is a pop top energy drink spiked with caffeine laden words that are calming to the soul, while at the same time capable of spurring volcanic eruptions of energy and frenzied moments of accomplishment
be something. if you want to make something encourages makers to stay in the moment and allow ingenuity to be the pace car. each short blurb hands over an uncooked account of an artists rocket fuel fast, can’t stop, won’t stop lucky, sometimes mixed martial arts bloodied adventure. it humorously highlights the speed bumps that were approached way too fast and encourages the reader to push past the exit ramps desperately calling for companionship and accelerate toward the reward on the horizon.
be something. if you want to make something runs over the big scary words of the business world like “copyright” and “business plan” and spits out what makes real sense in the life of doing more of what you love for a living.
pull back the tab and sip a bit . . .
as a marketing consultant, i spend a lot of time teaching people how to be. be original. be helpful. be authentic. be obsession-worthy. be so good they can’t ignore you.
when I met kenT it was like getting struck by lightening.
this guy just knows how to be.
my first experience with him was in a free class i was teaching to 1,100 entrepreneurs. you can imagine among 1,100 people it would be really ridiculously hard to stand out. especially online, in the middle of a facebook group that was moving so fast i could hardly keep my little fingers typing. as i was scrolling and connecting with my students, i noticed that every post had likes and comments, but one post had more likes and comments than anyone, and the number kept climbing.
here’s what it said: i’m kenT, and i’m an artist. but not the tortured kind. i create one-of-a-kind images – no two are exactly the same. some are big. some are small. some have words. some have none. but what I really do is make people feel happy + free. they don’t even have to know why. after all, happy + free is a great place to be.
people loved kenT’s unusual “introduction” and took notice. i took notice. it surprised me. because it’s rare to find a business owner who says their true purpose is to make people feel “happy and free.” and you could feel his energy pour through his words, and you could see it in the photos of his paintings that he shared.
as the days went on, kenT’s assignments stood out. always. he was so damn good that, throughout the class, other students were forfeiting their chance to win that day’s prize and pleading with me to just “give it to kenT.” and it wasn’t just his talent that stood out. he took the time to cheer on his classmates. to share helpful and thoughtful comments. he lived and breathed his introduction. everyone knew it. there are so many ways to be it can be maddening. everywhere you turn there’s someone telling you to “be” this or “be” that.
after getting to know kenT, striving to “be” just an ounce like him guarantees awesomeness. since he’s too humble to include a “be kenT” chapter, this intro is my way of doing it for him.
i don’t know what to be /
i’m kenT, and i’m an artist. but not the tortured kind.
i think i’ve always been an artist. at least since people in social settings started introducing themselves and asking me what i do. but i was way too scared to say it so simply. i struggled to tell people who i was and what i did. i felt so compelled to validate myself that i crammed everything i had ever done or wanted to do into my basic description. i would probe into what i thought someone might need me to be before giving a full answer.
it often went something like, “i’m a graphic artist with a background in interior design, exhibit fabrication, painting, set design, marketing, and branding.” a long-winded, confusing, and skeptical description of a design superhero. a sort of captain brand o’ maker.
i had friends who would chuckle each time they heard me change my job description based on who i was talking to + what i thought i could get them to hire me for. i was so undecided in my own journey that i made it confusing for others to see what my particular set of skills actually were.
like a young boy raised by wolves, i believe much of this was forged by my surroundings. i had moved to a location where i was struggling to find full-time employment, was just starting out on my own, and was trying to make a name for myself in the community. i figured if i was everything to everyone, i would be much more in demand.
my family and i stayed afloat. it was a roller coaster ride of jobs and money coming in and propelling us to the top of the tracks, only to plummet, hands clenched on the bar, when there were no payments flowing in.
i took a night job and answered phones until odd hours in the evening while i worked on starting a design business during the day. i took not so glamorous jobs, such as marketing potatoes and made corporate flyers for convention-goers. i hustled + sold myself out to just about any job i could get. it was the part of the story no one wants to read. it’s the part where you are not sure if it will all work. where you wonder if you are good enough. if you have what it takes. it is the part where the negative part of your thinking-path often winds and curves around the positive thoughts that keep you going. the thoughts that help put one foot in front of the other in hopes of a big break.
hard work and persistence would occasionally get us riding back up the big hill and every so often the tracks even seemed smooth.
more than once i experimented with peeking into the corporate world and scanned job boards for full-time creative positions.
eventually, we made a big move from the midwest and headed south to take on a position of creative director for a new design firm. funny thing was, much like i was in my previous career, this firm was a bit undecided as to what it would be as well.
to make a crappy story seem a little less bathroom-like, i’ll just say that within a year i was back on my own trying to find work as a graphic artist with a background in interior design, exhibit fabrication, painting, set design, marketing, and branding. i even added house painter, wallpaper hanger, soccer coach, and general do-anything-errand-boy to that list.
