Creative South 14. Handshakes and Hugs.

{ filed under Conferences, Inspiration }

What a difference a year makes

I left Creative South 13 energized, inspired and a changed person. It altered the way I think about myself and the career I chose so long ago but never fully embraced. Ideas and thoughts poured out of me. I wanted to start making again. Like I did when I was kid. Just draw, letter, color. So I did. Minimum of 30 minutes a day up to 6 to 8 hours. The difference was staggering. I wanted to learn a new skill. So I started screenprinting. I shared my progress everywhere I could, started writing about it. Not for likes, not for followers but to give myself accountability. It was great to have so many people ask me how my illustration skills were shaping up or how the screenprinting was coming along. I felt like not only did I need to do this for myself but I needed to let others know that I was being true to my word. When you work alone accountability is a hard thing to keep up, so having so many people out there pushing me along made a world of difference.

Where did I find all the extra time to do this? It wasn't extra time, I just repurposed and optimized the time I had. The time I always had but gave myself the excuse of being too busy or filling with things like social media and video games. And a funny thing happened. The progress I saw in myself pushed me even further. I wanted to draw more, I wanted to take online classes and get better at programs and concepts and skills I felt were beyond my mastery. I finally after 15 years had the drive that always seemed to elude me. Or maybe I was eluding it for all that time. 

In short? I was ready. And when you are ready, making things happen is effortless. 

If Creative South 13 was life-changing then Creative South 14 was life-affirming. Last year I came as an attendee not knowing what to expect. I was full of fear and devoid of confidence. This year I put myself out there like I never have before. 

This year (and every year from now on) I was a sponsor. I felt strong enough about this to back it with my name. Help the people who had no idea how much they changed my life. I was also a vendor, volunteer, musician as well as a Typefight and Ink Wars competitor. It was to break out of my own insecurities and lack of confidence that still lingers within. We are all there to grow and become part of something bigger than us as individuals. Face to face conversations, handshakes and hugs instead of follows and likes. Last year there were 170 attendees. This year it was over 400 and yet it still had that small community vibe. No egos, no rockstars and no ninjas (can we PLEASE put that whole thing to bed by the way?). The people you took a workshop with? You may have had lunch or dinner with them. The speaker that just inspired you to make huge changes in your life? You probably sat down and had a 20 minute conversation about everything BUT design with them. 

There is no dividing line at Creative South. You probably have just as much to share with everyone there as the speakers do. The same victories, the same defeats but most likely, there is someone probably standing within 20 feet of you who has overcome what you need to overcome and may have fallen into the hole you just climbed out of. And we all get to be in the same room sharing our lives with each other. Creating connections that carry on past the conference. Watching someone you admire up on the stage and then later that evening having the same person show intense interest in your story.

How does this happen? Why do we not hear about every conference being like this? So many conference social media feeds feel like pull-quotes from any given design blog out there. But when you see the Creative South feeds you see people talking to each other, starting conversations, making plans for the evening. Sure we get the same education, inspiration and juicy sound bites but the atmosphere is a sub-culture unto itself. I attribute that to the founder and driving force (though only part of a big and hardworking team), Mike Jones.

Lenny and Mike 

Mike is one of the most thoughtful, talented people I know and I am proud to call him one of my best friends. A true brother from another mother. From welcoming me last year as a total stranger, our adventures at WMC Fest last August to bringing me in as part of the Creative South family, my life is better for knowing him. I have never seen someone put people more at ease than Mike. He is also a great father and husband to a wonderful wife and kids and somehow finds the time to make time for anyone who needs it. A lot of hard work by a lot of great people go into Creative South. It is not even close to one-man show but no one would disagree that Mike is the heart and soul of Creative South. Props to the rest of the Creative South Family as well. Matt, Daniel, Richard, Fran and many others. I saw their faces everywhere all the time. Hustling and helping. They all truly love this conference. Pride is the driving force. When you take pride in anything you will do everything you can to ensure its success. And that success isn’t just measured in money. Look at the cost. The entire conference was an $80 ticket. Workshops with some of the best in the industry were only $125. It doesn’t make sense if you just look at the bottom line like so many conferences do. But if you measure the success in terms of touching peoples lives and making real change, giving the greater community something to be a part of then Creative South has to be one of the most successful creative gatherings currently happening today.

Highlights, Speakers, Friends and Family

Ink Wars: The Battle of Columbus
Theme? James and the Giant Peach. I was on the stage with stunningly talented Nathan Yoder, Jenny Lee, Alonzo Felix, Shana Panczyszyn, Logan Faerber, Jason Craig and the original and reigning INK WARS champ, Aaron “OK Pants” Sechrist. What?! Huge thanks to Mat Helme for asking me to step in and do battle.

