I recently had the privilege of sitting down Nico Rud of Chicago Creatives. Chicago Creatives was started in late 2015 to help push the artistic culture forward in Chicago. Nico promotes a unified creative community that supports each other and our endeavors.
In the interview, we talk about the importance of emotional intelligence, accepting yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. Give it a read below and be sure to check out some of the other hustlers he's sat down with. Everyone has a fascinating story and perspective.
My name is David Jensen. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, but have been living in Chicago for about 10 years now. I’m 34, currently an Associative Creative Director at Havas.
How was life growing up for you in Milwaukee?
I grew up right outside of Milwaukee in a town called West Allis. What I liked about West Allis was that I could play in the street like any other suburb, but that it was close enough proximity to the city that I could still get energy. West Allis is a working town. Humble. Gritty. It’s what I like about Milwaukee, too. A lot of our teams are jobs: Packers, Brewers, Admirals. These are all positions or trades. There’s something to be proud of with that. In Milwaukee, we make things. We build. We hustle.
I was raised to have a work ethic. As soon as it was legal for me to work, I had a job. And before that, I was working. I grew up in a Catholic family. My parents raised me to have manners, Midwestern values, and a Catholic faith, and that shaped who I am now.
As I got older and could explore more of the city on my own, I started to find my pockets of where “my people” were. For me, that was River West, the East Side, Bayview. These were creative communities. I saw, heard, and experienced things West Allis didn’t have as much of. The counter culture in these parts of town had something to say, and they said it. Life seemed more expressive in these areas. In the burbs, we didn’t want to upset the apple cart. What was always interesting to me was contrasting my somewhat rigid upbringing to an anti-establishment mindset and how both of those things could exist in me, if at all. That’s essentially what I’ve been trying to find middle ground within my own life. It’s a fun, weird journey.
At what age did you begin to witness you had creative talents?
Creativity was always important to me. Approaching things from a different angle was paramount. We had a huge backyard that we shared with two other homes when we were kids. My sister and the neighbor boys would always be in the yard running around while I would be inside drawing or building things. I didn’t like being outside. I would ask my Dad to set up my Mickey Mouse tent in my room when he’d come home on lunch breaks so that I could draw in there for the rest of the afternoon. It was a sanctuary for me.
I was really into cartoons, like most kids, but I became a student of them. I learned about the artists behind the cartoons. Music played a huge role, too. I grew up playing the piano and, later, drums. If there was a way to explore something creative, I wanted in.
When did you then get into graphic design?
I was a shitty student. I muddled my way through grade school and high school, so as college approached, I wasn’t sure what to do. My Dad and I would talk about it a lot, but all we could figure on was majoring in something creative field—I personally didn’t think I had what it took to do anything else. None of us knew what graphic design was. We found that Cardinal Stritch a small university in Milwaukee had a rep for their Design department. The more I understood what design was, the more I loved it. I enjoy branding things — giving things purpose. For me, nothing has ever been arbitrary, there always has to be a purpose behind it.
Was Advertising always the route following graduation?
Advertising became the obvious industry for me. I didn’t care what or where the job, I just wanted to be a part of that community. I got my first job as a book designer doing page layout for Hobby & Collectible books. I’m a bit of a collector myself, but I quickly learned this wasn’t exactly what I thought I wanted to do. As soon as 2008 hit, the economy crashed and like most of the nation, I got laid off. For me, it was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to look around. I sent my resume and book out to a number of contacts, including a college friend that lived in Chicago. She helped me get down to Chicago, and for that, I’ll forever be grateful. I never thought I’d last a week in Chicago. Never thought I had what it took.
I worked a small agency called Trisect. I think I was their 8th hire. It ended up growing to around 150-160 people. I spent six years there, which is long in agency life, but probably good for me because I needed the lessons it taught me. I learned a lot of skills, not just about design, but how to be a businessman. I learned how to speak to clients, how to present my work, and how to think about the bigger goal than the task at hand. After Trisect, I then went over to SOCIALDEVIANT to take a position as Head of Art & Design.
After SOCIALDEVIANT, how do you make your way over to Havas?
I made fast friends with a copywriter at SD. We worked very well together. He moved onto Havas and a few years later, I followed him. I needed a change of pace. I had been in startups for my entire career and I wanted to experience a bigger scene. My copywriter friend brought me in to meet with Dave Cuesta, the Design Director. Dave didn’t hate me.
I’ve only been with Havas a little over a year now, but I’ve learned so much about myself that I never expected to. I’ve learned more confidence. I trust myself more. Havas has shown me new pieces of myself.
Talk to us how Practice Daily came about
With his role in my church’s Parish Council back in West Allis, my Dad wanted to put more emphasis on being a welcoming and open to the parish. This was his initiative. My dad wanted to communicate the message of kindness and wanted a visual representation of that. It wasn’t enough for me to design something around the inertia of kindness. I wanted to put some type of action behind that. My dad was trying to change the way our community thought. Real change takes constant practice. I’ve been trying to change for the better for years. I have positive and negative moments. Those positive moments are when I’m open to approaching situations better than I usual do. Take a beat and think before acting. That takes daily practice. If you practice anything daily, it’ll become a natural part of your character. That’s where Practice Daily comes from.
