Sid Curtis: “Don’t sell yourself short”

Don’t just focus on your strengths, cater to your weaknesses. The main thing that kept me from starting my own company was I am NOT a money person. I always assumed that to have a business, one must be a “business person.” Turns out, you can hire those folks. It took me a while to […]

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Don’t just focus on your strengths, cater to your weaknesses. The main thing that kept me from starting my own company was I am NOT a money person. I always assumed that to have a business, one must be a “business person.” Turns out, you can hire those folks. It took me a while to save up the capital to hire a lawyer and accountant, but once I did, I was able to move forward and get my business up and running.

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sid Curtis.

Born into a large creative family, Sid learned the value of imagination at an early age. She has lived an adventurous life that spanned the globe and has exciting plans for the future. Seeing challenge and adversity as an opportunity to grow has served her well.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was literally born into theatre. My father was a magician, my mother was a costumer and they both participated in community theatre. I made my stage debut at the age of nine months (as a prop) and I have never left the business. I was extremely active in community theatre and would always join the crew if there wasn’t a place for me in the cast. Through this method I learned all aspects of theatre: costuming, make up, props, scenic, lighting and stage management. At the age of thirteen I joined up with a college student to create Story Hour, a traveling puppet act that visited rural Louisiana libraries to promote reading.

I moved to Dallas to attend an arts high school (Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts) where I performed in many of the plays and designed lights, sets and makeup for many others. I received an acting scholarship to The College of Santa Fe. Other than a three-month stint bartending I have never worked outside the entertainment industry.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There’s art, then there’s artwork-for-hire, don’t confuse the two.” This was a hard-learned lesson, and one I always tried to impart to the young talent I would hire. What I mean by it is that passion is an important part of being an artist, but you need to know when to separate that passion from what your job may be. There are plenty of clients out there who want ugly things, our job is to make them happy. You can (and should) try to gently guide them to a better product, but when it comes right down to it you must deliver what they want. However, at home, when you’re creating a work of art for yourself, feel free to punch critics in the nose (figuratively).

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I must give credit to Dr. Seuss. I was an avid reader of his books as a child, and I tried to carry his whimsical view of the world with me as I grew up. “What was I scared of?” had a huge impact on me. His ability to tell stories that championed empathy and equality without smacking you in the face with a moral was a guiding light for me in my life and career.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I have been in the entertainment industry my entire life. I stared in theatre, then moved into live music, touring the globe with rock n’ roll acts like Public Enemy and Lou Reed for many years as a lighting designer and electrician. Television was next. I went from being a lighting director/master electrician to being the art director for MTV Studios in Times Square, where I designed the sets for the majority of the in-studio productions. Following post-9/11 layoffs at Viacom I moved to Dallas and transitioned into corporate events as a designer and producer. I was assigned to manage a team of video editors, so I decided to learn editing so I could be a more effective manager. I liked it, so I jumped in with both feet and steadily improved my editing and motion graphic skills while still designing sets and graphics. In 2016 I started my own company, Broad Strokes Creative, where I supply graphic design, set design and video production to various clients for their live events.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Well, it’s tough to make a living in live events when the world is in lockdown. My entire book of business for six months into the future, then twelve, vanished overnight. At first, I took the opportunity to take some online social science courses (a side passion of mine) then I decided to teach myself new software. I have always loved animation. I fiddled with character animation in After Effects creating some fan music videos, but I’d never done more than tinker. Adobe has a somewhat new software named “Character Animator.” I decided to learn it and try to cheer up my friends while I learned. I proceeded to launch “TreeRat and Trash Panda,” a lame-joke-a-day cartoon series on my Facebook page. It gave me an opportunity to learn by doing (my preferred method of education) and it helped stave off boredom.

After four solid months of no work, and extraordinarily little on the horizon, I started looking at jobs on the internet. I removed the lifelong “live events” search keyword and looked at what was out there. One of the jobs was a motion graphics contract with an eLearning platform. I got the gig and at our kickoff meeting the client asked if any of us had experience with character animation. I jumped in with an enthusiastic “yes” and immediately sent samples after the call. Turns out, they had a whole series of anecdotes told by professionals that they wanted to translate into animated shorts. After doing a proof-of-concept test I was switched from the motion graphics project to the “stories” project and paired with an incredibly talented illustrator/cartoonist.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

My “aha moment” came on the kickoff call with my new employer. I had never thought to market myself as an animator, but when they asked if anyone had experience, I knew it was safe to say “yes” without feeling I was misrepresenting myself.

