about kidRiverStudio

In March of 2020, I decided to pivot this site’s purpose. I had always used it for my own playground with web design, and experimenting with webby stuff, but I decided to make it useful for the first time ever – so I have begun curating content at the world’s museums in the form of small intros with links to the very best virtual art – there is so much out there that some commentary and curation is a lot more valuable, I hope, than wandering google and pinterest and all those damn ads. So I hope you find this valuable and please enjoy! And there are some other gems of my own interests sprinkled throughout.

If you find any typos, dead links, or have suggestions, please drop me a line.

kidRiverStudio began as a freelance company in the early 1990’s for my work with clients in the Susquehanna River valley in Pennsylvania, and my work illustrating and designing children’s books, mainly for Boyds Mill Press in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. The client list eventually was combined with my friend’s client list and grew into the core of our current company, MoJo Active.

kidRiverStudio’s freelance work is now just me doing some fine art prints when I have time using inkjet printers and archival papers to produce serigraph-style artwork. I will be adding my work to the site at some point.

The rest of this page will be of little to no interest to anyone but me, it’s really just some ramblings about my personal history.

I grew up in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and always wanted to be a graphic designer. I had two good art teachers in high school, James Rettinger and Dean Marshall.

Dean Marshall founded the school’s TV station, SVTV, (Seneca Valley High School) and “rigged” my election to be the first President of the organization. He had a bunch of his students requisition all the AV equipment in the district and build a wall in one of the school’s auditoriums, creating a small studio. We set up all the equipment in the new room, created a 6 inch thick curriculum guide — to be used for “teaching” — and began to shoot the first 2 shows of many — “Read to Me” and “Theater from Inside Your Mind”. We made a deal with the local cable company (Armstrong Cable) to hand-carry (yes – hand-carry) a VTR (that’s Video Tape Recorder) with a 3/4″ tape (yes-tape) of the shows we shot and produced, up to the local TV tower — high above Zelienople on an old rutted dirt road — and sit in the concrete block room and hook directly into the feed each Saturday. Wow, those were different times – even now, a couple years after I wrote this, it seems like it is all made up – but it happened. Don Rea and I could have played anything over the entire Zelienople area – there was no oversight at all.

The Crazy(er) Part of the Story
By the time the school administration noticed any of this TV business, we were ready to broadcast our first week of shows and they couldn’t look bad by admitting this all happened without any approval, so it stayed. SVTV is still doing well. I remember the assistant principal’s face when he came into SVTV for the first time and asked what all this was! I look back at what I have written here and it sounds like I was more involved in this than I was. Dean Marshall was the mastermind and without him, it would not have happened. But I learned a lot about how things work in the “real” world that year. It was my first experience with what is now called Social Engineering. We just made it look like we were doing something official and no one ever asked us about it.

James Rettinger urged Don Rea (fellow SVTV conspirator of mine) and me to build a model airplane that we knew could not fly (it weighed 40 pounds), and throw it off the school roof anyway. He and Dean were both caught up to some extent in conceptual art at that time. One of Dean’s influential moments on me was when he dripped paint down the body of a model in drawing class and had us draw the paint, not the person. For a 10th grader, it was pretty perspective-changing.

So Then What.
I hold a BFA in fine arts from IUP, (one of the first classes for the BFA degree) and an MA in advertising studio art (one of the first classes with males in a traditionally female Catholic college) from Marywood College, where I got to study for about 3 years in a class of just 2 people with the likes of:

Ed Brodsky Principal, Lubell.Brodsky.Inc., formerly, art director, Doyle Dane Bernbach; head art director, Ruder & Finn; past president, Art Directors Club of NY; board member, Type Directors Club of NY. Ed taught us how to be creative – really!

Steve Cosmopolous Legendary ad copywriter who created the “bed of nails” theory of writing (and preached it tirelessly), which goes something like this: Try to make every relevant point and explore every relevant angle and tell every relevant anecdote (et cetera) and you wind up building a virtual bed of nails. Your readers can lie down on your writing and not a single point will penetrate. Make one point – and hone it till it’s a single, razor-sharp spike — and not even the thickest skin will be able to resist it. Steve gave us each a block of wood with a nail sticking out of it for a reminder for our desks.

Richard Wild Magician and head of the design department at SVA.

Martin Solomon Legendary type designer.

Fred Brenner Former illustrator of men’s fashion for NY papers back when those pages were high art, children’s book illustrator and tireless defender of graphic design and illustration as being equal to fine art. He convinced me that much commercial art is better than most fine art with many trips to New York art spots.

Al Greenberg Former art director for GQ and head of the design department at Parsons.

Tamara Schneider Formerly the creative director for Ladies Home Journal and the single most creative person I have ever met.

Tony Palladino Legendary ad man and creator of the salt and pepper shaker chess set concept, the titles for the movie Psycho, and many of the benchmark advertising ideas that we all draw inspiration from.

The opportunity Marywood gave me was amazing. To study and hang out with those talented people in a class of two people was life-changing. I think it turned out to be the biggest inflection point of my life. I am not sure where I would have ended up without that opportunity. 

