If you wanna understand just how inadequate you are as a visual artist, go paint-your-plating with a bunch of graphic designers.

Actually, that’s not quite fair: I had a LOT of fun. Group I’m contracting with right now was nice enough to invite me out for a “team-building” exercise. I didn’t really belong (I’m not an employee, after all), but what the hey.

This group is ALL creatives, and very good creatives at that. They’re tasked with using fabulous illustrators and photographers to make their for-designers products look good. HUGE change from “make our trucking software sexy,” or “make this nth-to-the-minus change in our embedded processor sound incredibly delicious.” It’s kinda fun to browse stunning portfolios just to find the coolest-looking stuff, regardless of subject.

Anyway, the team manager gave us this goal: Interpret the company’s new branding on a plate, mug, or bowl. We selected our bisqueware, picked out our colors (somebody brought the Pantone swatches to make sure we nailed the brand palette), and set to work.

Three hours later I was in awe. There were landscapes that repeated logo and element themes, clever visual puns on some of the less intuitive aspects of the brand, brand Ming Dynasty-style or Manhattan-cool, brand meets Hello Kitty. The group was recharged, energized, chitchatting about new ways to apply some of these elements to everyday work.

In the end, I was reminded of just how much the truly creative visual artist can do when let out of the corporate cage. It’s the kind of exercise I wish companies would do more often.

And in a week I get a new mug. Hooray!