join me down the rabbit hole...

Imitate. Integrate. Innovate.

It’s been a week since I’ve taken the plunge and decided to figure out how to do some of this design stuff that my employees are so good at. I’ve been dutiful and have started learning how to draw and have been reading up on some design theory. Doing these things has shown me one thing for sure, I have a long way to go and frankly it is a bit intimidating.


Luckily, I have gone through some of this process before, just with music instead of art. In many ways the two disciplines are pretty similar. They both take a lot of time, practice, and dedication. They also both require you to learn specific mechanical skills as well as develop stylistic interpretive abilities. They also can both benefit from an “imitate, integrate, innovate” approach to learning (I believe this was first articulated by Clark Terry). Basically, you start by studying the work of others and imitating what they do. Then you integrate that into your own work, trying to fully understand it and create variations upon it. Finally you use it as a base to expand, develop, and inform your own personalized work.

To that effect, in music, you should always be listening to other musicians of high caliber. My college jazz band director always says, “you can’t play a style of music unless you listen to it.” This is true, to play funk, you have to listen to funk, and to play Mozart, you need to listen to Mozart.

Along those same lines, this same band director will often ask musicians, “Who are your favorite five trumpet players?” or whatever respective instrument or style of music is relevant to the conversation. If they fumble around for an answer, he knows they aren’t listening to enough music and they need to make it a priority. Luckily, I can give you my five pretty quickly: Ibrahim Maalouf, Maynard Ferguson, Snooky Young, Terence Blanchard, and Arturo Sandoval.

Now, I have a pretty good lead trumpet sound. I’ve got good tone, a decent range, and great projection. This is because one year I was struggling to keep up with the demands of playing lead in the band, so I really took this concept to heart. Nearly every day before rehearsal I would spend thirty minutes to an hour listening to Maynard Ferguson and Snooky Young. They were some of the greatest trumpet players to ever live for this type of playing so I tried to copy the way they sounded as much as I could. By the end of that year, my sound had grown immensely. I had vastly improved power and tone quality. All because I followed this concept.

So I am going to apply this concept to art. I decided to look for artists and designers whose work I like and begin really studying it and trying to figure out what makes it great. It’s only been a week, so I haven’t picked up a full five yet, but I have identified three.

First, I decided that one should be a photographer. Photos are a very important part of the materials we produce, so learning more about what makes a good photo and photography in general is pretty important. I chose Ami Vitale for this. Her photographs are fantastic. I also saw her keynote online at Adobe Max last year. She was inspiring and her philosophy really resonates with me. Check out some of her work on her website:

Second, I knew I needed a designer in the list. This was honestly harder for me to pick, but I decided to go with Matteo Bologna. He was also part of the guests for Adobe Max 2014 and I like the elegance of the designs that come out of his studio. I also like that he designs for a variety of mediums, everything from packaging to web graphics. My group has a similar mandate as we design for everything from traditional brochures and print graphics to drink coasters to digital signage to facilities and interior design. Check out his studio, Mucca Design, at:

Last, I wanted an artist, because if I’m going to learn to do this, I want to be able to draw and create cool art as well as great design. I’m a big fan of fantasy and science fiction art. I play role playing games, all the geek stuff. There is one particular piece that I have running as one of the backgrounds on my computer that I particularly love. So I tracked down the artist, who is Mark Molnar. He makes the most exquisite settings and backgrounds in his art. They are breathtaking. Please check out his work at:

Now I have at least three. Time to study, look at all this great art and design, and work on mechanics. Time to imitate, integrate, and hopefully get to where I can innovate.

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