Tag Archives: Bookshop

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.

Young Creatives & Old Production Guys

shoes on the line

I remember the day the light went on. I’d figured out the ad industry wanted young creatives and seasoned, experienced production people.

The ad biz wasn’t looking for another 49 year old art director. Especially one with less than 2 years in a B2B shop. The business looks for, and gets, 25 year olds; who are typically beaten with a stick for 60-80 hrs a week, and are paid a lot less than a senior guy or gal makes. Everyone hopes they make their bones before they fall over from complete burn-out.

However—a senior production guy/gal who knows their game is a different proposition. I went home that afternoon and rewrote my resume to say boldly “25 Years of Print Production Experience”. I started working regularly after that.

Prelüde

I didn’t set out to have a career in print production. Honest. But here I am.

Long before I was a junior art director I was a disgruntled print-production guy. I tolerated it as it enabled me to pursue other things like running 100-mile mountain races and other outdoor pursuits.

Late one August night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up and started back to school. Foreplay was Art Center At Night for a couple of semesters. There was a pause. I was still looking.

In late 1998 I lucked out and found out about Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. I sat in on a class and realized that the Bookshop was the real deal. This became my after-hours MFA. It took 2-1/2 years, and when I had my book, I was wrung out. But it got me a job as an art director in a small B2B shop,

Our primary client was Aon Insurance. I got laid off after 9/11. Aon’s New York office had been on the 105th floor of the South Tower. Aon and my agency went into vapor-lock along with the rest of the economy.

I spent the next 18 months looking for art direction gigs. The job market was not good. The sky was raining art directors. I reluctantly went back to freelance print-production.

One day in 2003 I was down at a huge direct mail shop in Marina del Rey. Looking around me, I saw men, mostly; guys who’d been group creative heads, creative directors, guys with TV reels. They were doing direct mail. And the tanks were rolling across the Iraqi sand, hotf00ting it to Baghdad.

And that’s when I got it. Something else also happened. Being an art director didn’t define my entire creative existence. And not being one was a relief. Didn’t have to stay up nights and weekends agonizing over things I didn’t care about. Being a Lee Clow whose sole life was advertising struck me as being a monocultural retard, like genetically modified corn.

I’d begun to allocate energy in a different way. And that freed up considerable calories to deal with both print production and my photography in two different capacities. I became a happier guy in the process.

But Wait, There’s Always More

The starting line is continually redrawn. Nobody can afford not to stay engaged. Or in a more cruel vein, the rest of you can go back to sleep while I pursue my studies. Don’t mind me if I eat your lunch.

While working at Grey Advertising in the mid-90’s I met Ben Worthing. Underestimate Ben, but only at your own peril. Yes, he wore powder-blue polyester suits, and looked like the kindly grand-dad you wished you’d had. But he never missed an opportunity to look ahead and learn.

Ben was officially kept on the payroll well after the mandatory 65 retirement age because he was too valuable to let go. He’d schooled the young whelps who later on ran the agency in his print estimating office when they were fresh out of school and useless.

One evening I asked Ben a FileMakerPro question which had been bothering me. His answer was straight to the point. I then asked him how come he “got” computers when many in middle and upper management simply didn’t.

He quietly told me that it went back to his flying days in the Army Air Force in 1942. He was trained as a navigator on a B-17. He didn’t get sent to England because one of his original crew got sick, and the crew was pulled from the flight line. This probably saved him from being shot down over Germany somewhere. He was reassigned to Fort Bliss as an instructor.

By the end of the war in 1945 he was training crews in B-29s. The transition was from an unpressurized, manually controlled, 3-ton payload bomber; to a fully-pressurized, high-altitude heavy bomber that had electro-servo motors for flaps, landing gear, bomb-bay doors that unleashed 10 tons of destruction.

So when the first Macs appeared in the late 80’s he saw a tool that would change his work life for the better. He could now turn estimates for outdoor boards in three locations and four sizes in less than an hour, instead of four hours using an assistant riding a crank-calculator and a pencil on an estimating sheet.

He smiled gently, and walked slowly back to his office on bad knees. I saw him in a completely different light. Ben had remained engaged and curious when his peers resisted. An open engaged mind is a powerful thing. That’s the kind of grand-dad we could all use.

You’ll excuse me—one of my cameras needs to be exercised.