Miguel Cardona, and on Talent & Creativity

“A painter paints, a writer writes.” is an analogy I often bring up whenever I talk about creativity.

What I really mean by that is that a painter will paint regardless of the situation. You don’t have to tell him when to paint and how often because that’s just something he does naturally. In fact, it’s probably harder to talk him out of doing something that connects so deeply to who he is as a person.

Meet Miguel A. Cardona Jr. He’s a designer, illustrator, sculptor, industrial designer, visiting assistant professor, and a good friend of mine.

Haven’t seen him in close to ten years, we met up at a local cafe in San Francisco, where the atmosphere is warm, casual, yet somehow still manage to sneak in a hint of hipster — something only San Francisco can pull off.

On the left side of the cafe wall lies a plethora of brochures and promotional postcards, as well as a collection of hand-drawn paper coffee cups, all illustrated by Miguel.

Coffee Cups as drawn by Miguel Cardona
Coffee Cups as drawn by Miguel Cardona

I asked him what gave him the idea of drawing on coffee cups. Did he just think of the idea one day, or was this something he began with a clear vision — something he planned to do from the very beginning?

“I was really stressed one day and started to doodle on a paper cup.” he replied nonchalantly, as he began laying down assorted markers besides a blank coffee cup. “It just started one day when I noticed how the napkin around the coffee cup looked like a scarf, so I drew a face on the cup.”

Winson Shuen as illustrated by Miguel Cardona in 2009
Me, illustrated by Miguel in 2009

It wasn’t long before he’s gotten the attention of the cafe owner, who invited Miguel to display his coffee cup art collection right in the cafe. (Note: Since our meeting he’s also been approached by the owner of Dolores Park CafeĀ to have his work featured there.) “Doing all of this relieves my stress, and it’s something I just do or else I’d go crazy.” Said Miguel, the coffee cup illustrator (not to mention designer, illustrator, sculptor, industrial designer, visiting assistant professor, and so on…).

And that’s classic Miguel. Every now and then he would have some sort of project, none of them started with a plan of any kind. In 2010, he started illustrating his friends’ profile pictures. He was just “practicing his Wacom tablet and Adobe Illustrator skills”, he said. “But people really liked the illustrations and a friend suggested posting them online.” And that’s how Sketchbooked.com started, something that’s since been featured on Design Instruct as an illustration tutorial, as well as on LBOI (Little Box of Ideas) in 11 Awesome 365 Projects to Watch Closely in 2010. Earlier this year, he had a very successful art show based on his Sketchbooked series at Pistachio Press Rochester.

(You can check out Miguel’s coffee cup art on Sketchbooked.com, or all his other work at his portfolio site at mc82.com.)

* * *

Too often when I talk about creativity to those around me, most will retort back with an “I’m not creative at all”, “I wish I can draw”, or something equally diminishing, as if it’s a pre-emptive strike from any chance of an incoming attack. Don’t you worry, I’m well aware how untalented I am, seems to be the core message in their responses.

But what most people don’t see is that creativity goes way beyond creating something that is aesthetically pleasing. In my eye, everything can be tied to creativity: how you cook, how you dress, or even how you fold your clothes after the laundry is done.

Miguel and I are day-and-night when it comes to pure talents in illustration and design, but deep down we are very similar in the way we think: we see ourselves as problem solvers, we see our work as ways to help others, and even in the realm of design, we put our emphasis and respect on rules and techniques more than what’s considered as popular and trendy at the time.

So while I can’t draw or illustrate nearly as well as Miguel does, what I can create is equally important. I’m a blogger. I write about the world in which I see. I write about videogames, technology, pop culture among other things, all in a voice that is uniquely my own.

I also think critically and creatively. Instead of focusing on what’s challenging or otherwise not possible, I excel at seeing and creating opportunities when others only see brick walls. Instead of designing something that simply “looks good”, I actually put math in my designs and polish them with countless minuscule design details, but only in a way that is also cohesive and highly functional.

But beneath it all I also connect people to each other. At IGN I create opportunities by connecting things that fans want to see with what the editorial / marketing / product team wants to do. And while most people see boundaries between race, gender, religion, and sexual orientations, my personality (as well as my diversity) allows me to play a key role in connecting everyone together. To me, this world we live in is nothing more than a real-life advert from United Colors of Benetton, and there is no way you can convince me otherwise.

So what can you create? What is the one thing that you do, you do it simply because it’s who you are? What is the one thing that no one can ever talk you out of doing? Do you doodle on paper cups? Do you put together killer outfits? Do you create lesson plans for your students? Do you bake cake popsicles? Do you create paper masks? Do you knit? Do you blog about cooking? Do you write poetry? Do you design computer databases? Do you vlog about celebrities? The point is, stop thinking about what you should and shouldn’t do; just do what you’re already doing and creativity will follow.

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Winson Shuen works at IGN but is not an editor. All opinions expressed here are solely his own and do not represent his employer by any means. You can follow him on Twitter @vdot90.

5 thoughts on “Miguel Cardona, and on Talent & Creativity”

  1. I really like this! You’re right that we all create in our own ways. It might be something a little out of the usual creative box (if that even exists, considering everything people dream up), but I think it’s still true. Great post

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