True Love for a Mad Man

Saturday February 14, 2015

written by Dan Augustine

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It’s 2003.

I’m at my first company holiday party and the gaunt weirdo standing in front of me is shaking my hand and introducing himself as my new creative director.

valentine-chris-bishop

Which strikes me as odd – mostly because MY Creative Director is standing right over there.

Adding to my confusion: I’ve been drinking (a concerning sentiment I’m only now realizing is a prominent theme in all of these sentimental stories of mine).

We make small talk. His intense A.D.D., darting-eyes-that-never-really-make-contact-with-anything and the all black outfit he’s sporting confirm for me that, at the very least, he IS a creative – my new boss, though? I’m suspicious. But I’m also in absolutely no condition to even attempt gathering evidence; at this point someone needs to give me a warm glass of milk, tuck me in and read me a bedtime story.

The following [wildly painful] morning, water-cooler talk centers around the mysterious party crasher:

“He’s a close talker.”

“He touched my shoulder — a lot. I don’t like being touched.”

“I think someone said he grabbed Kathy’s butt.”

This is how Chris Bishop came into my life.

Chris Bishop isn’t a person so much as he is a concept; a caricature of our idea of a creative. A freethinker. A strategist. A devil. An angel. He lives in a black and white world; he has opinions. Strong ones. You don’t share them.

And you’re wrong.

He says offensive things. Loudly. And with great frequency.

He has incredible taste.

He once told me, upon being threatened by a vendor, that if he had his way he’d strap a handle to my back and use me as a shield.

When inquiring if someone knows him, I never get anything other than an intensely visceral response:

“I ABSOLUTELY LOVE HIM! HE’S FANTASTIC!”

“IF I EVER SEE HIM AGAIN, I’LL BREAK HIS LEGS!”

I’m in the camp that thinks of him fondly.

As a kid starting out in the business, I learned more in the year he was my CD than four years in college. And with it being Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share the most important things I learned under a Creative Director I truly loved.

Chris Bishop taught me about values. He’d have me design my layouts in black and white. Insist my logos were developed in grayscale, all so there would be contrast in my designs and make them more dynamic. All that graphic designery stuff you learn in an internship.

But Bishop’s education stretched much further than the blank page. He taught me about the value of my time and how I spent it. He taught me about the value of relationships, what I was giving up or gaining at the office. Was what I was working on worthy of going in my book? If the answer was no, he’d insist I drop it like a hot rock. What I did and how I spent my time needed to be worth something personally or it wasn’t worth doing at all. I’d never thought of work as it applied to anything other than, well, work. Could it actually mean something more? Bishop provided the answer to that question but more importantly, the time to actually think about it.

Chris Bishop taught me about the importance of experience. Not the stuff you gain from hours and years of hard labor and digging trenches in the creative department. But the importance of everything else. Movies, gallery shows, books, art. Bishop bought me my very first real sketch pad – arguably one of the greatest gifts I ever received. He once disappeared to Europe for three weeks with no plan – just for the experience. Bishop believed there wasn’t anything he could truly teach me within the confines of an office. He encouraged me to get outside, get anywhere really so long as I soaked up the experience. He emphasized the importance of life and insisted anything and everything could be brought back and somehow put in my work. He was right.

Chris Bishop wore hats, caps, wigs, swim caps, skull caps and fezzes to work. He also wore his heart on his sleeve and he taught me about being passionate. I learned from Bishop that there was nothing worse than indifference. There was no difference between an okay layout and a miserable one – both were shit. He encouraged me to find the one thing in every project I could get excited about and then hold on to that with dear life. That idea alone has been my life raft over the years. Work harder. Laugh harder. Play harder. A more sincere and very real version of one of those trite, motivational Facebook posts.

Are any of these concepts truly unique? Probably not, what makes them remarkable though was that Bishop believed he had a responsibility to me that extended far beyond his roles as my boss. And I had a duty to absorb this information as someone just getting their foothold in this industry.

And I love the guy for it.

And if you have the good fortune – as I did – to have these life lessons handed down to you by a true mad man (no no, not Draper; I’m talking about a slightly more compassionate version of Jack the Ripper) make sure they know it.

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