Storyboard: Julian Ryder

Coming full circle

I’ve heard that in life people can have one of three things: they can have a job, they can have a career or they can have a calling. I’m very fortunate to have had all three. The journey has been long. The calling came late.

It all started in high school with my friend Ken Ottinger. We were both artists. We did all of the posters for the football games and the dances. When there were creative competitions, Ken who’s an illustrator, won everything. He was amazing. After graduation, Ken was immediately accepted to ArtCenter and I went to another college.

Four years later, our paths crossed again when we both ended up working for Lockheed Aircraft. I was in the engineering department, he was in graphics. I would spend my breaks and lunches hanging out with Ken in the graphics department, complaining about how I wish I could be doing the kinds of things that he was doing. So he asked me if I had a portfolio.

When I showed him my work, he said, “Why don’t you apply to ArtCenter?” The idea of applying to ArtCenter was intimidating and daunting. He agreed to work with me to get my book in shape. After taking night courses in illustration and lettering to round out my portfolio, Ken thought I was ready to apply. Not only was I accepted, the College gave me a scholarship to make it possible for me to attend.

I started out thinking I was going to be a car designer. But when I was introduced to advertising, everything in my history of designing posters, banners and logos through high school and college showed up for me. In my first semester, I found I could put a nice looking ad together, but there was always something missing. It was the big idea, the concept behind the ad. What was there caught the eye, however, there wasn't much beneath the surface.

I heard from other students about Bob Matsumoto, an ArtCenter instructor who had some kind of magic ability to train students in such a way that they got the idea of “concept.” The course was called Conceptual Thinking. Bob taught students a unique way to look at things and put ideas together, the notion of combining imagery and thought in an imaginative way to trigger a deeper response. This way of thinking can be applied to anything—architecture, set design, theater, music. Conceptual thinking is what wins Oscars and Gold Lions. I somehow finagled my way into his course and it was a turning point for me—not just for advertising, for everything.

Bob turned out to be a lifelong friend and mentor. He made introductions for me to all the top creative directors in New York, where I worked for years as an Art Director and Creative Director. I eventually returned to the West Coast, where I started and ran my own ad agency. But I’ve never gotten to the point where I think, “I've made it, now I can lay back.” I’ve always been committed to ongoing development—lifelong learning. I believe there's always more to discover. I also believe I haven’t reached my potential yet.

Today I have a new calling and founded a start-up to pursue it—The Right Brain Project. It's a Creativity Education and Training firm. Our purpose is to bring a creative perspective to the executive suites of business. We believe every organization, not just the creative ones, should have a Chief Creative Officer to help build creative cultures and bring design thinking to bear on challenges and opportunities. But above all, the driving force for me is continually having something in my life I’m committed to that is bigger than my own personal or career interests. I think about how I can be of service—a small part of a larger whole. And now I have a new outlet for my activism. It’s called FullCircle.

FullCircle is a membership organization at ArtCenter that I co-chair. It’s open to anyone curious about the role of creativity in the world and what it takes to transform imagination into reality. I invite you to join for the learning, inspiration and fun—and to support the creation of creators. We believe the world needs all the ArtCenter graduates it can get.

It’s personal for me. I could not have attended ArtCenter without help—in both mentorship and financial support. I’m guessing you may know someone like that, too.

Julian Ryder
Chief Creative Officer, The Right Brain Project, BFA 1972 Advertising

Above all, the driving force for me, is continually having something in my life that I'm committed to that is bigger than my own personal or career interests.

Support ArtCenter

Create possibilities for students at ArtCenter and amplify their impact on the world.