Book Smarts

Han and I both were fortunate enough to be able to return to our respective homelands for Christmas break, but only one of us would return to Casa Vaquero. When I walked into our apartment, Han was standing there with a young woman who he introduced as his new wife. While I spent the better part of my vacation walking around Manhattan with Chris, Han walked into an arranged marriage with his Seoul mate. He moved out two days later, leaving me the furniture as a gift, but taking his rice maker and kimchi. My new roommate, Scott Worth, was a quirky Aussie film major that had a girlfriend from Las Vegas, ate his steak cold and raw, and had a nervous habit of picking his nose. Scott knew his movies though, and we watched countless VHS tapes of Hollywood and pop-culture classics - from "Sunset Strip" to "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Harold and Maude." Creatively, we saw eye-to-eye and decided to collaborate on a commercial assignment for our joint advertising class. We set out to make an MTV-style, video-like, spot for Swatch Watches called, ironically enough, "Face The Change."

With a little bit of homework, Scott and I were able to track down the name of a marketing guy at Swatch's offices in New York City. After explaining, by lying, that we weren't students but a couple of freelance film makers from LA who had a spec commercial we wanted to show him, he invited us to come to their offices. It was the end of our seventh term, and second full year at ArtCenter, so we got our asses on the first flight out of LAX. Before leaving, as long as we were going to be in New York, I had one other appointment to make.

By this time, Korey, Kay & Partners had moved downtown, and I figured this would be as good an opportunity as any to bring Mr. Kay up to speed on my progress, for it was quite clear he was still very much in business. KK&P was on the eighth floor at 130 Fifth, and getting off the elevator I was blinded by the agency's name lit up in purpley-pinkish neon. The receptionist had me wait for Allen in the conference room where I continued to be blinded in awe by the lit shelves of awards and accolades. The agency was buzzing with energy and it gave me a little nervous excitement to think that I had played a teeny tiny role in its growth. Cindy, now Lois and Allen's Executive Assistant, who had also been the receptionist back on 75th Street, was genuinely happy to see me again, and likewise, her familiar face put me at ease before bringing me to Allen's office. It had been three years since we last saw each other, and although the setting was quite different, Allen was still sketching layouts behind the desk I had painted, Lois was still on the big black leather couch with her Vogue and Wall Street Journal, and Milda, now Executive Producer, was as beautiful as I remembered. It was like a little reunion in one sense, but in every other sense it was a portfolio review.

Your portfolio, once you become more or less a professional in any capacity, is forever referred to as "your book." From high school art classes, to freelance, part-time jobs, college and so on, and so on, it's all about your book. Every assignment is first judged in class, or by a boss, or even a customer, and then finally by yourself as to whether or not it makes the cut. Is it good enough for my book? It becomes the secret goal behind every piece you do - to be book-worthy. Every artist or designer is constantly self-editing their work as ideally there should only be about ten pieces in your book. You put the better pieces up front, the lesser better pieces in the middle, and save the best for last. Every great book has a beginning, middle, and end, and it becomes your life's work. It represents the best of what you have done to date and gives a potential employer the chance to see if you have what it takes to do the same, if not even better for them. Your book, in many cases, overrides your resume, for the experience any Creative Director is looking for in you will not be found in credentials, but in the art itself. Putting someone else's work in your book, and attempting to pass it off as your own, is essentially a criminal offense. Allen picked up the Halston Fragrance ad from my book and held it silently for a moment. "Why is this in here?," he asked me. "You can't put someone else's ad in your book," he said, in a disgruntled tone. "But Allen," I said, "It's not THE ad. It's my marker rendering of the ad. It's an illustration."

Allen took me on a quick tour of the office, introduced me to the creative team, showed me the bullpen area, and we wrapped it up back in the conference room. Before leaving, he told me, "Go back and graduate, then, come work for me here." I had met the challenge, and Allen had kept his promise. Ultimately, we would be alumni, and I would be a Junior Art Director. Two weeks after graduating from ArtCenter, I was living and working in Manhattan.


  • X

    Your trilogy is a fitting ode to Mr. Kay.

  • Michael Katz

    What happened to the Swatch ad?

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