Who is your role model that inspires you? For some, it is a parent, a coach, teacher, boss, or someone else that influenced us for the better over the years. However, not all role models have to be people we know in person. Some of us in fact, have role models that we have never even met. We admire them from afar, or perhaps just follow them online.
These are the top 5 people who significantly inspire my creative career now, or did at one point in time. This list definitely doesn't account for every creative professional I learned from to become who I am now. I unfortunately cannot name them all. Without further adieu, let's dive in.
1.) Sam Bass
Photo by Independent Tribune
My biggest career role model was Sam Bass. To promote a NASCAR race, they showed a painting that had been used on a merchandise and signage campaign at the event. I was instantly intrigued and began drilling down on who the artist was. I learned that he was a full-time illustrator, graphics person, and officially licensed to create artwork on behalf of NASCAR. His art mediums were mostly watercolor painting, and various digital graphics and signage for racing team organizations.
According to accounts in documentaries and interviews I have watched over the years, Sam started at a young age too, and got his big break in Charlotte North Carolina. After meeting with NASCAR executives, and showing his work, he was dubbed, "The Officially Licensed Artist of NASCAR." He later had his own gallery near Charlotte Motor Speedway, and worked closely with Speedway Motorsports Inc. He created program covers to promote racing events by SMI, and became famously known for it.
He worked directly with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and many others on car paints, and other promo. He conceptualized car designs featured in the comedy film, "Talladega Nights," starring Will Farrell in 2006.
My early creative design style, was influenced by Sam’s work in more ways than one. Before there was high definition video, after-effects, and other ways to communicate the energy of NASCAR, Sam communicated it in other ways through his art. He used certain angles, reflections, perspective, and other design approaches, that were way ahead of it’s time. I like to think that my mindset resembles some of these things, in every project.
The more I followed his work over the years and compared it to mine, the more badly I wanted a career like his. This rabbit hole I dove into, would eventually become a career path. Unfortunately, I would not get to meet Sam before he passed away in 2019. His contributions to the sport gave me a vision that is still very much alive every time I think about the future.
2.) Bryan Hulbert
Photo by OneDirt
Another creative person I greatly respect and look up to, is Bryan Hulbert. Officially, he is titled a, "publicist and announcer," of the ASCS (American Sprint Car Series.) Some motorsports fans are not aware of the creative work he does along with his announcing and PR duties. He is a content creator in various forms, behind the scenes in his company as well.
I came across his name through the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa. Being an Oklahoma native, I view this as the biggest racing event in the state, and one of the biggest opportunities to connect with the motorsports world every year. I tried to research and connect with every person possible managing the event. I watched for patterns in those who were successful, to try and emulate. As I got in closer proximity to the industry, I learned that the majority of graphic design, motion graphics, and social media marketing content for the event, and the ASCS was done by Bryan Hulbert.
The biggest trait I saw in Hulbert besides his professionalism and experience, was that he has a passion for his work. It was something that is very easy to recognize through the microphone when he announces the Chili Bowl. He energizes the event, and knows how to hype up the crowd for events he promotes. His announcing style reminds me in some ways of the iconic Johnny Gibson with the World of Outlaws. This carries over into the social media, and motion graphics Bryan creates. Motion graphic videos posted by the official Chili Bowl and ASCS accounts to promote future events are very well produced, and captivate the social media audience effectively.
I briefly met Bryan at a fan event prior to the 2020 Chili Bowl. The Bryan H, I talked to was exactly like the Bryan on-camera. He was a very busy guy as always, but had some insightful advice about motion graphics. His level of industry respect, and success is definitely something I strive for myself.
3.) Andrew Kramer
Photo by Video Copilot
Most creatives instantly recognize Andrew Kramer as the iconic voice behind the YouTube channel, "Video Copilot." I came across his channel and found about him that same way, and realized that I may have seen more of his work over the years than I thought.
