Portland Creative Conference, 2009 – The Conference Returns!

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Portland Creative Conference: 2009 — We’re Back and We’re on a Roll!
by Sharon Rockey

In this second year of our big comeback, the Portland Creative Conference has found solid footing and is definitely in for the long run. On September 12, an eclectic and effervescent mix of Portland’s brightest and most creative thinkers lit up the stage at the Newmark Theater.

Our speakers promised to poke inside our heads and coax our minds to open wide and say “Ah!” We promised you a chance to learn from the best, to get inspired, and leave re-charged and motivated. . . and to have a rare opportunity to network with some of the most energetic people in the city. Judging from the enthusiastic feedback, everyone delivered on their promises!

Here are some favorite highlights from the day.

Back by popular demand, the improv group, On Your Feet fired us up with this: “Write down a tip for breaking creative blocks and share it with the guy next to you.” OK so far, but when we had to mash the two tips together, they failed to mention that the results may lead to an arrest . . . like noodling on the piano while cruising the back roads, or soaking in a bubble bath while walking the dog. And thus, the pace of the day was set.

Dan Wieden, of Wieden + Kennedy gave us an affectionate glimpse into his personal life starting as an angst-filled adolescent, to a young adult who got fired and had to break the news to his pregnant wife who simply brushed it off with, “Something will turn up.” It did. Today, that same forgiving and supportive attitude underscores the creative energy of the entire W+K agency. It gives people the freedom to grow, and the freedom to fail, and then fail harder. Wieden encourages creatives to feel at home with uncertainty, to embrace chaos, and to walk in stupid every morning. The high-quality film clips he showed us of the agency’s work left no doubts that his advice is working.

Jerry Ketel, artist, graphic designer, and co-founder of Leopold Ketel & Partners stressed the importance of “cross-dress thinking,” or finding new ways to change your perspective. He told us to do whatever it takes to get out of your mental box and break into something fresh and unexpected. Then to punctuate the point, he peeled off his clothes to reveal a slinky red silk dress which he topped off with a full blonde wig. We say, “Hey! Whatever works!

EMEK dazzled us with a wild feast of color vividly splashed over the myriad of details found in his museum quality poster art. He showed examples of the multitude of processes and mediums he uses—and he’ll try just about anything that works—from ruby lithe to embossing to sculpting, and resin casting to silk screening and laser cut Plexiglas. But it’s the subtle humor, social commentary and the fanciful imagery embedded in his work, much of which was created for musicians and rock concerts, that has led fans to dub Emek the Thinking Man’s Poster Artist. Clearly he’s turned posters into an art form that is coveted by collectors world wide.

Award-winning animator, Teresa Drilling brought a few clips from her work on Coraline, Chicken Run, and Wallace and Gromit. But the audience favorite was from Creature Comforts, the short that features Claymation animals with a sound track of regular folks just chatting. Teresa shared clips of the production process followed by the hilarious final results. She credits her own creative process to realizing, “I’m not the boss of it!” And she credits the Portland Creative Conference for her own successful career because it was at an earlier event that she had a chance encounter with Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman Animations studio. And the rest, as they say, is . . well, you know.

Jennifer Jako is co-owner of Fix Studio (it’s short for “I can find a fix for any space.”) Against a backdrop of dramatic images of some of her best work, Jako described how she created the business name for a restaurant, the logo, the font, and the menus, right up to the entire interior from furniture to fixtures. Her philosophy for restaurants is that it has to be about more than fine food. It’s theater and it has to captivate the audience. Her advice is to simply allow the creative process to lift you past the challenges and move you toward fulfilling a vision.

Product design master, Scott Peterson offered suggestion for stimulating creativity. When working with clients, try to put yourself in their shoes, observe, change the scene, try wearing different hats, be a kid, know enough to be dangerous, but smart enough to know what you don’t know, and by all means, don’t ever limit your research to Google!

For those in need of motivation, Larry Brooks filled the bill. Brooks is a best-selling novelist, a screenwriter, a dynamic speaker, and a consummate motivator. In fact, he might best be described as a knock em’ up the side of the head, no excuses, get the lead out brand of motivator. If you get discouraged and end up under the bus, like he did every time he showed up to a sea of empty chairs on book signing tours and subsequently lost his contract, take his advice. Stop whining! Snap out of it! Then make a to do list: be observant, be intense, set goals, and . . . don’t give up your day job! He closed by sharing the most profound advice he’d ever received, “Try not to suck!”

Bill Oakley, former writer for The Simpsons, finds that sheer panic works best for unlocking creative barriers. We watched his favorite clips and were encouraged to push the limits. In an episode about Homer and his homophobia, the top exec rejected the entire script out of hand and tagged it as overly offensive, not ready for prime time, a political hot potato, etc. But apparently the animators didn’t get the memo because the film came back exactly as originally written. By then the offended executive was gone, the script was approved, and it turned out to be one of the all time favorite episodes. The moral is: “If somebody tells you your idea is too risky, you’re probably on to something.”

On Your Feet did a final wrap up with a 10-minute high-speed comic replay of the entire day with biting humor that played off the foibles of every speaker, but still left everyone’s dignity intact.

Once again, the conference was an electrifying celebration of the imagination and a promise of what’s possible when we open our minds and let our creative spirits soar. Watch for us next year when we return with still more world-class cutting-edge talent.

Watch as our plans unfold for the 2011 Portland Creative Conference.

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Sharon Rockey is a freelance writer and editor for print and on-line media. She writes on business, finanance, technology, lifestyle and the arts. Visit her on-line portfolio for samples of her work and see if she is right for your next project.