So, Mars, what we're gonna talk about here is creative collaboration and how it allows you to expand your creative capacity but before we get into that, for people who don't know you, tell them a little about what you do, who you are, and what you're up to.
Yeah, so I'm Mars Dorian, I'm from Germany. I am a creative illustrator, a designer and self published author. I basically like, I design and write my own stuff. I publish it on Amazon, on my website, on Twitter, and I've worked with I think now for like seven, maybe eight years.
Building things from local design to cover design, to like web, banner design. It's countless stops.
Yeah, yeah, definitely, and I was just saying that... Funny enough, I think this is the first time I've actually seen your face so now I know what you look like.
(laughter) Maybe it's just me, a fake.
Yeah. Well, it's really funny because we've never met which Mars actually wrote about this and he said he thinks this is actually one of the ...
things that has made our collaboration so successful. He's thousands of miles away so we have to have a relationship in which we trust each other. So, let's talk a little bit about how this all started, in terms of how we began to collaborate with each other. I've always been a big fan of his work and basically, I'll let you take it away. I mean, tell us the story about how you came to me and started to work with me on book covers.
Yeah, so I don't even know how I found out about you. I think, you approached me, actually, because you saw me popping up all over the place in terms of like, other blogs and websites. You were interviewing me and I was looking at your content. I thought you produced a lot of great interviews and then eventually, I saw your first book. Right, I think it was Army...
Small Army Strategy.
Small Army Strategy, exactly. I thought, you know what, I want to create like a cool cover for this guy, and I think I get him, I get his brand, and I think I can create a, really a kick ass cover, and I didn't even think I charged you for it. I just created it, you loved it straight away, and I thought like, wow, that's actually pretty cool. That's how we kick started our entire like, collaboration.
Yeah, so I do wanna talk about this. The fact that you didn't charge me for that, you decided to do it for me for free, but the fact is that that ended up being, sort of, what led to what, us working together for five or six years so... For other people who are listening to this, who want to find creative collaborators and offer their complimentary skill sets in a way that eventually could lead them down this path. How would you suggest they do that? I mean, you had the foresight to see that, okay, wait a minute, I can do a book cover here, and you didn't necessarily know that it was gonna lead to all these other things.
No. Like how to find creative people. Obviously you have to like their art work or whatever you think they can compliment. Like a skill that you don't have, and then, honestly, it just comes down to making a first introduction, like talking to them.
Then you really have to see if there's any interest and if there's any chance of just working together. Because a lot of creative people, like, especially illustrators, sometimes they are very, I don't know, distant and it takes them weeks until they reply or they're shy or whatever. So, you really want to find out if there's actually, like gonna be a good contact because if they take too much time, then it's not gonna be a good relationship because the feedback is not gonna be there.
So, we'll talk about feedback because that's a really important part of our own process of working together. But, I think you made a really good point in that, there have also been people who you've done work for, just to show them what you've done and they haven't like it, right?
So, how did you not let that get to you and how do you move on from that and what do you do with all that work that somebody doesn't like. Because I remember, there's a really well known author that you did an illustration of, who we won't name, but I remember you telling me he actually didn't like the illustration you did of him.
Yeah, so how do you... Hmm. In the beginning, it actually did hurt my ego because I thought like, I'm doing so much great work. Like, why doesn't that person get it, but then, obviously, you have to be professional about it. And, the thing is, like... Like you have to separate yourself from your work. Like, your work is not your personality, it's not your being and then your job is actually to help the person, your client, right, and if your client has a problem with your work then you want to find a way where you can still meet him or her. Thinking about what helps them for their business, right, instead of like, worrying about your ego and why it's hurt and that's the number one thing. Like, really thinking about your client, having empathy and trying to create the best work that will help him or her instead of your ego.
Well, I think the thing that has really become apparent, to me from working with you, is that you gave me an ability to take things that I can only envision but couldn't execute and bring them to life by taking both of our skill sets together. Me as a writer and my ability to connect dots and your visual illustration capabilities are pretty much largely responsible for the entire aesthetic of the Unmistakable brand. One of the things that I wanna talk about is the actual process for how we do something when we collaborate. The fact that you build in multiple iterations and how you take feedback and how you process it and how you incorporate it. So what's, I think my favorite example of this, which, to this day, Mars ended this project by saying Srini, you have to take this project off my soul. I can't deal with this anymore. Because I made him do so many iterations of this but, when you see the final product it'll blow your mind. So, a couple years ago, we hired Mars to basically, depict all of the speakers at our event as X-Men style superheros and make movie posters out of them, and we thought, who better to do that than Mars. He knows how to take anybody and make them look like a superhero but it ended up being the most difficult project we had worked on to date. Because we had just done the rebrand of the website, he'd done an amazing job with logos, he did all of the artwork for the new website. Then we got into our first real challenge, in which we actually started having, not disagreements but questions as to how we can get this to the point where it's gonna be something we like. In fact, the first versions, that we thought were final versions, we had to make him do all over from scratch. So, let's talk about how we kind of navigated that and how people navigate challenges in a creative collaboration and then we'll actually turn it over to the audience for questions. So, we send you the first versions, you send us back what we thought were the first drawings and everybody was like, we hate these so we can't use these. So, talk to me about the fact that you spent all these hours doing this thing and now you had to start over from scratch and we still went through hundreds of iterations after that. So, let's talk about how we actually did this.
Yeah, so in the beginning, obviously, we had worked before so I thought I knew what you wanted from me. I used my trademark style but because you had speakers and I was gonna portray those speakers I just used my style without thinking about how to actually like, portray a speaker that they would like it. I just created my own version and basically, you said yeah, but that's not very flattering. They're not gonna like that. The way you portray them, the skin and the potion, I thought, oh my god, like, that was so my style. In the beginning, I was a little bit annoyed, obviously, after the third, fourth, fifth iteration. But then, I thought, you know what, we have such a good relationship and I really switched my mode from worrying about my style to like, actually thinking about how to properly portray, like a speaker, that would please him or her. And then, you know like, after like, feedback and that's the most important thing. You should always talk about everything, right. I talked about how I was a little bit annoyed and you said, I understand you, I know it's a little bit stressful and it's like the fourth or fifth iteration. So, we were very open about the process and that really helped me because there's no anger involved because we are just speaking to each other, we're saying what was going on, and then I finally understood what the real goal was and once I made the switch in my mind, it went much better. I was exhausted but it was still a very good way of ending the project.
It ended up being a really, really beautiful project which I'll show you some of this afterwords but I think that the thing that I've seen with Mars, and then we'll turn it over to you guys for questions, that has been really smart in terms of the way that he works as a collaborator, is that he builds iterations right into his entire process. So, that he doesn't go too far in any one direction if I don't like it. So, for example, if you go to the Unmistakable Creative website and you look at the home page, you'll see a Netflix style wallpaper with all of the podcast guests displayed because we wanted a way to display all of our guests without cluttering the home page and we thought okay, why don't we just do that because then we can showcase all of this stuff, but when we went to Mars and asked him to do that, he didn't give us a finished wallpaper. He gave us very rough sketches about, in terms of what something might look like, with, you know, you could position it this way. What we do is, we'll basically say okay, based on these sketches, let's go in this direction and we'll work on two different concepts for awhile. So, you'll always have two different versions of something as a collaborator with somebody like Mars, believe it or not, I learned that from a Steve Jobs book that a journalist, Leander Caney wrote, who said that anytime Steve Jobs had somebody design something for him, he said, I wanna see two versions. What's interesting, is if you ask somebody, even for my first book cover, we finally narrowed down the design, I replied back and said, can you send me variations on the color, and, believe it or not, we changed the color based on that. So, he builds this right into his process so that he doesn't go too far down any one path and then has to end up redoing work. So, we build a very... Like he said, it's all based on constant feedback and constant communication and, as a result, the relationship thrives. I wanna turn it over to the audience now for questions. Questions for me, questions for Mars, about how this has all worked and how you can collaborate with other people to expand your creative capacity.
Mars, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. One of the questions from the internet is that, when it comes a little bit to how you guys do your communications, especially when you disagree on something.
Yeah, one of the places where we had a disagreement, believe it or not, was in the way that Mars was portraying the women that we were drawing for this event and part of that, we realized, was a cultural disconnect because of the fact that he grew up in Germany, we grew up here, and I remember, looking at the posters of the woman, I said, these are not flattering. These are really, really beautiful woman and they don't look beautiful in these pictures. I said it much more crudely than that. I just can't say it that way here, but, I said, you've gotta change some things about these. It was really interesting because they were really minor aesthetic changes so if you look at Mar's work, you'll see this, particularly when he draws men, they have like, tattoos on their faces or band-aids and they look fantastic when you draw men, but, when you draw woman, they start to come across as blemishes. So, I said look, I need you to take a few years off of her face, you need to make this person less curvy because she actually will be offended that you've made her look so curvy and it was really... But, more than anything we realized that the difference was that this was a cultural difference. It was because of what he had grown up with and what we saw as sort of aesthetic beauty. That's one of those things but what I think has really helped us with disagreement is, when we communicate openly and that's, I think, the biggest thing that has prevented a lot of disagreement is the fact that Mars has been really good about building iteration into the entire process so that he doesn't end up producing something that I don't like and he doesn't go so far in one direction of doing something that I don't like that he has to start all over again. That actually is one of the easiest ways that we've mitigated a lot of disagreement. Yeah, Mark.
How do you guys work with deadlines or timelines and is that ever an issue for you?
We've been really, really fortunate in that our deadlines and timelines are ... He's never, he never tells me that he can do something that he can't. He's realistic about what he says he can do. I don't also make unreasonable demands of him with rare exceptions, with the movie posters were very much a rare exception. He had a lot of time but we also knew that there was a timeline because there was a certain time where those things had to go to a printer to be printed. They had to be done before that and if the printer came back and said that there was something wrong, we had to be able to revise that. We generally agree on what we're aiming for as a timeline but we also build in buffers to that. So, what we'll do, is we'll say okay, this is the drop dead date, this is the ideal date. This is the deadline, this is the buffer and if you can get it before the deadline even better. So, that's built right into the process from the start.
I'm wondering, what's the biggest lesson for each of you, have learned from each other.
Well, I think to put it lightly, I think that Mars has... Really, I mean, in my mind, he's the definition of Unmistakable. Okay, if you've ever seen his work roll through your Facebook news feed, there's, anybody who knows him, knows this. You instantly know that that was done by him, and it was his idea, believe it or not, it was a conversation with him that planted the whole seed for the entire ethos of Unmistakable. He mentioned that to me and I took that concept and it is now, basically, been the defining value system of our brand. So, that's what I've learned from him. That's all encompassing. You can ask him what he's learned from me.
What about you, Mars?
Well, actually, I learned from him how to deal with American clients because (laughter) German culture is so different in terms of how you speak with people, like, your clients and in America, it's just, you have to work in a different way. You have to use a different language in a way. That was pretty helpful. Another thing was, just that, how to grow actually. How to grow your artwork and how to listen more to another persons needs. Because, in the beginning, I was just thinking about my style, how can I bring my style into a relationship. Through him, I learned more, to have more empathy for my client and to really think about how my work can improve his brand. That was something that I learned over the years we worked together.
It's interesting. I don't know how he's done it but you can spot his work anytime it's done by him no matter who it's for, but when he does something for us, you almost always know it's something that came from our crew. I don't know how he's done it and it's one of the great gifts of my life to have found somebody like Mars to collaborate with. So, I'm really glad you were able to join us. Thank you so much.
What a fabulous class! Srini covered one actionable idea after another that can be implemented immediately to fuel creativity right out of the gate. And the beautiful thing is that each tactic builds on all the others, so every little step you take will improve your overall systems. I loved the stories from his podcast and the guest speakers, too. My only complaint was that some of the slides had a lot of text on them -- too much to read. Other than that, it was well-organized, thoughtful, and super useful. I've already recommended it to several people in passing.
This is a great course for anyone pursuing creative work. It is easy to get distracted in the modern world and Srinivas provides practical insights and tested systems for empowering creatives to focus and get more done. Although I've read a lot about how to optimize my habits, I was challenged in this course to think differently about how I structure my time and my work space. The changes I've made have helped me be more productive.
a Creativelive Student
I've watched many CreativeLive courses. While I find many interesting, there are only a handful that capture my attention from beginning to end. This was one of those. The speaker mentioned countless gems that were applicable not only to creativity and productivity, but to how one lives daily life. There were multiple "deep thoughts" and several practical ways to alter one's environments (including physical and mental) in order to enhance productivity and general well-being. I've already implemented a few suggestions, and am anxious to revisit my notes on this course repeatedly.