Creative South: Lessons Learned

One year ago, as we were driving back from Creative South a large red building with “Dunn’s Antiques and Auctions” painted on the side caught our eye. We looked at each other with excitement and knew we had to stop. Still on a creative high from the conference, we were jumping as we got out of the car—like little kids ready to sprint into an amusement park. As we got closer to the building, we quickly realized they were closed for the day. We stuck around for a little bit to check out the random assortment of items outside, and pressed our faces to the glass to see what the inside looked like. For the past year we continually spoke about 3 things from our trip to Creative South: Dunn’s Antiques, Picasso Pizza, and Creative South 2015.

Well here we are now, it’s been a week since Creative South, I’m still in denial that it ever happened, I want to go back, and we were finally able to visit Dunn’s antiques and reunite with Picasso Pizza. I’m of course sad that Creative South has gone by so quickly, but I sit here writing this as a new and much happier person because of that conference. My first year at Creative South was great, but this year was no short of magical. Friendships were made, life changing conversations were held, and countless lessons were learned. To make this more than just a recap, below are all of the valuable insights I received as well as the lessons I learned.



As long as everyone is a winner

My brother and I are driving down the road and can sense that we’re approaching Dunn’s. As we round the turn, that beautiful, old, red brick building greets us. We’ve been waiting an entire year to explore this monstrous building, and finally the time has come. Upon walking in, we start peeking around the front of the shop and shortly after Roger Dunn, the owner, comes over to introduce himself, and we quickly found ourselves in a full-fledged tour of his building. Being in such a small town, it was obvious that Roger didn’t get all that many visitors and was ecstatic to have us in there.

As we followed him around he quizzed us on old music technology and told us countless stories. It would have been nice to explore Roger’s shop on my own, but his genuine excitement and enthusiasm made the visit worthwhile. Before leaving, we caught a glimpse of his granddaughter who was running around the store. Just outside of his shop she had set up a little mini game to win prizes which only cost 50 cents. When his granddaughter had originally asked if she could do this, he told her, “You can only take people’s money if everyone is guaranteed to win.” From what I got to know of Roger, that philosophy seemed to perfectly embody his spirit and deeply resonated with me. Only take from others if you intend on giving back.

“You can only take people’s money if everyone is guaranteed to win.”

Ink Wars

As we begin to drive into Columbus, there’s a bit of familiarity and I let out a sigh of relief—we’re here. Downtown is lined by brick buildings reminiscent of Savannah, but with a much smaller town feel to it. Columbus is significantly less touristy and so it feels like a smaller more secret version of Savannah as if it’s a home away from home, almost dream-like. That’s exactly Creative South feels—like a dream.

Immediately after parking we began to recognize familiar faces, and we quickly found ourselves in a coffeeshop with several other creatives. It’s impossible not to find yourself talking to others and creating new friendships. While some people took part in various workshops throughout Thursday, those who aren’t were eager to hang out and just talk. There is so much value in the conversations you will have with other creatives from different backgrounds, and I can’t stress this point enough, but at the end of this post I’ll link to some other Creative South recaps that touch on the value of conversations outside of the talks. The remainder of this post will focus on the endless lessons I learned from the speakers and people I was able to meet at Creative South.

Brian Manley

To kick off the conference, Brian opened on the topic of: Follow your weird. In other words, not only embrace who you are but also discover who you are. Brian truly embodied his philosophy and his enthusiasm was so genuine and contagious. As it’ll be with all of the speakers, below are some amazing takeaways from Brian’s talk.

  • Find something you like to do and go do it
  • Be a nerd
    • We are in the golden age of being a nerd
    • So celebrate your nerdy-ness
  • Work within your weakness
    • Know what you’re not good at and embrace it
    • Let your weaknesses determine your uniqueness
  • Dance with the one that brung ya
    • Celebrate and remember the people that got you here
    • Remember the experiences
      • We’re so caught up in the future that we often forget to look back
    • Taking the time to reflect is like taking a time machine back to when you thought differently
  • ABC – Always Be Curious
    • When we hit a level of comfort we stop being curious
      • So get the hell of out of your comfort zone
      • “Not all curious are creative. But all creatives are curious”
  • Love
    • The byproduct of everything you make should be love
    • Your job means nothing, but love is everything

Molly Jacques

  • Be relevant
  • Learn to adapt
  • Specialize

The Print Matters Panel

Or should we call them the three musketeers? Brian French of French Paper, Bob Ewing (letterer/designer), and Nick Sambrato from Mama’s Sauce held a panel discussion at Creative South which brought forth a unique perspective of the entire printing process from paper to design to print.

  • From Brian: We keep things small, focus on quality, and listen to what people want.
  • From Bob: Everything starts with pencil and paper.
  • From Nick: Learn to exercise your opinion, be honest, and do your best work.

Aaron Sechrist

It was almost as if Aaron had planned his talk to be placed into this blog post. He was clear, concise, and structured his talk into numbered lessons. On top of that, Aaron made sure to have fun, so his talk was both humorous and extremely valuable. Here’s some of what he had to say.

