New Interview : Artist Jonathan Matas “It’s important to examine one’s motivation constantly”


What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on this mural for the Jewish Community Foundation in Berkeley.


What are your favorite projects from the past?

That’s really hard to say.  They’ve all been such an adventure.  I don’t really like to categorize what I like the most, since all of the paintings are equally the product of that moment, you know?

However, I do really like projects that are open-ended, so I have the ability to do whatever I want.  It’s great when the conditions are really nice and cushy for me, but I do enjoy projects with the many obstacles that mural paintings can present.  All of the obstacles and hurdles resolve themselves eventually.


What are your initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

I’ve been in temporary creative spaces, like where we are now with this mural.  So I make this temporary space my studio for a short amount of time.  It’s not to say that’s better or worse than a more traditional studio, but there are some things that I really like despite the difficulties a temporary space can present.  I like being able to work on something, put my all into it and then walk away and wipe my hands clean.   Tear the whole thing down like a nomadic approach to painting.  It really does become your studio for a week, two weeks or as long as a month.


What are the most important items in your space?

Depends what I’m working on.  It depends if I’m using acrylic, spray or another kind of paint.  I always have things to mix paint in, little cups, masking tape, painters tape, rollers, as well as drop cloths and floor boards since we always have to cover the floor properly.  Hermetically sealing the floor always takes a good chunk of time, but you don’t want to get a drop of paint on someone’s nice floor.  Then there are lots of rags and spray bottles.  I don’t like to have too much stuff, but just enough.  If there’s too much, then I start to get confused.



Do you approach your work with a specific process?

Almost never.  That goes back to the earlier answer about the projects I like the most.  Those are the ones when the client trusts me to do whatever I want.  So, I don’t have to do any preliminary drawings, and I am able to let it go where it wants to go.  It’s kind of like the paint takes on a life of its own and the project takes on a life of its own.  The quality of the paint, the colors you’re working with, the way you want it blend together, the surroundings with all the sounds and smells come into play.  The people coming in and out and wanting to talk to you or having some side conversations; it all comes in.  Having a strict agenda can be limiting, and you have to try and fight off all of the other inputs that naturally flow.  It’s nice to let it be loose and let it reveal itself over time naturally.

I really don’t have one way of working.  There’s a lot of different kinds of approaches.  Sometimes I have a general container for what I’m going to do and once that container is there I have a lot of freedom to play within that.  Sometimes it’s so open that there’s no container and I can just have pure play.  Sometimes I really try to stick to a plan step by step, but I’m not so good at that.  Some people are good at that, but it’s not my natural tendency as an artist.



Have you hit any barriers in your career that led you to where you are now?

I’ve just been doing it for a long time one way or another.  I never decided one day that I was going to be an artist.  I’ve been doing it my whole life. I started selling stuff when I was 12 and, little by little, it became my profession.  But I’ve done all kinds of stuff: I’ve been a preschool teacher, bookstore clerk, gardener, waiter; I’ve had all kind of jobs.  It’s been in and out of being an artist full-time.  Now I’ve had a good stretch of at least 3 years without having any other job.  It would be nice to think that this is the way it is now, but nothing lasts forever; maybe I’ll be working at a supermarket when I’m 50 or 32.  I’m not sure.  I want to keep going and doing it professionally; it’s really nice.


What type of artwork were you selling at 12?

I had an art show in a coffee shop near my house.  I sold some stuff there, but that was my first art show.  I even had a brief write-up in a blog, which was a pretty new thing since no one really had blogs.  I tried to find it the other day, but I never thought about  saving and archiving it because the internet can be so ephemeral.  Anyways, that’s a tangent, but I had an art show.  Then people started commissioning me to do stuff here and there.  My first commission was an abstract painting of someone’s dog.  It was a pug named Doris and it was a cool painting; I still like the painting.


Was there a time when you felt like your art took off?

I moved to the Bay and that was the beginning of a new era for me.  I was living here and meeting a lot of new people, collaborating with clients and did some work at Facebook.  San Francisco was a breaking point for me.  I was in New York City before that.  I was doing cool stuff in New York too, but it felt like a different world.  I showed at some galleries in New York and started doing that thing, but I also did odd painting jobs like signs at falafel and pizza shops.  But yeah, coming to San Francisco was when my art took off since more people got to know me – and I think my work got better too.



What’s the biggest difference in the art community in San Francisco compared to NYC?

I don’t know because in both places I’ve been doing my own thing.  I’ve never really been part of a scene.  Not to say I don’t know people in both, but I’m not really in a particular scene in any significant way.  There is a lot more hustle in New York City.  San Francisco has a much more laid back vibe.  There is hustle here that is exemplified by the whole startup thing, but it seems to be more playful and a little bit looser here.  There’s a lot more going on in New York art-wise and everyone internationally is trying to be there.  So, you’re a smaller drop in a big bucket, but there are also a lot of opportunities that can be really fun, too.  NYC was a bit overwhelming for me; I like things a little more laid back.


Is there a space in the world that’s the most inspiring to you?

Not really one most inspiring place.  I’ve had a lot of inspiring moments in a lot of different places, so it’s hard to choose one.  Right now it’s here working on this mural.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to artists? 

