Inner View: Exploring professional creative careers
I interview Kevin Veatch, who has led a multifaceted creative life.
Kevin Veatch is a creative who started his professional life as a fourth-grade teacher. An excellent beginning for a creative career that includes being a teacher, graphic designer, photographer, retailer, environmental designer, home and interior designer, electrician, songwriter, musician, and sound engineer.
You can see the interview on YouTube.
I reconnected with Kevin when a mutual friend, Phil Herzog, asked Kevin to record a conversation between Phil and me in Kevin’s Bainbridge recording studio. During that conversation, it dawned on me that Kevin had led a long, multifaceted career with far more twists, turns, and creative endeavors than mine. All of those endeavors required self-taught skills. Kevin is truly a creative who learns by doing.
The following was recorded in Kevin’s sound studio on Bainbridge Island.
Kevin Ted Edited Transcript & Preface 033123 Final
Ted: So Kevin.
Ted: One of the things I’ve been, I’m increasingly interested with is how creative people are making their way, given the realities of the world today. The number of freelancers is increasing dramatically. Corporations are retaining people less on salaries and in full-time positions. So, there’s more and more freelancers.
And in fact, it’s predicted that the US workforce will be half freelance in a couple of years, which is amazing. Those of us who have creative traits like you do and like I do have to find other ways of making our way in the world, without being so dependent on a full-time gig from a single organization.
Kevin: Let me throw this in, tell me if this is what you see out there in the world. Creatives can be a little “off” on one end of the continuum of weirdness, shall we say. That’s what I encountered in the few times that I have worked for a company and had a job as an employee.
I always got this uneasy feeling like it was about over, like I was gonna get canned. Why? I don’t know. You know, I’m a friendly guy, A lot of people like me, but somehow the whole cubicle world and me, you know, I can sort of fake it, but I think the people who I had to answer to are much more structured. They don’t quite get creatives.
So, if you’re answering directly to somebody who’s not a buffer between the creative world and the administrative world, the dynamic can get awkward, right?
Ted: Right. I think that’s, you’re totally correct, okay. That’s the case. To survive in the corporate world, you need to fit certain circumstances and certain behaviors. And often we’re not too good at that. Yeah. Or maybe we just don’t want to.
Kevin: Yeah. We don’t want to.
Ted: And you know, in my experience, creatives are far more motivated by the work itself than anything else. More motivated by the work than the money.
Kevin: Right. We wanna do cool stuff. Yeah.
Ted: Yes, we wanna do cool stuff. So first the work, and then in my experience, the second thing we’re motivated by is other creatives working in a group and sharing stuff back and forth with others who respect us, and we in turn, respect them.
Kevin: And if some of the competitive motives can be removed from the environment, all the better.
Kevin: I’ve been working in the songwriting world lately. Co-writing with other people is very common.
A beginner might anxiously think, “I hope I have the best idea. Hey, listen to my idea. Everybody will be so impressed with me,” and, “Hey, I thought of that idea. So the song is mostly mine, right?”
But, if the song has commercial success, who gets the money? Well, to eliminate that cutthroat vibe, the rule amongst songwriters — at least in the Nashville world where that’s what I’m familiar with — is, “if you’re in the room, you’re in the write.” You could be sitting there having a bad day and grunt a few times, and you’ll still get your one-third shared credit if you’re three people.
Ted: Wow. Yeah.
Kevin: The thinking there is that whatever idea you bring influences what the other people come up with. What I’ve noticed about the Nashville world, at least the part of it I’ve brushed into, is everybody’s kind of, for everybody, trying to lift the other guy up, figuring that if somebody else has some success and recognition, they might and probably will come back and say: hey, I’m gonna be playing at the such. It’s kind of a big gig for me. Can you join our band? And now suddenly, you know, everybody lifts. Right?
Ted: I love hearing that, and it makes total sense to me because, in the design world, which is most of my history, that’s also true. The best work and the best creative organizations are small groups where everybody respects everybody else in the group. If you don’t kind of measure up, you don’t get into the group in the first place. So measuring up to the standards of that group is required.
But once you’re in, then there’s this collaboration that goes back and forth and you’re all focused on the purpose of the work.
