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 is now engaged in creating and selling fine art prints of my work — using inkjets and archival papers to produce serigraph-style artwork — and in producing children’s book illustrations for several original manuscripts in my possession. I am in the process of finishing up one book which I started many years ago (see below), and setting up an Etsy store for the prints, where you can order them fully framed.
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 a small auditorium, 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 to hand carry a VTR (that’s Video Tape Recorder) with a 3/4″ 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. Don Rea and I could have played any video content we wanted to – over the entire Zelienople area – there was no oversight at all.
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. Mr. 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 maybe 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 into 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. (Eh, I was young). Another conceptual project of his was to make a sculpture, saw it into pieces, send it all over the world, and then the art would be the map showing where all the pieces are. Dean also created a fine arts Salon in our 9th grade out of a large janitor’s closet, called CAFA (contemporary applied fine arts) and did an art yearbook. I was the editor my 9th grade year with a friend of mine. CAFA won a bunch of awards from the educational community.
Ed Brodsky Principal, Lubell.Brodsky.Inc., formerly, art director at DDB (Doyle Dane Bernbach), head art director at Ruder & Finn, past president of the Art Directors Club of NY, board memberof the Type Directors Club of NY. Ed taught us how to be creative – really! I have the notes to prove it. I even occasionally teach a class in the same techniques.
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. He also create business cards for a friend with a body shop that had one side super shiny and black with the text “if your car looks like this, call me” and he told his friend to crinkle up the card into a ball as he handed it to people. The shiny black card then looked just like a car that had been in an accident.
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 truly 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. I consider him one of my true mentors, especially in children’s book illustration.
Al Greenberg Head of the design department at Parsons School of Design and former art director for GQ magazine.
Tamara Schneider Former 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 benchmark advertising ideas that we all draw inspiration from.
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 pleaded with the owner to allow us to do 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. Larry Underkoffler, the owner, was another mentor of mine.
Ten years later, Phase One 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 slickish 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 anymore). 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. I think it said “photoshop 0.9 – let me know what you think – jk” – in pencil. Apple was among the only companies that refused to give us any free stuff.
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 in order to get it finally published for real.
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.
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 image, 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. And I worked with another mentor, Larry Tempesco. 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.
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 on a Friday at 5pm (about a year and a half into my stint there). My wife opened champagne 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 me, without me asking them to. Twoish 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.
MoJo Active started out as just Timm and I in our basement offices in our respective homes but has grown to be many full time coworkers, and post-covid we are scattered from Wisconsin to Florida to Pennsylvania. I’ve never had the quality of talent to work with anywhere else. We sold the company just as the pandemic was breaking out to two long term team members and it has thrived under them.
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 and strngth of character that I got from my parents has allowed me to succeed in my endeavors.
I can be emailed at [email protected].