It’s important to examine one’s motivation constantly.  Is it for personal gain or to be famous?  I think most people do things more for the fame than even the money.  There’s not that much money in it.  Is it for money, fame or could you genuinely cultivate the motivation to have your work  be beneficial to others?  It’s good practice to generate that motivation before starting a project or ending a session.  Dedicating it to others and practicing in that way has been nice for me since I continuously monitor my motivation as an artist.  It’s easy to be really self-involved as a creative professional.  When you get a lot of praise, it’s easy to become really self-involved.


Upcoming Interview : Artist Jonathan Matas

Really enjoyed this interview with Jonathan Matas.

Full interview here :

Ivan Cash, Interactive Artist & Filmmaker “You don’t need a lot, but there’s a lot to be said about an idea”


Welcome to the San Francisco series of Inspiring People in Creative Spaces.  I’m really excited to kick it off with an interview with Ivan Cash.  I learned about Ivan’s work at AKQA when I heard about a presentation he gave before I had arrived.  Enjoy the interview and if you happen to have any recommendations for people to interview in SF, please let me know.

What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a couple of different projects.  I have an ongoing video series that I’ve been doing that’s really near and dear to my heart called “The Last Photo”.  I’ve been traveling around to different cities talking to strangers on the street asking them to share their last photo on their phone and the back story.  It’s really weird and kind of fun to chat with people in that context.  I’ve been learning a lot about anthropology/psychology, but I’ve also learned how to approach people and be as disarming as possible.  It’s a really cool process.  A simple conversation about the last photo on your phone can tell you a lot about who someone is ( not always, but most of the time ).  I’ve hit up San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.  For the last month, I’ve been freelancing at Goodby, Silverstein and most recently Creature in Seattle.  I’m pretty fortunate to have the gigs and commercial work, but I’m saving up to go on the road for the photo project.  Maybe to some southern cities or smaller ones.  I’m also working on Occupy George.  We just got commissioned by the Victorian Albert Museum in London to do an Occupy Elizabeth bank note.  They’ll exhibit one of our bills in June; I’m working with my buddy on that in New York.

What are one or two favorite projects from the past?

I screen-printed a t-shirt for the New York Knicks back in college.  It said “Don’t hate the player or the game, hate the coach.”  I sold them outside Madison Square Garden and sold a ton of shirts.  I got a ton of press coverage about this college kid selling these shirts.  That was the first time I really did a project out in the world; it was really  cool to interact with people over this and share this passion with NYKnicks fans. There’s something magical about making a shirt and seeing other people wearing it.  With this project, people suddenly wanted to ask my opinion, and it was interesting to suddenly have a voice when I felt like I hadn’t had one before.


What were you doing in New York?

I’m originally from New York, so I was home during winter break from college.  I went to about three games and sold more and more shirts every time.  I had to start hiring friends to help me.  Before the fourth game, I got arrested; three cops were just waiting for me when I got there.  I didn’t even have time to set down the box of shirts I was carrying.  I got out of jail, called a couple of newspapers and told them what went down.  The next day I was on the front cover of the New York Daily News.  It was a domino effect; I had my first fifteen minutes of fame. I built a website the next day and continued to sell hundreds of shirts through the site.  That was my first instance of doing a creative campaign even though I didn’t know it at the time.  I think part of it was a high from the ego sense and wanting recognition, but the part of connecting with people through the project was what really enticed me; the latter has propelled and inspired a lot of the work that I do.  I don’t really have an advertising background, but when interviewing, that was the project that got me a job at Venables in San Francisco.

There’s also Snail Mail my Email.  That project really changed my life; I guess every project does, but that one stands out.  I was over at Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam; I wasn’t really feeling it for a variety of reasons so I quit after six months with no plan b.  It was the hardest decision I had to make up to that point because it was my dream job, but I wasn’t happy and signed a one year contract.  The company had paid a lot of money to move me across the world.  Finally, over a therapy session, I was told “You can do whatever you want,” and I kept saying “No I can’t, this is going to happen and that,” and they finally said, “All of those things might happen but you CAN do whatever you want, this is your life!”  My mind was blown and I called my girlfriend at the time and screamed, “I realized I can do it, I can do whatever I want.”  I quit and wasn’t sure if I was going to go back to advertising.  I had been thinking of this idea for a while, of turning emails into handwritten letters, and so decided to make a website called Snail Mail my Email.  People would send me an email, I’d hand write it and then send it via snail mail to the recipient.  It ended up getting a lot of momentum; a month later over 10,000 letters got sent out, over 200 volunteers signed up to create the letters and mail was sent to over 70 countries.  A book came out of it.  That project changed my life more so than anything.  It really showed me the power of an idea; I didn’t expect all of those things to happen.


It’s really cool how your projects just take off.

It’s kind of surreal.  I ask myself, “How did that happen?”  Before the Snail Mail project was launched, I had actually just gotten dumped by my girlfriend.   There was a lot of angst, frustration and hurt energy that I redirected into something positive.  I believe that some of the toughest times can be a catalyst for change.  It was actually a similar situation for the Occupy George project: I was hurting so hard and needed to do something with that energy.  It was so intense.  The Snail Mail project let me put all of my energy into that project and connect with all of those people.  Sometimes I even wonder if I could do those projects again to the same scale if I wasn’t in such a shitty place.



