I felt a bit intimidated to meet Jay Schwartz, the founder and chief creative officer of IdeaWork Studios, which is an advertising, marketing, branding, and graphic/web design agency based in Santa Barbara’s Balboa Building but with offices in New York, London, Las Vegas, and, as of October, Austin, Texas.
I’ve long admired his work for high-end clients in the hospitality industry such as chefs Jean Georges and Daniel Boulud and for properties like the Hard Rock, Caesars, and MGM in Vegas. And while Jay was a master of interactive media long before the days of broadband, I’ve thought most highly of the street paintings he produces during the I Madonnari Festival, for they showcase his background as a fine artist.
All of his work, whether it’s personal art or for professional clients, draws inspiration from his love for Santa Barbara, which he’s called home for years. Our sense of community, natural beauty, and peaceful lifestyle motivates his style, which he takes into a much broader urban spectrum around the world.
Over the course of two weeks, it’s not unusual for Jay to spend time in all of his company’s offices, so his suitcase is always half-unpacked. I admired the shockingly spartan nature of his Santa Barbara office, but it’s not until leaving that I understand Jay really needs a clean palette to work from. This successful overachiever is happiest in an uncluttered space overlooking State Street.
Jay answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
I’m excited right now. Lots going on at work and lots of great creative projects. I’ve got a couple of street painting festivals coming up, so my head is in several creative directions simultaneously.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to have enhanced taste buds. I work with a lot of amazing chefs and to be able to conceive of flavor combinations is a truly extraordinary talent. It brings joy to so many.
What do you like most about your job?
The fact that I get to be creative all day, every day, and people trust me to do that on their behalf is amazing to me. I love being able to visualize something, sketch it out, then go through the various stages of the process to see it through. I love the diversity of what I get to work on: websites, brand development, signage, tactile collateral pieces; it’s never the same thing twice.
Who do you most admire?
I admire my wife because she’s the perfect balance to me. She’s calm, level-headed, driven, and creative. Sometimes I can be a handful but she handles me with grace and elegance.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I can’t think of anything that would be, “perfect happiness.” I think we can all find various degrees of happiness out of everything. A beautiful day, being with our loved ones, a great night out … there are lots of opportunities to find happiness.
What is your greatest fear?
Snakes. Specifically, driving and noticing a snake at my feet or around the pedals. I don’t fear failure in business or personal affairs because we can learn from all our mistakes. We can learn nothing from snakes.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Probably my New York apartment. It’s a tiny studio and not extravagant at all, but it’s a luxury that affords me the ability to live in two places that are dear to my soul.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Honesty. Without a doubt.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
The converse of the above, dishonesty. And a lack of drive. And a lack of follow-through.
What do you most value in friends?
My core group of friends are an endless source of inspiration and laughter. I think the fact that we can pick up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed since our last visit … that’s the sign of a true bond.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My decisiveness. No time to mull about.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Although I have a pretty extensive vocabulary, my most overused single word is, “fuck.” It used to be very unbecoming but now that I’m in my 40s, it’s more acceptable, I think. Those close to me give me a hard time every time I say, “it is what it is” so that must be a commonly used phrase of mine.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My hairline. Everything else is within my control.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think that running a business for 16 years and employing 17 or 18 people is something I can feel good about. It’s definitely the most challenging thing I could have ever imagined, and the fact that these people rely on me to do the right things to protect their livelihoods weighs heavily on me.
Where would you most like to live?
Splitting my time between Santa Barbara and New York City is truly the best of both worlds. I’m living the dream, as they say.
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t like assign too much sentimentality to material objects. I appreciate well-crafted goods but don’t have a favorite possession (that comes to mind).
What makes you laugh the most?
My dogs constantly make me laugh. As soon as they wake us up, hilarity ensues.
What is your motto?
It is what it is.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I haven’t ever considered identifying with a historical figure.
On what occasion do you lie?
I get in trouble for not lying when I should. If I don’t want to go somewhere, I’ll just tell you that I don’t want to go. Lots of people commit to something and then back-out last minute. That’s not my style. There are occasions where stretching the truth is called for in business — my agency is a service-based business so sometimes we have to bend the absolute truth to comfort a client.