I started my own career as a paste-up artist at a very small prepress shop, Phase One, the name signifying the first part of the printing process, prepress, where I brow-beat (or maybe pleaded with) the owner to allow us to do actual graphic design. Phase One was one of those incredibly good places to teach people the whole design-printing trade and has spawned a bunch of small agencies, including MoJo Active, Sire Advertising, CRM Marketing and Design, and Golden Proportions Marketing, here in the Susquehanna Valley.

Ten years later, we had grown to about fifty people from the original four, I ran my own creative department and we were winning gold Addy awards and doing work for virtually all of the region’s best clients. We also got to work with Davy Jones of the Monkees and his slick partner, Alan Greene, to create a picture history book for him. Davy had a huge trunk of original photos that we used to create the book, leftover from his Monkees days. I dug through the trunk and found original photos that had never been seen by the public of Davy and Jimi Hendrix on a sailboat on the ocean — and a lot of other pretty cool stuff. The book won some kind of award (I think it was the Desktop Publishing Olympic’s Gold Award but I’m not sure). We also approached Adobe and Apple and got them to donate a bunch of great stuff. We got to work with Photoshop before version 1, and got a ton of free software and hardware. Somewhere I still have the floppies handwritten on by John Knoll, who with Tom Knoll, invented Photoshop. The floppies had text that said “photoshop 0.9 – let me know what you think – jk” – in pencil.

It was at this time I attended Marywood College and got a couple children’s books accepted for publishing. Pandas All Around was completed but never published because of some kind of dispute between the author and editor. But after the author passed in 2004, I was contacted by her family. They were nice enough to return all my original artwork, which I had left with the author in NYC, and gave me the green light to pursue publishing the book as well as another unpublished manuscript. I am in the process of digitizing my original cut paper illustrations for the book. Update 2021 — the digitizing is all done. Now on to new publishers.

I also designed a science book about Sea Snakes with Sneed Collard.

Then my career got so busy, there was no more time for children’s books. Or much else.

In the 1990’s I was recruited by a client, Shop-Vac, and spent almost six years there as head of their art department. We revamped their brand, packaging, collateral, created an in house user manual department and set up on demand printing. I got to travel a lot and shot two national TV spots, one in Hollywood with the elephant from the George of the Jungle movie (the elephant was actually a female named Nellie), and one with a bunch of Canadian piglets in Vancouver (I could not have made this stuff up). While in Hollywood I sat beside Angelina Jolie at a restaurant (I had never heard of her) and while in Vancouver I checked out at the same time as Dom Delouise, who I learned passed away in 2009.

Shop-Vac was a great experience and I met a lot of great people there. A large company like that seems to allow many of the brighter stars there to shed a lot of the small town attitudes and politics when you need to get the next truckloads of vacs out the door no matter what and you have bigger problems to worry about than who went to lunch early or who got a bigger raise.

Shop-Vac ran into tough times and poor choices in the 2000’s and closed pretty abruptly – owing my company some money and leaving a lot of people out of work. But recently, Great Star Tool Company and a whole group of really great people have purchase the company, and they are again producing the original wet dry vac in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. 

I got the opportunity to help found a startup company, called Marginpoint, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 2000. I left Shop-Vac and “donated” my freelance clients to the cause in exchange for what I was told was a partnership stake in the company. I learned a lot about the web and the company went through a mini version of the dotcom boom-bust cycle that happened in silicon valley. After migrating my clients to Marginpoint, I was fired a year or so in — on a Friday at 5pm. My wife opened champagne — she never liked Marginpoint of the owners — and it turned out to be the best ‘bad’ day I ever had. It gave me the kick I needed to start my own company, MoJo Active. My partner in MoJo Active, Timm Moyer, joked one time that we should send the owners of Marginpoint a gift for firing me. About one hour after my departure, most of my clients came back to us, without me asking them. Two years after they fired me, Marginpoint was out of business and all of my former freelance clients except one or two had come back to work with Timm and I. The last ones eventually came back to us as well. My company, with less capital and the same geography, talent and client list had thrived while Marginpoint died. It taught me a lot about how not to run a company, the importance of treating our coworkers well, and above all, being driven by the needs of our customers. Clients first wins every time.

MoJo Active started out as just Timm and I in our basement offices in our respective homes but has grown to be about a dozen full time — scratch that — thirty six full time — and half a dozen part time coworkers. I’ve never had the quality of talent to work with anywhere else. And we sold the company to two wonderful long term team members just before Covid hit. We had our best year ever under the new owners and Timm and I continue to work there in transition. During Covid, ecommerce exploded in the web world. We were set up perfectly with a partnership with Big Commerce, that since has turned into the highest level partnership. We have been working with bigger and better clients than ever.

Told you no one would be interested in any of this except me.

OK, OK, so as it turns out, some people have actually read this page, and claim to be interested in some of this. I do count myself very fortunate at having the opportunities I have had in life. I believe, as St. John said, ‘the love you take is equal to the love you make‘. I believe that my positive outlook and good work ethic that I got from my parents has allowed me to succeed in my endeavors.

I can be emailed at [email protected]. A list of some of my recent readings here.

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