Before we move on, I keep thinking about why these projects have gained momentum: there’s so much power in a simple idea done well and not convoluted.  It’s something I’ve been able to really hone.  I teach a Creative Ideas class at Miami Ad School and really emphasize the importance of simplicity.  I know I’m not the only person preaching it, but there is really something there.  You can have an idea but you also have to package it where you can explain it in one quick sentence like “this is it.”

What are you initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

I’ve become more sensitive as I’ve gotten older.  I’ve been doing a number of meditation retreats.  I am becoming more aware of how my environment affects me.  I did a month long silent retreat in March; and my biggest take away was that nature is really relaxing and soothing.  I noticeably see the difference in how I feel when I’m in nature versus a city.  I didn’t know if that is actually real, but it is true for me.  That has translated in a number of ways including this space.  I used to share it with three other people for a year and a half.  They are all good friends of mine and amazing people; it worked out organically they moved on to other things, but I was actually about to move into another space since I really wanted my own space. People work differently creatively.  For me, there’s something really important about having my own space.  I like being free from distraction, focused, and feel whatever process I want to engage in and not question it.  It’s true even in my living situation; I just moved out of a shared space that was an amazing apartment and had great roommates, but I just realized over the last year I need to have my own space.  I mentioned I’m really sensitive, so I pick up the energy of other people really easily without necessarily trying; this isn’t always a good thing, given it has some seclusion.  I never really thought of myself as someone who needed my own space, but it’s evolved that way.  I have someone that works with me two days a week that assists me.  I got a lot of responses to the job posting.  After filtering down all of the people and interviewing a few in person, I ended up going with a person who had great energy.  He is totally qualified, but it’s also just important for me to work with people that have a similar energy level.


What are your most important items and/or type of arrangements in your space?

My aunt and uncle live in San Francisco, and the moment I walk in I feel so relaxed.  Maybe it’s because they are family, but they also have a really nice apartment that is very open and light.  I really like Japanese design, minimalistic, plants.  I guess even though light isn’t a physical object, it’s the most important to me.  Otherwise, I’m not sure if there’s much that really matters.  A computer, notebook and pen.


On your website, you define yourself as an interactive artist and filmmaker.  I know for myself that I struggle with my title.  How did you figure out yours?

I have ongoing jokes with my friends about this since we’re always changing our titles.  In this world, some people just end up being doers and it’s really hard to quantify that.  I’m calling myself an interactive artist and filmmaker today, but I can guarantee you in a year I’ll be calling myself something different.  I deviated from art director a year ago and creative director sounds a little pretentious, but I use that on my business card.  Interactive artist felt all encompassing to what I do.  Just yesterday someone asked me what kind of art do I do and I didn’t know what to say.  It’s really bad.  Do I want to go the impressive route, moderate route or how exactly do I explain?  Interactive artist is broad but it at least alludes to the interactivity going on.  The filmmaker title is new and I’ve been stocking up on film equipment during the past  year.  It’s something I want to embark on more, so I include it as my title to get more gigs.  We are all making it up as we go.

Do you have a process for ideating over human centric projects?

My goal isn’t to come up with human-centric projects, but it ends up being the most interesting to me.  I would never confine myself to just human-centric projects, but I just try to be open and self-aware while I’m going through my day.   For me, there are two kinds of ideation: one is for a paid project and then personal.  I usually lie down with a notebook, pen and brief and [ scribble notes].  My creative process is living my life and constantly, in the back of my head, trying to refine and mull around an idea.  I think about how an experience right now relates to what others are feeling in this situation.  In advertising, I think it’s easy for someone to lose sight of how someone might feel in a given experience or ad, so I really try to stay true to that and pride myself on creating work that have mass appeal.  Anyway, mulling it around, twisting and turning.  I have a lot of ideas I haven’t executed yet, so there’s a list in the back of my head.


What role does technology play in your work?

Everything and nothing.  I use a computer for almost everything I do.  It depends on how you’re defining technology, but everything I do is technology-based in some form.  I really embrace technology in that respect, but I’m also really interested in what role technology plays in my life.  I think we’re more technology immersed than any other city in the U.S.  I think that can have some positive benefits, but it can also be pretty negative.  I’m thinking about getting lost in checking websites, not taking enough of a break, etc.  I actually left my computer at home yesterday and it’s something I’m trying to do more regularly.  I don’t check my phone in the morning.  I was talking to someone who said,  “Everyone wakes up in the morning and checks his/her email and Facebook.”  I was like, “Really?  Everyone does that?  I don’t.”  Maybe everyone does.  However, I am really interested in the checks and balances of technology and not unquestionably embracing it.  A theme in a lot of my work is trying to bridge the gap between humanity and technology.  With selfless portraits, you can draw a stranger’s profile picture; the insight that inspired this project was Facebook encourages breadth over depth.  You can have a lot of superficial interactions with people, so the project found a way to make them more meaningful.


Where do you feel the most inspired and/or creative in the world?

I don’t know if I can answer that since creativity isn’t limited to one space.  This is my space right now and I love it; this almost feels more like a home than anything I’ve known since moving out of my family house.

Traveling.  Even though it’s not one space, I love being on the move and open to new experiences.  Discovery is really important.

Being home.  My parents are together and live in the house I grew up in.  It’s still a trip to go home and think “Wow, I was a baby here. This is wild.”

Being in a retreat and meditation hall if really inspiring.

