Yes, You are Creative: A Tribute To My Father

My parents told me that I started to display some artistic abilities when I was about five years old.

Without any help, I took it upon myself to cut out my colorings from a coloring book and repurpose them as decorations for by bedroom door. From then on, I received art supplies on almost every birthday and holiday…colored pencils, easels, dry pastels, watercolor paint, you name it. In school I was known as “the girl who can draw.” I was the kid you wanted on your team at school for arts and crafts projects.

My father was one of the people who marveled at my drawing skills the most. He’d say:

“Sweet pea, I wish I could draw like you! “You’re so creative! I can’t even draw a stick figure.”

This statement would typically be followed by some lighthearted laughing. I would hear this, stick my chest out and smile. Being what I thought was a “creative” person became my identity and it made me feel very special, and I held on to this identity with a tight grip.

Then I went to college to study art. I thought I would be advanced because I had been drawing all my life. That was NOT the case. I had to unlearn and RE-learn everything, from how to hold my graphite pencil to building up shadows and highlights. Let me tell you, this was a BIG ego buster. At least when I showed my undergrad portfolio of underdeveloped drawings to my dad, he would say the same thing he said to me when I was a little girl:

“Sweet pea, I wish I could draw like you! “You’re so creative! I wish I was on your level.”

One day as my undergrad class was learning how to draw the human body, my professor said something I’ll never forget: “Drawing is 90% seeing and 10% drawing. You should be spending MOST of your time looking at your subject before you draw your first stroke.”

This threatened the identity I built as a “creative” person. My magic was in my HANDS, not my eyes…right? I don’t need to look at something so familiar like my foot to draw it. I know my own foot! Right? Little did I know that my figure drawing professor had planted a seed that would affect how I approach brand and web design today. When I studied graphic design, I learned how important it is for design to have a concept phase. I spent the rest of my college career learning how my art could serve a purpose and could solve problems. I learned to develop ideas, and great ideas come from looking and listening to your audience long enough to identify their frustrations.

I graduated from college, and worked as a professional graphic/print designer for several years and did freelance work on the side. Then I started my own brand & web design company. From time to time my dad would ask me how business was going. I’d tell him about a new client, podcast or blog interview and he’d say again:

“Dana that’s great! You’re so creative. I wish I had just an ounce of the creativity you have. I wish I knew how to draw, or work those graphic design programs like you.”

The younger Dana would have stuck her chest out and felt proud. But this time my dad’s comment bothered me quite a bit.

I’ve watched my dad make a solution to a problem seem as easy as pie. The way he handled problems at work bled over into his personal life, which was a plus for me! Whenever I had a problem or dilemma, my dad would always offer a solution so simple that I’d spend at least 30 minutes trying to figure out how I overlooked it. My father has decades of experience in managing restaurants, retail stores, store districts, and teams. He was such an impactful manager that one of his employees wrote an article in the newspaper about her experience under his leadership 18 years after she worked for him.

The article written about my father in the Commercial Appeal, the premier newspaper in Memphis, TN.

There’s no way my dad could lead people and manage stores for 30 YEARS and not use some innovative ideas in the process. So this time, I had a different reply for my father. I responded:

Dad, I may be able to draw, but I get paid for the ideas in my head that I just so happen to be capable of executing through design. I get my creative mind from YOU!”

Now, I have a good mix of personality traits from both of my parents. When I talk to people in a business meeting or at a conference, my mother’s ability to have a commanding presence yet simultaneously make them feel at ease shows up in my mannerisms and in my talk. I’m thankful if I can accumulate even 1% of her regality in my lifetime. But my love for problem-solving and my ability to get business owners excited about the bigger picture comes from my father. The only difference is our tools.

It bothers me that so many people like my dad do not consider themselves to be creative. When did we start having such a narrow-minded view of what creativity is? Why do so many people, even artists, discount their amazing skills if they don’t fit into a certain mold? Maybe this idea of the stereotypical “creative” person was pushed in school, or through clichéd images of creatives in TV shows, cartoons, and movies that almost ALWAYS look like this:

Stereotypical-artist

Let’s look at the simple definition of creative, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary:

Creative

adjective cre·a·tive \krē-ˈā-tiv, ˈkrē-ˌ\

  • : having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas
  • : using the ability to make or think of new things
  • : involving the process by which new ideas, stories, etc., are created

By this definition, a person who is innovative but “can’t even draw a stick figure” can be more creative than a painter, sculptor, or dancer who doesn’t push artistic limits.

Everyone has a creative side, and you are selling yourself short (and probably missing out on opportunities too) if you don’t acknowledge yours. You have creative traits if:

  • You see the world differently than most people, and because of that, you probably solve problems differently than most people
  • You’re able to explain things extremely well
  • You observe everything and everyone
  • You ask the questions that no one else asks
  • You try to control your atmosphere by surrounding yourself with beautiful things
  • You find it difficult to take the easy way out
  • You abhor monotonous routines
  • You get excited about the smallest things

Maybe you found a quicker way to prepare your children for school in the morning or a way to get your team members engaged in a board meeting. Maybe you’re an Uber driver who has figured out ways to make your passengers more comfortable. Whatever it is that you do, if you’re thinking ahead and trying to make an experience better, you are creative!

It took me my entire life to realize that the creative process does indeed begin in the mind. My father was one of the first teachers to show me this in action.

This is for you Dad. Thank you.

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About the Author

Dana James Mwangi

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From full-time corporate employee to full-time entrepreneur, Dana James Mwangi's career has evolved from being an in-house print designer to agency founder, brand & website builder, creative director and speaker. After undergrad, Dana landed jobs where she designed for SunTrust and Wells Fargo, and package design for items on the shelves of Walmart and Target. With her love for clean design and belief that everyone has a story to tell, Dana founded Cheers Creative, a visual strategy and web design agency in Memphis, TN. Since the opening of Cheers in 2012, Dana has been featured in dozens of business and design podcasts, blog articles and online design showcases, all while being a wife and stay-at-home mom. Dana received a BFA with a concentration in Graphic Design from the University of Memphis. When she’s not working or contributing to the Memphis arts scene, she is spending time with her husband, 12-year old son and four-year-old twin girls.

Comments 4

  1. Dana, How wonderful you are! I wish I could have imparted some sense of what would become life skills when you were the “girl who could draw.” You were a bright spot then, and you shine even brighter now. As a teacher I did always try to foster creativity in my students, and there were some who could take an idea and run with it. There were too many who were afraid to trust their own ideas. And you are so right, you don’t have to know how to draw to be creative. How happy I am that you can do both equally well!

    Your dad was so special to teach you these lessons.

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      Hi Ms. Martin! Thank you so much for reading this post! Your class was the outlet I needed as a teenager, and I thank you for providing that space! My hope is that people will realize its never too late to reactivate your creative side. Creative people hear a lot of “no’s” because oftentimes their foresight makes no sense to others. And instead of moving on, we let the “no’s” defeat us. Hopefully this will inspire people to get back in touch with their imagination and do something with the innovative ideas that they tried to bury.

  2. I love this! It is so true… Some of the most creative people I know are farrrr from ‘artistic’, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that they are creative at the core. This is a wonderful tribute to your Father!

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