We had the good fortune of connecting with Jamie Bartkowicz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jamie, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
[Jamie] I have always been a bit of a Black Sheep in my family when it came to the arts. I grew up in the Metro-Detroit area of Michigan to a family of engineers, Ford car plant workers, tradesmen, and military veterans; so a career path in anything creative was not exactly an option. However, my mind mind and imagination has always been buzzing since I was a kid. Day dreaming was an everyday hobby for me and I loved creating things with my hands. I wanted to any and all things creative- learn instruments, be in community plays, create paintings, write stories, watch movies; I wanted to do it all! But no matter how much I loved the arts, I was trained to think of them as hobbies rather than careers. So I went most of my adolescence thinking I’d go into a “normal” field, like most fo my family. But as Senior year of high school approached, I had a realization- I didn’t want to wake up 20 years from now, still in my midwest hometown, with a job I didn’t love doing. So I told my parents I was going to school for film. It didn’t go over well. In fact, it took them many years to come around to the idea of it. Pursuing an artistic/creative career is not easy. There’s some days I think to myself “maybe I should’ve been a dentist or an accountant instead.” But I always remind myself that life is for living, and I don’t want to have “what if” moments. Most people in my generation are like me; we grew up with Baby Boomer parents who didn’t have a lot growing up, so they want us to have stable jobs and lives. For some, that’s what they want and I support that; but for me, I needed something else. I wanted to move to a big city, have new experiences, and create things for people to enjoy. It didn’t matter to me that I’d bounce to jobs more often than my siblings or live in a small apartment instead of a big house. Life is about weighing your options and following your own path. For me, I’d risk a “stable” or “normal” life for the one I have a thousand times over. I would not be happy if I couldn’t be creative in my job.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
[Brandi] We are The Essential Art Department, a specialized Entertainment Industry learning platform and a brainchild born out of our passion for all things Art Department. There has always been a gap between going to school for design in the entertainment industry and the reality of what really happens when you get started. Book learning doesn’t always prepare you to be successful on your first jobs or projects. When I (Brandi) graduated school, although my mentors were working in the industry, there were still so many questions and nuances of the job that I wasn’t aware of; so I felt like a fish out of water and often wondered if I was truly cut out to work in this industry. The entertainment industry is demanding enough, and not having the basic, reality driven skill sets or knowledge to attack it, just leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of incompetence and lack of confidence. That is our main goal with The Essential Art Department, to impart confidence and understanding in some of the beginning knowledge of how to approach this industry when you land your job, or even getting that job in the first place. This is about real-world and tactile skills that will make each of the students more confident in their pursuits with any type of industry Art Department, and we bring all this knowledge from our professional years of experience within all kinds of art departments. The art department is one of the most essential departments on any project in entertainment, and we believe one of the most demanding. Quite often you are the first one on set and the last one to leave. There are so many people and positions that you have to learn to collaborate with to make a successful project that you really need to love being in this department. Because we are solely focused on all things art department, it allows us to really get critical with our content and hone in on varied subject matter. We can place emphasis on skill sets that will build confidence and will be used every time on a project. Also the amount of general knowledge about how an art department functions that we are able to share through our direct experiences in the industry, can be used throughout all types of art departments- from Film/TV, Theatre, commercials, live events, exhibits, themed experiences, and beyond. I am most excited to share all the knowledge that has accumulated in my head from almost 30 years in this industry. I want the generations coming up to embrace the knowledge, take the skill sets that we offer, and run with them; use what they can and just continue to make magic in this industry. We adore our jobs, and we want others to experience passion for their work just as I have all these years. Building your brand and identity within your business is probably the hardest thing to take on because it is such a personal endeavor. Sometimes it is hard to let go of the artistic side and focus on the business side. Artists just want to create and typically don’t want to be bogged down with running the business. It