New York author and illustrator Danny Gregory began his two-week visit to ISB with a Q&A session at a high school assembly on Wednesday, September 17. Encouraging students to be flexible to change and seek inspiration in their surroundings, Gregory stressed the importance of discovering their creative potential and never losing sight of their passion.
The London-born artist has authored and illustrated more than half a dozen books during a career that has seen him work in the US, Australia, Pakistan and Israel. During his Q&A session, he spoke about how he combined his work as the creative director of an international advertising agency with his artistic talent, and revealed what inspires him each time he picks up his pencil and sketchbook.
Do you have to be an artist to express your creativity?
Everybody has the ability to be an “artist” in some way. You don’t have to create paintings exhibited in a gallery or museum; we all have the potential to express ourselves creatively. Being creative means solving problems and coming up with new ideas. Everything is changing, especially in Beijing.
To think like an artist doesn’t mean you must have that title on your business card, if you even have one. But you have to be prepared to investigate and take risks. You all have the opportunity to be creative in everything you do in school and in life.
It’s less work to do what has already been done, but to be creative you have to always have inspiration and an active mind. Think about how what other people in other fields are doing could influence you; how a director creates a film could be relevant to how you want to create an app. If you want to start a business, look at how people are operating businesses in completely different fields and see how you can apply that.
For me, drawing has always been a useful tool for focusing my mind and seeing the world in a different way. Think of some other form of creative expression, be it creating music or writing poems, and use that to tap into your creativity, keep ideas flowing and make new connections.
What life lessons can you learn through being creative?
Being creative allows you to avoid boxing yourself in. It’s tempting in life to look for a label for yourself, but a more creative approach to life is allowing yourself to expand and take any opportunity that comes your way. This approach can open all kinds of doors for you. I’ve reinvented my life in different ways because I was open to do that, but there have also been times in my life where I felt I needed to be in a “box.” When you do so, you feel safe and can say, “This is where I live and this is where I work.”
But it’s a dangerous thing to do in a way, particularly when you consider the pace our world is changing. If you put yourself in a “box,” you’ll find the world has changed and left you behind because you haven’t been able to adapt.
It’s also tempting to think if you work really hard and develop certain skills, you’ll be set for life. But everything is changing all the time and if you narrowly define yourself, you may end of underprepared.
Be curious by making connections with your surroundings, meeting different people and taking risks is how you will thrive in the future.
How do you manage your responsibilities and cope with stress?
I live in New York City, which is a very busy place, and I was a major executive at an international company that involved a lot of responsibility. But I found that you need to make a commitment to use time to explore. It might be a matter of setting your alarm half an hour earlier to have some time to yourself that you might use by reading something new or creating art. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities by thinking about how busy you are; try and stay relaxed, and have faith in yourself by remembering you’re a smart, hardworking person. If you check all the boxes by engaging in every curricular activity, applying to all the right colleges and performing really well in your tests it’s easy to believe life will be fine, but life isn’t really that simple.
Considering yourself and what really interests you is more important than following a checklist and doing all the things you feel you have to do. Be true to yourself.
What influenced your decision to switch from advertising to art?
I was a copywriter and wrote lots of commercials before I became chief creative director. I published half a dozen books while working in advertising and also taught workshops.
When I was in my mid-30s I started to draw and keep a record of my life in drawings, but being creative and artistic were things I did all the time. I eventually realized I could decide to do what I wanted to do all the time, which is what I do now. It was tempting for me to think for a long time that I had to be within the corporate structure, but I learned to trust myself and do what was important to me. If they carve anything on my tombstone, it probably won’t be the titles I earned in the corporate world. Hopefully, it will be something a bit more poetic.
Why do you draw unusual scenes in life, such as people standing in line at Costco?
I carry a sketchbook and pen with me all the time, and whenever I have a spare moment I draw. Life is full of spare moments; a lot of the time we spend our spare time using Facebook, texting a friend or staring off into space. I do these things too, but I also use my spare time to draw.
How has living in New York influenced your art?
New York is full of things to draw; there’s so much energy and many things going on, but it’s also my home. I certainly go to museums and galleries and immerse myself in the “Art” world with a capital “a,” but I think of myself as existing in the “art” world with a small “a,” which means art that is part of life.
Danny Gregory will present workshops to ISB art students of various grade levels until Friday, September 26. He will attend a book signing and participate in a student-led dialogue from 4:45 pm to 5:15 pm in the MS/HS Cafeteria and then attend a student art exhibition and book signing from 5:15 pm to 6:15 pm on Thursday, September 25.