And in fact, critiques against a creative brief as something to critique against makes it possible for everyone to contribute and then for their work to judged against the brief. Since we’re all trying to tell the same story in one way or another. So we’re, together in this. The critique is focused on the work, not on the individual. That way you reinforce the needs that the group and the work.
Kevin: So, another element I’ve, I don’t know if it’s just unique to me, is, what I’ll call audience applause. Imagine a theater where the curtain is closed and everybody’s worked hard in Denver preparing. The curtain opens, the orchestra starts.
And there’s that moment when I present some new piece of work, I want the audience to be going, whoa, that is really cool. And, that’s what drew me to environmental graphics and branding inside of buildings and outdoor areas. I did a fair amount of that. I love it partially because it’s so seen. Everybody sees it. I call the appeal ‘audience applause.’
Ted: Oh, well, I think that’s, yeah. I mean, I think it our need for appreciation goes without saying.
Kevin: So, I’m not weird? [laughter]
Ted: No. I think it goes without saying that we, you know, we really are desperate for that kind of feedback.
Kevin: Yep, affirmation.
Ted: Affirmation. You bet. A colleague of mine said to me the other day, “I really like your drawings.” My little heart just went pitter-pat because my website’s full of my drawings.
Kevin: I like ’em too.
Ted: I worked for that.
In this conversation, one of the points I want to make is, that your story is a story of transitioning through many different creative activities over the course of your career. I believe that increasing numbers of creatives will need to do many different kinds of creative activities to thrive.
I want to; I made a little list here. You started professionally as an elementary school teacher with fourth graders. Which is really cool.
Kevin: It was really fun.
Ted: Fourth grade was, by the way, extremely important to me personally. I don’t know if we’ll get into that.
Kevin: Is that where somebody recognized that you can draw?
Ted: Uh, well, no, I flunked the fourth grade.
Kevin: Well, part of it; there may have been other parts you sailed at. Yeah. It just didn’t appear on the report card. Like, good with women!
Ted: That’s always been a goal.
Then you moved, then, you moved into graphic design. And because you didn’t kind of realize that, that there were writers who wrote things for graphic designers. You became a writer too. And you wrote your own stuff. And then of course, you got into photography.
Kevin: Photography, same stuff.
Ted: You got into photography not knowing that there were all these photographers out there with all these skills. So you learned it yourself. And then you got into retailing with the dancing brush, uh, experiment and experience. And you’re still doing that, running a retail store.
Kevin: It’s a “paint your own” pottery studio called Dancing Brush.
Ted: Your own patio pottery studio, and then you’re a musician.
Kevin: Yeah. Love that.
Ted: And then you’re a recording engineer.
Kevin: Yeah, Love that.
Ted: You’re a songwriter within these collaborative environments. And, of course, you’re a storyteller and explainer, and I’d forgotten about the environmental graphics. I remember that now. You, you did that very successfully as well.
So, and I think that is, actually, the future for many of us creates, not everybody, but for some of us may dig into something and just, and just focus on it. But others of us will need to have many different things that we do.
And in fact, I’ve transitioned personally from being focused on design to now I do more writing than I do designing, so there you go.
Kevin: I wonder if the common thread between all those is that you need to capture people’s attention or emotion or just create some kind of a curtain-opening experience.
Ted: Well, I think your elementary school teaching experience is key. You know, holding the attention of eight and nine year old’s, is not easy to do. And my guess is that you had some natural talent for that to begin with. You liked them. You found ways of capturing them so that they would respond to you and sit in their seats when they needed to, for the most part. And do other stuff when they needed to.
Kevin: Having them doing stuff worth sitting for.
Ted: Do stuff that they’re Yeah, excited about. Because that’s the other thing about, about us human beings is that we love to work hard when we’re interested in it.
Ted: You know? So, we have to be interested in it to do it. So, my guess is that your elementary school work actually prepared you for your graphic design career.
Kevin: Oh, totally. Because elementary school teachers have to do everything. They don’t have a an office staff or an administrative assistant to run copies or whatever.
