomeness included his MAX100 project of 100 nike sneaker illustrations that he eventually compiled into a book. He makes it look easy to create that many illustrations of one shoe, but his talk explored the road-blocks of getting to 100 after promising 100 and raising kickstarter money. Matt also spoke to hitting a stride of creativity and running with it like he did with the last 40 shoe illustrations.
Bonus Points for Matt Stevens:
1. He wore a Third Man Records Shirt
2. Showing off his fantastic identity for JJ’s Red Hots
It amazes me how much expertise Margot shows in her talk about making the side hustle work. Even the term of “side hustle” that many speakers were throwing around is a much more appealing and realistic term to describe freelance away from your 9-5 job. Since she was away from her last agency job in 2008, she had to make the side hustle work full-time, and it appears she is wildly successful. I loved that her example of a typical “first commission” for most folks is a hand-turkey you create in kindergarden. It’s a inspiring way to think about getting started in design. Her talking points were broken up into 5 points and the 5 fingers of a hand turkey.
Margot started by explaining that saying no to projects is a must because “Yes” is our default way of working. She then proceeded to to explain that it’s important to define your brand, write it down and refer back to it. When clients try to hustle you to change up your process for their needs, never compromise. You need to sell your process and see it through. So many of the speakers focused on having a written statement of your brand to refer back to, and that’s a great suggestion if you haven’t already done so.
Bonus Points for Margot Harrington:
1. Hand Turkeys
Early in his talk he proposed that “Being Different Just Isn’t Enough” and it rings true today. Every brand and creative person claims they think different and act different but who really is? He offered a solution that worked for him and hopefully will resonate with many: You have to go out in to the woods and find yourself. Whether this is a literal meaning is up to you, but it caught my attention. Last year James almost started over completely with his style and veered away from photoshop into high vector work in Illustrator. He spent weeks working on film posters, experimenting, playing and taking risks. The collection of work he’s created since then has been overwhelming. He’s a better designer because of it and it’s a great lesson for the rest of us.
Bonus Points in James White’s Presentation:
1. His presentation was literally an 8-bit opening to a video game, complete with sound effects
2. James referred to his tweets at Kavinsky to do work for them, then did it, got no response and cursed them out publicly on stage.
6 Things I Plan To Do After WMC Fest
Embrace The Power Of Play
Interpret that any way you want, but the importance of playing and exploring in creative work needs to be there. Tad Carpenter uses childlike wonder in most of his work, Nate Utesch and friends do so with collaboration. It’s essential to amazing creative work, and I am going to make sure to utilize it more often.
More Passion Projects
Taking inspiration from Matt Stevens and Nate Utesch, it’s clear that passion projects drive creativity and opportunities elsewhere. Nate had created Ferocious Quarterly out of passion and Matt Stevens entire Dunkin Donuts project was a passion project. If they didn’t explore these first, some opportunities wouldn’t have come later. I will certainly be focusing on some more passion projects this year.
Make Your Own Momentum
This was one of the points Matt Stevens drove home, but it really plays well in any field. Once you create and share with others, you can get feedback and others will notice. Run with that momentum. It’s one of the things every single speaker has chosen to do with every bit of momentum that’ve gathered.
Use Your Surroundings
A speaker I haven’t mentioned here was Julia Kuo who’s speech was incredibly great and she’s very talented, but she’s not from Cleveland. She has grown to love it, even after moving for work reasons. From that she’s created “100 Days in Cleveland”, a blog with illustrations of great places in Cleveland and a book “New To Cleveland: A Guide to Rediscovering Cleveland”. That’s impressive and her work shows a proper reflection of her surroundings, as does Tad Carpenters. I live in Atlanta and I plan on getting out to explore how my work can reflect my surroundings more. I’m also looking to collaborate more with those in my city and from the south.
I know this is common sense, but there were so many collaborations shown at this festival, and based on the great time everyone was having with each other, I’m sure more will come out of this. One of the big things on my list this year is to collaborate on many projects. Nate Utesch claimed that “Collaboration is compromising” and I take it as a challenge to do some great work with friends.
Hustle. Hustle. Hustle.
When I look at the sheer amount of work James White alone has produced in the last year, it puts everything I’ve done to shame. I don’t feel bad about not doing as much as some of these designers, but I’m certainly ready to ramp up my creative production 10 times what it is now. It’s clear some of the designers there rarely sleep or have time to do as much as they want, but they’ve got their hustle down.
That’s my wrap-up. Apologies if I got any of the information incorrect, and you can feel free to correct me. This wrap-up was written quickly afterwards so I could remember what was fresh in my mind and my notes. It was apparent that WMC Fest was at capacity with its current venues this year, so it’ll be fun to see where it goes for next year. One thing is for sure; I’ll be there.