sign painting

Real Talk


Image:    Luke Shirlaw

Brett Piva is an Australian designer, sign painter, custom typographer, curator, contemporary artist....and a total bloody legend!  I met him while he was in Melbourne running a Sign Painting workshop. We ate some burgers, drank some beers, and then in 2016 he invited me to speak at his amazing design conference MAKEit~MADEit in Newcastle. He's been one of my favourites ever since!

At age 15, Brett began working in the traditional trade of Sign Painting before forging a strong design career starting in London and Sydney. This allowed him to gain an impressive portfolio which includes work for heavy hitters like Coca Cola, Cadbury, Virgin Mobile, Disney, Kodak and Subaru (like I said, total bloody legend). Now, Brett specialises in bespoke, hand-crafted lettering, gold leaf gilding, and murals. His skill set means the unique elegance of a handmade aesthetic is evident in all of his creations, produced through his amazing design and branding studio Pocket Design. 

In sharing support for his community and the arts in Australia, Brett founded and curated the MAKEit~MADEit Conference in 2015. The conference is a day of artist, maker and designer talks presented with a focus of sharing knowledge and practices in the arts along with industry discussions and carefully curated exhibitions. The 2018 conference is just around the corner, coming up on Saturday 21 July at the Newcastle Conservatorium, and alongside a stellar lineup of speakers, artist and maker stalls, and some exciting social events, we are proud to be hosting a unique panel talk to tie in with our July theme, "Success". In the lead up to the big day, we sat down to chat with Brett about the concept of success and how this shapes his creativity. 

Image:    Pocket Design

RT: What does success mean to you? 
BP: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body… Ok, ok. Good burgers, Good beers.

Success for me is knowing I have the freedom to say no. Saying no, is a big one for me. 
It’s given me freedom to work on things I really want to work on. It makes me slow down and not rush through any of my projects. It has given me time to pursue other interests both creatively and personally. Most importantly, saying no has given me time for work/life balance. 

There’s a lot of creatives out there saying yes to everything. Yes to discounted quotes, yes to working on anything to make an extra buck, yes to doing favours to boost their portfolio or skill set, yes to doing that dream project but for little in return. This brings on stress from limited funds, rushed work, long hours, and not enjoying what you are supposed to be enjoying. 

Success for me is knowing I have the freedom to say no. - Brett Piva

Saying no, gives me time to take extra holidays which may consist of a bit of work here and there but there’s nothing to complain about if the projects are enjoyable. Umbrella cocktails with your laptop abroad are always better than cups of tea in the studio.

(Mate, you had us at umbrella cocktails). 

RT: Has this view of success changed for you over the course of your career, and how has this manifested? 
BP: Is it measuring up yourself personally in your own landscape? Considering other artists views which may affect your own? Then there is the added pressure of keeping up appearances for the outside world to see. My studio success was once measured heavily on these thoughts. Recently I’ve learnt to forget about all of them. 

Instead of measuring myself up against artists or other studios working within my field, I’ve learnt to stop checking in on their work and where they are heading. This has helped me discover I have my own style and direction which is unique and I am happy to keep pursuing it at a pace that suits me. 

I’ve stopped listening to many artists views in my industry. Many can tell you how to do things a certain way and follow a certain path. This will be your biggest hindrance. Now, I’m continually bending and breaking the rules which is producing more interesting results. This has lead to more recognition from my peers and added freedom to pursuing more inventive projects.

I’ve stopped thinking about my presence. I’ve slowed down on social media and now only post what I feel is important and unique. It can be a few weeks of silence before I put something on my Instagram feed these days. This has stopped potential clients asking for something similar to what I was posting for the sake of gaining more interest and followers. This was a very bad habit to fall into. I don’t want to create anything similar to what I have done in the past so posting less and more focused content has helped gain a new direction in my work.

So now, success to me is doing whatever I want, whenever I want. Yes, there are client deadlines but if you’re working on projects that have a new focus rather than what you were doing in the past, I’ve found you’re happy to work on it as soon as it’s available.

RT: What are the challenges for you when it comes to defining success and feeling successful as a creative person?
BP: In any industry there can be a lot of set backs, unexpected delays or just getting plain ripped off. It can be tricky but considering how to overcome these situations and start planning the next steps will only add to your success. I’ve learnt to stop focusing on the the negatives and start celebrating the positives. There are a lot of great things to consider in any path you are taking. Focusing on this has made me feel more successful over feeling cheated.

It can also come down to who you’re doing all this for. If you are creating work to impress someone else you’ll forever be chasing that goal. Whatever it is you do, the sooner you start creating work just for yourself, the sooner you’ll start enjoying it. Thus, felling successful in your approach.

Success for me can also be defined in giving to others. If you know something that can help someone else, share the advice with them. A simple tip or trick to help out a fellow creative goes a long way. - Brett Piva

Success for me can also be defined in giving to others. If you know something that can help someone else, share the advice with them. A simple tip or trick to help out a fellow creative goes a long way. You’ll discover you actually know quite a lot about what you do best and sharing it will only see you become more admired for your knowledge, processes and generosity. Helping others has shared a lot of success in close friendships, personal development and growth.

A lot of my creative pals tell me that I have to start talking up my work a lot more when I introduce myself to others in creative industries. Tooting my own horn is something I find really uncomfortable. I’d prefer to just focus on getting to know the person in front of me and tell some shit jokes and hopefully get some laughs. I guess this is a challenge for me but I just don’t want to be known as that dick that only wants to talk about themselves. I guess it’s something to do with holding a stronger confidence in your own work and letting others be the judge of your work or success.

Image:    Pocket Design

RT: What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with the concept of success and feeling like they are or are not successful in their creative ventures?
BP: Who do you really want to be? What are your values? What are your morals in your industry? Who have you helped along the way?

Don’t be that person that will always step on toes to inch closer to something they’ll never reach. Don’t be that person who is jealous of what is perceived to be someone else’s success. Don’t be someone that treats others like dirt with aim to becoming more successful. Don’t chase competition. The only thing you’ll be successful at, is being a dick. 

Instead of being a right Captain Cock, make friends not connections. The more friends you have in your industry, the more people you can share your work with and ask for advice. This will get you much closer to that goal that is out of reach and open up new avenues for sharing any concerns you have about success. 

Be nice, be helpful, be generous. 

Get some Real Talk in your inbox!

Real Talk is an online wellbeing project for creative people, written and curated by me! Through a monthly newsletter we share original articles (like this one) and exclusive curated content that we feel will compliment the topics we’re discussing in our articles. Things like TED talks, podcast episodes, videos, wellbeing exercises, worksheets and many more inspiring resources. Sign up to our newsletter to get your monthly dose of Real Talk and be empowered to improve your wellbeing so that you can lead your best creative life!