How to establish your unique style: 99% perspiration 1% inspiration

Are you ready to discover the creative power of processes and protocols?

Developing a style takes years and dedication. But once you’re branded to your style, you feel as if you’ve deciphered the Da Vinci Code. It’s yours to call your own. Getting there is not easy, but processes and protocols help you define and establish your unique style. This post is about my creative journey and the way systems and procedures helped me form a distinctive style. It’s about the journey that led me to the creation of The Heads of Society and revealed the creative power of processes and protocols. If you’re in pursuit of your elusive unique style, come along. This is a story of revelation. How I thought I was an artist, but I wasn’t. And then I learned and experimented, and it wasn’t until I created processes and protocols that I nailed a style. The Heads of Society style. The Heads of Society are idioms depicting and defining the ‘heads’ that live among us. They are non-denominational – absent of race, culture, sex, or religion – and focus on describing each character’s actions through art. Here you will discover how this concept came to be and how you can define your own style using processes and protocols.

The beginning was full of superheroes, monsters, and graffiti

Superheroes, monsters, and graffiti were my first means of expression. I grew up in South Philly during the 80s, and there were plenty of situations that made escape appealing. From the boredom of school to being bullied, drawing was always just a thought away. Drawing became a relevant part of my life as soon as I realized I could use it as a means of escape. I’d draw on anything a ballpoint pen would adhere to; the back of test papers, on desks in the classroom, copybooks, and even clothing. Add to the fact that my mom enrolled me into every art class she could afford. This exposed me to all types of mediums (i.e., ceramics, oil, gouache, charcoal), and it expanded my range of skill with a ballpoint pen. All through my school years, I was proud to be revered as an artist.
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The stark realization that I had no style

And then I went to university. During my first week there, my artist status was destroyed. I was no longer seen as an artist; instead, I had to prove myself. Not only that, I quickly realized I had no process, no protocol, and consequently no personal style. But I had dreams and aspirations. Not only did I want to have a style, but I wanted it to be malleable and spiritually rewarding. I wanted my designs to catch the attention and inspire, like the works of Dr. Seuss, Keith Haring, Roger Hargreaves, and Big Daddy Ed Roth (to name a few). Their simple, whimsical styles are still inspirational to me to this day.
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Becoming a designer

At the time, there was still a lot to do, and I will forever be grateful to my tutor Fred Danziger, who guided me and showed me the mountain of methods I needed to learn. And, he also told me that it’s totally fine to emulate those that inspire you. “Eventually, you’ll find your own way with your own style.” His words set me on a path of experimenting with inspirations that I would one day call my own.
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Making it real

My first “official” illustration job came about unexpectedly and, I had no idea where to start. I had just met Judy Law through Christa Moeller at Cline Davis and Mann. Judy was art directing a magazine and needed icons. I jumped at the opportunity, and within the hour, I was hired! Judy handed me an outline that noted what each illustration needed to depict. Fear raced through my mind as I read the titles. “Mental Fitness Ombudsman?? Camino Reale?? What the f@*k do they look like?” my conscious barked. It sparked more insecurities than inspiration.
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So, how did I get there?

I feverishly started sketching anything that came to mind. And thanks to my panicked state, “amazing” wasn’t appearing with every stroke of the pen. Realizing this, I centered myself by listening to music and let my freestyle flow freely. As I researched titles, ideas came to mind and were translated into visuals. Within a short amount of time, I had found my mojo and was ready to share the sketches with Judy. Judy was the one that noticed that each character had a unique “bean” style head. Her observation unearthed what I’d been looking for since Danziger’s class, and all I had to do was polish it up.
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99% perspiration 1% inspiration

It took me several months until I had the “bean head” concept to my liking, and I was experimenting with different ideas that proved it was malleable. For example, I used the eyes, mouth, and subtle icons to depict the emotion of each bean head.
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Now all I needed was a theme.

While I didn’t notice anyone creating bean heads, when I first met MERESONE at 5ptz, I found his light bulbs to be of a similar concept. Thankfully, they were not in the same ‘light’ as mine 😉 But I did realize that the bean heads would have a short shelf life if I didn’t expand the concept.

Expanding the Bean Head concept

No alt text provided for this image Another thing to keep in mind is that concepts need to keep up with the times. It keeps your work relevant and, more importantly, keeps your audience guessing – thank you to my wife Lisa for that insight. So I knew I had to expand the bean head concept if I were to keep it alive and exciting. The idea came to me during a news conference, as I was watching on George W. Bush. Somehow the term “cokehead” came to my mind, and I immediately envisioned a can of coke on the shoulders of someone in a suit. I was so confident in the idea; I just started painting on canvas. While painting Cokehead, I realized there were several ways to use the word head in combination with a pronoun. Shithead, Knucklehead, and Blockhead were just a few that danced through my mind as I painted. I finished Cokehead within a day. Not only did I have a lot of fun painting it, but I realized I had a malleable style and a theme! By the end of the week, I purchased and You are welcome to click and join us if you want. We’d love to have you in our society.
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Why process and protocols are so important

Without processes and protocols to manage expectations and keep messaging aligned, the whole concept would get haphazard and eventually diluted. Now that I had finally nailed my style, and I wasn’t going to let it slip away. Processes and protocols helped me set the standards and safeguard the unique identity and enduring style of The Heads of Society. Using my experience and design skills, I created a workflow to define the processes and protocols. As you can see in the images I’m sharing; it’s nothing fancy or overwhelming; all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. With that set, it was time to start the work.

Execution time

Within the hour, I had found hundreds of head combinations. Some were super funny, others were cliché, but others were derogatory, ignorant, and disgusting. At that moment, it was clear that any phrase that demoralized, discriminated against, and/or sexualized a particular group did not belong in our society.
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Filtering phrases using Merriam Webster and Urban Dictionary

With the help of protocols, it was time to filter the phrases into categories, using a trusted resource, a respected authority on phrasing. Merriam Webster and Urban Dictionary would serve as my trusted experts because each had the definitions for most of the phrases I’d been researching. Plus, both were known and respected by one respected crowd or the other.

Creating the illustrations with ConceptsApp

Painting/drawing were my first choices for creating the illustrations, but these proved limiting as once I created a piece, I’d have to scan, color-balance, etc. Taking advice from my long-time friend Chava Weisberg, I bought an iPad and started testing apps related to illustration. I landed on ConceptsApp. To me, it’s one of the best for vector-based illustrations. Plus, it’s quite intuitive too. Read my research here.
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Final note

Once a random idea, now The Heads of Society have their very own unique style and identity. All thanks to the processes and protocols that keep them relevant, alive and distinctive. I am grateful to all the people I met along the way who helped me learn, grow and finally establish a style. Thank you, all!
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Would you like to join The Heads of Society?

With over 100+ heads completed, I release one head a week on my social channels. I release one head a week on Instagram. Follow me and I’ll mail you a packet of stickers.

Are you interested in working with me? If so, hit me up and we’ll discuss how we can work together.