has taken me a good portion of my career to grasp the true concepts of how to be successful at business, and it has all been because of mentors and learning from current business industry professionals. The hardest part (and yet the easiest) has been to realize that I can’t do it all myself! I don’t possess the skills to do it all, nor do I really want to. I want to focus on a certain part of my business, which is teaching. So to be successful I knew that there needed to be individuals to help develop a strong social media plan, and other avenues that had to be pursued. I can still have a say in the way things look and how they run, but I had to surround myself with quality individuals that could help me develop all the things I didn’t really want to. And I wanted to surround the company with passionate people who were committed to the art department. That is why I am most grateful for my valued partnership in this venture! We are bringing The Essential Art Department to life through passion and commitment. You have to love what you are doing or you shouldn’t be doing it! It is my hope that through continued support, we will be able to reach more students and young (or older) professionals that want to keep up their journeys, continue to be successful, and become part of a greater community of art department savants. We want everyone to know how reachable working in an art department actually is!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
[Brandi] Well, Hollywood is the tourist attraction for any of my friends and family. Even though I am jaded by it working all these years in the industry, my friends and family always want to see all of Hollywood! That includes, of course, the drive down Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd. We will park and take the walking tour of Hollywood blvd, stopping by the local vendors to pick up the Hollywood essential memorabilia; the little Oscar that says World’s Best Mom, the t-shirt that says Welcome to Hollywood, and the quintessential writing pen with the floating lady over the Hollywood sign! Everyone’s favorite desk item! Our tour would commence down Sunset to view the billboards along the boulevard and as we continued, we would end at the Pacific West coast just off the famous PCH1; with the beaches in sight and usually a good sunset show to take in all things SoCal! The weather, the salty air and the most amazing sunsets on the West Coast. A little Seafood up the coast at The Reel Inn, then a little more trip up to Zuma Beach. If it were a day trip then most definitely there would be rock climbing involved at Point Dume and most of the time a school of dolphins or a pod of whales would show up to greet us, depending on the time of year! Of course there would be the visit to Griffith Observatory for all things space! And for all my artistic friends, a day spent perusing the local museums is much needed. LACMA, the LaBrea Tar Pits, and of course the sprawling Getty! We would food it up, with tastes of SoCal- Trejo’s Tacos on LaBrea is a must! Let’s go with Japanese too with Katsuya. We must hit the Hollywood branded experiences as well, with The Pig and Whistle and of course Phillipe’s for an amazing french dip sandwich. Let’s end it all with a walk out on Santa Monica Pier, to send off all those good wishes to the Pacific Ocean! Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
[Jamie] As a Creative, you’ll come across many people in your life who don’t believe in you and your work. However, there will also be some who believe in you more than you do yourself. Those are the important people. While my parents weren’t fully onboard with my career path at first, eventually they came to understand it. Now, they are some of my biggest supporters along with my siblings and nephews. And my friends are like a personal hype team. Whether they work in the industry or not, they have my back. For example, my friend Jess is a middle school teacher, but she’s a cheerleader for everything I do; meanwhile my friend Cassie is my “ride or die” and will constantly push me to take risks. When you find you’re right crew, they’ll support you till the end. However, my big shoutouts are to my mentors. If you’re lucky enough to have/had mentors, you’ll understand how important they are. I’ve been so grateful to have a few different ones in my career journey. Morgane Keesling pushed me into new opportunities in the Theme Park industry and Bonnie Hallman told me to “do the damn thing” when I had ideas I didn’t think could work. But two specific people have been the most impactful to me: Chris Williams and Brandi Creason. I came to them when I was just a Production Coordinator at Universal Studios Hollywood and told them I wanted to be an Art Director. While most could turn a cheek and brush off a young, green, naive girl to the side, they saw something in me. They chose to take me under their wings and give me a shot. They showed me patience and support when I felt lost or incompetent. They believed in my talents and bestowed so much of their knowledge onto me. I have learned so much from them and they both have become such important people in my life; so much that Brandi and I partnered up on another venture and launched our very own company this year: The Essential Art Department.