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Creative South 2016, Day 2

Seven A.M. rolled around and I found myself once again showered, clothed and navigating my way back to the theater for more coffee. Sure I could have slept in, but once again I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anyone talk because you never know who or what will inspire you. The first speaker was Robbie. This was his second year attending Creative South, he was already speaking infront of the attendees, and he killed it. I was in awe listening to how professional he sounded, and it was only his second time speaking in front of a large group. In many ways his speech alone embodied the power of Creative South. Last year he was so moved into action that he was actually speaking at the following years event. He really is a testament to what it’s like leaving the conference, fully charged and with no limitations.

Day two continued with a live podcast featuring Clark Orr. His love of pop culture, particularly the 80’s, is almost unmatched. The format of his talk was a welcome break from the usual presentations, as he was interviewed live for the Creative South Podcast while a slideshow of his work played on the screen behind him. His responses felt organic, spontaneous and pure which made his talk feel much more intimate compared to the rest of the conference.

DKNG then gave us a brief glimpse at their process. Their presentation started even before they did, as a time-lapse of their Explorers: Space series played during the gap between speakers. Beyond their process we got a quick history lesson on where they came from, and it’s always interesting to see that everyone starts off small and grows. It’s easy as a young designer to get caught up in the portfolios of the big fish because we get to see them in the here-and-now instead of as they grew. That’s not to say that DKNG didn’t killing it in the beginning, but they certainly had to earn their place in the spotlight over years of heard work and dedication. 

Aaron Draplin closed out Creative South with his new presentation about the development of his book, Pretty Much Everything. It was great seeing a fresh talk, as I had already seen Tall Tales from a Large Man multiple times through various outlets. I have to say, this man is not a one trick pony. The new presentation was filled with more heart and even more humor. It’s hard not to like the guy regardless on your opinions of him, he’s just so genuine. 

If you thought I partied hard the last two nights, you couldn’t possible imagine the night I would have as my send off back into reality. I was up until five,  and besides a few awkward moments generated by a couple of other attendees, the night was a nonstop celebration of old friends and new relationships. The craziest part is, that because so many of the speakers had to fly into Atlanta and take a shuttle to Columbus, many of them just didn’t go to sleep... which in turn meant that I didn’t go to sleep. The party kept going as the guys from Forefathers walked out to door to their shuttle, and many more people went to their rooms just to throw their belongs haphazardly into a bag so they too could rush out the door too. 

Creative South is an indescribable event. You can only really try to capture the big moments with words and pictures, but so many of the little things can’t be explained, they can only be experienced. I hesitate to urge others to buy tickets, because after seeing this year I can only imagine that word will spread and the conference will outgrow it’s current home. The beauty of the venue is that Columbus is so far removed from the outside world and still so eclectic that it really fosters the kind of environment that allows people to connect in ways that other conferences like HOW and Brand New cannot. Because there are only four or five places to eat and drink, you’re bound to run into someone to connect with, and if all else fails you know that everyone is going to end up in a hotel lobby belting out I Will Always Love You, because at the end of your 2-3 days you can’t help but feel that song sums up exactly what Creative South embodies to everyone who is lucky enough to attend it. 

 
 

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Creative South 2016, Day 1

I was back in the theater at 8 to grab a complimentary coffee provided in the lobby, making a feeble attempt to shock my system into thinking it actually got a healthy amount of sleep. I wanted to make sure that I got to see all of the speakers, specially the early ones. Last year, one of my favorite presenters was Octavius Newman from B3arfruit who was the first speaker on Saturday, and was sadly missed by many people nursing a hangover from the night before. 

The first day of presenters did not disappoint. It might sound ridiculous, but simple things like the idea of bookending your days with drawing seemed fresh and innovative. For a while now I’ve been struggling with the desire to draw more but justifying my inaction with the all too familiar concept of not having enough time. For some reason just hearing Carlos Basabe talk about how starting and finishing the day with a quick doodle helps him feel satisfied seemed to give me the validation that I needed to really commit to getting back into the rhythm of sketching everyday. 

Between presenters I frequently found myself in the vendor area emptying my wallet on the wealth of amazing prints brought my various designers. I walked away with several pieces, but not before having a conversation that would help me reevaluate the creative debacle I had come to Creative South with. I am an in-house designer, which is great because it affords me the lifestyle I’ve chosen plus a certain amount of security that many agency and freelancers don’t have; on the flip side, not all of my projects are super creative, and at times I find myself creatively unfulfilled. I was talking with Derrick Castle when I mentioned I was in-house, to which he replied he was too. This floored me, because for anyone that follows Derrick knows he crushes it with his block-prints, so much so, that I thought for sure that he was freelance. Realizing that a lot of what he posts are passion projects really opened my eyes to the idea that it’s not my place of employment that defines my design profile, but me.

After talking with Derrick, hearing about the rollercoaster of success and failure from Adam Grason left me thankful for the opportunities I have and helped motivate me to pursue my own design initiatives without worrying about failure. This guy worked hard, earned, and seemed to lose everything he always wanted. By sheer determination and an excellent outlook on life, he just seems to roll with the punches better than anyone else I’ve ever seen. For anyone who is afraid to put themselves out there and truly be vulnerable, Adam represents a reason to go forward and do it. 

Anton & Irene showed a little bit of their process, gave us a look behind the curtain with some of their greatest failures and triumphs and entertained us in a way only they could. I think the greatest take-away I had from them was their ambition to just do the things they felt were right. If you see an opportunity to create, take it, and don’t let the idea just sit there or get passed over. So many times in their presentation they would show how something game them a spark and they pursued it rather than let it die.

The presentations for day one were done and the attendees poured out into the downtown Columbus area, joining an outdoor festival that coincidentally was also going on that night. After regrouping with my crew, we dropped in on a local favorite dinning spot called the Black Cow. We were rolling twelve deep so the only space they had was outside, which honestly was great because the weather was beautiful, and being outside also meant that we didn’t have to compete with all of the noise inside. It was great getting to sit down and catchup with old friends and talk with new ones. Before we knew it, we had closed out the restaurant and we were headed to the after party hosted by the Creative South.

On the walk back we lost a few of our group to heavy eye-lids and responsibility. A few of us, myself included, headed back to the after party venue which blended into an odd combination of college bros from Columbus State University and the creatives in town for the conference. I ran into Justin Mezzell and had a fun conversation sharing our love of the Fast and Furious franchise and our disappointment with the cinematic abomination known as Batman v Superman. After a few more conversations with various creatives, our group decided to move to the after-after party in the lobby of the Marriott. 

One of my compatriots had a couple trash cans filled with ice and beer that required our attention, and it wasn't long before a few more insomniacs would walk into the lobby and join our merry band of creatives. At a certain point James Hsu sat down and the group exchanged rapper aliases, his being J-Money and mine being B-Dubs. It wouldn’t be much longer before I found myself walking back to my hotel around four in the morning, with my last memory being the clock next to my bed reading 4:15. 

 
 

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Creative South 2016, Pre-Conference/Mixer

I quickly rinsed the sand and sea from my skin and redressed myself in clothing more appropriate than the boardshorts I had previously been sporting. I had a five hour roadtrip ahead of me, and Jesse and I were supposed to leave at nine. This would have given us plenty of time to enjoy the drive, fetch lunch and even possibly make a few fun pit stops along the way to the conference, but as luck, fate or any other deity of despair would have it, we would be leaving hours later than that. After getting several texts of his tardiness my wife and I decided to get breakfast and bask in the sun’s glory for a few hours while we waited for the message that my cohort was on his way to our house where our journey would begin.

I wasn’t surprised that we were leaving late, honestly I had predicted, and seeing as there was really no rush to get to Columbus before seven I wasn’t entirely worried. He pulled up in the bright red Volkswagen our company had graciously allowed us to rent, and I flung my bags in the back, kissed my wife, and we were off. 

Jesse didn’t know what to expect from the conference, all he had to go on were the numerous stories I had shared when I got back after last year’s conference. It’s hard to explain Creative South because it doesn’t really subscribe to the ideas of most conferences. Sure, you have your line-up of kick-ass presenters who are chosen to move, inspire and provoke you to create, but Creative South as a whole moves, inspires and provokes you beyond creativity and in a way that can’t be described or quantified.

Let me put it this way, after sharing the little town of Columbus for three days with complete strangers I was creating vacation plans with Jason, sharing my home with Russ and his family, and planning drinks with the Bryan and Drew from Type Fight when I visited their hometowns. Creative South is kind of like the force, in that it surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds us together and leaves a connection that last long after the events of those three days. With that said, this year’s Creative South did not disappoint, and in many ways built upon the already unimaginable expectations I had for it. At a certain point I almost dreaded going to Creative South this year. I was terrified that I would essentially be an addict chasing that initial high, hoping that I could recreate the magic of last year.

When we arrived in Columbus I checked into the hotel and abandoned my bags in my room and made a beeline for Broadway. It was too late to check-in at the event venue, but I was hoping to casually dump into someone I knew on the downtown strip. After a quick pass of the usual spots I opted to text the people I knew would be there in hopes to meeting up before the kickoff mixer that was slated to start later that evening. 

Short story shorter I ended up just meeting my companions on the bridge that had been reserved by the conference for our introductory celebrations. The night was filled with frantic dancing, bottomless cocktails and a killer demonstration of raw drawing skills. Every pulsing rhythm was matched by a furry of strokes from the contestants of InkWars, a 60 minute battle between eight artists with nothing more than an eight-foot-canvas and black ink markers. It felt great being able to cheer on one of my design heroes, Varick, as he represented the Jacksonville crew with his own spin on the theme “Faster than a Speeding Bullet.” After getting the results of the battle an even bigger dance session ensued and it wouldn’t be long before we were being herded off the bridge and towards the next venue.

The night would continue to the after party where I stayed out far too late conversing with designers and getting my first opportunity to meet Dan from the powerhouse DKNG. It wouldn’t be the last time we talked this weekend, as I was honored to hang with him in Nathan on both Friday and Saturday night. Thursday ended with me passed-out in my bed around three in the morning, and it would only be a matter of hours before my alarm was screaming at me to rise and reenter the fold, for Creative South 2016 had only just begun.

 
Columbus from the Phenix City Marriott

Columbus from the Phenix City Marriott

 

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