My Experience at the 2023 Creative Works Conference


Ian Curran

Creative Works Conference Logo 2023

Every year, I set a goal for myself to attend more conferences and every year, I find reasons for not going because of deadlines or just allowing life to get in the way. This year, Creative Works got on my radar because of an old friend from design school, which piqued my curiosity. After seeing the stacked lineup and being a short 3-hour drive away, this was my perfect opportunity to fulfill that goal of attending at least 1 design conference this year. It was a weekend I will remember for a long time, not only because of the experience but because of the new friendships I forged with my fellow creatives.

Onward & Upward - Mary Kate Devitt

One of the presentations that resonated with me the most was by illustrator and lettering artist Mary Kate McDevitt. Companies and managers often focus on the production mindset and developing processes that will allow our teams to create work more efficiently without losing the authenticity behind the work. I loved the way she broke this down and then came full circle on the effects this can have on creatives (all individuals) when taken to the extreme. She started with something simple: jump into action or, as she coined it, “get the lead out.” As creatives, we are filled with so many ideas and potential solutions, but we tend to spend too much time trying to come up with the perfect answer first instead of letting ideas flow freely. The goal is to roll with whatever comes to build momentum instead of stifling creativity in pursuit of one great idea or solution.

Highlights from Mary Kate McDevitt's presentation

One thing Mary Kate reminded us of as well was that being a creative is a lifestyle. We must always collect things and build our inventory to inspire our creativity. That then carries over into our profession by ensuring we’re always a student, finding ways to grow within our craft, and evolving as artists. Don’t wait for a specific project to pop up and then go looking for inspiration; be active and then dig into your tool belt to start solving problems.

As we were all getting on board and buying into this philosophy of jumping in head first, gaining momentum, making things, and producing, she hit us with the real wisdom. Mary Kate had gotten to a place where she was equating success to productivity. This meant that anytime she was not producing something, she felt like she wasn’t succeeding and could not fully celebrate the real success she had achieved. It also meant she was not allowing herself to look backward and see the successful things in her work or find areas she’d like to explore more. That led to her last point: Intention = Progress. Productivity is not the end goal. Intention is what is most important when you’re producing work as a creative. That means understanding when it is time to be in production mode and when it is time to explore and experiment so that your work can be the best it can be. So pause, celebrate your successes, and go into each new project with intention instead of just maximizing your productivity.

A Wintery Dimwits Footprints - Rob Zilla III

Another artist who blew my mind was Rob Zilla III (Rob Generette III). As an avid sports fan, I’ve seen his work everywhere, and the raw emotion that he’s able to capture in his illustrations is incredible. More importantly, he was so humble and approachable and willing to share his wisdom freely with us as creatives (which is not always common in the creative industry). For his presentation, he wanted to go beyond the work and share what he considers his cheat codes for producing great work and keeping things moving forward.

  1. Never compare yourself to anyone else
  2. Be moved
  3. Evolution is not instant
  4. Hire Yourself
  5. Be a fan
  6. Drills build skills
  7. Combo moves are better than single punches
  8. Share

A common theme shared as Rob went through each of these individually was to open up the process to let others in and always be patient with yourself. Focusing on your work and always making adjustments along the way is what is important. When we compare ourselves to others, we hinder our progress and stifle our creativity. If we can think of ourselves as seagulls and mimic how they move through the air, we’ll find that the path to success is not a straight line. Seagulls maneuver and navigate WITH the wind and use it as energy to push them forward instead of trying to resist or push through it.

Two multi-colored chameleons with the quote "Ideas are Better Shared"

The next thing he emphasized was doing things the right way. ‘Drills build skills,’ meaning you can’t ignore the minor details. Practicing and honing your craft is vital, and you can hire yourself to do that. Take the time and prepare your personal projects like you would for a client to set yourself up for success. Always be sharpening your skills so that when those great ideas come, you’re able to produce them.

I appreciated that Rob went into being a fan of other creatives and stressed the importance of sharing your work. We need to stick together as creatives and, continually build our networks and share our ideas. We’ve got to take on the abundance mentality and realize there is enough for everyone. Our work improves when we give and receive feedback from others, and the more we celebrate other people’s success, the more opportunities it will open up for all of us. 

The other cheat code that left a lasting impression on me was combo moves are better than single punches. Make what you create work for you, and always find ways to stay top of mind with your clients (audience). Promote yourself in a way that provides value and is not just a means to an end. Again, share your ideas and the possibilities that your creativity brings instead of just producing a product the client brings you.

Until next time

These were just two of the amazing 24 presenters and instructors who were part of the event. I also have to give a special shout-out to The Young Jerks (my branding idols). I was fortunate enough to win one of their new games, Snakes of Wrath… AMAZING! And, a HUGE thank you to Taamrat Amaize and Nick Ace from Collins, who hosted the Chaos and Discipline workshop. Their work and the way they approach storytelling is incredibly inspiring, and they provided so much knowledge to all of us in just 3 hours. And, lastly, thank you to all the creatives who came out (especially those who met me on the dance floor) and shared their experiences and journeys. I will see you next year, Memphis!

Josh Emrich presenting at the 2023 Creative Works Conference
Ian holding his 2023 Creative Works Conference name badge
Image of a building in New York from one of the Font Designer's Presentations at the 2023 Creative Works Conference

Bonus: Video Re-cap

There's so much that I didn't share in this blog post from my time at the conference, so I invite you to watch the re-cap presentation I put together for the Savas team detailing my experience.