I don’t have one place where I come up with my best ideas.  I found that posture wise, if I’m horizontal/lying down, I’m a better ideator.  So I’ll try and lie down on that couch when I’m really trying to think of ideas.  The kernel for selfless portraits came out when I was at Facebook and laid down and within twenty seconds I thought of it.

I don’t know if nature is a cop-out answers, since it’s not space, but more and more I realize the value of getting out.

Something I’ve been beating myself up for my entire life, but realizing it’s a good thing, is having my feet in a few different worlds.  Do you know Snooki from the Jersey Shore?  I grew up going to school on the same bus as her.  My public school was rooted in culture similar to what Jersey Shore emulates, so I felt like an outsider for my whole public school experience.  I went to private school for my last three years since i was so miserable at public school.  Even there, I still have a lot of great friends, but there were a lot of wealthy people and I felt alienated by that. It was also a very creative & artistic school, so much so that I didn’t really have much confidence in my creativity there. I mean, I took art classes, but didn’t apply to art schools.  In the Bay Area, I have friends in advertising, the fine arts world and ones who don’t do art at all (meditation friends).  Part of me wants to have one community and one group and not have to bounce around, but I think the moving around in both physical and emotional space with relationships helps me maintain a broad perspective essential for coming up with compelling, wide-reaching ideas.


Any advice/words of wisdom?

I have a curriculum at Miami Ad School that’s based around ideating.  I banned the word advertising on the first day, so it’s more about the creative process.  I feel like I can say a lot about that, but the most important thing to me is just do it.  That’s how I’ve learned the most and all of the positive things that have happened in my life from a creative standpoint is just by doing stuff.  Not all of my projects are successful in accomplishing everything that I’ve wanted to accomplish, but I think I learn a lot from each one.  I didn’t go to art school, I’m pretty self taught and a huge part of that is trying stuff out and seeing what sticks.  I guess people learn different ways, but I learn by doing.  Maybe this is less about creative ideation, but I’ve done a pretty good job of connecting with people that inspire me.  It’s hard to articulate, but it’s important for me to connect with others who have different world views and are doing things I really admire.  Somehow that feels really meaningful to me.  I’ve been amazed at how accessible famous people are.   Lately I’ve met up with a lot of people I’ve had email correspondences with for years and years and that’s been really rewarding.  But yeah, I’ll come back around and say just do it.  It’s easy to feel intimidated or limited, but a domain costs $10, a tumblr is free, any smartphone has a camera or video recorder.  You don’t need a lot, but there’s a lot to be said about an idea.  A lot of the interesting artists I see coming into their own and/or even ones who are established are doing amazing work without really having expensive resources to do so.


Welcome to the beginning of the San Francisco series of ‘Inspiring People in Creative Spaces.’ I’m excited to announce the blog will be kicked off with an interview with Ivan Cash. Check out his work here :  Especially don’t miss out on checking out the following projects on his blog : Last Photo Video Series, Snail Mail my Email, Facebook Portraits and Occupy George.

Full interview :

New Interview: The Studio Boulder with Bill Goodrich & Jen Lewin “A traditional office user, to someone who needs a loading dock, to an artist who is going to splatter paint all over the walls, or share a desk.”

During BDW, we had the chance to tour Jen Lewin’s old studio and learn about her work. After interviewing her last year, my perception of “using technology as a medium” was completely altered and inspired me – in my own work – to further experiment with coding and not be afraid to pursue a creative technologist role.  Her work continues to encourage and display the harmony between engineering and the arts.  Now, Bill Goodrich and Jen are building The Studio, which will open on January 1st.  The photos are from early and late November, so the space was still under construction.  Thank you for your readership and please let me know if you have any recommendations for interviewees. – Cheers, Lauren

What is The Studio?

Bill : It is a curated collection of creatives.  The idea is to have a variety of creative folks all working in one space  on their own projects in their own private spaces and foster an atmosphere of inspiring one another.

Jen : The community will have different interdisciplinary groups and types of businesses.


What inspired the both of you to create The Studio?

Jen : There were a lot of things.  This is a project Bill and I have been talking about for years, and it’s come up different ways.  I knew I needed to move my studio since I was outgrowing my former space.  My options were to rent a warehouse in East Boulder where I’d be working by myself, and I felt like it would be much more interesting to be part of a community.  Bill and I started speaking about the idea of bridging those two processes where I could find a space for myself but we could also create an area to collaborate with other people.  For me it’s a great situation because I get to be in a great new space, but also be around a lot of other interesting businesses to have a really dynamic and fruitful work experience.  There are so many advantages on my end it’s great.


What “type” of person will work at The Studio?

Jen : We want to create a great sense of community.  To do that, we need to have very diverse groups.  It would be great to have artists, technologists and people who are business-oriented and understand infrastructure and support.  From my perspective, the more diverse the community, the richer the atmosphere will be.  We’re not really looking for a “type” of person, we’re looking for people who want to be a part of the community.  If you want to be in a space where people are only creating software then this is probably not the right place for you.

Bill : That’s why we chose the word “creatives” to describe the folks that will be here since it’s intentionally a little bit ambiguous.  It is  similar to how “art” is very broad as well; it can mean a lot of different things.  We want to throw a wide net.

Jen : You also learn a lot and form interesting partnerships through when you bring together  businesses that wouldn’t normally work together.  For example, you could put a non-profit and an artist together and a new relationship might form that neither would have otherwise explored.  That’s the best part of a great community.  If you look at a great city, town or community, it has that  interesting diversity, relationships that build off one another, and people gather together.   If we can facilitate these, it will be really successful.