Lets talk about the inspiration behind a few of your pieces. First, start with courage
That’s a heavy one. I struggled most of my life with some form of depression. I had a really hard time figuring myself out—who and how to be. I was raised with manners, thoughtfulness, sacrifice but to what degree do you live your life that way without being a carpet? I had a hard time with self-worth. I contemplated suicide for years. I saw a lot of different doctors and got a lot of labels: manic-depressive, ADD, OCD, bipolar, anxious, dysthymic. For me, courage was approaching all of those things head on. I used to deal with it in terms of “I feel bad, so now I want to feel worse because it feels good to feel bad.” It’s self-soothing. Courage is walking away from that ideal.
I’d been thinking about Practice Daily a lot around the time I designed Courage. I was looking for ways to expand my brand outside of square wall art. I discovered Cotton Bureau, a user-submitted t-shirt company focusing on curated designs with apparel going to market on a voting basis.
Courage was the first design I submitted to them. They accepted my design and were putting it up for a vote. That was a huge deal for me. I was thrilled. A few hours later, I got a phone call from my Dad telling me that my Uncle was found in his apartment. He died from malnourishment; he committed suicide by starving himself. It was an exceptionally hard moment. I designed Courage for those struggling with mental illness and the day it pivoted Practice Daily in a more public direction, my uncle lost his battle with mental illness. I ended up donating 100% of the profits from the Courage T-shirts to Thresholds here in Chicago. Courage has a soft spot for me.
Oh man, Adventure is a way easier to talk about. I’m very much a creature of habit. I liked waking up, going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching a movie, and going to bed. That was my single life and I loved it. I saw travel as a burden. By the time I met my wife, she had been to Ireland, Italy, France, Austria, Czech Republic, and Tanzania. The furthest I traveled was down the street to the Polish grocery store I lived near. (Laughs). Amanda has that traveling spirit — she taught me how to adventure. Like all of my prints, Adventure represents a change in routine. I didn’t like change then, but I got to do it enough where it didn’t feel like change anymore. Now I’m the one booking the flights, like where are we going next? What I learned from my own adventures is how to get out of your comfort zone. Eat what they offer. Participate in the culture. Learn what you can from strangers. Your world gets a hell of a lot bigger.
Do you look to create each piece with a certain message?
I think it goes back to why I started Practice Daily. I was sick of myself. I felt like a prick. Cynical. Always negative. I wanted to put something positive out in the world, but at the same time, motivational stuff completely rubs me the wrong way. Like, don’t tell me what to do; you don’t know shit about me. I needed to create something that wasn’t hammering you over the head. The only way I could do that was to preach to myself and hope that the message was relatable to some folks. Every piece has a specific message to me, from me –practice patience, hustle more, feel and put out more good vibes.
Hey Neighbor Series
Community is everything. I love playing music, having an interesting beer, watching the Bucks play. All those things are great, but they’re so much better when you get to experience them with friends & family.
My wife and I bought our first place in Uptown. We wanted to be flag wavers for our local businesses and community because we saw potential. I’m a really big believer in helping others if you’re in the position or have the power to do so. I knew a bit about getting the word out, so I asked to partner with folks to create pieces around core values that we both shared. I got together with entrepreneurs of all kinds and I can’t wait to collab with more.
Another series you started was the Ignite Series.
I reached a point in Practice Daily where I had already developed this template to a degree where it was like ‘okay I get this’. As soon as I ‘get’ something, I move on. I’d rather be good at a lot of things than an expert in a few. The downside is that sometimes you abandon things that shouldn’t be abandoned yet. I still design my square prints, but then I wanted to let my brand breathe. I wanted to create work that didn’t have ‘Practice Daily’ on it. I wanted people to feel a closer connection to my work with a brand name getting in the way. I’ve always wanted my brand to be about action, not just pretty pictures. The Ignite Series was meant to spark something in someone with more urgency. I intentionally printed pieces from the Ignite Series black and white so that people could interact with it—mainly, color it. Adult coloring books were on the rise and I wanted to add to that zeitgeist of mindfulness and meditation, but with a bit of childlike wonder and energy to go into that. I wanted to make something that could be an individual or team project. My main prints are daily reminders, but the prints from the Ignite series are more action-focused. I wanted to create a series that was more of a kick in the ass than some of the ‘softer’ Practice Daily prints.
In the near future, what are some other words we can expect from you to design?
I have an ongoing list of words to design around, but I definitely want to create something around the phrase ‘Do You’. It takes me a while to design these things not because the work is tedious (it’s intentionally not,) but because of the specific message, I want to relay. I don’t want a print that says ‘Be happy – Practice Daily.’ That’s obvious and boring. What everyone does need in this world is a friend to put his or her arm around you and say ‘do you’. We all need reassurance sometimes. Self-love can be so hard. There’s something so beautiful about the statement ‘do you.’ You cannot avoid yourself; you have to be who you are. The sooner you embrace that, the more successful you can be.
I also want to create something around the word ‘pride.’ It’s a universal message, but for me, it’s my small contribution to supporting the gay community. I see how persecuted they are and how ridiculous the mistreatment is towards them. I want to support anyone looking to find pride in themselves. It’s another way into self-love and acceptance.
When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
I have no intentions of making it big or breaking out as an artist. All I want to do is help strengthen the communities around me and help change the way people think for the better. So many problems in the world, at their core, come from lack of emotional intelligence or being able to put yourself in another’s shoes. We need to disagree with compassion. We need to be more mindful of our personal priorities and how expressing them can either hurt or help the greater good. We need to look in the mirror and think better about what’s looking back. I support the idea that you can do more than what you think you can, it just takes practice. Everyday.