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Develop your own style and do it better than anyone

The inevitable intersection of art and commerce means drone pilots need a unique voice as much as FAA certification

He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise. Paul Klee​

Honesty is the Path to Originality

When a painter starts painting, they emulate scenes and brush strokes and shadows and even borrow the feeling of other works that inspired them. The most renowned and influential painters all started at that blank canvas. It makes sense - use a vocabulary you have already internalized, and then master it - but then grow to the point where you erase it from your memory and instinct.

When Mark Rothko began painting - 6 years into learning and mastering the technical craft, here is what his work was:

Rothko was borrowing from surrealism and settings of the urban everyday - the subway. There are clear subjects and dimension. It is grounded in some kind of reality that is common and comprehensible at a glance. His color palette is muted and plain.


Years later, his work turned to the abstract color fields that he became known for. and then even went deeper:


This painting resides at the Tate Modern in London. When I sat in front of it, I was transformed and never the same person again. I learned he traveled to Rome and Pompeii and gathered the deep maroon color from his impressions of the old pigments in the ruins he saw on his travels. I was on my way to Rome and Pompeii, and saw all the walls he must have seen. The colors are burned into my mind.

His final works are at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. I was so compelled by them, I composed, produced and performed there as part of the Chapel's 40 year anniversary. It was the first event of its kind in the Chapel. I setup in the center of the space, and the audience sat around me facing the astounding, infinite Rothko murals. I am a musician and sound artist first, but now I can create spaces for sound in new ways - using drones.

Rothko finished in a place so far from where he began. He made his style unmistakable, and was willing to alienate audience, fame, money, or sacrifice anything to arrive at his most pure voice, as an artist and as a person.

“Pictures must be miraculous." Mark Rothko ​

So why all this talk about painting and music dude? How does this relate to drones?

Think about how Alfred Stieglitz must have felt once he began with the earliest cameras. He and others - they all did the obvious thing - they shot portraits. Then began to take photos of landscapes, and then slowly turned toward the abstract, and putting the mundane into new contexts. They all had the same camera more or less, but eventually, photography not only became accepted as art, but unique voices broke through the fold and became timeless. Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Weegie, Man Ray, Walker Evans... they all started in documentary work - obvious uses for cameras, and grew into fully fleshed artists and changed the form forever.

Early work of Aaron Siskind photograph 1938

Aaron Siskind is particularly inspiring to me, not only because we share the same last name, but because he only began photography upon receiving a camera as a wedding gift. It is not about how long you have been doing something - it is what you do with it when you do. He evolved massively - or some would say devolved.

Later work - Photograph by Aaron Siskind

Drones are becoming ubiquitous, but not many people are stretching the medium - yet.

I started a drone business only because I had to in order to do the creative work I really wanted to do. I looked around and could not find anyone doing anything very interesting to me so I decided to find out how far I could take it. I have 20 years in professional music and production, fine art photography, media studies, film and creative direction. I was compelled to see what would come of it.

I noticed first that drone pilots were consumed with "aerial" shots. While this is obvious, it was too obvious. These things are flying cameras! Entirely new vantage points and dimensions are being opened up. Find them and capture from there!

Take Off and Keep Moving

Here is a terrible still from the first terrible video I made with a terrible piece of junk AR Parrot Drone in 2011. The drone kept crashing so I just decided that would be the thing. I thought about embedding it but realized it was even too painful for me. You get the idea.

Flash forward several years to December 2016. It has taken getting new technology, time, and lots of trial and error - but I believe I am just truly beginning to arrive at my style. You know when because it becomes effortless to create and recreate the aesthetic and feeling that just feels right.

"He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise." (Paul Klee)

Currently - I have taken on making daily drone sketches (depending on weather) that feature my music. Things have evolved.

I am more consumed with the abstract, and my color palette and style have been fleshed out to be more my own. I have a pace, tempo, timing, look and feel I like working in - and am adept enough now as a pilot to capture what I want to capture. I am not saying I am changing the world - but I am on a path. I am just doing my own weird thing - turns out sometimes people want to pay for that unique weird thing.

If you ever hear "Well, that's cool but definitely not for everyone" - freeze that moment in your mind - it is pure gold. That is what you want to hear.

People that contact me to do work with them - they have already seen others work almost always. They don't want the normal "drone thing" usually - they want creatives with unique outlooks and perspectives who are using the medium in new ways. Most of the time I refer people elsewhere if they want the more typical things. I can only do what I love to do and want to do.

Right now drone businesses are an avalanche - and soon the novelty for those who were early to it will fade, and everyone will be pressed further to find their own niche. Just because you have a drone and license, does not mean you will get the gig. Remember when you had a few channels of TV, and one movie theater? Now consider the option fatigue of Netflix, YouTube, and the like. This will be what consumers are facing for drone services in 3 years.

The Time Is Now

Forget what anyone else is doing, and find your voice. It is the equivalent of 1890 with cameras right now. Take this opportunity to honestly and deeply sort out what you love about the medium, and do it better than anyone else could.

When you are starting - you will be like Rothko painting what others already have - familiar scenes with familiar outcomes. Colors that are comfortable. Compositions that are identifiable... marketable... translatable. Recognize that and begin moving toward what is uniquely you.

Paths Are Winding and Sometimes Circular

The concert I recorded at the Rothko Chapel became part of the soundtrack for this film I did on the historic Tennessee State Prison "On the Inside". This was a real passion project. I live less than a mile from this storied place, and always wanted to feature it. The Tennessee Department of Correction reached out to me and asked me to make a document of it. It is a non-narrative 17 minute documentary that has done great - got nationwide acclaim, as well as likely dismayed many who wanted a Ken Burns feature.

Doing this project absolutely confirmed to me that sticking to your guns, working hard, and doing what is uniquely you, makes you stand out. Then what happens- the right and most fitting, ideal opportunities will find you.

So - Rothko led me to Pompeii, where I became obsessed with ruins - then I performed a site-specific composition at the Rothko Chapel, and then used some of that music for a soundtrack in a film made with drones. I filmed it as if I were back in Pompeii, looking at 2,000 year old ash covered city. Life is amazing.

Just Create

I don't think everyone should burden themselves with being an artist in the purest sense, but even if you consider these words a little, I fully believe you will be closer to finding what makes you - YOU, and what you do, truly unique. All of us creators will be the better for it. Drones will keep evolving, and we should be determined to evolve with them. There is new to make.

In marketing it's called differentiation. In real life, it just means - be yourself and others will appreciate naturally and without effort what is true and authentic - AND your business will be better for it.

Make sure you hate what you did just 2 months ago, and you will know you are doing it right.







I have 20 years of professional creative work in photography, music, media production, documentary film, and B2B marketing as Creative Director. In that time I have learned how to work with people to get ideas to manifest and stories get told.

My independent projects are immersed often in abandoned and forgotten places, and endangered historic properties. I see endless potential to use drones for artistic and commercial projects that expand perceptions - and for social good.

I am a FAA Part 107 certified remote pilot. I founded Those Drones, LLC because I am FASCINATED with the medium and its possibilities. I live to make things, and get stories told.

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