Bill : It needs to be surprising in the space too, so those participating benefit from the connections  made and the inspiration that comes from those connections.




Since we also have a great full interview with Jen previously [ which you can access here ], Bill, what’s your background and how did you become interested in creative technology?

Bill : I have a broad background in engineering and technology.  I worked with Jen for years and helped out on a lot of her projects, and that was when I was really exposed to the art community and how I could fit in.  I’ve always been creative, but more on the technical engineering side.

Jen : Bill also has a degree in philosophy.  Everything we’re talking about we both encompass.  It’s actually why I hired him, quite frankly.  He had this great mix of philosophy and engineering and could really understand – and appreciate – both sides.  Since I’m doing art and engineering as well, the combination of our backgrounds work very well together.

Bill : I’m also excited to also be a part of this community and see how I can help in interesting ways with my technical background.



Why Boulder?

Jen : We’re both part of the Boulder community.  We want this diverse community to be connected.  If we went somewhere else, it would take time to learn about a new community and understand the business landscape.  I feel like it’s really important to be connected and we are here, so it’s a great place to start.

Bill :  In Boulder, we see that there is a centralized community for the tech and web community, but we want to create that focal point for the creative community.

Jen : One of the problems with current workspaces is that you can’t always be yourself in a co-working space; I’m too messy and  can’t use a forklift. This space has been designed to encompass a lot of different type of activities.  It can be anyone who is a traditional office user, to someone who needs a loading dock, to an artist who is going to splatter paint all over the walls,  or share a desk.  All of these businesses are workable within the physical space which makes a huge difference.

Bill : The flexibility is really important.  I was talking to a mutual friend of ours, and she signed up for a co-working space.  She actually went and got a lot of really weird looks at her former workspace when she pulled out a soldering iron and put it on the table.  This community will not be like that.

line-offices-the-studio-boulder will-in-movement-metal-outlines

How will people be renting out the spaces?

Jen : We’re looking for longer term tenants.  Established businesses – they might be start ups – that want a space for more than a few months.  We have desks people can rent on a short-term basis, but we’re looking for people who will be committed to being here and being part of the space.  The tool of the trades are very different for people; usually people building things will need tool storage space, so it wouldn’t be appealing to leave quickly.


What are your plans with the Airstream?

Jen :  My studio team is actually building it out.  It will basically be a media center that is an amazing concert room with surround-sound, a giant TV, beautiful couches and an area for demos that will be more screen based.  Then there’s a small section on the other side of the trailer that will be used for Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. where fast connection to do a conference calls will be available.


What will the final design be like?

Jen : The design is simple and clean.  We’re keeping many of the raw, industrial elements of the building, but we’ve obviously had to build out a lot of the spaces.  One of the cool things Bill and I are doing is working with ReSource.   We’ve gotten almost all of our doors and windows from ReSource, and a bunch of our windows are doors positioned on their side.  There’s a strong element of an old rustic feel with this very modern, industrial space.  We will be lighting with lots of really interesting, happy lights.  There will be a big, rustic community table with a very modern kitchen that will bring some warmth and fun design elements into the space.

Bill : We will also retain some flexibility with what we’re doing on the walls, keeping it almost as a blank canvas.

Jen : Yes, it will be like a gallery.  There are also huge wall surfaces we’re thinking we’ll use for projection so we’re thinking of things like that.  If you want to project, treat it like a gallery, etc. These are all things we would  consider.


When do you plan on opening?

January 1st.


Anything else we didn’t get to talk about?

Jen : It’s really exciting.  I think the space is going to be really creative and we need to hold true to the idea of diversity.  The physical space is going to change a lot in the next four to six weeks, so I can’t wait.



Jen Lewin and Bill Goodrich are opening The Studio in Boulder.  Learn about the vision for The Studio and the initial lay out.

Max Lenderman – Founder of School, Experiential Marketer & Author “From a creative stand point and, in this industry, the greatest thing you can ever be is kind”


I had the pleasure of meeting Max when he taught an experiential marketing class at BDW.  Max and the rest of the School team is working out of the Fearless Cottage in Boulder, CO.  For a free copy of one of Max’s books, visit his blog here.

I was able to capture the School’s building the morning before a party; I always prefer to capture the spaces when they are naturally set. Thanks for interview Max and I hope readers enjoy.

Cheers, Lauren

What projects are you currently working on?

Our biggest project is launching the agency.  It takes a lot of time and brain space.  We’ve also been working with local agencies on projects that have a technological and experiential nature as well as our Project Worldwide parent company.  I can’t divulge or talk on record about any of the particular projects yet.


What are your some of your favorite projects from the past?

Axe Undie Run was one of my first campaigns where I could take a “bro-centric” brand like Axe and give it a real social mission.  It was a really interesting challenge.   During the Arizona State University freshman orientation, there’s a tradition which sees students getting undressed to their underwear, running around the quad and then partying with a band.  So we basically created a movement where people donated the clothes to charity after taking them off.  With our impact, more than 30 universities now have their own runs.  We did this campaign very cheaply, but still found a way to create a cultural movement.

It was really cool working with Bolthouse Farms on getting people to eat more baby carrots.  We had the insight to make carrots behave like junk food, which was incredible.

