Illustration might just be better than sex. Or, maybe not. But what if, right?
Michael Jeter, the creative buff of PoolSF seems to think so- and with the level he takes his work to, it certainly starts to make you think. PoolSF is a boutique studio in San Francisco that just launched in March of 2015, and already boasts a host of big name clients like Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and Whole Foods. I met with Michael Jeter to get some answers on what goes into the secret sauce.
How did you get your agency, POOL started? What was the driving force, and what have you taken from the experience so far of running your own business?
POOL was the process of years of figuring out what it meant to be the happiest possible while working. It took quite a few years to fully understand that I craved complete freedom. I have co-owned two studios previously, and while they were amazing times in my life, I found myself feeling too confined by other people’s rules and ideas about how things are supposed to work. Last year i had found myself accidentally stuck in a work situation where I was depressed and very angry. Two things of which are not central to my personality. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, and on paper it really didn’t make sense why I was struggling so deeply. But, I had just made a big life decision based on fear. I had hitched myself to a group of good people, but not because it made sense for what i wanted in my life and my art. I did it because I felt like I wasn’t capable of doing it all on my own. I have a kid and a wife. Shit man, thats a lot of pressure. Or at least that’s how it felt.
The world really has this crazy power to make you feel like you have to conform to the machine, to do things how they are “supposed to be done”.
Business drones humming around doing business things and making business decisions. Round peg, round hole. It’s just how it’s supposed to be done sir. Oh no! I’ve worked myself up into a rant again. Sorry, I get passionate about this shit. Anyway, that’s a quick round of backstory to what has all led up to POOL. In January of 2015 I had done of a lot of soul-searching and thinking about what this whole creative job thing should be. I wondered if i should join the ranks at a tech company because let’s face it, there is a whole lot of money there.
Ultimately money has never done it for me though. I knew another life decision based on money would just lead to more heartache.
So i decided to continue my journey of learning how to use my weird brain and clunky style to make things that I wanted to make. I started talking to my wife Candace about some form of collaboration. We discussed what that might look like. We decided that POOL would be driven by my freelance pursuits as a creative studio, and that we would work together on the off hours to build something just for us. She will be the driving force for our more cultural endeavors. Together we will start building out a brand based around the weird shit that makes us happy. So in March of 2015, POOL was born. It has been fantastic. This will be the first time in my life where I’m so busy that I am able to start looking 4 or so months into the future for what may come next. That has been such a fortunate feeling as I finally feel like I’m steering this ship instead of going wherever the current takes me.
What’s your process? How do churn out your amazing crazy ideas?
Oh man, what a question. First off, it’s a dream come true to hear that my work even resonates with people. It’s funny because for so many years one of my main goals was to make work that got noticed in the industry. But it really wasn’t until after I stopped giving a shit about how other designers and illustrators felt about my work that I actually started creating work that stood on its own and I feel truly proud of. Basically what that means is that I have learned how to get out of my own way. I’m working on dissolving my ego as much as possible. Actually, I’m still learning that part, but that is a part of the journey.
My ideas on process are a bit out there right now, and I have recently jettisoned how I’ve been doing things in search for a more honest creative situation with my client and collaborators.
I’m no longer concerning myself with a set of rules that dictate a series of events in order to ensure the same outcome as before.
What works the best for me is sitting still and just listening. Listening in a way that pushes away any preconceived notions of what things should be. I listen to the client and try to truly understand their motivations. It takes some time to really understand what the client needs as opposed to what they say they want. This isn’t to say that clients aren’t able to know what they need. There are many enlightened clients out there. I’ve just noticed over the years that there are many forces at play when money is involved. Someone’s boss may have said something a year ago that may have been translated from another person or over email, and makes its way into a conversation and reformulated in a meeting and a then a brief is constructed with a lot of baggage that may not even be apparent. That brief is then a list of demands in some ways. It’s not a declaration of possibilities, it’s a hope that nothing will go wrong. Many times its a measuring stick for what failure looks like. If all of the boxes aren’t checked, you have failed. Creative work just shouldn’t work that way. And i think most of the true success you see out there comes from people who have figured out how to overcome that paradigm.
After i have talked with the client it is time to listen to myself. This is the weird part that is hard to talk about without sounding the like a total weirdo. I believe that our thoughts are not necessarily our own. If you really think about it, we do not choose our thoughts, they just appear and disappear somehow. We do not choose who we love, or know why we like some music more than others.
Ideas become our own only when we at some point come to acknowledge them within our brain and then we translate them as our thoughts.
To me it seems like our brains are antennas of some sort and over the years we have learned how to tune some things in and other things out. The more we tune out, the less possibilities are available to us. The more open we are, the more we start to see the vastness of possibilities. That is where i want to exist, open to all of the possibilities of a project as i start it. I think from there the work we do becomes uniquely our own because of our specific brand of distortion. We have to take this thing in our head that somehow showed itself to us, and then make it exist physically in front of the eyes of others. A lot happens in the process that is somewhat out of our control. A lot of distortion happens from brain to pen to paper.
So, ultimately the question is how do I do it my way? We have been so trained by our egos to want people to hold us in high regard for the quality of our output, when ultimately I think it’s very out of our control. I think all of my work is in essence an accident. An accident that I have learned how to trust and understand, but an accident none-the-less. Each time I start a project, I know the outcome will be a complete surprise to me. The only thing that is concrete is that over the years I have put an insane amount of time into learning some skills that ensure some sort of creative outcome. I know that when an idea is needed, one will come. Sometimes many ideas will come, and over the years I have honed some sort of taste that helps me choose which idea will probably work best in the given situation. I also know that once the idea comes, my personal brand of distortion will yield something that people can identify with on some level.
Ultimately, everything I’ve just said could be total bullshit. I’m open to that. But for now, as a “process” it has allowed for a much less stressful and hard creative situation. I don’t have to worry or fret about coming up with something great. I don’t need to care about how it fits in with current trends or tastes. I just need to trust that it will be right for the job and right for me, and that is really what people respond to anyway. Your audience can tell if what you made has heart or not. If it has heart, they will undoubtedly support it.
What advice would you give creatives looking to go out and start their own venture?
Don’t do it… haha, just kidding. That one is a hard question really. If you hate your life because your job makes you feel like life is dull and boring then you need to do something different. That may mean going out on your own. It may mean that you should find a job more suited to you. I think ultimately it isn’t really a choice. If you are meant to be on your own, you will be forced into that situation somehow. For me, I tried so hard not to be alone for so long. I really didn’t have a desire to be on my own. It was only after realizing that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t try to see what my work would be like without the friction of others that i was like, “fine, fuck it, I’ll go out on my own.” For now, its the best thing I’ve ever done. But at the same time I have to get my books in order and make sure that I’m doing the right thing with taxes and saving for retirement and college for my kid. I have to either do it myself or pay people to do it. God, its complex and not what i’m good at. But the on the other hand, i’m going surfing tomorrow morning before I start illustrating for my next animation, so I leave you with my shoulders shrugged high, and my face contorted in a way that means “i don’t know man, it could be amazing, so you should probably try it and see for yourself.”
Check out POOLSF for more of their compelling work.