Ink Wars 

LIVE Typefight
Drew and Brian brought the heat! I was one of 50+ attendees who competed. In a wrestling ring. In an opera house. But my competition was the man himself, Mike Jones! Close battle and Mike came out on top in the end. By 17 votes. I’m coming for you at WMC Fest!


The Parties!
The Thursday eve kick-off was massive! Food Trucks, Live T-Shirt pulls (thanks to fine folks at Real Thread), bands (I was in one of them!) but most of all a few hundred people just enjoying each others time after a day of workshops and travel.

Breaking Bread
I love mealtimes at Creative South. Great chance to recharge and catch up with friends old and new. From Tommy’s Smokehouse with my CS Family to the VIP Dinner. Then Thai food with Ashley, Shaun, Justin, Dustin. Von and Blake. Dinners with Ashley, Blake, Justin, Rob. Great friends and conversation.

Running a Merch Table
Looking around at the other designer/vendors I felt way out of my league. Which is why I knew it was the right thing to do. Embrace that fear and discomfort. Thank you to all those who parted with their hard-earned money for posters and shirts. Huge learning experience too. The shirts I hand-printed had issues so if you bought one and it gave up the ghost upon first washing please get in touch with me. I will send you a new one along with a token of my thanks and apologies. 

Monkey Merch


Look, all the speakers are great. No kidding. They are all sharing their lives with us. Some of them are mortified to be on stage in front of 400 people who are looking at them as fellow peers, design inspirations, heroes and even friends in their fields. The sheer amount of sweat on that stage must be staggering. I am going to call out a few names here but please know that I got something out of every speaker I saw. None of your words went unheard or unheeded. 

Justin Mezzell
He hit a home run right out of the ballpark and knocked a satellite out of orbit with the ball. Every word resonated with me. Check out his slide deck here. Packed full of mental and visual stimulation. 

  • Success Requires Risk. And Risk Can Mean Failure
  • Define "What Is Success?" For Yourself
  • Don’t Just Think. Actually Do
  • Guard Yourself Against the Like Machine
  • Plug Into Community

Elle Luna
Captivating. You can read about her talk her on Medium “The Crossroads of Should and Must” ( I took Elle’s advice at the end and as soon as I got home I decided to take a big step, a scary step, a leap forward to what I have always wanted to have. More on that in the coming months.

Jim Sherradon
Manager of Hatch Show Print in Nashville. The Mecca of Print. The love Jim has for Hatch and its history is palpable. He truly loves not only preserving the past but pushing it into the future. And the sincerity and love in which he addressed his team at Hatch was wonderful to hear. Just a good man, doing good work with good people. 

Von Glitschka
Thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Von even more. He is one of my tops in the industry. Very giving of his time and making sure we all do not lose sight of creating and the process we use to create. So much great content but this one is so simple and speaks volumes: Change your daily routine. Something as simple as a new route to work can refresh your creative mind. 

Halftone Def Studios
Crazy talented and funny. It’s about getting the work done and getting in the trenches to do it. 

Scott Fuller
My boy, my brother! He is young gun in this old town with bright-eyed enthusiasm for days. This was his first speaking engagement and he was fantastic. His message? Just ask. If you want to do something. Just ask. Just make the move and make things happen. Scott is making things happen and I am enjoying watching his journey.

Derrick Castle
Derrick did a great job at his first ever workshop on block printing. He showed how his background really influenced his stunning artistic style. He also had the distinction of the only workshop at Creative South to draw blood. Those carving tools are sharp! Had a great time at the workshop, having drinks at the bar and hanging out over the course of the event.

Mama's Sauce
The reigning kings of flatstock screen printing. These guys (and gal!) were a bundle of energy and bubbly joy from the instant they pulled up to the Springer until they hit the road. Having started screen printing in the last year, I devour everything they do and I am so appreciative of how selfless they are with their time and information. They ran a fantastic workshop, a drool-worthy merch table and were a blast to hang around for the weekend. 

My People

So many people I know I will forget some! It doesn't mean my time with you meant any less. It means my advancing age is winning the battle with my brain. The ever so lovely Karen Jones, Peter Deltondo, Rob Davarnia, Mat Helme, Ish, Ashley Bennett (My CS travel buddy!) Shaun Moynihan, Blake Morgan, Justin Munn, Hampton Paulk, Barak Tamayo, Rob Alvey, Shane Helm, Adam Tregesar, Rocky Roark, Trey Ingram. It was great to see you for the first time or see you again. 

Until next time

I will see you at Creative South 2015. April 9-11. In a big way. Want hang out before? Come to Raleigh, North Carolina and let’s make it happen. Email me or give me a call if you need someone to talk to. I am not kidding. Reach out to say “hi!” or reach out to say “help!” Come hang out in Cleveland at the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest in August. Just get in touch and let's make a real connection that will carry us through until next year. 

Photo Credits: Header, Mike & Lenny and Ink Wars by Barak Tamayo, Typefight by Ashley Bennett, Merch Table by Me. 

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