For Orbitz we had a contest where we were going to fill a plane.  The plane had three hundred seats and people had nominate two people to go to Vegas with them and they in turn had to nominate two people each. The first team to fill the plane would actually go. The campaign went viral fast and the entire plane filled up in four hours.  All of these people went to Vegas for free!  We won a bunch of awards for it.  It was a $50,000 campaign that ended up being worth over $10 million in earned media.  We gave it the really original title of “Fill the Plane.”  ( Ha! Ha! )


What are your thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

When you think of creative space, there are two kinds: the physical and the mental.  Mental is more important than physical, but both are highly important for producing good work.

The mental side is the capacity to both shout at yourself and listen to individual voices – not saying creatives are schizophrenic – but you really need to let your brain wander, come up with random thoughts and just do the pure act of thinking.  When I just think, I feel like I have twenty-five people in a room shouting at me.  With all of that shouting, an idea will come through and I’ll stop on a thought and think, “What was that?  Everyone else be quiet.”  Finding that is the hardest thing to do and you need to train yourself.  It’s similar to how yoga practitioners clear everything out of their brains, but I think for a lot of mental creative states you need to fill your brain instead.  You need to read a lot, think a lot, observe a lot, and take it all in.  It’s the opposite of stilling your mind, since you are really shocking your mind with information.  You have to allow yourself to sit with it, go crazy for a minute and then slowly find the mental states that work.


For a physical space, there are three things that are important.  One, your body has to be comfortable.  If you’re very active, you should have the space to walk around, jump up, etc.  If you’re more of a contemplative person, you should have a nice couch.  If you like to talk and be sociable, you should have an open floorplan where there are five people in one room.  So the physical space has to be appropriate for your body and what you do in the world with yourself.  Two, WiFi.  Three, it is ideal to have it be in a place where you enjoy walking to or walking from.  It’s totally different to walk to work rather than drive to work.  Not a lot of people can, but if you can walk to work, that would be the ideal creative space.  For the record, I drive to work, so I’m not that lucky yet.


What are the most important items in your creative space?

I must have a notebook at all times.  That’s the most important thing.  It has to be small so you can fit it  anywhere and it’s got to be thin enough that if you lose it you haven’t lost a year’s worth of thoughts.  I use Field Notes because they’re thin and fit in the front as well as the back pocket.  I recently lost one and I’m kind of bummed, but I remember I had a Moleskin once and it was devoted to a book project and a ton of client-facing work (sketches) and I lost it on the subway and that was rough.  The notebook is the number one tool.  Music.  Coffee.  Cigarettes ( if you need it ).  Those are important too. But there’s something about opening a notebook that really gets you ready to think compared to when you open a laptop.   When I open my laptop, it doesn’t mean I’m starting to think, it means I’m ready to work.  It’s different.


How many notebooks do you have?

A lot.  Maybe 100. Maybe more.


How were you introduced to experiential marketing?

I was a journalist for the magazine Beverage World.  I was living in New York I wanted to be a writer so I took any writing gig I could. The magazine asked me to cover the “craft beer” category that was just emerging; I’m showing my age, but this was way back in the day when only beers like Coors and Budweiser were mainstream.  So I would cover these craft been shows, and at each of the beer tents there were two things to talk about: the story of the recipe and why they were brewing it. “This beer is a Scottish ale recipe we rediscovered and rebrewed, which my father used to make every holiday.”  Then they gave the beer away to taste.  They had no marketing money, so the attendees would create small sampling stations and literally give them the beer.  After covering this, three brands were bought by Budweiser, then 20 then 50 and now you can see what the industry is.  It took off like wildfire and without even knowing it, I was covering experiential marketing, which basically is creating an interesting narrative and then letting people participate in it.  That’s all it really is.  Now it’s called participatory marketing, experiential marketing, etc. but all those guys did was show passion why they were there in the first place  “I love beer, this is my grandfather’s beer, I put all of my money into it and I LOVE BEER”.  That’s it.  I’ve never taken a marketing course; I took journalism and international relations.  That was the way I was introduced and fast forward five, ten years I started an agency in Montreal that was all about experiential marketing.


What led you to travel the world and write about marketing?

One of the cool things about the creative communications industry is it gives you time to get to know the subject matter that you’re working on or the problem you’re trying to solve.  That’s my approach to everything.  For my first book I had no idea what I was doing.  It started as a blog, then a column in a business magazine and then a book.  The only reason I did that was because I had to research it and put it together.  Second, I was about to have my first kid and I felt like there were so many countries I hadn’t seen yet.  I thought about going to these places without having to pay for it.  It took a couple months to create my thesis and work with my publisher to get a good idea and proposal.  Being completely forthright, I wanted to travel and see the world and knew that other cool shit was happening in other countries.  I knew that if I could convince people to send me there and learn, I could come back and be an even better creative director.  I got everyone on board: my boss and publisher were encouraging. That was it.  It was a triangulation of interest all mixed up in the fact that I had never been to India or the Great Wall of China.



Let’s talk about School, how did your team create the mission?

We want to create world-changing work. ALong the way, we want to help brands do better by doing good. The name School comes from the fact that we want to build schools.  For the original intent, we asked ourselves, “What’s the Tom shoes business model of advertising?”  Why hasn’t advertising ever done a one-to-one model like Warby Parker?  At first we thought, for every campaign we do, we’ll do a pro bono campaign; that didn’t feel awesome.  It sounded a little wishywashy.

Instead of adding more advertisements in the world, we wanted to do something more, so we’re going to build schools for young girls in developing countries.  The prevalent thought was that you get girls educated, villages get educated and if you get villages educated, you get countries educated.  Our original mission for School was to donate a new school per campaign.  It still has that one-to-one model.

Then about a month ago, it dawned on all four of us that we were discussing an idea that is a lot bigger.  There’s a huge opportunity to have a bigger impact by talking to brands about making the world a better place.  Our entry for every brand we speak with is “What are you doing to make this a better world?” If they have something already, we will supercharge it for them. with amazing campaigns. If they don’t have a strategy, we’ll create one for them. We thought our creativity is going to be so much bigger when we open it up that way.  We don’t see many agencies – probably the closest right now is Made Movement – that stand for something and make their work stand out because of it.


Explain your team.

It’s really a new breed of creatives or a new approach to creativity.  Joe Corr and Ryan Nikolaidis are two guys that are truly the tip of the spear at School. The cool part about it all is you rarely get guys coming out of the traditional agency world like this.  Joe started as a developer and came out a creative; that is super rare.  He was literally the first guy at Crispin to do that; CP&B wanted to bottle that magic.  He had his ticket written anywhere; he could’ve gone to any large or boutique agency, but he was drawn to School for the mission. Ryan is literally an inventor and academic that has found a calling in creating stories out of technology. And they both are passionate about doing better work. They are the pioneers for other creatives that are sick of working on fast food, car tires and insurance and realize they haven’t done anything impactful in a long time.  We believe the purpose behind our work will attract a lot more people like that.


Why Boulder?

I came here for Crispin and stayed for the weed ( kidding, laughing ).  The lifestyle has attracted me the most.  I really like the vibe of people that have already made it, but still want to do more.  I’m 41 and I run in the 40-year-old circles now. Half of them have made their money in New York and the other half in San Francisco, but all of their ideas and work are for a better purpose and a better life; they want their kids to be proud of them.  The one thing Boulder doesn’t have – when I was living in Chicago and New York – was the Metropolitan Museum.  That’s where I would go if I was stuck.  Some people go to the movies or the bar to get unstuck, but I go to the museum.  I can kind of get that while in nature on a hike, but that isn’t human creativity – it’s mother nature.  It’s hard not to be inspired by a Picasso and stare at it for twenty minutes.  I travel a lot, but I try to go to a museum every time.


Is that where you feel the most inspired in the world?

Yes, the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  Those are the two places I’ve gone to purposefully find inspiration; there’s plenty of other places where I get inspired, but those two never fail me.

Is there any anything else or words of wisdom?

From a creative stand point and, in this industry, the greatest thing you can ever be is kind.  It gives you a sense of empathy, acceptance or the ability to consider different points of view.  I don’t mean being kind as soft or cuddly, but giving your fellow human being a chance to impress you instead of depress you. People can be really creative, but they can’t get in the hearts and minds of people.  Creative directors need to be empathetic in order to do that.


Upcoming Interview with Max Lenderman - Experiential Marketer and Founder of School

Check an interview with Max Lenderman: To learn more about him beforehand, read his blog here:

Creative Coder Justin Gitlin of Mode Set

About Justin Gitlin

Justin is a director and developer at Mode Set and DJ CacheFlowe.  I met him while he was teaching a creative code at BDW.


What projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a small Kinect game for a company in Pennsylvania and an iPad ad that’s animated and parallaxy.

What are some of your favorite projects from the past?

My favorite projects include the more interactive, animated and video gamey projects.  My first job in the industry was for CleverMedia, which is a local online game development company.  I’m not totally sure what they’re doing now, but they have a collection of video games they built over the past fifteen years or so.  I built eight games by myself while working there, and it set the stage for the type of work I really enjoy doing now.

Related to that, the last big project I worked on was Roll It, which was a Google Chrome Experiment, commissioned by the Google Creative Lab and designed by Legwork Studio.  It was really fun to build and it was one of the more involved games I’ve been able to create.

Full case study of Roll It by Justin

At Factory Labs, I helped make games for a bunch of Adam Sandler movies like Chuck and Larry, Benchwarmers, Grandma’s Boy and a few others.  Also while at Factory, Audi teamed up with Iron Man for a big marketing campaign, so I built a fun game for the launch of the movie.

Last year I built an open-source Kinect game that launched downtown on the side of the performing arts center for Create Denver 2012.  It was called KacheOut.

I really like building games… but web sites are cool too!

What are you initial thoughts on the importance of creative spaces?

That’s a tough one.  I don’t require much.  I can get a lot done sitting at a coffee shop – the noise really helps me focus on what I’m doing and strangely blocks everything else out.  I also don’t want to be one of those people browsing Facebook at a coffee shop. In general, I’m much more about having the amenities that I need like snacks, food, comfort and a nice chair.  I definitely surround myself with art or things that are inspiring, but I think for the core of what I do, which is almost exclusively development and music, I just need to tune everything else out.


What are your most important items?

Laptop, caffeine and power cord.  A bicycle to get to client meetings, the coffee shop and home.  A Wacom tablet for home since it’s easier on my wrists.  And more caffeine.



What was the process of thinking and creating Roll It?