In fact, that’s something that was a struggle for a while for me. As I started to get better design jobs, I was working with VPs. And I found out a lot of them can’t actually do anything. It’s really weird. They’re getting paid a lot of money and everything has to be spoon fed to them. Which I thought was weird because I had to just do it. And as a result, I was pretty good at getting stuff done.
Ted: You also are very interested in learning new things. Sometimes you’ve been forced to. You took over Dancing Brush while it was struggling. You said to me, “there I was, most of the original staff had left. I’m standing at the cash register with customers needing to check out — and I don’t know how to operate a cash register.”
Kevin: it was horrible.
Ted: I can totally picture myself in that, in that situation.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, different in people rallied around and, and, and helped out. And in short order we were got it covered. had a new team of people, and the business turned around.
Ted: Somebody saved you. Somebody who cared enough about what was going on to make it happen in the moment. And you were spared.
Kevin: Yeah. For people who don’t know what that world is, the paint your own pottery experience can be awesome. Or it can be kind of a disaster. Imagine you paint a coffee mug and you put your heart into it, leave it with the store, to fire it in their kiln. Well, what if you come back to pick it up and it’s not ready? Or you come back to pick it up and they’ve broken it. Or worse yet they can’t find it. Where is it?
So, I had to create new systems and procedures for just about everything to make it more efficient and guarantee zero mistakes. I mean, we’ll do 10,000-15,000 pieces a year, and we cannot lose one of them. And, if we do have a problem, it’s usually something got broken and we have procedures for how we handle that and all of that stuff I ended up finding out I’m pretty good at. Not necessarily the cash register. I don’t know if I’ll ever get good at that.
Ted: Fortunately, somebody else can be good at it. Right?
Kevin: We’ve got a great team there.
Ted: Yeah, exactly.
Tell me about how you how you pursued your musical career. You went to Nashville. I remember something about that. Tell me a little bit about that.
Kevin: Well, I’ve always been, you know, like a lot of kids in the sixties and seventies, I had the opportunity to be in the school band. So I was that because why? Well, it’s kind of fun. You can get out of class and go to band. And then in junior high and high school, it was actually something you could have as an elective. And it was just fun. But I was never that serious about it during high school.
Bass guitar is the first thing I landed on that was more of a rock and roll instrument. And that was because our school had a jazz band. I had sort of blown it off. I’d heard announcements about it, but I didn’t care that much.
Well, I walked into, uh, the band room after school one day, and oh, they’re rehearsing, oh, this is the jazz band. There’s a drum set. Oh my gosh, look at that.
And then there’s Karen Harkins who’s playing the bass, and she’s a straight ‘A’ student flute player. She never gets in trouble. Everything’s perfect in her life. She would probably laugh if she heard me say that, but my thing is, wait a second, Karen should not be doing something that cool. So it kind of let a fire in me. I’m gonna learn how to do that, and talk to the band teacher. I persuaded him to let two of us play bass. Can you imagine that A junior high, band with two bass players is a rumble fest of mistakes, bless his heart. So when we got to high school, we had to audition, and I beat her. So I felt great about that. So I had some success early on and I guess that’s what kept me through it is, is, uh, just interesting in that.
And then when I was in college, I just fell in love with the sound of records, you know, just sitting there between two speakers kind of close and listening to this and listening to that, I was like, ah, that’s so cool. So that perpetuated a fascination, like, how do you make stuff sound cool?
It’s really just been a, a passion. And after a while you can get good enough at it that somebody else who isn’t as good at it, but once their song created, they’ll pay a little bit of money for that help.
Ted: Tell me about the Nashville experience.
Kevin: I went there for a songwriting camp, just kind of wondering what’s that like. And when I went there, I ended up going and watching this open mic. There was a drummer there, and I was picking up more, I was getting more focused on drums myself. So I chatted with him afterwards and I said, Hey, do you ever like, play drums on somebody’s project? If I sent it to you and you sent record it, send tracks back over the internet. And he goes, oh yeah. Every day I, that’s what I do. I’m a session player. And I go, really? Oh, awesome. And I just figured, oh, session player. He’s like a god, and sure. So expensive. I could never, I said, well, like what would it cost? I was figuring he’d say $500 or something, because up in Seattle, it seemed like everybody that I tried to talk to, to play on things, they were all in the hundreds of dollars range.
