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  • Writer's pictureScott Russell

Nurturing Growth: The Importance of Mentorship in Creative Fields

Imagine a gardener, meticulously tending to their garden. Each plant they nurture is unique—requiring different amounts of sunlight, water, and care to thrive. This gardener knows exactly what each plant needs and provides the right conditions for growth, season after season. In the world of creativity, however, the concept of mentorship often resembles an untended garden. Despite its potential to cultivate talent and foster innovation, mentorship is frequently overlooked or undervalued in many creative fields.

Why is this the case? It could be the competitive nature of these industries, with pros guarding their secrets and successes closely, or perhaps it's the relentless push towards the next project that leaves little room for nurturing future talent. Brenda Romero touches on this in her GDC talk, "Jiro Dreams of Game Design," highlighting how, unlike in culinary arts where it’s common to hear chefs proudly say they "studied under" or "worked under" a particular master, such lineage is rarely celebrated in other creative domains. But if the success of great chefs is any indication, this mentorship model holds untapped potential for all creative fields.


Mentorship should be as fundamental in the creative industries as it is in haute cuisine. Mentors can provide tailored resources, knowledge, and encouragement—helping talents to blossom and mature. But it's not just a good deed...


The Dual Benefits of Mentorship


Mentorship, like a well-tended garden that feeds the hands that tills it, nourishes both the plant and the gardener, the mentor and the mentee. Let’s dig into how both parties benefit from this reciprocal exchange.


For the Mentee (Student):

  • Accelerated Learning: Imagine having a personal coach who tailors lessons just for you—that's what a mentor does. This one-on-one guidance helps you pick up skills faster than traditional, one-size-fits-all educational methods ever could. These lessons aren’t necessarily the kind you’d get in a classroom. They might be creative challenges, or asks for assistance, but working with a mentor, especially if it means some real-world experience, can be more valuable than anything you’d learn in school.

  • Network Expansion: Your mentor doesn’t just share their knowledge; they also open their Rolodex (Do any mentees even know what a rolodex is? It’s like a LinkedIn network, but on a carousel of little cards, with business cards stapled, and notes scribbled, reminding you of this Creative Director’s favorite cookie, etc.). But building a network is still important, even if it’s not done on paper any more. Getting introduced to established professionals in your field can give you a serious leg-up, connecting you with opportunities that are not advertised and insights that are not written down anywhere else.

  • Emotional and Professional Support: More than just a teacher, a mentor is a cheerleader and a sounding board. Whether you’re facing creative blocks or industry politics, they can offer advice that’s both grounded and uplifting, helping you navigate the ups and downs of a creative career.

  • Exposure to New Perspectives and Ideas: Mentors bring their own experiences and ideas to the table, often challenging you to think outside the box and push creative boundaries. This can open your eyes to new techniques, new concepts, and new ways of seeing your work and the world.

For the Mentor (Teacher):

  • Enhanced Leadership Skills: Leading a mentee through their creative journey helps you sharpen your own leadership style—figuring out what motivates others and how to articulate ideas clearly and effectively.

  • Reinforcement of Expertise: Ever heard the saying, “Teaching is the best way to learn”? Well, it’s true. Explaining your craft to someone else can reinforce your own mastery and sometimes even reveal new insights. I can’t tell you how much better I got at my craft when I became a teacher. And it took a while before I became a good teacher (but I did because of teaching mentors like Kimo Oades). You think you’re good at something, but as soon as you start teaching that thing, you realize how much more there is to know, and you find new perspectives for using your knowledge.

  • Professional Satisfaction and Legacy: There’s a unique joy in watching someone you’ve guided succeed and knowing you had a hand in their achievements. This kind of mentoring not only enriches your mentee’s life but also helps cement your own legacy in the field.

  • Networking Opportunities: When you mentor someone, you’re not just teaching; you’re also learning. Meeting your mentee's colleagues and exploring new collaborative opportunities can invigorate your own creative pursuits and possibly open doors you hadn't anticipated. Your job as a mentor is to introduce your mentee to more people and help them get established, but there’s a good chance that mentee is going to then make connections that they will introduce you to.


My experience on both ends

Mentorship, both received and given, has been a cornerstone of my career and personal development. From the invaluable lessons learned from my mentor to the guidance I’ve offered to emerging talents, these interactions highlight the tangible benefits of mentorship in the creative industries.


Mentorship from Peter Green at Peter Green Design

  • The Gentle Guide: Peter Green was not my only mentor, not even the only one during the time I worked for him, but he does stand out. Peter was not just a boss but a mentor and a father figure. His leadership style combined personal care with professional rigor, creating a nurturing environment that fostered both creativity and business acumen.

  • Professional Skills Development: Working on projects for high-profile clients like Fox Kids Magazine, Peter taught me to value my work. I was a good writer and a decent Art Director when I came to Peter Green Design, but I didn’t understand how valuable those skills were to our clients, and I learned to ask for what I deserved. He also showed me how to navigate the intricacies of client and team conflicts. His approach to problem-solving and client management was imbued with a respect for the creative process and a savvy for business needs.

  • Creative and Entrepreneurial Spirit: Perhaps most impactful was his constant push for innovation. Peter's entrepreneurial spirit was contagious; he was always exploring new ideas and encouraging us to do the same. This ethos not only inspired creativity but also instilled a strong sense of business strategy, which has been crucial in my roles as an artist, manager, and CEO.