cue soft depressing music, perhaps with the gruntal twang of gavin degraw.
i had been painting for quite some time and had sold a few pieces to friends and family members, as well as participated in a couple of local shows. to be honest, most of my work was hanging in my own home or stashed away in the garage i occasionally used as a place to paint. i would fulfill a commission now and then, but honestly never answered the dreaded “what do you do?” question with “i’m an artist.” even my neighborhood friends struggled to understood what kenT did for a living.
my neighbor, two doors down, had a summer get together one beautiful carolina summer evening. the kind with lemonade for the kids and lemonade with the good stuff for the adults, along with grilled meats, corn on the cob, and a vicious game of kick ball in the back yard. one of the party goers was the neighbor’s best friend since high school and a self-proclaimed artist agent. i met her showcasing a notebook of images from one of her artists (who is now a great friend as well). somehow i managed to get her to walk down to my house and take a look at our walls. about all i remember saying to her was that i have no idea how to sell my work, where to sell my work, or how much to sell it for. but that i did know that those who saw it really seemed to be drawn to it.
she got me started. it was super small-scale. super sketch. and often intimidating. one small school fundraising show led to another. then a gallery show. and before long i was selling paintings to more than friends, family, and a handful of local fans.
local sales turned into national sales. national sales turned into licensing deals. bulk orders from national retailers came knocking, along with flash sales at various .coms, pops-ups in people magazine, and flattering attention from a couple of those “home makeover” reality tv shows.
one day, i woke up and realized, “huh … guess i’m a full-time artist, now.” whoa! there i was. an artist.
if only it were that easy. you know. . . meet someone. fall in love. live happily ever after. or in this case, meet someone. have them assist you along the way. soon you are off and doing what you love to do everyday.
i could fill a book with stories of both success and failure, as well as busts that through no fault of my own turned into an accidental success. it would include winning a blue ribbon for best booth, but not selling one item at the first art show i ever attended, or forgetting i was the live entertainment at a wedding and nearly missing the event entirely. in fact i did fill a small book with such stories. be something if you want to make something is really a guide as to how i went from selling at one small school show to national sales, licensing deals, works in national publications, and more. i continue to learn every single day.
your dream is delightfully do-able. this is one of my favorite quotes on a set of art prints i collaborated on with the supremely talented writer alexandra franzen. do-able. perhaps not a proper word, but it captures the most important part of your dream.
it’s the do-ing.
dreams are easy. i have lots of them.
unfortunately i didn’t put in the time to learnt to hit the curve ball, no one wants to hear me sing or see me dance, and i’ve been told i’m too nice to be on reality tv. i could work on those things over and over again, but churning that type of cream repeatedly would never produce any butter. to be honest, all the quotes on hard work and hustling look great on your wall or in your social media feed, but they will not make you a pop star either. i know a lot of hard working people that struggle mightily. you may be one of them. at times, i am too.
as i stood and chatted with folks at those first art shows about what i paint, why i paint, and how i paint, i realized something. if i wanted to be an artist, i needed to be an artist. it was about be-ing. not just do-ing.
is there a difference?
i think so. i can “do things” all day long. i can make lists. i can do invoicing. i can do packing and shipping. i can do the laundry. that however, does not make me an organizer, an accountant, a shipper, or a dry cleaner.
if you want to be an artist, a maker, a creator, or a fill in the blank, you have to be one with everything you have. it is not a job. it is who and what you are. it is your obsession. if you want people to be so obsessed with what you do that they are willing to pay anything for it, you sure as heck had better be over the edge, strung out on exhilaration, and obsessed with what you do.
so you want to be an artist? me too. i’m kenT, and i’m an artist.
the following are few verbs of being that will set you on your way. some of these i am naturally gifted at. most of them i am not.
it’s time to be. /
be surprising /
it’s 7:30 pm, and i’m on the couch, flipping through instagram photos like my thumb has been injected with oxycontin. i glance through design magazines, and, while visually impressive, they all seem to land in the recycling bin. i’m assuming the bachelorette is kissing another dude and handing out more roses, someone is looking for a new house, or someone is naked and afraid. or maybe someone is kissing someone looking for a new house but is naked and afraid. i’m not sure. i can’t keep it all straight. so i don’t even turn the flat screen on.
so what am i looking for?
i’m desperately seeking for something to grab my attention. it doesn’t even have to be susan.
what i want, what i really really want is for something to reach out, grab me, and pin me to the wall.
something to make my thumb halt. maybe even reverse. something more than just pretty. i need something to jump off the screen and into my repetitive thought system. i need a secret admirer. a mysterious fedex box. an exotic rendezvous.
or really all i need is a simple surprise.
something unexpected, a little out of the ordinary, something i don’t experience everyday.
want to make stuff for a living?
wake up. get off the couch. work your backside off. show up on time. and, most importantly… surprise somebody.
simple concept. simple idea. sometimes, simply hard to do.
surprising someone really is what this whole journey of be-ing someone who is noticed is all about.
as an artist i fight with the typical starving artist stereotype. i am expected to fit into a mold. it’s an “out of the box, a little messed up, running late, torn-jeans wearing, messed-up hair kind of mold.”
consider austin, texas. an incredible place to live + create. it is vibrant, artistic, and labeled as the live music capital of the world. take a journey there during the south by southwest music festival, and you will be overwhelmed. you may initially even be surprised. most likely by the size and sheer abundance of things to see and do.
but look closely. what is surprising? with that many artists and artistic people all in one area, none of them really seem to stand out from one another. everyone looks like an artist or a band member. it’s like the time i descended the stairs in skinny jeans to questions from my son of “hey dad, you in the band?”
i think spike lee playing mars blackman in the first nike air jordan commercial got it wrong. it has nothing to do with the shoes.
if you want to make and make a living at this, you have to surprise people. not with how you look, but with your product, your personality, your service. surprise does not mean crazy or overboard obnoxious – it means to exceed their expectations.
the corporate world has an absurd way of gauging their employees performance.
at year end reviews, employees are given marks of either “does not meet,” “meets,” or “exceeds,” expectations. based on those reviews, bonuses are given, promotions are made etc. employees work all year just to get one of those credits on their record. those that “meet” expectations just keep riding the train. those that do not are given a second and sometimes third chance to bring up their marks. those that are marked “exceeds” (which is few and far between) are considered stars within the company and often get a new title (oooooh – aaahhh, yeah!) and perhaps a bigger bonus. for the most part, employees “meet” expectations and things continue to move along as is.
as an entrepreneur or business owner/ maker we are not given such reviews. we are only offered two possible marks. either yes. or no. and we are given those reviews on a daily basis.
yes. yes, i will buy from you again, work with you again, forward you to a friend – carry a torch for you.
or a no. h – e – double hockey sticks no, i wont buy from you again – in fact, i’ll tell others not to as well. see that review – you suck. no stars for you. a rating of one. there is no second or third chance. if you do not deliver, you lose.
clients are not your corporate team managers – they will not keep you around because it is easier than finding someone new or risky to make changes. they will drop you. i’m sure of it because i do. i’m not good with second chances on customer service. i’ve walked out of a small shop when the owner was too chatty on a phone to help me and taken my business elsewhere. i refuse to purchase art supplies at a big box store minutes from my home and drive farther, because it is so slow and has an aura of malaise. i’m certain you have stories of poor results in which you have taken your business somewhere else. you may not have the same i won’t shop there list as i do, but i’ll bet you have one.
unless you exceed their expectations, which are high, customers / clients will move on to the next person on their list.
do more for clients or potential clients than they expect. be nice. be helpful.
treat them as you would your best friend. it surprises people. /
so, you want to take your secret passion (writing, painting, cupcake baking) and make it your full time gig? except it’s really hard and scary to actually, you know, do that? kenT understands your pain and that’s why he wrote this book. read it and then follow kenT’s wise advice: “don’t wait. every day you wait is a day you won’t get back.” this book will remind you that you have the power to make art – and create all kinds of exciting surprises in your life – right now, today. what’s the hold up? why wait? grab your tools […]
be something. if you want to make something sent me directly from the pages to my work station to knock out my next big thing. there was no stopping and no taking the exit ramp. it was straight racing fuel to get accelorate me through my next project.
be something. if you want to make something not only kickstarted my creative engine, but it set me on a new trajectory to lead my team by being the designer, leader, and person that I was created to be. listen to kenT – he knows – and lives – what he’s talking about.
the single most creative person i know. he just happens to not be crazy. imagine that. read this book.
you want to be an artist? the untortured kind? then you might want to sit + read + listen to kenT youngstrom’s startling advice about what it takes to be . . . an artist. and then get off your duff and do it! I chatted with kenT when he was starting out and selling just a couple of paintings a year. now, a few years later he’s shipping them out by the truck load. but it’s not just about the sale. it’s about the lifestyle. the freedom. the excitement. and how to make it all work for you – […]
inside the whimsical universe of creativity i believe there is an unknown language that can only be successfully translated by the chosen few whom have an innate ability to take what seems to be complicated and alchemically make it simple. there needs to be the ability to understand perspective and context while undermining the complexities of the source. kent is that guy!
kent is the easiest person to collaborate with… in the history of ever. he’s like: “send me some cool words that i can put on my paintings.” i’m like: “ok. here you go.” he’s like: “look, i made some amazing art.” the end. brief. beautiful. perfection. if you have an opportunity to collaborate with kent, you should. he’s a total pro & damn talented, too.
kenT immediately, with both feet in and without hesitation, made himself a part of our team. his input, excitement, willingness, generosity, awareness and creativity was unparalleled and unexpected. he instantly ingratiated himself to the team and to me, personally, from the very first moment I met him. we love kenT!