Morris at work at Tippett Studios
Morris Callegari is a 2009 BCF Scholar. He graduated from UC Riverside in 2014 with a BA in Art and is an illustrator/graphic designer. While in college, he was
the marketing director for UCR’s event planning board and led a team responsible for promoting campus events. He had the opportunity to design posters for speakers and acts like Spike Lee and 2 Chainz. Spike Lee even complimented Morris’ artwork! Despite his incredible talent, Morris is humble, thoughtful, and probably the nicest, most helpful guy you will ever meet. He is always one of the first scholars we turn to when we need artistic advice, someone to lead games of pictionary at our holiday party, a t-shirt design for a race, or a blog article. He is currently working as a Production Coordinator at Tippett Studios in Berkeley. In this post, Morris shares his approach for pursuing his dream and finding success.
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist and how did you figure out the type of art that interested you?
I never chose to be an artist. Let me explain. I'm a very tame person now, but according to my mom, I was the exact opposite when I was a child. She said that if she put paper and drawing utensils around me, I would finally shut up. As a kid, I enjoyed cartoons and drew them at every given opportunity. I think my career path was decided for me, because I just never stopped drawing. And I'm nowhere near done yet, because my ultimate goal is to have a show of my own that reflects what I care about, educates, and is entertaining for kids as well as adults.
Did you ever doubt yourself or your choices?
In college, as well as in the world, a lot of people will indicate your value by your major/profession. People are often impressed by someone in the engineering/sciences/law professions, but if you say you're an artist/writer/historian, a common response is, “oh okay, that's cool.” Although this is part of the reason I doubted myself, just know that people are weird. Don't take it personally. I knew what I wanted to do with my art, and I truly don't care how people view it. Having that type of attitude definitely helps keep me from getting depressed.
What was the most helpful thing you did while in college to explore your passions?
The most helpful thing I did was to cast a wide net to figure out what I liked and didn't like outside of my major. The two things that really stand out were taking an entomology (study of insects) class and joining my school’s event planning board. Entomology is random, I know, but a huge part of drawing anything is understanding how things are structured. You can be a terrible at rendering an artwork, but if you understand how to anatomically piece the human body(or insect) together by drawing it, there’s value in that. And after understanding how something is put together, I can easily draw it from memory.
In terms of my school’s event planning board, it helped me realize what my leadership style is. Because of my work with the group, I know that I'm decent at talking in front of crowds but where I really shine is conveying an idea, scheduling, and developing clear instructions for team members. College is not just about taking classes. It’s about finding out who you are.
If you could do it over, would you approach your college experience any differently?
I want to say that I should have gone to a school that taught art more geared towards animation. But when I think about it, if I didn't go to UC Riverside, I would have never had such a valuable leadership role, and I don't think I would have had as much confidence as I do today. Also, as I do more research, I see that the people going to art schools often have close to the same style and goals in mind. But since I don't want my style to be like everyone else's, and I don't have the same goal as the majority, I believe I've made all of the correct decisions so far.
You spent some time in Japan after graduation. Why Japan? How did you support yourself? What was the impact on you as a person/artist?
The decision to go to Japan was kind of on a whim. I knew it would be difficult to get an art job immediately after graduation considering I didn’t have any connections. I figured that if I’m going to be unemployed, might as well do it in style. So I bought a ticket with some money saved up, did a pretty extensive GoFundMe campaign to help me stay longer, and, by some miracle, I was able to raise enough money to stay in Asia for 5 months. I worked in hostels as a glorified janitor in exchange for a bunk bed. But it was cost-free and gave me the ability to focus my funds towards food and experiences.
I am not overly outgoing, and I was in a place where almost no one spoke English. In order to get anywhere, I had to speak broken Japanese and make myself understood. At first, I was shy and nervous about speaking, but after a while, I would immediately talk to people in Japanese. Sometimes, I would meet a new person and make plans to meet up later. That ability to approach strangers, while not even knowing the language, made it much easier for me to do this back in the US.
Could you describe what your life was like during the time after your return from Japan and when you got hired full-time at Tippett
The time between coming back and getting my job at Tippett was the probably one of the hardest times I’ve ever been through. Long story short, everything went wrong. When you come back from traveling, you have the type of confidence that makes you feel invincible. No one I know has spent 5 months in another country without being in a study abroad program. I knew I could get any job I wanted with this type of confidence. I just needed the interview. Unfortunately, getting the interview was the hardest part. I knew my resume and cover letters were formatted for the job I was applying to. Why wasn’t I getting called? This went on for 6-8 months, while I was living with my mom unable to contribute rent. I started working part-time as a sub for Berkeley after school programs to help out a little bit. I quickly realized that working almost everyday for a month just to receive $300 isn’t enough to contribute anything. So I started doing more art and graphic design commissions and fortunately got a couple cool freelance jobs. That only helped so much. I had to find something more stable so I got serious about my daily routine. No matter what else I had to do that day, I had to send out 2 job applications, work part-time at the Berkeley after school program, and also work on a personal art piece to keep the main goal fresh in my mind. After 6-8 months of doing this, countless days of trying, failing, and re-evaluating my job application strategy, I finally landed a job at Tippett studio as a production assistant. And although it isn't an art related job, I am much closer to my goal, because I'm around tons of artists who are doing what I want to do and can help steer me in the right direction. Along with this, I immediately took the opportunity to work with the founder of the company(Phil Tippett) on his personal stop-motion project called “Mad God” every Saturday. I am inexperienced with stop-motion but I'm good with colors so I've been assigned to making and painting props and various set items. All of this while still working freelance on nights and weekends. I used to not have any work and now I might have a bit too much. But I can also say that I've never been happier!
Why do you think networking is important?
“It's not what you know but who you know” is 100% true. The quicker you accept this, the quicker you'll get a job. The only reason I have a job is due to networking. Think of it this way. You apply for a job online along with thousands of other people. You're more qualified than a lot of the applicants, so you might be put into a resume pool of a couple hundred (that's a big maybe). If hundreds of people are just as qualified as you for the position you want, how can you expect to be chosen? It's highly unlikely (not impossible of course). The trick is if you know someone who already works at the place you want to work, a recommendation would put you at the top of the applicant pile. People like to work with people they know so the best strategy is to get to know as many people as possible. I only started working a month or 2 ago, and I already know all of the artists at the studio and meet up with a couple of them to draw on Wednesdays. Don't think about it too hard, just make professional friends, and if you both make any type of connection, the jobs will come!
Any more advice for other students or graduates chasing their dreams?
You need to have your dream job (for me it is drawing) while living in reality. Working at Tippett helps me pay rent and allows me to support myself financially. I am not going to start off directing my own TV show, so I need to be able to live until I can make that happen. Your reality job is what you need to do to be financially independent.Your dream job is what you work towards nights and weekends; the activities that prepare you for what you really want to do. I am illustrating all the time, finding ways to become a better artist, watching movies, reading blogs, following my favorite artists online, studying, working on private projects, accepting freelance work, and trying to figure out how to make a short film for myself. It does not matter what your reality job is. Two months ago my reality job was working at an after school program that was not related at all to my dream job. Even if you are in a situation where you don’t like your current job, keep working hard in your free time.The whole goal is to get closer to your dream job and eventually for the reality job and the dream job to be one and the same. Never settle. At each step along the way, always ask yourself, now what?
If you’d like to learn more about Morris or his artwork, you can check out his artwork here: