In the context of contemporary internet companies, DeviantArt is venerably ancient. The site began in 2000 as a means of sharing media player skins, and it has grown into a hotbed of creativity and collaboration for artists of all sorts. And behind the site is Angelo Sotira.
Angelo co-founded DeviantArt at the age of 19, bolstered by a community that was creating elaborate graphics to skin media players like Winamp. The community quickly grew and the site expanded with it. It now hosts a wide variety of art — 281 million individual works — and allows artists around the globe to connect and exchange feedback.
We asked Angelo how he manages his own workflow, and what he thinks about DeviantArt’s longevity in a landscape where media startups come and go like the tide.
Location: Hollywood, CA
Current Gig: CEO and co-founder of DeviantArt
One word that best describes how you work: Intensely
Current mobile device: iPhone 5s
Current computer: MacBook Pro
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I can’t live without my Leuchtturm sketchbook.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I tend to work out of my office at DeviantArt that has two desks, one in front of me and one behind me. The desk behind me has three separate monitors and the desk in front of me has my iPad, a laptop and often times a Wacom pressure sensitive Android tablet, which is for drawing and sketching. I also have my sketchbook to take notes and to doodle. I definitely have a lot of stuff going on.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I try my best to focus on the hardest or most creative problems first. I’m lucky to have a great team around me who help handle the tasks that might not always take priority.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
My main tool for to-do lists is my sketchbook, which tends to look something like: sketch, mind map, list, notes, notes, sketch, sketch, mind map, etc.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
I can’t live without noise-cancelling headphones. Between my sketchbook and noise cancelling headphones, I am all set.
What was the impetus for DeviantArt?
DeviantArt was started to service a community of artists involved in skinning music applications who didn’t have a place to congregate, share their work, and publish what they were doing. We noticed then that application skinning (changing the look of your apps) was becoming increasingly popular and there were artists having a great time creating “skins.” We learned that these artists were interested in posting on Winamp Facelift, Customise.org and Skinz.org or other specialty sites, but they needed their own platform to publish their other artworks.
We began by enabling these artists to publish original art and news content to the web, collaborate with each other, comment on each other’s artwork and build a fan base to further promote the art. It quickly expanded past “skins” into the more than 2,500 categories of visual art we have today.
To what do you attribute DeviantArt’s longevity?
DeviantArt has played a crucial role in the artistic growth of many millions of artists since its inception in 2000. What sets DeviantArt apart is the focus and purpose of the network and community as a whole. Because we are focused on a single vertical — visual arts — we pay more attention and don’t get distracted from our core community and responsibilities.
Focused communities like DeviantArt play an incredibly valuable role in society. In the arts, for this example, we bring artists together during their formative years, so we create long standing bonds and learning opportunities that ultimately spawn art groups and art collectives. In turn, these spawn companies and studios, which are hired by all manner of mainstream and niche media with a massive effect on global culture. Along this path, millions of amateur creative people are immersed in conversation and support from other fellow creatives.
We believe that creativity is to be embraced and nurtured. Our team lives and breathes this mission, as we leverage technologies and communication media to bridge the gaps that exist in the arts.
Are you an artist yourself?
Over the past few years, I’ve learned to draw every day. I view it as meditation and time to reflect. I use it to improve the way that I see the world, and what I mean by that is that I try to increase the intelligence of my perception. I tend to be in my head a lot, and I think most of our human experience comes through our eyes, at least for most of us, and drawing improves the perception of what I see. Drawing makes the world more beautiful. I think it has many positive effects and has made me a calmer, more balanced person. I’m pretty surprised by how different I feel in four years’ time, and I credit that to drawing.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I’m not really better than everyone at anything in particular. I would say that I am good at a whole host of things that specifically lead back to DeviantArt. It’s important to think of DeviantArt as a company but also as a community and then as it’s own culture. I guess you could say that I am the best positioned at thinking about DeviantArt through the lens of all three in order to make decisions.
What do you listen to while you work?
I listen to tons of music while I’m working, but it can’t have any lyrics. Anything with high energy and no lyrics is perfect. I tend to find comfort in electronic music as it keeps my energy up without being distracting.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently really into Motion Books. Two DeviantArt members, Anna Podeworna ( akreon) and Kate Redesiuk (vesner) have really raised the bar of comic storytelling by utilising the cutting edge comics and sound motion technology from Madefire, creating panels that come alive on screen to expose a beautifully crafted comic titled Milk for the Ugly.
You might be aware that Madefire and DeviantArt recently launched a cloud-based Motion Book Tool, the authoring program behind the fast-action, interactive digital comic books, so that all artists and creators can build and share their own original works. The tool, which initiated the creation of Milk for the Ugly, introduces a whole new layer of artistic mobility to creative communities everywhere. Artists who publish through the Madefire Motion Book Tool can also upload and share their work directly to DeviantArt. As you can tell, I am pretty excited.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe both.
Definitely both. I think about this particular subject often and there are times where I am introverted and times where I am more extroverted. A lot of it depends on the work or the circumstance. In the context of product, engineering and user experience work, I tend to be introverted. I can go through long periods of time of where I am focused on this kind of work and it can make it harder for me to want to do activities like go out to a night club. Then there are times when my time is more focused on marketing and talking to a lot of people. During these times I can transition into a more extroverted lifestyle.
What’s your sleep routine like?
My best friend calls me “the sleeping bag.” I can’t fall asleep and once I do, I can’t wake up.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Either Ben Wolstenholme the CEO of Madefire or Travis Kalanick the CEO and co-founder of Uber.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My best advice came to me at a young age from an advisor at the time. He told me that life is a series of peaks and valleys, and that my job, through all the peaks and valleys, is to try to remain level and be the same person throughout. There have been times in my life where things have gone really well, and there have been times where things are not going as well, but I’ve learned to maintain a level balance with the knowledge that things around me are supposed to change constantly, but my focus and outlook should strive to remain steady.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?
I’d like to share how I deal with creative work versus logically oriented work. I am ambidextrous and find that it has a big effect on the way I function. I can sometimes feel like my wires are crossed. If I know I have to tackle a logically oriented task like responding to business emails, I will first take 10 minutes to sketch or do something creative. It is almost like I need to settle the creative part of my brain before I can focus and vice versa. If I want to get something super creative done, I will first complete a logical task like reviewing a budget and that settles my mind so that my logically oriented issues no longer bother me during a creative task.
We’ve asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.