The idea behind the Creativity Unleashed interview series is that I wanted to ask friends, fellow creative entrepreneurs, and people I looked up to questions they might not always get asked. I do my fair share of interviews and I mean no offense to the folks that take the time to interview me, but I get asked a lot of the same questions. With this series it’s my goal to ask unique questions and hopefully have these folks information you’ll find valuable, inspirational, or at least entertaining.
The format of Creativity Unleashed is 10 questions with no limit to the answer length and then a 10 question rapid-fire round where the answers are limited to one sentence. Look for a recap of the interview at the end.
Creativity Unleashed with Chuck Anderson, AKA NoPattern
If you’ve used Windows, picked up a copy of ESPN Magazine the past few years, owned a Lupe Fiasco or Fall Out Boy Album, you’ve experienced Chuck’s amazing design work first hand. I had the pleasure of meeting Chuck in person a few years ago in Grand Rapids, MI, after following him online and admiring his work for a few years prior. What Chuck doesn’t know is that before I knew who he was, I was trying to copy his design style in Photoshop (this was many years ago). I failed miserably.
Now, on with the interview!
1. Chuck Anderson, who are you and what are you passionate about?
I’m a dude. I live in Chicago and I’m an artist, designer, photographer, etc etc. That’s my new bio lately, “artist, designer, etc etc.” Nice and easy and sarcastic. Just like me. Anyways. That’s a lot of the stuff I’m passionate about – Chicago, art, design, photography. I’m also passionate about sports like football and basketball, tattoos, my wife and cat and friends and family, good beer and coffee, Michigan (I lived in Grand Rapids for 5 years, has a special place in my heart), and the internet. SUPER PASSIONATE ABOUT THE INTERNET.
2. Most creatives are also entrepreneurs, what other jobs have you had? And if you had to pick another job right now, what would it be?
I haven’t had a job besides running my own thing (NoPattern) in almost 10 years now. My last job where I was actually an employee was for Threadless when I was like 18…I was one of only about 5 people working there (think about that compared to how big they are now) packing t-shirts. This is way back, I was literally the only person for a few months who packed ALL of Threadless’ orders. Those guys were instrumental to me when I got started, Jake, Jeffrey, Jacob, Craig…all great guys. If I had to pick another job right now, I’d be the starting QB for the Chicago Bears (answering like 10 year old me) or more realistically I’d probably be a vet and work with animals all the time.
3. You and I both posted about Kanye West’s Jimmy Kimmel interview as it pertains to creatives being bullied and being outcasts. Like you I was bullied as a kid, how do you think that has shaped you as the person you are today?
Ah man, what a topic. Never been asked about this before but it’s a really important discussion. I really had a great upbringing, had a wonderful family and great friends but once I moved right around the start of junior high in 7th grade, I started in a new school and quickly found I was a lot more ‘artsy’ than most of the kids there. It wasn’t long before I learned what it felt like to be called a fag, homo, flamer, gay, all that good stuff. I’m not gay, but kids sure like to make you think you are if you aren’t like the rest of them. It’s that really sturdy family and smaller core of really good friends that made me never, ever dwell on that stuff. The cool thing is, eventually people started realizing I was actually pretty damn talented and could draw circles around them. I was drawing graffiti letters and characters and stuff in 8th grade and a lot of the kids that liked to give me shit earlier on started watching me draw, asking me to do stuff for them, and probably the best thing I did was be nice and play it cool and do it. Creativity is a pretty cool way to soften and humble people, especially at a young age. I wasn’t like, incessantly made fun of or ever bullied to the point of crying, but I certainly had my fair share of it. It shaped who I am today because I just always stayed really motivated to be successful as I got older so I could look back and laugh. Which I really do now. And a lot of the people I specifically remember giving me a hard time as a kid have pretty sad lives now, as I can go see on Facebook. Usually kids who bully as kids aren’t happy themselves so its not surprising. It’s sad on both sides really.
4. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see up-and-coming creative people making? How can they avoid those mistakes?
Trying too hard to be “successful” right out of the gate instead of just being who they are, making things, and letting shit come to them. I’ve had – very admirably I should add – kids as young as 13, 14 years old emailing me asking about how to get clients. That’s kind of unbelievable and I would never stop anyone at any age from trying to start a business, but I do think there’s a point at which you should just be playing, making things, being a creative kid, and worrying about the business stuff later. But hey, again, who am I to judge. The internet has made it very possible for a talented 13 year old kid to start a business and if he wants to do that, I’m all about it. But generally I feel like people now, with the speed of social media and the internet, have very little patience. It’s good to take your time honing what you want to do before rushing to “success” or worse, “getting paid”. Let that come in time.
5. Speaking of up-and-comers, the education system in the US is a freakin’ mess. You didn’t go to college, I think my time in college was a huge waste, would you advise young creatives to go to college or take some other path?
A few years ago I’d have said I’m just all for whatever each individual wants to do. If you feel passionate about college, you should go to college. Now…man…given the state of things, it’s really difficult to recommend college to people, especially for art and design. There are more ways than ever to learn things on your own, or just cheaper, online, with books, cheaper more powerful software and computers and other tools…but it just really depends what you want to do. Either way is a gamble, but I will say from my own experience it’s pretty wonderful having zero debt.