  • This is supposed to be fun
    • Everyone has ideas
    • You won’t suck
    • “If they can make 5 transformers movies then I can sell some t-shirts.”
  • “Money is not a goal. It’s a tool to achieving one.”
  • Ask for help
    • And be prepared not to get any
    • Don’t count on anyone, make it happen with or without the help of others
  • Dreams and fear are myths
    • We give these things too much power over our lives
    • Dreams are ghosts
    • Serve your vision
  • Get Up
    • Failure is as big as a fallacy as dreams and fear
    • Learn to accept criticism and learn from it
  • Don’t be boring
  • Make this your life

Tad Carpenter

Just by looking at Tad’s work you get a sense of sincerity and enthusiasm, and then hearing him talk immediate reassures this assumption. To say the least, Tad is so incredibly down to Earth and approachable. He’s the kind of guy that would give you a high-five as you passed him on the street. To lead into the first point, Tad truly has his own personality.

  • Be true. You are, who you are.
  • What’s unique from where you’re from?
    • Tad absolutely loves Kansas City, and it made me want to dive into the history of Savannah and really celebrate the place that I live in.
  • Everyone has a masterpiece within them from birth.
  • If you don’t make it, no one is going to make it for you.
  • What we do is play
    • Embrace the power of play
  • It is important to remember: WE GET TO DO THIS
    • We get to make stuff we like, never forget that
    • Love what you do
  • Fight for what you believe in
    • But learn to let go of the things that don’t work out
  • If you are passionate about it then so are others
  • Take risks
  • You can’t do everything
  • It all comes down to trust
  • There’s always going to be more money
    • But don’t mess with my time
  • Through continuous making, you find yourself


Friday (Day 2) of Creative South seemingly went by in a flash, between the talks, stepping in the ring for live typefight (and getting my ass kicked), and then spending the night talking with a bunch of great people, I just didn’t want it to end. Following the talks, there was an after party at a bar, but it was 21 and up which seemed to work in my favor considering we spent the night actually engaging in honest conversations in a peaceful environment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be out too long for I had to wake up at 5 am to get my run in the next day, which leads into the Day 3 of Creative South:

Octavius Newman

Before arriving at the venue, we were in search of some food but we ran into some people and inevitably found ourselves in a 10 minute conversation. We eventually made it to the venue and, unfortunately, missed a little bit of Octavius’s talk, but his talk was the perfect amount of inspiration and advice needed to start the day. The words “Believe. Create. Inspire.” covered the screen, and Octavius shared some thought provoking questions on what it means to believe, create, and inspire.

  • There is a cycle of art and creativity
    • Be inspired by art, create art, and then inspire others to create art
  • Create and show what you believe
    • What do you believe in and how do you show it?
    • What we spend time or money on is a display of what we believe in
  • Inspire people to do what you do
  • Where are you taking people with your creativity?
  • Partner with people
    • When asking people to collaborate, share your ideas and intentions and ask, “does this resonate with you?”
  • First understand, and then be understood
  • Inspire and create unity
  • It’s most important to build relationships
  • “I’d rather win you over with love and excellence”

Jen Mussari

Jen Mussari

While Rogie was helping get Jen’s presenter notes up, he accidentally revealed her mess of a desktop to the audience making for a very humorous and embarrassing moment for Jen. But she put it so well saying, “I feel like you all know me so well now.” Seeing that messy desktop mixed with Jen’s genuine sweetness and combined with her passion, set up her talk of pure authenticity. What made Jen’s talk one of my favorites was that it brought in life lessons, gave some brief history, exposed industry problems, and presented solutions.

  • Make friends not contacts
  • Lettering has been around for a while
    • Look into its history
  • The internet allows us to reach everyday people and gives us the chance to influence and inspire them
  • Let’s face the problems rather than ignore them
    • Visual trends change
      • Recognize trends, and recognize your own decisions
    • The aggressive micron
      • Is the pen competing with the lettering?
    • We’re more creative than this
      • Cut the cheesy tropes
    • Let’s recognize and express the value of lettering
    • We are so isolated from each other
  • Once we see the problems for what they are, let’s solve them
    • Diversify
      • Like different stuff (literally—like other types of images on instagram that aren’t the same sort of things that you post)
      • Boost other artists who are doing weird things
    • Industry Standards
      • How do you price? These are conversations we need to be having
    • Words have meaning
      • Know what we call ourselves
      • Identify with who you are
    • Band Together
      • Surround yourself with like-minded creatives
    • Evaluate what a realistic perspective of success is
      • My selfworth is not based on the success of others

Lenny Terenzi

This was a roller coaster of emotion, Lenny had me on the verge of tears, on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, and left me feeling extremely humbled and beyond inspired. Although I don’t have many notes written down from his talk, you can learn so much from Lenny’s talk. To say the least, his talk gave me such perspective. It’s never too late to do what you love.

