What would happen if we based our lives around impulse and adventure, and slowly built a business along the way?
This week I want to share a story of a recent collaboration that started as a bold, spontaneous idea. I hope it inspires you to think a little bigger and get out of your comfort zone this year.
- Start by acknowledging that your goal is possible; no matter how large it is
- Break down the steps to reverse-engineer your goal
- Reaching out to strangers and building relationships online can lead to great things
- Put yourself out there and don't expect anything in return
- Make the type of work you want to make; document the process and show it to people
- Positive energy is contagious, regardless of your background
- Always try to hit two birds with one stone.
- Persistence is key
- You never know if you don't ask.
Early last year I was invited to a wedding by two of my friends from college, Dhairya and Apoorva. They were set to get married around Christmas time in their hometown of Mumbai, India.
Hold up! That's a long way to go for a wedding, even for a close friend. I needed to give it some careful consideration.
This was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to go to a traditional Indian wedding and experience the culture first-hand. Plus I had always wanted to go to Asia and this was the perfect reason! I was determined to make it happen, so I started saving.
I knew I wanted to spend more time there past the wedding. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be cool to make a mural in India?".
I had seen big-time artists making epic murals across the world, so I thought, "why not me?".
There were a few things I liked about this idea:
- Murals can have a very positive effect on a neighborhood.
- Instead of being a tourist the whole time, I'd be hitting two birds with one stone - traveling and lettering on a scale I had never done before.
- If I could get people to help me, I'd make some new friends along the way.
Seemed like a long shot, but I liked the way it sounded. I started to reverse engineer the goal and break it down into steps.
I immediately started reaching out directly to Indian artists and designers online, (finding them through Dribbble, Behance and Instagram), sharing my best work, and letting them know I was coming to India and looking to collaborate. I didn't expect to hear back from anyone.
Out of the 20 messages I sent, one guy named Anant Ahuja from New Delhi replied back. He owned a design studio called Inchwork, and to my surprise, he was really excited to work with me! After a few emails back and forth, we settled upon making a lettering mural revolving around a social issue. You never know until you ask.
India has some serious discrimination issues, specifically toward women, homosexuals and people of lower economic status. Our goal was to raise awareness and shed light on this issue of human rights and equality.
We wanted the public to see our project and think twice about mis-treating people based on factors that were out of their control.
Let me be clear. This was not a paid project. It was purely made for fun and to make something great that would have a positive impact on the city of New Delhi.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, Anant scouted out a wall for us to paint. Finding one on the rooftop of the building neighboring his studio, he sent me this photo:
Could a mural actually make someone stop and think, or change their behavior?
It's definitely possible. However, since the wall was up on a rooftop where only a select few could appreciate it, we decided we would make a short video about the project. This way we could spread the message and make it easily shareable. Luckily Anant was owed a favor from a local production company, so they offered to help us and film for the day. (The video is still in progress but will be done soon!)
As timing would have it, I was getting ready to transition out of my day job in the midst of all of this. Rather than cutting my trip short based on allotted vacation day nonsense, I decided to make the leap and quit the agency job right before the trip. I gave a few weeks notice and my last day of work was the same day I boarded the plane.
Arriving in India I was met with strange smells, people staring, new languages and overall culture shock. I couldn't believe I was there, and that this project was actually going to happen!
I took a walk around Hauz Khas Village where I was staying, taking photos and notes to use for inspiration.
We had 48 hours to design and execute the mural before I had to leave for Mumbai. We set some constraints and tried to simplify it as much as possible.
Back at Inchwork, we sketched a bunch of different styles, simply using the word "equality" as the focal point.
We were hoping to use a rented projector to help transfer the lettering from the sketch to the wall, but when it arrived, it wasn't bright or powerful enough to see the image. It worked for a part of the mural, but most of the wall had to be freehand.
The pressure was on.
As we started applying color, it ended up looking sort of graffiti-esque, although that was a total accident. It made sense though, because the bold, striking letterforms would help the design pop off the wall.
I felt a huge rush of adrenaline being up there on the roof, in a foreign country, doing my favorite thing and collaborating with other talented artists. We each took turns speaking to the camera, talking about what equality means to us, and then getting some pedestrians to share their thoughts on the topic.
The day went by quickly, and we were racing against daylight to get it finished. We got it done just after sunset, had a quick celebratory drink, and a few hours of sleep later I was on my way out to the next adventure.
I wanted to share this story, not only because I'm passionate about what we made, but also because I want you to think bigger about what you're capable of.
In full transparency, I'm not sustainably able to do these kinds of projects as often as I want. However, I've found that the only way to get the jobs you want is to make work you love and then get it in front of people.
This project took hours of research, persistence in asking for help, and – to be honest – a bit of luck.
Coming into the new year I have taken on the challenge of creating 6 murals in 2016. The next one will be in Detroit, and I leave for the trip tomorrow. I'm excited to share that with you as it unfolds. (For live updates you can follow me on Snapchat - @efdotstudio.)
I'll leave you with a simple quote that helped me decide to go for this big goal and make it happen.
"I'll do it. I don't know how, but I will..."
I'd love to hear your feedback on this articles, as well as your personal stories about traveling or collaboration. Don't be shy! Send me a message below or shoot me an email at email@example.com.