He goes, ah, 50 bucks. Really? I could do that.
So I started, doing that. I make the songs but leave out drums and send it to him and it comes back with awesome drums.
Then through him I met a fiddle player who’s like world class. In fact, now he is in the house band at the grand old Opry. Which is a big deal for a fiddle player. He plays banjo and everything, so I asked, hey, well what would it cost? And he goes, eh, 50 bucks. If you want a second instrument, 25. Okay, suddenly my music started sounding a lot better. And with these connections I was basically wholesaling musicians.
These guys is they can set aside a, let’s say a Tuesday afternoon and they’ve got, may have five songs to do, they’re good enough that when they play it down the first time, they’re looking at their notes and they have a winner on the first take. It’s just great.
They just zip it up, bundle up, email it back. So maybe 50 bucks. They can literally be in and out of it in 20 minutes if they’re organized. So they’re making a hundred, $150 an hour just by being organized.
That’s how they do it. It’s not a loss for them. They’re not being cheap. It’s great.
Nashville’s competitive enough that there’s a lot of players that are really good so they really can’t charge too much more unless they have a brand name.
Ted: You’re introducing these Nashville quality players into local music.
Kevin: Right. Which is what they do every day anyway.
Ted: And you’re doing that right here in your studio.
Kevin: Yeah. Right. I have a friend Kate, who called me up and said, Hey, I have a song idea, and she hasn’t had one in a while, so I was excited. Well, come on over. And we laid it down. It was pretty neat. I sent it off to Andy, the drummer, and he sent it back and Kate loved it.
Ted: That’s a great example of the collaboration.
Kevin: It’s much more fun to me to do that with real humans playing real instruments compared to a computer dragging and dropping loops and patterns and stuff like that. I get it, that pop music is made that way these days. And if I ever wanna make a lot of money at this, I better get hooked onto a pop music project. Right. But it’s just not fun. For, for me, I love, what Andy comes up with. Oh, it’s so awesome.
Ted: Oh, oh, I forgot to even mention the houses.
Kevin: Right, the houses
Ted: Yeah. So the other day you proudly showed me these photos of these beautiful interiors of houses that you and your wife, Julie you were buying and redoing. Upgrading there style considerably and then reselling the house. You’re not flipping. That’s a term I hate, by the way, but it’s a common real estate term for this activity.
What you’re doing is a really major change for the, these houses. And what I saw in the photos you showed me was your, your creative skills exhibited in an interior architecture, Your environmental graphic skills at work. Your three dimensional visual skills in action.
Kevin: Thanks for noticing! Julie and I really wrestle about it too. I may think, think one thing is cool, she may think another thing is cool. We almost trade take turns. Who’s going to decide on this one, you know? I guess neither she or I are content to just slam something out that’s average.
So, when you talk about house flipping, it usually means you buy a cheap dump and you literally, you tape off the windows and spray paint it. Put some bark in the yard. And then put the real estate sign out in front. And that’s just so wrong to me, aesthetically. I mean, I know it sounds cliche, but leaving the world a better place is kind of cool. Mm-hmm.
At the pottery studio we have this saying –– a saying I’d like us to say more –– we’re here to deliver delight from the time the first the customer comes in, we want the experience that they have to be better than what they were expecting. So they’re delighted. And when piece is done, it’s better than what they thought it would be.
So I want people to have the same experience with the houses. I want people to love them and that comes down to little architecture, to the decisions we make like, how much space should we put between that wall and this closet and how does this function in this kitchen, you know, and stuff like that.
I think, as a creative person working on creative projects can do pretty well over time if they squirrel away money, but that’s really hard to do, especially for creatives who also have a fancy for fun things. We like to spend money on cool stuff.
Ted: It’s always easier to spend money than make it.
Kevin: I’m not saying this is for everybody, but for, for me, I knew that if I’m ever going to retire and be able to live –– I’m not working for any big company –– I’m not gonna have a company provided pension. I’m not working for the government like my dad did, so there’s no great pension fund for me. I must create my own pension.
