Marketing Your Art the Right Way

Selling Art, Not Selling Out

Cracking Creativity Episode 22: Brad Beckstrom on Owning His Own Agencies, Living Lean, and Finding Happiness in Photography

Brad Beckstrom has built a career in advertising, but has found happiness in living lean and his creative pursuits. On his blog The Frug, Brad talks about what it is like to live lean, work lean, and travel lean.  In this episode, Brad talks about what it was like going into advertising and owning his own agencies, how he began living lean, and his creative quest to take 100,000 photographs.

Here are three lessons you can learn from Brad:

It’s Hard to Balance Business and Passion

Before going to college, Brad wanted to pursue a creative career. Since his dad was helping to pay for college, he had a say in what Brad should study in college. Instead of following his creative calling, Brad chose to study business and marketing. He tried to take photography classes on the side, but his creativity was put on the shelf to focus on his business courses.

This led to the creation of multiple advertising agencies. While working in these companies, Brad wanted to work on the creative side, but was tasked with sales and operations. He always felt the creative itch, but wan’t able to balance the operations side and creative side of himself.

It’s Never too Late to Pursue What You Love

After many years working in marketing, Brad took a sabbatical to Thailand. While there, he felt a pain in his knees.  While in that moment of pain, he thought of his creative interests and thought to himself “What if I’ve waited too long?” That moment, coupled with watching a documentary on Vivian Meyer and Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit set him on a creative quest.

He was going to take 100k photos in 100 cities and 1,000 places. Instead of waiting til retirement to pursue something he loved, he was going to seek it as soon as he could.

The Importance of Living Lean

Early in his life, Brad was in the rat race of life just like everyone else. He wanted the big house with eclectic and creative things in it. At a certain point, he realized these things would not bring happiness to him.

He saw how people were spending the rest of their lives paying for the big ticket items everyone tells you to get, a big house and fancy car. Brad has chosen to live in a modest house and drive his car into the ground.

Instead he has chosen experiences over things. That is the essence of his creative quest.


  • involved in photography and wanted to go to art school
    • dad told him he had to go to business school
    • took photography classes, but creativity was put on shelf after graduating
  • worked for Miller brewing in brand management/marketing
  • started an agency with another founder who thought they could do it better
    • grew to 60 person agency
    • worked with Miller, Mastercard, AOL
    • had chance to work with artists as COO
    • found himself wanting to be in creative department
    • was trying to be a creative
    • was major shareholder in the company
    • company didn’t feel he was pulling his weight in sales so they bought him out
    • took years to recover from it
    • had a non-compete so he went into digital marketing and built another company in Apollo Bravo
  • on Apollo Bravo and digital marketing:
    • work on responsive sites in early days of mobile web
    • create banner ads, apps, commercials, etc.
  •  10 years in – was watching documentary on Vivian Meyer
    • had a life she presented to public and private life
    • was a nanny and secretly also a street photographer
    • took close to 100k images, many weren’t developed
    • wasn’t creating art for accolades, was doing it for herself
    • photos were discovered in an auction
    • inspired him to pick up his camera again
  • thought he might be too late to photography
    • “What will it take to master something?”
    • Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours

“I realized that all this time that I was trying to be a creative, but what I really had been doing was being a creative director, and directing other artists, and I was sitting on the wrong side of that table.”

“What will I say in twenty years if I don’t do this?”

  • reaction to being told not to go to art school
    • at the time, dad was an entrepreneur and his business was struggling
      • was going to be a stretch to help Brad with his education
      • had a say in what Brad would do
      • art got pushed to the side because of other priorities
      • became less than a hobby because other things took over
  • at his marketing agency
    • added logo to postcards at events
    • an example of creative thinking
  • it takes a spark to make a change
  • wanted to take a larger creative role at his agency
    • not possible to wear that many hats when you are running a company
  • started Apollo Bravo in a different way – wanted to make it smaller
  • people aren’t likely to pay you for street/abstract photography
  • on starting a mobile based marketing company
    • saw people using Blackberrys, and thought there would be more to the devices
    • there was a need for someone to create mobile websites
    • needed to convince agencies that mobile was the future of the web
  • took a sabbatical to Chiang Mai, Thailand
    • knees were burning
    • thought, “What if I’ve waited too long?”
    • figured out that waiting til retirement would be too late
    • his retirement will be different
    • plans on working on art for the rest of his life, the first ten years are just the start of it

“If I’m going to do something, it has to be something I love”

  • Brad’s blog The Frug – about living lean
    • sees a trend where people buy so many things and spend the rest of their lives paying for it all
    • financial industry is selling us fear

“What I see in our consumer culture is that many people have sorta spent themselves into a corner.”

