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Daily Inspiration: Meet Ian Loveall

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ian Loveall.

Ian, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I was always a creative kid—constantly drawing or building something—but I suppose my career path started in murals/faux finishes. While attending The College of the Canyons in Valencia, I designed and painted a mural for a local church as a HITE & Honors project for a class. One of the church members saw it and commissioned one for their home, then their neighbor wanted one, then their friend wanted one for their restaurant, then someone wanted one for their business…. It just snowballed in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I painted in homes and businesses around SoCal for a few years, then decided I was ready for a new challenge, so I went back to school for graphic design, thinking I’d get into illustration and web design.

I’d been a fan of illustrator Doug Hansen for years, and he was teaching at Fresno State, so I decided to go study with him. While in school, I worked in the university’s scenic studio as a painter for the theatre department, and their Design Head—Jeff Hunter—suggested I take his design course. I did, and then he offered me a chance to design for their mainstage show. I did, and then designed the next show after that, and the next one after that… Under Hunter’s mentorship, I graduated with a healthy design portfolio in both theatre and graphics, and he suggested I look at graduate programs. I hadn’t planned on continuing in academia—I figured I’d go back to LA and continue painting, maybe get into Set Decorating—I’d decided web design wasn’t for me—but Hunter convinced me to attend an URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) event, where I met and interviewed with graduate programs from across the country.

It was there that I met Richard Isackes, Susan Mickey, Bill Bloodgood and Charlie Otte—all brilliant designers in various disciplines—who were heading up the Performance Design program at UT Austin at the time… We hit it off, talking about semiotics and the parallels between what I’d been doing in undergrad and what they encouraged in their own design program—I was really attracted to their approach, insisting that students think beyond theatre and consider narrative-based design more broadly; theme parks, TV, trade shows, marketing, etc. We’re surrounded by stories, and somebody has to design them.

I spent 3 very intense-and-productive years studying at UT, and then hopped back and forth between TX and CA, working on operas, ballet, musicals, straight theatre, location/decorating work for TV, retail design with a SoCal startup, events for SXSW, worked with an Austin nightclub for a while… It’s been a bit of this and a bit of that—and a lot of fun.

Now that live events are starting to roll back into production after a year+ of shutdown, I’ve got a couple of projects in SoCal and DFW this year—I’m also on the faculty for the Design and Technology program at Theatre TCU—I’m very passionate about my educational work; teachers/mentors have been (and continue to be) invaluable travel companions on my journey, and getting to take on that role for young creatives is one of my favorite parts of my work.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
HA! Is it ever a smooth road? I think any creative will tell you, the road is full of doubt, anxiety, obstacles (and traffic), especially when you’re starting out—there’s a level of uncertainty and instability with which you just have to make peace.

“Can I really make this work? Is this just a glorified hobby, can I really make a life out of it? Were my parents right, should I have pursued something ‘practical?’”

I think once you accept that stability is an illusion anyway—anybody can lose their “stable” job, anyone can hit a rough patch in a “normal” career—nothing is a given, and there are no guarantees. If you decide not to value the illusion of stability, then embracing the uncertainty of a creative life becomes much more rewarding and less nerve-racking. Things tend to work out; if they don’t, that just means they haven’t worked out *yet*—and they probably won’t work out in a manner you expect.

There’s always a way forward if you’re willing to adapt in the short term to get where you’d like to be in the long term. Outside of designing, I’ve been a bartender, a piano tuner, a geometry tutor, a construction worker, an office cleaner, a theme park taco-slinger, a housekeeper—and yes, I’ve lived out of my car (I think we’d be surprised at how many people in LA have done that). You keep your eye on the target, keep moving forward, never give up, and do what you need to do in the meantime.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m a Scenic Designer; I tell stories in real space. Whether it’s a nightclub event, concert, ballet, TV show, musical or straight play, there’s a physical world in which it all takes place, and I get to help shape those worlds. I don’t know that I’d say I “specialize” in any particular kind of event or project—one of the things I enjoy about my work is I never know what’s coming next; today might be a ballet, next week might be a trade show, after that it might be Shakespeare or a retail space—I love it all, and I’m never bored. Right now I’m working on a new musical comedy that takes place in ancient Babylon, and a beautifully moving ballet about cycles of totalitarianism in human societies—it’s always something different. As far as what sets me apart from other designers, I suppose there’s a romantic quality to my work that’s probably identifiable as “mine.” I think it’s a bit like having an accent; I don’t think I have one, but people often ask me “where is your accent from?” In the same way, I don’t think I have a “signature style,” I approach projects differently depending on the needs of the story, but I sometimes hear “I can tell that’s a Loveall design.”

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I feel very fortunate to have had many mentors weaving in and out of my life over the years—most of whom I didn’t actively seek out, we just seem to find each other at the right time in the right place. I guess my approach has been to pursue what you love, say yes to as many opportunities as you can, walk through the doors that open, and most importantly, be flexible, be persistent, always give it your best—the right people will find you.

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