I bought a, a fourplex once and struggled with renters and all of that stuff for a number of years. Julie had done the same thing. As enough years go by, we actually owned part of those. The bank owns less of it. So we were able to sell some of those, buy other houses, fix them up and sell them.
You can just make so much more money in big chunks doing that than clicking your mouse, making cool stuff. I’m not giving up clicking my mouse, making cool stuff, but we had to figure out how do we get above the clouds money-wise.
Ted: I think that’s really, really important, because that’s the whole point. The question is, how do we make our way given the realities of the environment that we’re in. I think the best part of this is that you get –– and I’m sure Julie does as well –– you get tremendous personal pleasure and pride from producing, creating a house that’s beautiful as well as the money.
Ted: And along the way, you taught yourself to be an electrician. I think you better tell that story too.
Kevin: I’m sure most people wouldn’t think of wiring a house as being a creative. But I happen to think of it as extremely creative.
Okay. Well, it was certainly a way to solve a problem because, plumbers and electricians, can charge a lot because they have to have a certification. It takes a long time for them to get to the point of that certification. It’s just as hard as going to college and getting a master’s degree in terms of time of your life. So that’s awesome.
But, if you own the property, you’re allowed by law to work on the plumbing and work on the electrical yourself. You still have to have it inspected by the state inspectors. just like an, a licensed electrician would.
The challenge is that the inspectors look very closely at a homeowner done jobs because they figure it’s gonna be wrong. That’s a safety buffer. I can do it myself and I’ve got the backstop of the inspection.
So we’re we were doing these houses. By the second one, we realized how much we were paying the electrical company. It was just insane for how much time they were there. I thought, well, I can learn that one, that can be my contribution to helping this be more profitable.
I spent, I’d like to say a thousand hours or 10,000 hours, studying, but it wasn’t that much. It was more like maybe dozens, maybe a dozen. There are YouTube channels that are specifically for apprentices. I devoured those that were easy to learn from, bought the tools you need and rewired two houses.
Ted: I think that’s really cool. It is. Because that’s actually the kind of thing that I could see myself doing. We thought we were gonna adopt a couple of big dogs a while back. Robin says, how are we gonna keep ’em? I said, oh, I’ll build a fence.
Ted: I went online and figured out what the best good looking fence I could easily build, bought the materials, had ’em delivered and built a fence. Okay. However, I think it’s a lot easier to build a fence than learning to do wiring on YouTube.
But I, but I have that tendency myself, and I think it is kind of innate in me that I like digging in and learning how to do something myself and then physically doing it myself, I enjoy it immensely.
Kevin: Yeah. Cool.
So I’m now three for three on passing inspections on the first time through, which is kind of cool.
I have some tips for anybody who wants to try this. When the inspector came, I wore my Carhartt’s, I had my proper leather, leather tool belt with the bag on the side with all the right electrical tools. And fortunately since I’d done the work, this stuff was starting to look a little worn out. Yes, I had a legitimate look. When the inspector comes to the driveway, I look like I belong there. When he steps out of his truck and sure as hell he says, I hope you know what you’re doing, because I had to drive a long way to get here and I’m not in a good mood.
I said, should we start at the panel? And he said, that’d be good. And I wanted the panel first, cuz I’d done a killer job on neat neatness there. So we went there first, and then he poked around a little bit and, um, and within about 30 seconds he goes, oh, well okay. It looks like you know what you’re doing. Now, now why’d you do this? And I go, well, because I had to do blah, blah, blah. And he says, okay. Then I said, can I show you a three-way switch cuz I’ve got a question about that? And he goes, sure. So, we go upstairs, and I pass him to this section that’s got four light switches in all these wires going up the wall beautifully, neatly, and spanning out. It looked totally dialed.
And he goes, yep. Yeah, okay. That’s good. And then I pointed his attention to the three-way switch question, blah, blah, blah. And before, before you know it, he was giving me tips on how I can save time, make things a little easier. It totally shifted the game because I showed him the good stuff first. Yeah. I thought that was kind of funny leaving cuz I mean, I’m not saying I cheated. I knew what I was doing. Yeah. But there’s a lot. I don’t know. Sure. But I also know how to look it up. I know how to know what I don’t know. Yeah. And look it up.
Ted: You’re a good storyteller. You relate to people and you had a sense of who he was before he arrived, and you knew how he would view an owner who did it himself.
Kevin: I wonder if that comes from the design stuff where you’re creating a creative brief.
Ted: Perhaps it does.
Kevin: Who our audience? What do they care about?
Ted: You made it about him, not about you. In the design world, you have to do that all the time. You gotta understand the client and what they’re trying to do and be focused on them and their need, not your own.
Kevin: Deal. That’s so key. And the more I can practice it, the better things go in the design world. It seems unintuitive. For most of my years, I would create a thing, show it to the client, and I’m wishing for the applause. And then I don’t get the applause. And I’m wondering why it’s only been in the last few years I’ve been able to grow up enough to actually put myself on their side and to forget about whether my stuff is cool. I’ve tried to make it cool, but what do they care about? What pressures are they under? I try to think about them. Oh, they’ve got their boss who needs it done by such and so date. So when I’m talking to them, I’m talking about when do we need this done by? How are we gonna get that done? You know, I’m on their side putting them first.
Ted: And that, that really helps. And so as creatives making our way in the world, we have to understand that it’s not just about what we do and the personal pleasure we get from doing it, but also how does it meet someone else’s need? And, and if it doesn’t forget it, there’s gonna be like no sale. When it came to the inspector, you basically intuitively probably, knew exactly what you needed to wear. You knew that the tools in your toolkit were worn and that you looked like a working guy and all that stuff.
Kevin: Intuitive, yes.
Ted: You might not have thought through it completely, and you kind of knew where he was coming from and where you were coming from and how he might view you.
I think that’s critically important. And my guess is that when you’re making music with a group, helping them make their music with your contributions that you’re doing exactly the same thing.
Kevin: It really is the same. Music especially is a, a service industry where, unless you’re the top artist who is creating their thing that everybody loves, you’re, you’re serving that group goal.
When songwriters write songs, why are they writing them? Most of us, especially us older ones, we know that we are not going to get fame, if any. We’re not young and attractive, but we have some seasoned life under our belts and so maybe we have an idea that’s insightful. But the point of making a song is that hopefully it will get done by somebody else. Or maybe we make a recording and it gets inserted in the background in a movie or something, that’s where the money is. And so, so when I’m helping somebody make a song, I am serving them by finishing the song. I could be tiling a bathroom. It’s not much different other than when there’s guitars involved.
Ted: Right. Through all of these things, you know and you’ve done, you’ve made money. In some maybe you’ve made more than others, obviously, but the, elementary school teacher, graphic designer, writer, retailer, musician, recording engineer, storyteller, explainer, environmental graphics, electrician, learn from, YouTube, et cetera. And from the houses, which I didn’t put down. Every one of these things, has contributed to your income and made it possible for you and Julie to have a life together. For me, that’s the whole point of my thinking about creatives and this new world that we’re in, is that one way to do it is not to think of yourself as a graphic designer or as just a musician or as, as any one of these things on this list, think of yourself as a creative person and you’re using your talents and skills to make your way in the world through all of these different things.
Ted: I have one more question for you. Um, this didn’t come up during our pre-interview. When you were little growing up, when did you know that you were creative, that you were interested perhaps in visual things or interested perhaps in telling the story, or interested perhaps in making the music? Did you have any a moment when something happened, perhaps you got some praise from somebody? Did somebody notice that you could draw and applaud you for it?
Kevin: Well, I don’t know that there was any one time, and I still don’t know.
Right now, I am feeling like, okay, I guess I am a creative. Honestly, a lot of times, I don’t think I’m that great.
Well, here’s my dad. It was more of math and engineering Sure. And very organized. I don’t know that he’s ever been able to get what I’m doing. Back when I had a job with the school district, it made a lot more sense to him. He just thought I was crazy to quit that, to step out of the security of that job.
Kevin: I’ve come from a more regimented world. My relatives were lawyers and engineers. So Yeah. No, nobody did this crazy stuff that I’m doing. It’s crazy to them, to you. Music is like the way to breathe for me.
I found it’s a safer life because, Oh yeah. I’ve been fired a few times while working for companies. And then what do you get? Nothing. Oh, geez. I’m on the phone hustling, saying, hey, remember I did that brochure for you? What do you think? But if you can have several pots on the stove, each one of ’em a different project, if one of them burns or that burner goes out, you’ve got the others to go. So if you’re a creative, you don’t wanna ever have just one gig or one client.
Ted: Did you get good grades in elementary school? Were you a studious student?
Kevin: I would say I was always toward the top. Not the top, top, but back in, in my era, they would divide you into reading groups, basically. Can you read well, medium or not? Now I know that helps in the younger years; that has a lot to do with just brain development. But anyway, I was usually in the top reading group, and there were always a couple of kids that I was always right in the second place behind them. So I was a b plus kind of guy.
Ted: Yeah. Bright, but not, not the tip-top achiever, et cetera.
Kevin: Right. And it’s not that I didn’t get what they were doing; it’s just I didn’t have the tenacity for it. There were other things I had tenacity for.
I didn’t care all that much. I got into motocross racing when I was in junior high and high school, and that was my total thing. And I got pretty good, almost went pro in that.
Ted: Motocross racing on a bicycle or…
Kevin: No, it’s a motorcycle. It’s, you know, up and down hills. It’s a closed-circuit track. it’s super fun. I still have a bike.
Ted: Sounds like a, a teenage thing.
Kevin: A dream. Yep, it was a teenage dream.
I was better than anybody in my school at that time. It was more of a regional thing. It’d be like kids who are nowadays in club volleyball and if they were on the winning team or something like that.
I think there was a time when I realized I was worried, like, this will be my last good idea. I think whatever I was working on, I’m like, man, I hope I can pull that off again. But what I kept finding is that, yeah, I could. Because the next project was a different set of variables, different client, different needs, different message, whatever it was, mm-hmm. And sure enough, I’d come up with something, and it came to the point where, like, I don’t even worry about it. I know I will be able to come up with something.
Ted: Well, that’s experience, isn’t it? There’s nothing like experience. I mean, it’s a huge advantage cuz when you don’t have any experience, then you really struggle with these things. Like, will I never come up with another idea again? After you’ve done a few times, you realize that’s really not the problem.
And you know, the other, the other thought I have is, you know, if, if we’re alive, we all have childhoods, and childhood is the making of us in one way or another. And sometimes we’re opposites because, you know, somehow the status quo of the way we grew up didn’t fit us one way or another.
Kevin: You know, by childhood you mean where confidence comes from and things like that, right?
Ted: The way you grew up, your family. You said everybody else in your family’s more linear, they’re lawyers, and they work for corporations, or they do things that are more linear or more, uh, status quo.
Kevin: Perhaps. Yeah. Respected amongst normal community. Yeah. Right. Nobody was working in an ad agency. I didn’t even know what one of those was. So when I was in elementary school, my dad got married to the wicked, wicked witch of the West. She was horrible. I mean, she was mean. Mean and abusive.
Ted: Boy, that’s classic.
Kevin: Yeah. The good part about that is that I learned how to agree with people because if you didn’t agree in the home, it would’ve been, who knows, what it would’ve been.
Ted: How old were you then when that happened?
Kevin: Six to 12. So I know that generated me a habit of being kind of people. And maybe being a little bit happy, friendly. I don’t really wanna shed the happy friendly. I like that. But I definitely have a respect for people that are more powerful than me.
And I have some bitterness, but you work that out. I don’t know how much that plays into my determination to figure things out or get things done or else. Or else what? I don’t know what.
Ted: Maybe you just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Kevin: Then my teenage years were awesome cuz it was just my dad and me. I had a lot of freedom.
Ted: and you had this motorbike
Kevin: Yeah. The motorcycle thing.
Ted: And Dad was okay with that?
Kevin: He supported it. Cool. It
Ted: That was fantastic.
Kevin: And along with motorsports comes a lot of graphics. I definitely had a sense of what I thought was cool and not cool. But I didn’t know that it was called typography until way later.
