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Drawing a Life: A Life-Affirming Take on the Meaning of Creativity


Director Dan Covert breaks down his acclaimed new documentary on the life of the legendary visual artist Geoff McFetridge, and tells LBB’s Adam Bennett how he imbues commercial creativity with meaning

Drawing a Life: A Life-Affirming Take on the Meaning of Creativity

Geoff McFetridge’s work is hiding in plain sight. It’s out there - you just might not know you’re looking at it. 

It’s there in the title designs for films by the likes of Sophia Coppola and Spike Jonze. Lift up your wrist, and you might see it as the background on your Apple Watch. It’s there in work for brands including Vans, Patagonia, Amazon, and Google, and it adorns the walls of countless art galleries across the globe. It’s also proven to be a source of inspiration for generations of visual artists and creatives, who strive to capture the innately human design qualities that underpin so much of his art. 

Above: An example of Geoff’s work from his recent show at the One Trick Pony Gallery in LA. 

There’s a soothing quality to a lot of Geoff’s art that might also explain why he’s thought of with such fondness across the creative community, in which his legacy is being written in real-time. The artist identifies Spike Jonze as an important influence in his early career - and Jonze himself has now taken up an executive producer role for Drawing A Life, a new feature-length documentary which delves into Geoff’s work, creative philosophy, and way of living. 

That film, which premiered recently at SXSW in Austin where it picked up a coveted Audience Award, is directed by Dan Covert. Another in the long line of creatively-minded folk who cite Geoff as a profound inspiration, Drawing A Life has been a four-year labour of love for Dan. Fortunately for us, the director, artist and co-founder of production company Dress Code agreed to speak with LBB’s Adam Bennett about the film that’s been generating so much creative buzz at festivals. 

Above: Drawing A Life premiered at SXSW 2023, where it received an overwhelmingly positive reception. 

Meet Your Heroes

“Like many other designers, directors and animators I was introduced to Geoff’s work in the early 2000s,” recalls Dan. “What drew me in was the immediacy, emotion, and humour. Over the years I followed along as Geoff’s career grew and he became one of my favourite artists. His work is iconic, and it stays lodged in your brain.”

Putting together a movie based on his life, then, was a task that Dan wasn’t about to take on lightly. However, the film’s origin story is remarkably organic and natural. “I’d met Geoff briefly through a short documentary I directed about him in 2015, and in 2019 I was contracted to make another short film about him for a monumental award he had won,” says Dan. “I thought we could dream a little bigger than another short film, so I floated the idea of making a feature documentary. Geoff never really said yes or no to the project, I just kept asking to come back and he kept letting me!” 

The result is a full-length documentary that, by opening the door to Geoff’s creative process and values, also offered Dan the chance to ruminate on - and readdress - his own relationship to his craft. In truth, it’s a process which is likely to become familiar for anyone watching the film. “What I learned from Geoff was to be disciplined about my devotion to my craft, my practice. To stop pursuing things I didn’t enjoy doing and to double down on the things that bring me joy. It sounds simple, but it’s really, really hard,” he notes. 

Crucially, the authenticity which permeates so much of Drawing A Life is built on the foundation of Dan’s open-minded approach to the project. “The final film is very different from the one I imagined at the outset, but that’s a good thing. I heard a director say once that in documentaries if you end up with the film you set out to make, then you aren’t listening,” he says. “I began the film searching for the stereotype of the tortured artist that’s been instilled in me by American culture: a drunken, chauvinistic, angry person. Instead, I was pulled in by how genuine Geoff was and the clarity he had around the kind of life he was searching for and aiming to live. It was his authenticity that became the shining center of our documentary.” 

Alongside authenticity, another theme that’s notable throughout Drawing A Life (and indeed across Geoff’s career) is intentionalism. Or, in other words, the act of being thoughtful and honest about the kind of work you want to dive into and give your full self to - and being able to distinguish between that and the work you probably shouldn’t take on. 

For any creative, that’s an awkward balance. After all, bills need to be paid and the wheels of the industry need to keep on moving. But Drawing A Life offers a more nuanced - and perhaps more real - take on that age-old creative dilemma. 

“One of the biggest takeaways that I’ve learned from Geoff is that commercial work can be a breeding ground to explore ideas and techniques on a larger scale with a bigger audience all while solving the needs of a client,” he says. “Geoff has built a bustling artistic and commercial practice that are intertwined. One of the reasons he still does commercial work is that he thrives on the collaborative aspect of creating work for a client and the dialogue surrounding that process.”

It’s a perspective that Dan has tried to weld into his own process as a filmmaker. “The key takeaway for me as I think about my career as a commercial director has been to keep pushing my work to a level creatively where people come to me for my artistic point of view - my craft, how I see the world, how I tell stories,” he explains. “The more I am myself the better my work is, and Geoff fully embodies that ethos.”

Most profoundly of all, that attitude is something that can spill over from your work and into your life beyond it. One of the longest-running challenges connected to creative jobs has been the flimsy border between the professional and the personal, but perhaps Geoff’s story indicates a dimension in which that dynamic can be a healthy and positive one. 

“I think it’s less about incorporating these themes in the work, and more about living your life with intention and staying true authentically to what makes you happy,” suggests Dan. “Being mindful of what we each are spending our time doing and what brings us fulfilment. None of this stuff happens overnight, and it takes a lot of work and sacrifice - but that’s part of the fun I suppose.” 

There’s a universality to Drawing A Life which is likely to resonate with anyone who has dedicated their career to a creative pursuit. It’s not a documentary which flinches at the challenges that come along with a working life in the arts, but it is unashamedly life-affirming in the perspectives it leads viewers toward. 

“During the film I turned 40, and Geoff turned 50,” says Dan. “So this is really the story about a guy looking for answers from a guy who seems like he has those answers.” 

Those answers don’t come quickly, or without an element of struggle. But the great appeal of Drawing A Life is how it gives just enough hope to suggest that, when we finally find them, we’ll be proud of ourselves for ever asking the questions.

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Genres: Documentary

Dress Code , Thu, 13 Apr 2023 08:49:00 GMT