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Creative Camaraderie

We sit down with illustrator, podcaster, public speaker, and all-round
nice guy, Andy J Pizza, to talk about the peaks and pitfalls of a pursuit of wellness in the creative industry

words & interview Will HALBERT

Let’s start off with a little story so far. Can you give us a little insight into your career, how and where you got started, who you’ve worked for, and the different jobs and roles you’ve had? 
Before I ever had a podcast, I had what you’d call a successful illustration career. I’d worked with the likes of Nickelodeon, Starbursts and Nutella. Lots of tasty clients [laughs]! I’d also worked with Google and Sony and a bunch of other people.

Before that, I went to college in the UK and I lived there for five years. My first couple jobs came from connections I’d made in London. That’s kind of how I got my start. I turned a college project into a published book called The Indie Rock Colouring Book. That was kind of a side project that transformed into this viral, online project that then became a book that was featured in a lot of prominent places. That was a nice strong start, but then the recession hit. The fuel that propelled me as a fresh graduate went dry, and everything kind of went, well, crap. It all died down.  

Just a year after leaving school, I hit a huge roadblock of absolutely no jobs. I had to pick myself up. So, I did this project called NOD. It was a deeper dive into my true artistic voice and what I wanted to be about. It was a new character every weekday for a year. That was the true starting point for what my work is today. It slowly but surely kickstarted my career anew.  

I also took the time to learn about marketing and business through podcasts and books. I was able to build a much more thriving creative career, one that was fuller and more stable. Everything I learned through all of that is what I then turned into the podcast. Which is probably what I’m most well-known for now. Since then I’ve worked with clients like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Amazon and YouTube. It’s been fantastic! But I do love doing art for the Instagram side of things. I love working and making stuff for real people. 

Do you think the idea of wellness is more challenging in the creative industry? Are the boundaries between work and life harder to establish? 
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years, and I think there are two big reasons why the idea of wellness is such a tricky thing for creative people. The first is that we have this idea of the tortured artist, and how suffering is necessary for great work. I don’t think we need suffering to make great art, I think that great artists are natural sufferers! In order to make great art, you must be extremely sensitive. Because I think great art is more about your sensibilities than your actual abilities. That sensitivity gives you a palette to work from. You can recreate recipes and you can recreate feelings in people, because you’re so in tune with you own sensitivities. And that makes wellness tricky! 

The second thing is, well, let’s just say my car is always messy! Because I could clean my car, or I could make more art. Or I could write a new story. I could record a new podcast. I could write a new kid’s book. Unlike regular nine-to-five jobs, where there is a finite number of things to get done in that day, art has no limit. The ultimate enemy of the artist is time. Not only does your car suffer, your self-care suffers. It’s so easy for me to throw out my jogging routine when I want to make stuff, you know? It’s important to realise that your wellbeing is essential to you making your best work. I used to think that the best I could do was synonymous with the most I could do. What I now realise is this: If I’m doing the most I can do, then I’m simply not doing the best that I’m able to do. 

How did the idea for your podcast, Creative Pep Talk, come about? 
I’ve always liked this quote from Gary Shandling. He said that ‘you should give what you didn’t get’. I like to think that I started Creative Pep Talk not so much because I’m great at giving creative pep talks, but because I had such a need for creative pep talks in the past, when they didn’t exist. I’ve seen so many creative people suffering, people like my mom and my close friends, and I think that when you have all of these chunks dug out of your heart, you can either allow those chunks to create a hole, or you can use it as a well, a well of passion to help creative people thrive. I actually wanted to start the podcast in 2010, when I realised there wasn’t anything like that for creative people. But I was too scared of the tech, to scared to be the business guy, the career guy in the creative world. I thought I would be ostracized. So, it took a couple of years for me to pluck up the courage to make it happen. 

You recently published a completely unedited episode of Creative Pep Talk. What was the motivation behind that? Do you think we need to start living a little more unedited?
That’s a good question! I try to do that about once a year, because I feel like the most essential thing for an artist is to get people connected to the authentic, truest version of yourself. I think it’s great to stylise that, to have an aesthetic and to make it palatable with whatever tools you have. But over time, there’s this build up that occurs. You add so many layers and so much veneer that you don’t realise you can no longer see the core. I like to do these unedited episodes because I feel like it gets people in touch with me in a more real way. And it also helps me be more myself and less produced as well. It’s kind of like a reboot.  