After subscribing and following his content on different platforms, I found out that he worked on the visual effects in the 2015 film, Star Wars; The Force Awakens. He was responsible for creating several of the Hologram effects, as well as titles and various graphics in the movie. Another project Kramer is famous for, was creating the end credit title sequences in the 2013 production, Star Trek; Into Darkness. This behind the scenes video of his role in the movie production is a very interesting clip to watch.
According to the website, Video Copilot is a, "collaborative resource for training, design tools and artists." He has created hundreds of tutorials in Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and his own 3D software application called, "Element 3D." Since founding the company in 2005, Andrew has grown his brand into a multi-national phenomenon, speaking at several major conferences in the design community, and touring several places to talk about his work, show, and brand.
His company's YouTube channel has 650K+ subscribers, and millions of views as of the time I am writing. This level of success he has built is astonishing to watch, and definitely something every creative should try to emulate.
4.) Sean Cain
Photo by Cold Hard Art
If you have been around the auto racing scene in the United States long enough, at some point you have seen Sean Cain's work. On many popular livery and car wrap designs, there is a logo that says, "Blackbeard LTD." Those cars were likely designed by Cain. He has worked with sprint cars, drag racing, NASCAR, and even conceptualized helmet wrap designs.
One of his most notable projects is the Great Clips sponsored Shark Week themed paint design during his tenure as a Creative Director at the Kasey Kahne Racing World of Outlaws team. His clientele list includes a highly esteemed midget sprint car team, Keith Kunz Motorsports. He designed Joey Saldana's website as well. He has done complete branding identity for teams, across several mediums and platforms.
The World of Outlaws Open Red podcast invited Sean to speak on the show in 2019, to talk about how he got to where he is now, and the design approaches he uses when starting a new project. This episode is great content to listen to for creatives, even outside of the motorsports interest. One thing he touches on several times and emphasizes, is that he is constantly pushing himself to come up with the next, "shift," in trend.
It is inspiring to see designers like him building their own brand identity and being the design trendsetters, instead of molding their designs to the current trends. Trends are a constant moving target that challenges every creative professional.
5.) Nick Stephens
I would argue that Nick Stephens is in the class of the greatest inspirations for motorsport artwork excluding Sam Bass. Especially in the t-shirt and apparel niche, he has that title by a landslide in my opinion. Most major dirt track racing leagues in America get their t-shirts, and printed apparel designed by him, or have at some point. World of Outlaws, United States Auto Club, American Sprint Car Series, and many others belong in this category. Nick is most noted for working at R&R Racewear in Valley Park, Missouri. R&R Enterprises is a highly popular t-shirt producer in the motorsports world.
I started down the rabbit hole to discover the company, and later, Nick at the Chili Bowl Nationals. Thousands of shirts in the building during Chili Bowl week, seem to have the iconic R&R emblem. After researching, I found out that Stephens was a Creative Director at R&R for a decade before going solo, and starting his own freelance design studio in 2019.
Nick Stephen's style of illustration is very detailed by nature, and I have always had a great deal of admiration for that. His work has a very busy look to it with many elements, much like Sam Bass in some ways. Not only is he one of the most famous racing related t-shirt and apparel designers, he has also done notable projects in other mediums as well. He has been involved in publication design, logo/branding design, and social media content as well.
Nick Stephens sets the bar very high for digital illustration, and pushes me to be better every time I see him post new work. I like to think that he pushes other creatives in the motorsports niche as well.
These 5 have inspired my career.
They will all continue to be the benchmark that I push myself to achieve.
At the beginning of my journey, it appeared to be a very daunting task. I feel more confident that these five are advancing my talents to new levels with every passing day. They also push the entire industry forward.
Just like my role models have all contributed to their respective fields, I plan to contribute my talents to my niche as well. Even though I have not had the honor of meeting all of these individuals in person, they still have a positive influence.
In conclusion, I am living proof that a role model can be someone we don’t know or meet in person. Who inspires you? Let me know in the comments!
I do not claim ownership of the images of these individuals and/or projects.