Meet the Newest Guy

If it seems like we’ve been hiring a lot lately, it’s because we have! We’re not trying to make a habit of it, but hey,…

If it seems like we’ve been hiring a lot lately, it’s because we have! We’re not trying to make a habit of it, but hey, when the right talent shows up, it’s great if you can let them in. Our latest round of luck comes in the form of our new Production Artist. To get to know him a little better, the two of us sat down for some face time.


Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do at McCullough Creative?


I…I do a little bit of everything, I think. Printing, laminating, building things, sculpting…


Wow, we really do keep you busy (laughs). I was checking out your portfolio—there’s a lot of cardboard work, and a demolition derby car in particular. Can you tell me a little about that? Do you compete in derbies?


I do. This will be my seventh year doing demo derbies; I usually run two or three a year. It’s just something I grew up around. Then my senior year of college at Clarke University I was able to tap into that in a unique way. We got a new professor and she pushed us to try new things, new mediums—that’s how I got into cardboard. And for my senior performance I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but somehow managed to realize I wanted to take two of my passions and merge them together. So I built a full-sized demo derby car out of cardboard and a few other found objects. The car was based off of a car I had run, and then I took two videos, merged them side-by-side, and played them next to the car, so attendees could see the derby as it happened in real time.

That’s awesome. How long do you think it took to build?


I didn’t keep track of the hours—I wish I would have, but it was probably about 500 in the car and maybe another 75 in the motor itself. I did a lot of it over the holiday break in a garage that just had a couple little space heaters. I’d go outside about 7 o’clock, turn them on, go eat a quick breakfast, and I’d be out there from about 8 o’clock until midnight or one everyday, just cracking away on it.


So did you have this motor in there? (reviewing the picture)

It’s actually in there now.


I like what you did with the belt—like you can see the corrugation of the cardboard, and the same with the filter. That’s pretty cool, to use the material in a realistic way. I’m also really blown away by this backpack—it looks like a real backpack! That’s actually all cardboard?


The majority of it is. There’s actually a little video screen in there, so there are little electronic components in it. Other than that, it’s all cardboard, paper, and tape, except for the plastic pieces of the straps. It’s another project where I was just trying to push myself one step further. I kind of got to the point where I could build quite a few things out of cardboard, and I wanted to try to build something out of cardboard that looked like it was a different material. I was really trying to go for the cloth or the fabric look with the backpack.

What was on the screen?


A lot of people these days are playing games on their phones instead of actually going out and experiencing the real world…those same activities in the real world. So the video was just some video I had gotten of somebody playing Farmville and another was bowling and fishing and cooking—so it was all these things they could have been doing in real life, but they were going back and doing them through a screen instead.


Hmm, that’s cool, really smart. What else do you do for personal projects?


This past year has been tough trying to get a lot of my own artwork done. I’ve been doing a lot of ceramics lately.

Oh, really! Do you wheel?


I do wheel…I do sculpture. Ceramics are what really got me into art, so I am kind of going back with a different mindset. I always thought of ceramics as something traditional­—that a mug was a mug—but I’m trying to go back and work on some ideas in my head on how to incorporate other materials in the sculptures and just kind of bring all of what I do together.


That’s great. It kind of mirrors a lot of what we do here at McCullough—taking everyone’s talents and skills, and merging them all together. That’s what makes us unique, and it’s what makes you unique, too, as an artist. What led you to do the work you do? Where did it begin? How did it evolve?


I think it just evolved because I constantly want to learn more things. What draws me to art the most is that I can experiment so much with it, and there’s not a set way to do things. When I was in school, art was never really my thing, I didn’t have a clay class until I was in high school, and as soon as I felt that clay and I realized all these things I could do with it, that’s when it clicked. When I became a senior in high school I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I decided to go and get an art degree. My parents were extremely supportive but wanted to make sure I had a plan, so I decided that I kind of wanted to go into teaching.


So I went and got all that done, and it just kind of evolved from there with different experiences I have had all influencing how my art has evolved. For example, there was a time I created more figurative work because when I was a freshman in college I had the chance to go to Italy, and I saw all these sculptures, and it influenced my work to be more figurative for a time being. So it’s kind of always bounced around from one material to another material, and now I’m kind of going back and trying to bring it all together. I want to experiment with merging cardboard and clay.


Awesome. You’ve grown to this point now where you can look back and show all that you’ve learned, but still challenge yourself by combining the different mediums. So that’s great, always keep learning. What keeps you regularly motivated?


I’ve had a lot of students who hadn’t ever considered themselves artists. And I think what keeps me motivated is the fact that I’ve felt a lot of those same things—I didn’t consider myself an artist, but I really worked hard at it to become better, and I often tell people my story because I think it kind of helps them realize if they work hard at it, they can get better at it. It was just, you know, the transition that students would go through—from not thinking they were an artist to really enjoying it and working to improve themselves as artists.


How old were your students then?


They were mostly between 6, 7, 8…




I was mostly teaching middle school…


Oh, the grades—I thought you meant the age. Because I would’ve been shocked if  6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds thought they weren’t creative. Every child thinks they’re an artist, and knowing that they can create, and not knowing that there are any limitations to that—it’s just whatever they can do. And there’s not a good or a bad—it’s just creating. But there’s this moment where kids make a decision about whether they’re creative or not, and its usually by observing their peers, or even worse, an adult telling them,  “That’s not good.” Now more than ever, people need to explore and find creative ways to solve problems, and I think that’s something that schools should focus on. Creativity is an essential life skill.


You know, I was able to sub and student teach—I’ve taught every level from preschool to 12th grade—and I noticed that the preschoolers and kindergarteners, up to about 3rd grade—they’re all just so exited and they all do a great job, but when they get a little bit older they get more self conscious because they’re seeing what their classmates or friends can do. They get discouraged because one kid might not work as hard, but their stuff looks better to them. They just don’t understand that it’s kind of partly the way the brain works and how they’re seeing things. It’s just something they have to work on. So when I was teaching, that was my favorite thing to talk about. I made a rule in my class that you could never say, “I can’t do this, I can’t draw,” because you can! It’s just practice. Maybe there’s a little bit of natural ability, but you can work on it. It’s all based on work.


And there are a lot of artists who have become famous due to their inability to draw. It didn’t limit them, because you can see all the creativity, and the heart, and the passion that’s still expressed in their work. 


So let’s say you’ve hit a wall creatively. How do you break past it?


Sometimes the walls come down pretty easy, and sometimes you have to work at it.


I really like art history books based off an artist’s life. There’s one about Brunelleschi’s Dome. I’m a big fan of Bernini and Borromini, and their relationship through architecture during the Baroque period. I just get a lot of inspiration from reading about other artists.


I’ve only read one book about architecture. Have you read Devil in the White City?


I have, yes.


(Laughs) When I read that book I thought of production here at MC, in that sometimes we’re asked to build these monumental things, on this budget and this timeline, that seem impossible—but it gets done. And that book, it just…


I read that in high school, and it’s still one of my favorite books.


Both stories are just incredibly interesting, and yeah, I just…thinking of building the 1893 World’s Fair gave me a whole new perspective on human ingenuity. When I’m in Chicago, it’s like I want to see that, I want to see the White City, but there’s nothing left anymore, just little fragments here and there of little statues or whatever. And it reminds me again of what we do here at McCullough, sometimes it’s just for that one show and it’s torn down and gone…


Have you been to Italy? The ruins in Rome are a lot like that. You walk through it and try to picture what it looked like. Right next to the Coliseum there’s kind of another event center where they would race carriages around in a circle, and the thing is just gigantic. Now it’s just flat ground. You can kind of see a little bit of the outline where it was, but the thing’s just gigantic, even in comparison to football and baseball stadiums that we have. It’s just wild to see.


And then to think when it was built—like how could they do that without modern machinery?




So, what’s something that excited you about working here? 


Well, I heard about the internship from Derek, and in all honesty, I was kind of looking for anything at the time. I’d just been cut from my teaching job due to budget reasons, and I was looking for a teaching position. But I was open to learning about anything, and when I came here and did a quick walk-through, I felt like it could be a great experience. And the more I’ve worked here, the more I’ve really come to enjoy it. I wake up and it’s not like I’m going to work—I’m going to make art. It’s not necessarily the stuff that I would choose otherwise, but it’s still building something, it’s still working with my hands, and I’m still learning from it.


To me it really feels like the college studio art classes. That’s what I really like about it. It kind of has that feel that you’re constantly learning, trying new things, and just pushing yourself to find what else you can do.


Great! That sounds like a pretty unique situation for a job—I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. 


So, this is a question we ask in the Creative Department a lot (laughs). It probably won’t make the blog…If we were snowed in and you had to eat someone, who would you eat? And why? (Laughs.)


(Silence)…I think I’d probably just go for the Happy Joe’s in the fridge.