Mentoring Young Talents in Education

  • Beyond the Classroom: At Mt. Sierra College and other educational institutions, my mentorship often extended beyond formal teaching. I found immense value in guiding students in real-world settings—helping them network with professionals, build robust portfolios, and navigate industry conferences.

  • Individual Attention to Unique Needs: One standout case was a highly talented artist who excelled technically but struggled with time management and a fear of project completion. By focusing on these softer skills, we worked to round out his capabilities, making him not just a great artist but a complete professional who later secured a job at a top AAA game studio.

  • Impact on Career Paths: These mentoring experiences have shown me that while a student's talent can open doors, mentorship can provide them with the toolkit to walk through them and excel on the other side. Helping students apply their skills effectively in the real world has often been as rewarding for me as it has been career-defining for them.


Impact on the Creative Industry

Watering seeds might seem like a small act, but it’s mighty in effect, driving growth and transformation throughout the creative landscape. Mentorship enriches the mentor, the mentee, and the entire field by fostering a continual exchange of ideas and sustaining a vibrant community of practice.


  • Driving Innovation and Artistic Evolution: Fresh ideas are the lifeblood of the creative industry, and mentorship is one of the best ways to foster this innovation. When experienced professionals guide newcomers, they don't just pass down their knowledge—they also encourage fresh perspectives and experimentation. This dynamic can lead to breakthroughs in form and content. Young creatives benefit from a mentor in many ways, but when given that voice, .

  • Maintaining and Expanding Industry Standards and Practices: Mentorship helps not only in preserving the rich traditions and high standards of artistic fields but also in evolving them. As seasoned artists pass on their techniques and insider know-how, they ensure that these crafts don't merely survive but thrive and adapt in a changing world. In fashion, icons like Yves Saint Laurent, who once learned under Christian Dior, later became mentors themselves, shaping the next generation of design pioneers such as Alber Elbaz.

  • Examples of Influencing the Industry Through Mentorship: The mentorship relationship between Dr. Dre and Eminem is a prime example of how a mentor’s faith and guidance can help unearth and refine raw talent, leading to genre-defining work that has influenced countless other artists. Toni Morrison played a similar in guiding young writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Steven Speilberg with J.J. Abrams, helping to shape the voice of a new generation.


Finding and Becoming a Mentor

Where to Look for a Mentor:

  • Professional Networks and Associations: Many creative fields have professional bodies or associations that offer formal mentoring programs—like the American Institute of Graphic Arts or the Writers Guild of America.

  • Workshops and Conferences: Participating in industry workshops and conferences can connect you with potential mentors. These events are often designed to foster networking and are a perfect setting to meet seasoned professionals.

  • Online Platforms: Websites like LinkedIn, MentorCruise, and even specific industry forums can be excellent resources to find mentors who are looking for mentees.

  • Your School: Colleges often have mentorship programs set up with alumni. If you’re not in college yet, check with your high school.

What to Look for in a Mentor:

  • Relevant Experience and Expertise: Look for someone whose achievements and career path resonate with your aspirations.

  • Commitment to Mentoring: A good mentor should be genuinely interested in mentoring—not just someone who is successful but someone who is willing to share their knowledge and experience.

  • Compatibility: Your mentor should be someone you feel comfortable talking to and whose advice you respect and can follow.

How to Approach a Potential Mentor:

  • Prepare Your Pitch: Be clear about what you’re looking for in the mentorship and what you can bring to the table.

  • Ask for an Initial Meeting: This can be as informal as a coffee meeting or a virtual call. Use this time to discuss your goals and see if there’s a mutual fit.

  • Be Respectful of Their Time: Make it clear that you value their time and expertise and are willing to accommodate their schedule.

Becoming a Mentor

Qualities and Responsibilities of a Good Mentor:

  • Willingness to Share: A good mentor is open and willing to share all they know, including their failures as well as their successes.

  • Active Listening: Great mentors listen more than they speak, understanding their mentee's needs and challenges.

  • Encouraging and Supportive: A mentor should inspire confidence and be supportive, while also pushing the mentee to challenge themselves. Steps to Offer Your Services as a Mentor:

  • Join Mentorship Programs: Register with mentorship programs offered by professional associations or online platforms.

  • Network: Let your professional and social circles know that you’re interested in taking on a mentee. Often alumni organizations have mentorship programs already in place. So check in with your Alma Mater, but posts on LinkedIn, etc. can’t hurt.

  • Offer Free Sessions: Initially, offering free training sessions or talks can help attract mentees and allow you to refine your mentoring skills. Establishing a Productive Mentor-Mentee Relationship:

  • Set Clear Objectives and Expectations: Early on, discuss and agree on the goals of the mentorship, including the frequency of meetings and the duration of the relationship.

  • Build Trust: A strong mentor-mentee relationship is built on trust, which requires openness and consistency.

  • Provide and Solicit Feedback: Regular feedback is essential for both parties to ensure the relationship is fulfilling its purpose and adapting as needed.

Mentorship is the unseen root system that nourishes the entire garden of the creative industry. By fostering personal growth, expanding networks, and driving innovation, it creates a vibrant, sustainable community where ideas can flourish. Whether you're seeking guidance to navigate the complexities of your career, or you're ready to give back and guide others, embracing the role of mentor or mentee can transform not just individual careers but the entire artistic landscape. Let this be your invitation to step into the world of mentorship—cultivate a legacy of creativity and collaboration that lasts well beyond your own career.

This article was originally co-written with ChatGPT4.0, but 100% rewritten and edited by myself.

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