Google made a small prototype that was a tennis game; it didn’t have anything to do with what Roll It ended up being, but they really wanted to explore the connection between your phone and computer.  Google went to Legwork and asked them to concept a bunch of ideas, so Legwork pitched a few completely different games and they decided on the Roll It idea.  Legwork’s developers were super busy at the time, so they asked me and Mode Set to build it.  It was a tight collaboration from there.  Along the way, there was a lot of back and forth about stylistically what it would look like.  Decisions had to be made about the design of the board, environment and menu screens just as much as the gameplay itself.  For example, is it three players with one controller or three players with three controllers?  What does that flow look like?  What are the colors between each player?  We really thought through every detail.  Google was very adamant about certain features like the 3 special ball modes – this was a big issue for them.  Originally we were working on a timeline where we couldn’t fit in certain desired features, but the deadline got pushed back and we had more time to get everything in there.

There was a lot of prototyping along the way.  What if it does this when you throw the ball into the air?  You really have to prototype it all out – especially in a game situation.  For games, an idea can work well in theory, but you might realize that it doesn’t feel right when you build it out.  Games are so much about the feel that you inevitably have a lot of back and forth on how comfortable everyone is with the final result.  As the developer, you might think that feels great and that you’re done, but then someone else tries it and can’t figure it out.  That’s a big difference between building a game versus a website.  A website you generally know how to navigate through, and have confidence when you click a button that it will take you somewhere else.  In a game, you’re in a completely new environment, with different hardware, the whole thing is new and people don’t necessarily know what to do with it.  That’s part of the challenge –  I enjoy finding what feels right for everybody.

I know there must have been a combination of bigger and smaller “prototypes,” but how many different types of prototypes did you end up making?

We prototyped different ideas for the menus, throwing the ball, using the physics library and special ball modes that were implemented.  Each special ball had its own unique challenge.  It was very iterative in thinking, “Does this feel good?” or “Is this at least in the right direction?”  We went from there until it felt right.  Even still, we would get to a point where a lot of the team liked it but we had one stakeholder who didn’t, so we had to change directions again.  That was the tough part; figuring out how to get to that happy place.


How did you find yourself in the creative code field?

I definitely prefer to work in the creative coding field and I’m happy to call myself a creative coder, but generally if someone asks me what I do I say that I build games and websites, since it’s easier for the general population to understand.  In the industry too, it’s sort of a buzz word.  Anyone at Mode Set could do what I do – it’s just that I’ve done enough of it to be the go-to guy here.  For me, I luckily got an internship with CleverMedia back in 1999, so my first professional coding experience was creating video games.  I’m super thankful for that in a lot of ways because I’m not sure I would’ve been as interested in following development as a career path. That job made me see the fun in programming and gave me the skills to build anything.  Most of the work for a programmer right now is probably in web development.  I think the most in-demand developer right now is a really great full stack programmer, but  demand for the creative end of coding is increasing. People are expecting their interfaces to look and feel great, move smoothly and have animated elements.  There’s creative coding at play even in making a pie chart; how it moves, opens or displays.  Little widgets like that are important for any standard web experience.  It’s a subjective feeling about the end result.  I’m not a designer, but I can tell you if it looks good; I can’t tell you how to make it look good, but hopefully with code, I can also make it feel good.  It’s such an important part of making a design live and breathe.


A few examples of Justin’s work :

Is there a difference in creative code and interaction design?

It’s a spectrum.  The best people in the data visualization field are going to be both a designer and programmer, and they will be able to fully concept a design and make it interactive.  It’s really your combination of skills, interests and strengths that are going to let you shine in a particular niche.  But in reality it’s good to specialize in something – most designers don’t code, and vice versa. That’s what’s so great about working on a team – being able to fill in each other’s gaps and learn from each other.


What are your recommendations for people interested in creative code and just getting started?

Experiment.  I would suggest learning Processing; it’s probably the easiest way to get started since there’s almost zero set-up time.  For someone who is just getting into programming, you have to learn a lot of concepts that are super abstract if you never learned them before, but if the output is visual, it helps connect the dots easier between the code and the output.  That’s what really helped me get excited about development.


Is there a specific type of space where you feel the most inspired?

Maybe not while I’m working, but I think it’s really important to get out, take a break, travel and have non-computer experiences so you can gain some perspective for when you come back and have your face in front of a screen.  You need a diversity of human experiences.  A big part of the reason I’m in Colorado is to be near the mountains, which are inspiring.  I’ve also traveled overseas several times and those places give you such a different perspective on everything.  I think it only helps your ability to learn and accept new ideas.  It’s such an important part of being developer and problem-solver.


Anything else or words of wisdom?

Find what you love in development and spend time your own time experimenting and tinkering.  You have to love it.  if you don’t like programming, it’ll be a real bummer to have it as a career.  Find what you do like about it; a lot of people like a challenge or puzzle to solve, but it’s important to find what genre of problems excite you the most.

I think it’s very much about your combination of skills that help you find your place in a development career.  Since I have some design background and am a musician, I understand multimedia.  These skills had made me valuable in niche parts of the development process.  There are certain things that might not seem related to being a developer but they could land you in a position that no one else can fill.  Embrace your multitude of skills and figure out where you can fit in within the development world.


Upcoming Interview : Creative Coder Justin Gitlin of Mode Set

Dont’ miss this interview with Justin of Mode Set:

Check out one of his projects he just wrapped up:

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