The Creative industry can feel a little ‘every man for himself’ at times. What compels you to help people in the way you do? Why is it important to talk about and share your experiences? 
Basically, I just don’t feel like the world is built to let creative people thrive. I don’t think the creative career path is something that we’re very familiar with. We don’t realise that there are a lot of patterns involved with success in this industry, and that there are a lot of things we can learn from one another. And so, I think my struggles, and the struggles of those around me, have compelled me to develop this deep passion for helping other people.  

Have you always been so into, and skilled at, public speaking? Was there ever a time when it was more challenging or came less naturally? 
I’m really interested in balancing this idea of growth mindset with the idea of a fixed mindset. Growth mindset is the ability to develop skills, while fixed mindset comes down to natural talent, these things that we have that we can’t change or grow. Public speaking is a real balance of those two factors. I’ve always enjoyed being on stage and in front of people. In high school, I would always ace oral book reports. Even for books that I hadn’t read! That was kind of a natural talent. The first couple of talks that I did in my creative career, I thought I could just get by with that natural talent. And as a result, I had a few opportunities early in my career where I well and truly bombed! It was horrifying! It almost made me never book another speaking gig. It was that painful. I had to supplement my natural ability with learning, practise and technique. I read a lot about public speaking, and I learned about storytelling outlines, story arcs and analogies; these ways of organising the things that I wanted to communicate. Over time, that combination of developed skills, techniques, and hacks, mashed together with a natural inclination, has made public speaking my favourite creative outlet. 

What really stresses you out, and how do you combat it? 
The things that stress me out the most are numbers. I hate numbers, I hate anything to do with numbers. I might even have dyscalculia, I don’t know. Honestly, I think it has something to do with my ADHD. I have a theory – I’ve no idea if this is true – that ADHD creates much more of a right-brained person. I’m very big picture. The left brain deals in detail, logic and order. I feel like those are things are more distant. I think of it as a store. The right brain stuff is in the window, while the left-brain stuff is way back in the storeroom. If anyone asks me a left-brain question, then I’m going to have to leave my position and go sifting way back there, in the depths of the storeroom. It’s going to take me forever, and it’s going to be stressful. So forms, taxes, bills, emails, all of that stuff stresses me out in a very over-the-top, abnormal sort of way. I’ve had the privilege to outsource a lot of these things. My wife takes on a lot of that stuff at home. And my manager-agent, Ryan Appleton, handles a lot of it at work.  

I’m still in the process of fully outsourcing every possible aspect of that, because it de-rails any creativity. Every moment spent doing that stuff is a moment not spent doing something I love and excel at. It totally throws me off, it can ruin an entire day – or weeks when it comes to tax season! 

We always hear about the successes in people’s careers. I wonder if you could share a couple of experiences that really challenged you along the way? 
Right after college, I had this opportunity to work with a dream client and have my artwork featured on Nickelodeon. Through a mix of marketing and hustling, I had gotten this opportunity much sooner than I was ready for it. I sent over my final illustrations to the client, and their reply was that the rough drafts looked okay and that they couldn’t wait to see the finals. And, of course, those were my finals! That was so devastating that I gave up on illustration altogether for a while. I took down my website and quit.  

Ultimately, though, it inspired me to take the creative career path more seriously. To go on a real journey of honing my gift and developing my craft. Those learning curves are always painful, but I’ve gotten pretty good at using a more observational part of myself, one that’s above the chaos and can see the opportunity for growth. Getting caught outside your comfort zone, after all, is just a part of expanding your territory.

And finally, could you give us an unedited run down of your year? The good, the bad, and the ugly of Andy J Pizza in 2019, if you will. 
The things I’m most excited about I’m not actually allowed to talk about right now. They’re top secret! I’m working on several kids books with Chronicle Books, and that’s fantastic! I got to go to HITRECORD and interview Joseph Gordon-Levitt this year for the podcast, and we did a big collaboration with his company. That was a dream come true, because I’ve been a fan of his since his first indie films like Manic and Brick. 

It’s been a good year. Not a whole lot of ugly in there. The only challenge is that I made a bunch of shifts in my work that caused my business to change in terms of the type of clients I got. What I was communicating ended up changing my inquiries in ways I hadn’t planned for. When it comes to the different markets that you have your hands in – editorial, advertising, illustration, kids’ books, whatever – there’s a set-it-and-forget-it mentality, a tendency to think you break in and that’s that. But if you stop communicating every aspect of what you do then things can dry up in certain areas. There are some areas that I would have loved to work in more, but I quit putting that stuff out there, so those opportunities just sort of fell off. You have to be very careful when communicating what you actually do. In 2020 I’m going to try and fix that a little bit. EJ

@andyjpizza |