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With My Own Two Hands

Posted on October 23, 2012 and read 4,363 times

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jordanatlas With My Own Two HandsJordan Atlas
SVP/Executive Creative Director

For the past two weeks, I have been suffering from a galactic-sized spell of writer’s block. I’m talking of debilitating proportions. The kind of extreme case where the sound of your voice (or in this case, the choice in your words) makes you just want to pack it in and make a drastic vocational change. Every time I created a new document in Microsoft Word or presentation in PowerPoint, it was as if that flickering cursor was flicking me off. Delusional? Perhaps. But if it was, in fact, the case, I can’t say I really blame it. Some days (or weeks) you just don’t have it.

Interestingly, my coming down with this overpowering case of “I suck at this” coincided with someone new starting at Ignited on a different project than the one I was struggling with.  Although I had never worked with this person, I knew from our conversations that we were both of around the same experience level (Read: We’re both old.  I turn 40 this week, which will give you a sense of the vintage model of creative I am).

As we sat in the conference room with printed comps, photography samples, typeset headlines and half-baked tactics splattered on the walls, I took him through some of the challenges and explained the task at hand. He listened, nodded, and scribbled down a few notes. As I got up to leave he looked at the work on the wall and asked one question: “Does any of this have to stay intact?” My response, straight out of the creative director handbook: “I like the directions up here, but I’m interested in exploring other solutions.”

“No,” he said, “what I mean is, do these specific printouts need to be left alone or can I use them?” Intrigued by the clarification in his question, I shook my head and said, “No man, have at it.”

What happened over the next few hours transported me right back to being 21 years old at my first job in advertising. Papers were strategically ripped; images were cut out with scissors and reassembled with tape. Headlines (and body copy) were handwritten, scratched out and then restarted from scratch. There wasn’t anything easy, quick or clean about it. In fact, it was downright messy. Messy and beautiful.

It was a struggle. The ideas were there on that original wall but they were parsed out in small percentages and pieces as lesser ideas. What he was doing was fusing common elements and new thinking into something bigger. He was wrestling the ideas into submission through sheer force and will. Every cut was calibrated, every word intentional. Not in a precious way but in a purposeful way. Perhaps what was most inspiring about this process was that, while on the surface it may have seemed analog or even archaic, it was the first time in quite a while that I felt like we were making something.

We were using our hands for something other than scrolling or moving a mouse. This put me back in the trenches of that first job and sparked the memory and methodology of how I used to work. Before technology became as ubiquitous and accessible as it is now, if you wanted something moved around in a layout, you ripped it off and moved it around. When things needed to be smaller, you shrunk them down on the photocopier.  If you wanted a typeface that no one had ever seen, you either hand drew a new one or photocopied an old one until it was distressed to the point of unrecognizability. I can literally draw upon hundreds of experiences such as this that colored my advertising salad days. Now let me say this: I’m no luddite. I love technology. I am obsessed with the technology I understand, and fascinated by the stuff I don’t. But this is deeper than that. This is about getting back to the primal nature of assembling things in a way that shows clear evidence that the human hand was present. For me, it was a reminder of those that inaugurated me into this field. The “mad men” that raised me weren’t three-piece suit wearing, martini-drinking chain-smokers. They were more “mad” in the sense that they were crazy intelligent people armed with nothing but a sharpie, an exacto blade, a copier, and a killer idea that went right for the jugular.

People who work in advertising sometimes say things like, “We’re not curing cancer for heaven’s sake” in order to keep things in proper perspective. Those people are absolutely right. We’re not. But we are making stuff – important stuff at times.  And the way that we make it is as important as what we’re making.  When you are feeling your creativity flow, when you are excited, when you are – dare I even say, smiling – or wanting to stay late just because you can’t stop in the middle of what you’re doing, then you are making something that is an expression of who you are and that makes a difference. The success and prosperity of what we do is intrinsically linked to the way in which we do it and to the excitement and commitment we feel.

This week I was pleasantly reminded of the joy that can be found while using one’s hands and tactile materials for the sake of craft. I was also reminded that if I ever come down with another colossal case of writer’s block (a near certainty), I always have the option of tearing straight through it – most likely with my hands.




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