Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop

hammer on anvil
Hammer and anvil at work. Autry Museum, Summer 2004.

Education has been on my mind a lot recently.

Earlier I mentioned that late one night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up, and that eventually led me to Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. It took a lot more than a casual “gee, I think I’ll, like, go to night school, and…like, you know, work on my book…?

I had crashed into the side of the professional mountain. Completely. My Dick-n-Jane book was a symphony of tin cans tied to my tail. Every piece screamed AMATEUR BARNEY. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t getting any art direction work. I was getting a lot of horrifed looks.

In desperation I begged an appointment with Adrienne Lowe, one of my Art Center at Night teachers. I showed up early. She took one look at my book and curtly told me to “broom at least half of what’s in there”

As in “throw overboard”.

You cannot imagine my relief. It did suck! What a load off!

I thanked her profusely, left her office, and renewed my professional links with temp agencies. I wanted every shop that had seen that crappy book to completely forget they’d even heard of me. Ever.

Now I had a burning reason to get past that. And a copywriter I knew told me about the Bookshop.

The first Bookshop class I sat in on in late winter 1998 had me hooked within an hour. But I was holding out for additional evidence.

The next week I went to the 1998 International Student Show, hosted by the LA Creative Club. I was floored. The Bookshop took about 40% of the prizes, including Best of Show. Ahead of Art Center, Portfolio Center, VGA, Creative Circus, NYU. All this from a peripatetic night-school operation that met in an agency conference room once a week.

Now I had 2 big hooks in my mouth, and I was swimming for deep water.

From the git-go, writers and art directors were teamed up by assignment. Mike would hand out creative briefs. Typically we’d crunch through three projects in the course of the twelve week term.

The classes were a cross-section of designers, art directors, copywriters, post-college types, character actors, ex-70’s punk musicians, AE’s, some debutantes and poseurs who hadn’t tumbled yet, ex-service post-GI Bill vets, and working production professionals like myself. Everybody in the room was hungry. Everybody wanted to buid a book and get outta whatever dead-end they were in.

It was an intensive flame-off process. Concepts had to stand up to critical scrutiny, and frequently the slings and arrows of your peers. Nothing was sacred. I burned through more crap and dead-wood in my inventory than I imagined. Finally the decent concepts and executions began to emerge.

This also applied to working relationships. Some people didn’t understand that Mike was replicating the agency structure. Have a problem with your partner? The smart choice was to work out any personal beef behind closed doors and get through it. I’m sure people went to Mike over the years with one ache or another. I’m also sure he took notes. Maybe not.

Bottom line: the client doesn’t care about your problems, you are there to solve their problem. Oh.

And so it went for the better part of two years. When I finished in March 2000, I was exhausted. I’d gotten my equivalent of an MFA. More importantly, I had a marketable book. I got that art director job I’d wanted for so long.

That lasted as long as it needed to. I was laid off 10 weeks after 9/11. The ad business was in a tail-spin. I also remember looking out the window and seeing new Escalades on the dealer lot near the office. I thought Detroit had lost its mind. They did, but the blow-back took six years to hit for them.

Its been several years since I was an art director. However the education I got from the Bookshop has proved highly useful in other areas of my work and life. Thanks again. I continue to use it to this day.

11 responses to “Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop

  1. Wow. I had never heard of it, lowly cartoonist that I am! I learn more now than I ever did when I was younger.

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  2. Good read, Larry. Ah, the days of no clients, account people or lawyers (just pure creative).
    I loved Book Shop.

    For those who may be interested, here is the Book Shop Website:

    http://www.thebookshopads.com/

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  3. Glad to see you benefited from the Bookshop. I too am a former Mike Whitlow student. Thanks to his wisdom, I went from being a junior copywriter to an Associate Creative Director at a big agency in New York City. Bookshop rocks!

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  4. It’s great to see Mike and Book Shop get some recognition. Mike taught me everything I know about conceptual thinking. He is an amazing teacher and I owe him so much. I wish there was a mascot because I would be screaming Go Team! right now.

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  5. $ 450 per workshop for the nine-week session is a little pricey. Who are some of the instructors?

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  6. Pingback: Mr Pre-Press Speaks!

  7. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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  8. I too am a former Bookshop student from the mid 90s. It was an invaluable resource to me when I was just starting out.

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  9. I’m another former Mike Whitlow student. I very much enjoyed reading about your experiences (which echoed mine a good deal). I did my stint with Mike sometime around 1990 or so (been so long I forget). But I will NEVER lose my gratitude for how well his lessons equipped me for real career.

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  10. Mike is a mensch. Truly a mentor for many, many successful creatives both in L.A. and throughout the world. The Book Shop was the start for myself and the group of my peers who I now consider some of my best friends.

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