6. What’s the biggest failure you’ve had (that you’re willing to share) and what did you learn from it?
I’m not sure if this is a failure that I “had”, as in something I tried and failed at in terms of accomplishing a job or something…but a few years ago I applied my work to the Art Directors Club Awards ‘Young Guns’ award. I figured given my pretty well known work, name, portfolio, etc., that I was a shoe-in. I’m not meaning to sound egotistical even though anyone reading this will think I do (Kanye nod), but I really did feel like Ok, it’s a given. I was humbled a few months later when I received the ‘thanks but no thanks’. To be honest, I’m kind of of the ‘fuck awards’ mentality ever since. The idea of congratulating each other for how great we are is sort of…I don’t know… I don’t really like it. How do I not sound bitter right now!? I know I do! And I know awards are just a celebration of creativity which I’m all about, but I think ever since then I was like, you know what? I like what I do and I really can’t waste my time letting getting an award or not getting an award get to me and derail me from keeping my head down and working, so…tried, failed, and learned that I probably put too much stock in A) myself and B) what it would mean to win an award. The only validation that truly means anything to me is from myself, my wife, and my clients. If those things are clicking, I’m good. Man, I sound young again!! I’m 28, but reading this answer back I sound like snotty 19 year old me! I like it! Haha. (Jason’s note: I like it too! Honesty is refreshing.)
7. I read in another interview on how the “NoPattern” name got started. Have you ever wanted to rebrand yourself? If not, if you had to make up a new brand name right now what would it be called?
Not really, I love the NoPattern name…but I do get sick of writing it out or how it looks in certain fonts or whatever. The “tt” in “pattern” creates a sort of odd negative space in the word sometimes, ha, but I only notice that because I’ve been using it for like 10 years now. If I had to make a new brand name right now it would be called ARTWEB—NETZONE.BIZ
8. You’ve worked with some incredible brands, are there brands out there you haven’t worked with that you’d like to? Do you ever pursue those brands?
Apple, of course, but I did a lot of pretty prominent work with Microsoft for Windows over the last few years. Maybe killed my chances there? Maybe not? Haha, I don’t know. I want to work on a beer brand. I haven’t pursued one yet but there’s a LOT of bad beer branding and art out there for really, really good beers, so I’ll probably go after that one of these days.
9. There’s a business side to being a freelance creative that a lot of creatives aren’t good at. What are some tools you use or processes you have in place to make the business side of things run smoother?
Well, this is not an easy answer that will necessarily help other people because its a very ‘custom’, unique situation, but ever since meeting my business partners and managers 5 years ago through a project I did with Joshua Davis, everything has changed. Having someone to handle client negotiating, chasing down invoices, all that stuff, life has been much easier. It’s nice not to feel totally solo, have somebody I can bounce ideas off of before I send off to the client…I think that’s different for everybody but if you have been working for a while on your own and meet the right rep/manager, it can be a really huge weight off your shoulders.
10. What keeps you inspired these days? Other artists, music, blogs you read, stuff off the web?
Instagram has been a big part of inspiration for me these days. Not necessarily the Instagram brand, but what I see from the people I follow on Instagram. I feel like IG has the highest concentration of interesting people using it. Twitter has everyone too, but not everyone is interesting on Twitter or is good with words. There are a few artists like KAWS or Daniel Arsham who I love following because its just amazing to see little visual snippets of their lives, their work, their studio, all that stuff. Instagram feels like a really safe haven for so many types of people and the community is incredibly interactive. What do you have to gain by liking a picture? You’re not racking up points, its just like little backpats for people but something about how easy it is I just love. That’s a pretty general answer but it’s the first thing that came to mind. Also, I’m listening to the new Arcade Fire right now and it’s as good as everyone has been saying. No surprise there though.
Rapid Fire Round with Chuck Anderson
12. Chicago Bears?
One of my best friends is a Cleveland Browns fans so I have little room to complain about anything after spending a lot of time with him go Bears.
13. The creative process?
Need to practice more.
14. The photoshop filter “plastic wrap”?
Equal parts underrated and unnecessary.
15. THE BRILLIANCE?
One of the internets most iconic websites.
16. Animated GIFs?
Picture me sitting in my chair at my desk with my shirt pulled over my head holding a skull on top of my head so it looks like thats my head and I’m spinning around in the chair forever.
17. What outfit are you currently wearing?
Navy blue tshirt, black jeans, same thing I pretty much wear every day.
18. What did you have for dinner last night?
Went to my parents house and had lasagna and pumpkin beer.
19. Your favorite tattoo?
The ones my friend David Allen has done on me.
20. Final thought or last piece of wisdom?
You can be like 74% more productive if you burn a good smelling candle at your desk and have plants in your office. It’s science.
I can’t thank Chuck enough for taking the time to answer all these questions. One of my big takeaways from this interview is to not concern yourself with being “successful” right from the start. Worry more about creating, trying, experimenting, iterating, and learning as you go. We do get way too caught up in the speed of the Internet and worried about immediate success. It just doesn’t happen folks.
It took Chuck over a decade to get where he is. Get out there, try stuff, and don’t worry what other people think. Do it because you love it!