Creating with Conviction: A Creative Works Conference 2016 Recap

October 14th, 2016

Becca Hand

Creative Director

Creative Works Recap

This past weekend the Paradigm design team attended the annual mind-exploding, passion-replenishing, occasionally tear-jerking design summer camp that is the Creative Works Conference. Creative Works brings artistically-inclined folks of all kinds together for three days in downtown Memphis to listen to speaker's stories of career, family, inspiration, failure, and how they make creative life work for them.

I've been lucky enough to attend each year since the first in 2014, and every time the conference has only gotten bigger and better. This year's iteration took place in the lovely Halloran Centre and added a market open to the public full of local and national makers, a sneak peek of the new Ghost River Tap Room, a live recording of Creative Pep Talk podcast, and a panel on feminism in creativity. Josh Horton and Dan Price run Creative Works full time and are continuously adding more year-round programming, so be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest events.

Onto the recap!


photo from @cworksco instagram

Day 1


"Empathy is the greatest intelligence"

Matt Ladner, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Matt started the conference off with a hard left turn into CryTown - his clients are the patients of St. Jude, a free-to-patients children's hospital that strives to cure childhood cancers. Matt spoke about his journey from designing for musicians and big name companies to finding new passion in his work and finding a cause greater than himself in the children at St. Jude. By the end, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.


"If you ain't making trouble, you ain't making much"

Toya and Levi of Grits Co.

Toya and Levi are the power couple behind Grits Co, an eclectic and vintage-inspired clothing and lifestyle brand. They believe in "true grit" - that passion and perseverance are what make the difference between success and failure (really, a perfect match for a city that lives by "Grit and Grind"). Between travelling the country with their entire family in tow and putting clothes on the backs of folks like Leon Bridges, Grits Co. shows that when you work hard, put yourself out there, and find your community, you can't lose.


"Your life is your Space Jam"

Brad Montague, Creator of Kid President

Brad talked about his highest highs (meeting Beyonce) and lowest lows (being forgotten by the UN) and the existential crisis of having accidentally peaked before he was ready to, you know, die. Ultimately though, Brad thinks you should stop worrying about what your "big thing" is going to be - your biggest accomplishment is a life well lived. So quit playing it cool, remember what it's like to create for the joy of it, and above all just keep making things, even if 40 million people might not see it.


"Don't try to create and analyze at the same time"

Kate Bingaman-Burt, Illustrator & Educator

Educator and compulsive documenter, Kate took us on her winding journey of screenprinting nuns, the early internet, and figuring out just what she wanted to do with her career. Kate discovered that freedom can be crippling, creating rules gave her focus, and that when you can combine what you like with your unique point of view, beautiful surprises can happen. Progress beats perfection every time.


(Afterparty/soul burger frenzy at Earnestine and Hazels, because nobody thought to bring snacks this day and mostly lived off the free beer and some popcorn)


photo from @cworksco instagram

Day 2


"I am tenacious as hell"

Tuesday Bassen, Designer & Illustrator

When she's not embroiled in international copyright battles with giant corporations, Tuesday illustrates for companies like Lucky Peach, Playboy, Nike and The New Yorker, AND creates and sells hugely popular women's clothing and accessories based on her illustrations. But before that, she was miserable in New York, trying to break into a rigid illustration community, and making her work fit into what other people thought was "in". Finally she broke up with her boyfriend, moved to LA, and started to make art her way. Don't water yourself down for consumption, and don't let people bully you - even if they're a giant fast-fashion conglomerate.


"Limits are not limitations"

Alex Medina, Art Director & Designer

Alex's passion for music and design fuel each other and lead him to make incredibly interesting album packaging, merchandise design and branding for musicians. He realized his previous job of creative director at Reach Records, while objectively a dream gig, was preventing him from spending any hands-on time designing, leading him to risk some pretty sweet perks (Grammys, anyone?) in pursuit of creative freedom.


"You wanna run fast? Run with faster people"

Jason Mayden, Co-Founder at Slyce, Designer at Accel

Jason is basically perseverance personified. He became the Senior Global Design Director for Nike's Jordan brand more or less through the power of sheer determination, then Global Director of Innovation for Nike Digital Sport - and then had to completely reassess his trajectory when his son developed serious food allergies. Now he focuses on combining his love of design, sports, and health with products like the Vessyl, a high-tech calorie-counting cup. Sometimes you gotta cut people out of your life who don't invest in you, and sometimes you just gotta quit your dream job, even if people think you're crazy for it.



Tad Carpenter, Illustrator & Educator

Tad is the design version of Chris Traeger of Parks and Rec - he talks, works, and exercises at a million miles an hour, sometimes at 3 in the morning if he gets bored of sleeping. He's Midwest to the bone, and thinks that the unique work ethic and kindness of his home region is a big part of his success. He's a big advocate for taking risks: "walk out on the thin ice and ask yourself, can I stand here?" and doing work for yourself, even if you can only do it for an hour at 5 in the morning. (Gonna be honest here and say this is not a strong possibility for me.)


(Afterparty at Stock & Belle with brisket nachos, still more beer, and shopping)

Becca's handiwork at one of the many workshops

Day 3

"Sow generously, reap generously"

Andrew Neyer, Designer of Stuff®

Andre Neyer makes stuff with a capital S - giant wrist watches that hang on the wall, light fixtures that look like yoyos, and a LOT of puns. He's sown a lot of creative seeds over the years, pivoting from one creative focus to another: from illustration to experience design, to accidentally excelling at product design and having to figure out how to scale production from his living room to a factory, back to illustration and experience design, and so on. He used to have a bit of a guilt complex about abandoning Art, but these days he's comfortable enough making witty and gorgeously simple products and lighting in his studio steps away from his home. Surround yourself with mentors to call you out, peers to encourage you, and receivers that you can mentor yourself, because the more you sow the more you reap.


"Companies use long emails to cover up their mistakes."

Jenn Bane, Head of Community at Cards Against Humanity

Jenn's job is to keep the bunch of weirdos who work at Cards Against Humanity happy and productive, among other things like brainstorming card ideas, responding to emails with humor and snark, and putting out cool personal projects like Friendshipping. Obviously having a solid sense of humor is important working at a company that makes "the party game for terrible people", but Jenn also thinks that humor is essential for creating any strong community, and can be a powerful way to challenge the status quo. To see that in action, visit 


"That's so punk"

Josh Higgins, Creative Director of Facebook

From touring with Fugazi to designing Obama's reelection campaign to those cool birthday animations in your facebook feed, if I had to sum up Josh Higgins' career in one word it would be "extremely intimidating" (okay, two words). But under that impressive resume, he's just a giving, friendly guy that wants to create great design and amazing work environments that encourage the people he works with to be their best self, whether that's with profane cakes or designing giant inspirational quote posters. Do charitable/free work that appeals to your ideals and feel "worth it" to you, because you never know what could come out of it (possibly even a gig designing for the president!)


"You sit upstream. You are curating how I walk through the world around me. You’re shaping culture."

Propaganda, Poet Activist, Academic, & Emcee

Propaganda gave a raw and vulnerable discussion of imposter syndrome (even your heroes feel like frauds sometimes!), failing at becoming a visual artist, racism and prejudice, and the importance of the role of designer and visual artist in our culture. We often feel like our work doesn't matter, that it's just disposable and consumable, but in reality visual design is a huge part of the feedback loop that creates everything we own, see, and experience in our culture, and we should own that and not dismiss the importance of what we contribute.

Whether you're a Michael Jackson (slick and commercial, calibrated for success) or a Prince (not at all concerned about people thinking you're a weirdo, riding in naked on a unicorn) there's no WRONG way to do what we do, except to not do it at all.


(Afterparty at the new Ghost River taproom, STILL MORE BEER and an impromptu dance party that eventually moved to Raiford's, as all dance parties in Memphis should)


By Creative Works! Until next year.


If you couldn't make it this year, I hope this recap will help convince you to make time to attend next October, when the (vaguely threatening but also exciting) theme is You Are Dangerous.