How are things going with this new initiative?

I am deliriously happy with the work and continue to learn more and more each day as the stories offer some big visual challenges. I never expected to do anything outside the live events industry, much less something in education, but even when the pandemic is over and live events start again, I intend to stay with my new gig.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I need to thank my husband, Marco. He was so supportive (in every way) when COVID hit. He encouraged me to learn something new. When I did the cartoon series for fun, he’s the one who suggested I try and do it professionally. He planted the seed that it’s something I did well enough that I could claim it as a skill.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

As I’m sure most people can identify, my meetings with the team have all been via web video conference. For our first meeting I tasked my husband with dog management. We have an exceedingly doofy two-year-old Great Dane named Arthur. Marco’s job was to make sure my first team interaction (for which I donned a real shirt and make-up) was dog-free. He did an amazing job. Meeting two — total photo bomb. Arthur sauntered in and dramatically pasted me with sloppy kisses in the middle of the meeting. My colleagues were astounded by his giant head and prolific tongue. Luckily, I keep a box of tissues next to my computer, so I casually wiped my face and pressed on with a corsage of slime on my shoulder. In the next batch of illustrations I received from the cartoonist, there on the lead character’s desk was a framed photo of a goofy Great Dane, complete with drool. It was then I realized I had found my tribe.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I have to preface this with a disclaimer that I am coming from the perspective of a creative person. We are not alike, but many of us share qualities that are strong enough to rise to the level of “stereotype”. That said, these five are not valid for everyone.

  1. Don’t just focus on your strengths, cater to your weaknesses. The main thing that kept me from starting my own company was I am NOT a money person. I always assumed that to have a business, one must be a “business person.” Turns out, you can hire those folks. It took me a while to save up the capital to hire a lawyer and accountant, but once I did, I was able to move forward and get my business up and running.
  2. Make cheat sheets. Once again, I do not have a money brain, and I do not have the funds to hire a fulltime bookkeeper, so I got software. It is super-helpful, but it’s also pretty technical. I have found it helpful to take snapshots of the correct process within the program. If I don’t use something on a daily basis, the knowledge is fleeting.
  3. Make checklists. When you run a business, you get pulled in many different directions. Before you open up your computer each day, make a list, on paper, of the things you intend to accomplish that day. Once the computer is booted up you are down the rabbit hole …
  4. Be prepared to abandon your list. Lists are great for technical/business things you need to do, but they are pretty useless for creativity. If your day takes you in a different direction from your list, go with it.
  5. Don’t sell yourself short. This is a biggie for most creative people. We tend to undervalue our abilities because we love what we do. If you have to, factor in the hard costs you have invested in that give you your abilities (education, supplies, hardware, software, etc.). This may be a joy for you, but it’s an enigma for others, own that. You have no problem paying a plumber or electrician what they ask, why should you question your rate? You are providing a valuable service.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Ugh, managing stress now is a big deal. I have coped by taking “technology-free” weekends. If I don’t have a pressing deadline I will go two full days without looking at my phone or computer, a news detox of sorts. I’ll let clients know they can text me if they need something urgently, but otherwise I’m off the grid. It mostly works.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I was raised Catholic. When I was eleven my Mom broke from the church. She said I was free to worship however I wanted, or not at all. I went on a quest to learn as much as I could about the myriad belief systems. I came to the conclusion that the one thing they all had in common was “treat others as you would like to be treated.” I have lived my life that way, and I translated it into my professional life by adhering to the tenet of “lead by example.” If we all walk-it-like-we-talk-it, we just may be better off.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I am a huge fan of Freakonomics Radio podcasts (and their spinoffs), but especially Stephen Dubner, the host. We have a lot in common (large family, a love of rum raisin ice cream, an apathy toward other humans) and I often find myself crafting mental emails to him as I walk my dog and listen to him. Not being a “numbers person,” I find economics confounding, but he has a way of making everything relatable, I appreciate that.

How can our readers follow you online?

Sure! My stupid animated jokes are available on my YouTube channel, “TreeRat and Trash Panda.”

I also have a LinkedIn profile:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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