Interview: Sean Mosher-Smith

You may not know Sean Mosher-Smith by name but I’m willing to bet you know his work. For almost 20 years he has been a go-to visual designer for the music industry and, in recent years, has expanded his vision in other markets. He has developed a distinct photo-illustrative style that is elegant, dark and immune to trends. Like many of the creatives I’ve featured he is disciplined with both hemispheres of his brain and works well solo or collaboratively

How would you describe you what is it that you do?
I am a Creative Director and Image maker.

Have you always done this for a living or did you transition from something else? What triggered your decision to make a change?
I have always done this since graduation, I started in the music industry and still draw a large amount of inspiration from music but 7 years ago left the industry in order to expand my portfolio and start including a bit more branding as well as digital (Iphone apps and web) with my own company.

What is the most challenging thing about practicing your craft? How do you deal with that challenge?
I have 2 challenges…

Since it is only 3 partners at my company now, soliciting for new work and promotion is difficult while also trying to keep current clients happy and make deadlines, The other is “shutting off”  I am getting better but the one thing non-creatives don't understand (and sometimes this includes clients), is that creativity is hard to switch on and off, when an idea hits you, sometimes in the middle of the night, it has to be worked out. On the other side of that, trying to pull something out when you are not in the mindset at the time is not easy. I don’t believe in forced brainstorm sessions for this particular reason, unless its for more business than creative purposes.

Do you still practice? If so, what do your practice sessions look like?
I do. I get myself in a comfortable place and explore the things that inspire me. Sometimes its music, sometimes its something I see or read, other times I explore what my peers are doing and it gets me inspired to create..

Where do you find inspiration?
All around me. Like the answer above it can come from anywhere. Sometimes my moods dictate the style of art I do as well.

Where are you when you have the most a-ha moments?
Looking out over Lake Ontario at my lake house. Sometimes I have to get to the point of desperation with a creative block before I hit on something that ignites the creative flame

What do you do to maintain a creative flow?
Step away.

How much do you rely on feedback from other to help shape your ideas?
An occasional different point of view is a good thing, especially if you are working alone. In order for a project to be successful for a paying client, you have to listen to that client. With skill, you can sway a clients bad ideas to your point of view also.

What is the greatest obstacle to creativity?
Money, time, and commitments.

When you complete a project, how often does it resemble your initial concept or conceived idea? How important is this for you?
Sometimes it is dead on, sometimes it has been manipulated so much that it does not resemble it at all. Sometimes thats a good thing. As you design or create, you learn, subtle changes can begin to take shape that can expand on the original idea, sometimes complete accidents occur that make something amazing happen, I like those moments, the work has a life of its own.

How do you know when you’re done?
I’m never done.

How do you resolve creative differences with clients or creative partners?
As long as you can stand behind your decisions, and there is a rationale behind them, its up to your powers of negotiation to convince others. It doesn't always work and I believe in compromise. There have been times when I have put my foot down and refused to do something if I don't agree with it. It works both ways, even with my partners, I argue my case, they argue theirs and we see where we meet.  I have fired clients who I have felt were not working with me for my creative views but as just a pair of hands. Life is too short to waste time.

What keeps you motivated even if you don’t connect personally with the project?
The hope that I will learn something from the experience and put it in the toolbox

What do you do when you are stuck and have some sort of deadline or other pressure?
Keep calm and trust that it will come, sometimes hours before but something is always there to build on, even if its not “The” idea.

How do you achieve your creative vision with a limited budget?
The internet is a wonderful thing. I connect to people online to share work, promote myself or just reach out to people.

What are the top 3 tools in your creative tool kit? ie. software, pencil, paper, journal etc.
Cintique, iPad (with a stylus and sketching app that allows me to transfer to my computer) and a good ol’ #2 pencil

What are the top 3 creative habits that have proven to be the most useful for you in your career?

  • Trust your creative instincts.

  • Stay alert and open to new things.

  • Go outside.

If you could offer a single piece of advice to a budding professional, what would it be?
A terrible trend I have noticed with younger creatives is a feeling of entitlement and superiority trumping experience and traditional skills. Advice would be listen to your peers and have a good work ethic, don't expect everything to be handed to you...stay grounded and work hard.

Learn more about Sean Mosher-Smith