  • Learn how others deal with mistakes
    • Don’t obsess over how they achieved success
  • If you aren’t pushing yourself then you’re cheating your clients
    • Doing the bare minimum is a sign that you’re too comfortable
    • You’re also cheating yourself
  • If you need help, ask for it
    • It is not a sign of weakness
  • It’s refreshing to have someone call you out on your bullshit

The Crans

The talented and hard working family of David Cran, Riley Cran (David’s son), and Cade Cran (Riley’s cousin) held a panel which was more like little individual talks followed by some Q&A, but each of their stories and answer were so interesting to hear. The three combined was a perfect mixture of experience, passion, and fun. Below are just a few takeaway points from what they had to say.

  • “If you don’t clean up your handwriting you’re going to become a criminal.” — One of Riley’s teachers
  • When you create a typeface you’re creating a tool
  • “When I go to the dentist I don’t tell them what to do.”

Matthew Muñoz

Although he wasn’t originally on the schedule, Matthew brought a great change of pace to Creative South and had such great composure during his talk—calm, cool, and confident would best describe Matthew. He has a super interesting talk which focused on design thinking and knowing the boundaries conditions that you’re working in, but it would have been much nicer to talk one on one with him for some of the topics seemed a bit more complex than a speedy talk allowed for. Nonetheless, Matthew brought forth the perspective that we can design beyond aesthetics and influence the political and social world.

  • Boundaries may limit, but they can also protect as well as liberate
  • As a designer be a catalyst
  • What will you focus on?
    • Set your own boundary conditions
    • Work with a growth mindset
  • “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” —  Chuck Palahniuk

Dave & Laura Coleman — The Australian Graphic Supply Co

Where do you start with these two? They’re some of the happiest people I have ever met, and are so easy to talk to. When they took the stage they decided to have a bit of fun and asked for some volunteers to take the stage. 5 people eagerly ran up, but to their surprise Laura had a jar of Vegemite for them all to taste. While this was slightly cruel, it was undeniably hilarious—all of the volunteers survived the Australian battle grounds. In regards to their talk, Dave and Laura positioned their talk around the wonderful characteristics of Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, and also engaged in some great conversations with the audience following their talk.

  • Work hard
    • Find the things that make you tick
      • Fill your day with those things
    • There is a such thing as bad hard work
    • Enforce working hours, especially if you work at home
    • Hard work shouldn’t be hard work just for the sake of it
    • Talent without hard work is worthless
    • Final work syndrome
      • When we see other people’s finished work we immediately get down on ourselves and think, “I’ll never be that good.”
  • Have tenacity
    • Tenacity is the strength of your character
    • It’s what allows you to fight the resistance
    • Passive ≠ Progress
    • Proactive = Progress
  • Be passionate
    • What if we don’t know what our passion is?
      • Passion isn’t always immediately evident
      • Be passionate about finding what you enjoy
    • Have a value based approach to living
  • Where do we draw our worth from?
    • Who you are as a person is where your work is, but we are not our work.
    • Our work is not where we get our worth.
    • First we are people, then we are designers
  • When you’re in a slump, get out of the environment that is negatively affecting you
    • Go for a walk and breathe some fresh air

Sean McCabe

To conclude the conference talks, Sean closed with some serious value. He brought us all briefly into his story of what he was doing before lettering, how he transitioned into lettering, how he made over $100,000 in 3 days from his learn lettering course, and concluded with his 4 keys to growing an audience.

  • The talks (at conferences) are just a bonus
    • The value is in the conversations and making connections
  • You don’t need a fancy workspace to do great work
    • Work within your means
  • You can’t just consume, you also have to do
  • It all starts with a decision
  • Share what you learn
    • Teach everything you know
  • Why grow an audience?
    • You’re seen as an authority
    • You’re able to sell products
    • You are able to build a community
  • 4 keys to growing an audience
    • Curation (Kind)
      • They are going to put you in a box—you can define that box
      • The world cannot process your awesomeness
      • You attract what you project (Noise is what people tune out)
      • Pick one thing and only project that kind of content
    • Consistency (Frequency)
      • If you’re going to do it, do it weekly (We live life in weekly cycles)
      • Set a schedule and create public accountability to follow through with it
    • Quality (Value)
      • Provide value with all of the content you make
      • Ask people what they’re struggling with
      • Plan a take away ahead of time
    • Time (Patience)
      • Good things take time
      • Show up everyday for 2 years and don’t expect any results
      • Have projections not expectations

Above are all of the notes I have, but it doesn’t include some of the talks I wasn’t able to jot down notes during as well as the talks I missed. The other thing that isn’t included is all of the value I was able to get from everyone I talked to at the conference. I’ve never felt so accepted and excited in my life, the experience is truly life changing.

Although my brother and I went to Creative South last year, in 2014, this year was way more incredible on so many levels. What made this year much more enjoyable was the conscious effort we made to meet and engage with people. Last year was our first time at a conference and so it was both scary and difficult to meet people, but this year we threw all fear out the window which made for a life changing experience. One of the most valuable things I learned at Creative South was the power of conversation. As Jen put it, “No freelancer is an island entire of itself.” We’re all in this together. It doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, this is fun and amazing, and I hope to see you at Creative South next year!

Be sure to watch the Creative South 2015 Dance Competition above which was recorded by Matt Gillespie