“Obviously it’s important to save, but many people waited to long to save. They didn’t start early enough. so they’re stuck with the standardized retirement plan.”

  • overcoming fear and taking action
    • it starts early
    • when he started writing, he wrote speaking to the 20-25 year old version of himself
    • don’t fall into the traps of doing what other people tell you
    • we have all these financial tools and access to info, but we don’t learn how to do it early on
Learn how to live lean, and it will pay off later. Click To Tweet
  • on what to spend money on
    • start with the big stuff
    • most people don’t understand how much they spend on cars, insurance, commuting
    • you can benefit by working at home and driving a 20 year old car
    • another trap people fall for is the size of their homes
    • you don’t need all the rooms that come with the idea of a traditional home
    • he used to fill his house with things
    • early on he saw people with things as eclectic and creative, but later realized he didn’t need these things
    • the benefit of traveling light
  •  Chris Guillebeau’s idea of a quest (The Happiness of Pursuit) – put a number on it so you can work towards it
    • he gave himself the quest of taking 100k images by visiting 100 cities and 1,000 places
      • you think more about your art
    • has allowed him to learn about stories through people he meets
      • still keeps in touch with person he met in Thailand before even starting the quest
      • it’s a great journey

“Regardless of what lays ahead, it’s a great journey, and I think that’s what you start to see, learn to see, and learn to write about.”

  • photographer told him “Don’t compare your beginning to the middle of someone else’s journey.”
    • some street photographers have been shooting for over 20 years
    • when he started doing street photographer, he found it awkward
    • now he can walk 11 miles and just be in flow
    • sometimes you don’t know if something will stick, but that’s okay
    • Vivian Meyer didn’t compare herself to anyone, because there was no one to compare herself to
    • it’s about the art, sometimes we chase the recognition
    • other street photographers have shown him what is possible
    • Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
    • learn from people outside of your industry (ex: artists being inspired by photography)
  • Steve Jobs “You can’t connect all the dots looking forward. You can only look back and connect them.”
    • was good at connecting dots backwards
    • he spend a lot of time at art galleries, but still spent time going ten years in another direction
    • he is connecting the dots behind him
    • since he started quest, he has looked back each week asking “What did I learn this week?”
  • writes about what bothers him
    • slows you down and focuses you on a few things
    • uses dictation software so he can talk about things
  • choosing a destination
    • used to travel to typical tourist destinations
    • for this quest, he wanted to photograph life on urban streets, started with Baltimore
    • when you start to get to tougher cities, it’s harder to take a lot of photos, it takes more hardcore travel
    • locations are urban and have a good creative culture
      • searches for dive bars, and universities, etc. – they are more interesting
      • chooses places with strong sense of community
  • on what photos to take
    • had experience choosing photos, and taking them when he was younger
    • with each photo, you get a little better and more comfortable
    • it takes doing the work
    • Ira Glass – This American Life – you’re going to hate everything you did the first two years, but don’t give up
    • he posts photos, reads comments, and learns from them
    • you can meet interesting people anywhere he goes
  • favorite part of journey
    • getting to be out, and be present in the moment
    • when you’re out, always look around
    • don’t look at Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    • when he goes back to look at the photos, he gets to relive the moments
  • on having a favorite photo
    • out of 7,000 photos, he would be embarrassed to show most to photographers
    • posts photos on 500px
    • started putting camera on the ground  and turning LCD up
      • put it under a jungle gym, which capture the idea of what he was doing
    • went to metro stop, and people didn’t notice him on the ground
    • considers himself an urban explorer
  • for people who want to start a journey
    • start your journey at the library, start with books
    • artistic journey – The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
    • Four Hour Chef and Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
      • diving in to experiments
    •  spend some time thinking about what you want to do
  • morning routine
    • fan of habits
    • get started early, start out writing 500-1000 words
    • has dead zones throughout the day – plans a walk
    • tabata training – heavy bag and light weights for 20 minutes
    • spend as little time on email as possible
  • creative influence
  • books
    • War of Art, Steal Like an Artist
    • The Minimalists – corporate guys that changed their lives
  • Definition of creativity
    • “The longest journey is the one from your head to your heart.”

    • true artists have to take that journey
    • had to take that creative journey himself
    • listen to podcasts and learn from mentors

Receive email updates for the latest podcast releases!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *