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The Moment I Realized I Wasn’t an “Artist”

on Design

I’m going to share with you one of the most profound moments in my professional career. My hope is that this little piece will help not just creatives but anyone who is still trying to figure out what their passion in life is.

As a designer, I consider myself remarkably fortunate to be able to work hard and to do what I love every day for the last 10 years. Now with that being said… I’ve never really considered myself an “artist.”

Obviously not me.


Wait let me explain, I mean an artist in the traditional sense. If you ever find me sketching the landscape from my front porch wearing a french barrette, play the lottery my friend. Don’t get me wrong, though, I love being creative, building things and giving something new life.

Here are some bar stools I made from repurposed steel.

Like many visual designers, I started at traditional art school from elementary on up. That period of time was a huge moment of growth for me as a designer and even more so as a human being. With that being said, I still never felt exactly “at home” in the art community.

In a structured sense… maybe it was the thought of being in a classroom and having an exact assignment, but I never felt like there was enough freedom for me.

You Will Hear That Word From me a Lot

Freedom, freedom of creativity, the beautiful process of allowing something that is already free to be out of its own cage and allowing it to traverse a new terrain. I wasn’t the kid walking around with a portfolio half his size nor covered in gesso, acrylic paint, or charcoal (most of the time). Unfortunately, for a long time, I thought that’s what a real artist was. That if I didn’t act or feel that way, then I wasn’t a true artist.

As you can imagine that train of thought started a long road of searching. I began to enter every extracurricular art program that came my way. Painting, sculpting, photography — you name it I did it or was around it. I still do many of those things every blue moon. The problem was that I soon found out that I didn’t really enjoy them as much as I thought I should. Although I feel as if all of the work over the years helped me move from medium to medium as my career progressed, at that point in time I just couldn’t connect.

I was always more intrigued by scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers than I was with the Van Goghs, Jackson Pollocks, and Edgar Degases. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy painting and art history! Quite the opposite actually, but I didn’t have that visceral connection that my peers seemed to have. I just knew that I wanted to create. Simple.

I did not realize my true passion in design until I began working in experiential design, UX, and programming around the age of 21–22 at an ad agency. This new way of creative thinking truly opened my eyes and seemed incredibly more meaningful to me than the mediums I had worked in. I was affecting people and solving their problems by combining technology and creativity.

As I grew in my field it finally dawned on me that what I was really attracted to was problem-solving and using creative solutions to address problems and to achieve an emotional response from the user or audience.

What an Awesome Realization That Was

My first booth design in 2012. Both booths won an award in Complex Magazine.

Freeing myself from those societal boxes opened up an infinite world of creativity and technology to experiment with. All of a sudden there were no rules and that freedom spilled over into my contracted work as well as my passion projects. Inspiration began to come from everywhere and my experiences expanded. I was now working on films, projection mapping stunts, web design, and many other projects.

Meg Whitman (left) and a project for HP (right) Short film website design.

This also allowed me to meet and learn from many incredibly brilliant creatives. These chance meetings would never have happened if I just remained within the “artist” box that creatives are too often placed into. Everything became a beautiful challenge.

To this day still I love problem-solving and art with all my heart. I‘ve written all of this to say that it’s OKAY if you don’t feel like an artist in the traditional sense at the beginning of your career or ever. It’s ok if you don’t fit the pre-existing mold for your specific career. Break it. Create outside of your comfort zone. As humans (and especially creatives), we are not meant to be categorized and put into a one size fits all box.

We are all living a unique human experience which should be expressed in different ways. Focus more on what you truly enjoy. Absorb as much knowledge as you possibly can, practice every day for several hours — no matter what your discipline is, the medium and answer will eventually find you.

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