What really clicked for me is I went in, I was in my late twenties, I went and visited a friend who worked at an ad agency, um, just to say hi. And we were gonna go out to lunch, and he was showing me, he was doing some work on the Macintosh. It would have just come out. He was kerning type. And it’s like; I thought I could totally do that. This is the difference between dorky and cool. It’s how you park the letters. And I didn’t even know that that was a thing, but I’ve been resonating with it ever since!
And that’s really when I wowed. Started going and finding projects where I could try that.
Ted: Yeah. Cool. Anything else you can think of that, you know, that would be good for people to know? What we’re trying to do is to show how your creativity has made transitioning through many different skills possible.
Kevin: I think it really helped that I had three young children at the time that I made that pivot away from teaching. I didn’t have the option of just floating around dreaming. I actually had to generate cash. Which means pricing a job. Means having a job, finding a project, and then doing it in a way that where you’re going forward, not backwards.
Let’s say you spend a lot of time creating a website, and you just love it, but it turns out that it’s way different than what your client wishes. You show it to them, and they go, whoa, this isn’t at all what we talked about. And now you have this tension in the relationship; chances are you never got any money up front, and they’re not about to pay for this wacky thing that you just made.
You have to learn stuff like that pretty quickly. You need to make sure that you don’t go too far down a rabbit hole without the client agreeing. Does that make sense?
Ted: Oh yeah. And also, the other point you’re making is that you had to make money at this. So it wasn’t all just fun and games. You had to have a stable income because you had three babies. And responsibilities. And so you had real discipline, and that’s been clear through all that you’ve done, you’ve had real discipline. You have mentioned over and over again how concerned you are about how the client feels. How they’ll respond to your creative is as important as the good feelings you get doing the work. So real practical discipline is required. You’ve mentioned it throughout our discussion, especially with the home design. You know that you need to make enough money so that you can retire.
Kevin: Don’t take this to to mean that I am all that disciplined. I get distracted really easily. So I often have to put blinders on myself, like the old horse and buggy, to make sure I’m looking straight down the road and set alarms on my phone so I don’t forget whatever, you know, I lean on a lot of different crutches to make sure that I don’t get off track.
Ted: So you, you have developed methods to manage your own attention deficit issues that just come with the program that you’ve built with. I also suffer from attention deficit syndrome, and I have found that if I do not make a list, I won’t be able to do anything. I literally must know I have to do this, and I have to do that, and I have to do the other thing. If I do not make a list of those things, they won’t happen.
Kevin: Great. We fake like we’re disciplined, and suddenly we are disciplined.
Ted: We develop techniques for managing the parts of our personality that can be harmful to us. That’s really what we’re doing. You’re, we’re able to do all these different things, and we recognize that we have some things that we struggle with. So we develop methods to protect ourselves from the parts of our the kit that we were born with to get by.
Kevin: Well put. That’s great. If more and more people are gonna be freelancing in the coming years. I think there’s gonna be a lot of need for basic coaching. Here’s how you make that freelance career thing work.
Following through is, is one thing. Writing down what you want is another thing. What kind of work do you want to do? Who do you wanna do it for? And for some reason, when you write it down –– I should do this more –– it tends to start to happen.
Ted: Yes. There is a hand-eye mind circuit that we have that when we make a list of things, it helps us align ourselves around the list. It can also be a confidence builder.
I’ve told the story a million times where I would go to the men’s room, sit down, and I was super nervous, and I write down the projects I felt particularly good about that I accomplished. That simple step gave me the courage to actually go deal with something that seemed difficult at the time.
We learn ways, you know, and we can be taught ways by others. We learn ways to deal with these things that we struggle with so that we can actually be self-sufficient to enough to get by in the world. And do far more than get by. I mean, you know, you’re doing really, really well. You’re doing fabulously.
Kevin: Oh, thank you. Yeah. Thank you very much.
Ted: My pleasure. Hey, was this fun or what?
Kevin: Really fun. Yeah, good!
Ted: Let’s do some more of these.
Kevin: Okay. All right. We could have little round tables on various problems creatives have and talk about how we enjoy those problems.
Ted: Exactly. We’ll do it. All right, guys. Thank you very much for watching. If you did.