Cue Inspiration: Step inside the minds and workplaces of several successful Annapolitans to learn their habits of creative success
May 25, 2016 04:01PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
How is an epiphany fostered?
We visit several Annapolitans, each in a dynamic profession, to learn about their creative workplaces and how they foster success.One of the great moments in life is when you have a sudden creative thought that solves a tough problem, or you come up with something very original. An epiphany is special. For some people great thoughts come easily, and for others revelations arrive after careful study and thought. When and where do concepts manifest themselves? Can you create a space or environment that generates innovative thinking on a regular basis? To learn how creativity works I talked with three professionals in Annapolis about places they use to come up with good ideas.
Marti Betz is a 39-year resident of Annapolis. She is a successful graphic designer who works out of her home that adjoins a wooded area. She grew up playing with art and materials. At Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, she started out with two majors, but realized that graphic design and art should be her primary focus. Today, Marti has clients all over the United States. She is very enthusiastic about her work and spends considerable time meeting with clients before her creative work can begin, “I hold a lot of upfront meetings to learn the goal of the project. There are often many kinds of problems that need to be solved. Once that process takes place I remove myself and go for a long hike. The images and information required for the project I visualize in my mind. While I exercise or walk I just let the ideas incubate. Once I am very relaxed the ideas just start coming.”
Marti works out of a small but very efficient study on the first floor of her home. Marti tells me, “I get so many ideas. It’s fun for myself. So I have a pretty good idea ahead of time what the piece is going to look like.” The next step is to create three different concepts to present to the client. She says, “They can choose one concept, or use a combination of all three. I like when a client states that one direction feels good, and then we go in that direction.”
With so many years at her trade, I wondered if she gets better at it with age? Marti surmises, “We have so many tools available now that help shorten the process of illustration, design, and Photoshop. The latest request I get these days is for info graphics that illustrate concepts using lots of data.” You see this style of graphic in National Geographic and The New York Times.” She adds, “Thanks to new technology there is an explosion of wonderfulness.”
Jahn Tihansky is the varsity offshore sailing coach at the U.S. Naval Academy. He moved to Annapolis 25 years ago, and started his career here as a yacht broker, and then worked with customers for a local sail loft. In 2005, he was recruited to run the Offshore Sailing Program at Navy. Few Midshipmen are recruited to be on this team. The top junior sailors end up racing in the Academy’s nationally ranked dinghy program. Jahn spends his creative thinking time in two ways; either at his desk planning, or on the water with the Midshipmen. When asked about his creativity he says, “I draw on a wide range of sailing experiences that I have had since my early days racing small boats while growing up in Florida. I sailed everything from a Sunfish to a 136-foot square rigger.”
“As a coach I have learned that sailing skill is not the important part in the beginning,” Jahn points out. “We concentrate on how well the sailors work together. The teamwork and leadership we teach is one of the best platforms in developing an officer for a naval career. This is confirmed by our graduates who are now out in the fleet, and tell us when they come back to visit.” A good part of Jahn’s day, and during the winter months is spent planning. Time on the water is limited, and every day presents different challenges based on the weather. He brightens up when he discusses his priorities, “When I get to work with the Mids on a day-to-day basis it lights a fire within me. My most important job is to facilitate the opportunity to get out on the water and help them exercise leadership skills. This summer we are sending five offshore boats to Bermuda. Half of the crew on each boat will be going to sea for the first time.”
“My utmost creative time takes place after sailing,” he says, “I keep notes during our sailing sessions, and then review them at night. Over the course of the season I make sure we cover all areas of sailing offshore. Due to variable weather, practices frequently go ‘off-script’ so I have to keep track of the topics we have covered. At times I am a big brother, while other times I serve as a mentor and coach. I bounce back and forth between each role.” With a laugh Jahn continues, “Every now and then I have to be the authoritarian, but there is plenty of that around the yard already.”
As a coach, Jahn lets the Midshipmen learn from their mistakes, “I have to bite my tongue a lot. It is rewarding to the see the Midshipmen coming of age. It’s all about taking responsibility. The skippers are well prepared when they graduate.”
Retired naval officer and aviator, Aimo Hill, always had the passion and talent to paint. In his early days he was self-taught, but after retiring from the Navy after 20 years he took formal education at the Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore. He explains to me, “I got into painting from the inside. I’ve always had the desire to paint starting in grade school. I earned a degree in Geology at City College in New York after growing up in Flushing, Queens.” In college he was a champion hand ball player and told me, “The eye-to-hand coordination in hand ball was a big help in using a brush for painting.” He piloted helicopters off aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. A pilot also needs good eye-to-hand skills. Aimo works in both oil and water color. His creative studio is on the second floor of his house overlooking Spa Creek. Truxton Park sits across the water. The studio provides good light for his canvas.
Asked if painting gets harder as you age, he enthusiastically says, “It’s not harder because you know more. I’ve made all the mistakes the first time I try something new and then you know how to do it better.” When asked about locations that inspire his work, Aimo said it is important to visit a location before painting, “I can bring back pictures to work with in my studio. I like painting things around the Chesapeake Bay like oysters, shells, crabs, and shore scenes.” There are several props, like crabs, spread around his studio. I inquire, “How do you decide what to paint?” He answers, “You paint what excites you. Half of the reward for an artist is the creation of the painting. It has to come from the inside. I learned that selling paintings of beaches do not always sell at galleries near a beach. Someone might be visiting from the hills of Pennsylvania and want a farm scene. Work sells itself, that’s why I paint things that I like.”
Aimo spends about 15 weekends a year traveling to art shows in his ancient van, which is equipped with a bunk and room for 40 or so paintings. Most of his shows are outdoors. He usually displays 20–30 of those paintings. His home on Spa Creek is heated by a wood burning stove that he stokes occasionally. He is also a humorist. A sign in front of his house (next to his van) says, “Reserved parking for Rolls Royce cars.” Another sign on the property declares, “Republican ducks feed here.” Inside, Aimo paints every day and you can see from the quality of his work he loves what he does.
The common denominator connecting each of these professionals is that all three find that they use two kinds of venues for their creative thinking. After spending time with Marti Betz, Jahn Tihansky, and Aimo Hill it made me think about my own creative spaces. Two years ago I built a small writer’s loft over my garage in Murray Hill. I am inspired by hundreds of books lining my shelves. Like Marti, I think while walking, and I always seem to come up with good ideas while I am sailing. Some of my most creative thinking takes place during long airplane rides as I travel all over the world. I always have a pencil and yellow pad at the ready. The slightest notion can develop into a concept and finally an idea. (I heard that philosophical phrase in a movie one time, and I think it is true). A special workplace helps generate creative thinking.