Our lives are like a blank canvass, and we are the artists who will create the drawing and choose and fill the colors. Antonio Reonegro, the creator of Havoc Media Design, is an illustrator, graphic designer, and a photographer who is always out there creating art and drawing in all sorts of weather. He shares the passion and the challenges he’s had as an artist and businessman, and how he was chosen by The Grateful Dead to bring their backstage passes to life. Antonio gives credit to his mentor and teacher who instilled the greatness in him which has contributed a lot to the success he achieved as an artist. He passes on the goodwill by giving back and helping the next generation artists.
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Creating Art with Antonio Reonegro
What does living the life fulfilled mean? How can we rise above our ego? What does enough mean and how can we learn the art of living a better life? The answers lie beyond superficial, what’s external in our lives. Beyond Ego shares in deep dive conversations that bring out the best and the vulnerability of creatives, leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs, executives and all of the individuals who understand and want to go beyond. The readers want to know that you are not alone out there. We can all connect rather than divide. I’m hoping that Beyond Ego provides you with a little kick on your step and a smile on your face.
We have a special guest. I’ve told you this before, OnBeyonders believe that what’s beyond is beautiful. You’re not shackled to the past but ready to live in a more balanced, healthier, present and future. We get our paint brushes in hand and we are able to meet and talk with the artist, Antonio Reonegro of Havoc Media, where they state that the illustration is at the heart of everything we do. It’s where we turn our love for drawing into a valuable resource for our clients. Antonio and I have known each other for maybe about 30 years. I share the same birthday and age with his brother, Benny. When I caught up with him, I learned that he created a new art installation for Jersey City DJ right here in my hometown. I thought I’ve got to get him on this show. Antonio, we welcome you to Beyond Ego. How are you doing?
I’m great, Elizabeth. Thank you for having me on.
Tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your artistry. Antonio, in a nutshell, what inspires you to do what you do every day?
I’m an illustrator, graphic designer and photographer. I was taught by an amazing teacher. He always explained to us, as an artist, as a commercial artist, you always want to create art and not commercial art. He strives to make us what we wanted to be when we grow up. Throughout my career, I’m always striving. Whatever company it is, whether it’s a restaurant or a corporation, at the end of the day, I want to make art for them. Art is so important in this world. That’s what we strive to do on a constant basis. I’m always out there drawing in all sorts of weather. I’m now shooting photos. I’m on oil painting, acrylic painting, anything that gets my message out in what I do.
Antonio, you mentioned that you’re out there drawing in all sorts of weather. Are you on the top of buildings doing things?
Yes, many times I’m on top of the bridge taking photos. When I mean on top of the bridge, I mean climbing up top or I’m out in the ocean on a tug boat. When a shipping container pulls up, they throw down a rope ladder. While the ships are moving, I’m climbing up the rope ladder with all my camera gear on my back or my sketchpad and I’m doing drawings once I get to the top of the ship.It's good to have supportive people around where you can bounce things off even if you don't agree with what they think about your work. Click To Tweet
Most people think of an artist or an illustrator or photographer, they go out and they see you in a beautiful room in a SoHo loft painting away. You’re out there on a tug boat getting a line down to you where you can hop on and then do a drawing. That’s incredible. You started out by talking about your teacher. How would you describe what you learned from your teacher in terms of vulnerability, of going beyond the ego, going beyond that celebrity status of who artists need to be in terms of people? How did your teacher instill that greatness in you at an early age?
He taught us to draw. That was the biggest factor because every artist needs to know how to draw. If you can draw a hand and a foot, you can work anywhere in the world. One of the most important things he taught us was that you’re going to be criticized. Throughout your career, there will be a lot of criticism about what you’re doing. You shouldn’t be hung up on your ego with why someone doesn’t like your work. For example, I did work for the New York Yankees. I was just out of college. I was working for a screen printer in New York City. I drew on location, it’s the way I was trained. I studied at Disneyworld in Florida. We drew every day in Disneyworld from 8:00 in the morning until midnight when the fireworks went off. The screen printer asked me, “We have a job to design a t-shirt for Yankee Stadium. They want you to go there and produce a t-shirt design based on the drawings that you would create at the stadium.” I went there and I sat there for three hours. The stadium was empty. I did all these drawings.
When I showed the manager of merchandising at Yankee Stadium, he looked at it. This was a big giant guy. He looked like he had been sitting in a room for several years smoking a cigar. He looks at the drawings and says, “I hate them all.” I was like, “What?” He goes, “They’re terrible. These are the worst drawings I’ve ever seen in my life. Go back out there and do some more drawings. Come back when you’ve got something good to show me.” At that point, I was ready to leave. I was like, “There’s no way I’m coming back to show this guy my work.” I went back out there and I said, “I can either sit here and do some more drawings or I can leave. My teacher always told me that if you get knocked down, you get right back up and you finish the job.” I sat there. I did a few more drawings. Two hours went by. I went back in. I showed him. He goes, “You’ve got it. These are amazing.” It went from a disaster to something amazing. The Yankees, I ended up doing a finished painting for them. They sold that t-shirt for about ten years at the stadium.
It clearly shows us that here you are, you’re an accomplished artist. You’re celebrating many years in your career. You taught yourself at an early age, right out of college, working with the Yankees. You can either go home or you can try it again in the face of adversity, in the face of destructive words that might get some of us that are weak or have too much of an ego to quit right away. That’s a great lesson. Rejection is very hard for most of us adults and human beings to take either from others or from ourselves. Because we’re in the Beyond Ego phase and talking about vulnerability, what happens when you reject your own work? What is your process by which when you’re sitting there, you’re trying, you’re struggling and you’re rejecting your own work? Tell us what’s that like for you?
It’s tough. You’re your own critic. It’s like working on a computer. Sometimes my computer will crash. Sometimes it’s had enough it will crash. I restart it and things are better again. I have to do the same thing. While I’m walking, I can’t get an idea, I can’t solve it, I need to restart myself. I might stop for the day, go down and shoot some hoops, go for a run. Running is my meditation. It’s when I get to put everything in perspective while I’m doing a few miles on the road. I’ll come back, sit back down, start sketching with a pencil, then things start to click. It’s always good to have supportive people around you that I can bounce things off even if I don’t agree with what they think about my work. It’s good to get an opinion. It puts things in focus. I’m able to push forward and finish the work.
It’s like our own rejection is a reason, a way, a little tap on the shoulder to say, “You need a break. You need to walk away, take a run or go have a cup of tea.” For me, when I’m done with work and I’m not coming up with any idea, I’ll take myself to the movies. I’ll take myself out for a walk as well. I live on the water here overlooking the Statue of Liberty. It’s breathtaking. Your message is great advice when you’re feeling your own self-rejection. We all feel that way whether we’re in a relationship with someone or struggling as an entrepreneur in an office working and we’re not getting something right. We all need to take that pause to be the artist of our lives. I know you’ve had some pretty big struggles in your life but also some big wins. Let’s start with the wins. I know your story about the Grateful Dead. Can you tell us a little snippet of how you met the Grateful Dead?
I was dating my wife at the time. She asked me if I wanted to see this band. She said, “It’s the Grateful Dead.” I was like, “Who are they?” I wasn’t a big fan. I asked her, “Are those tickets free?” She goes, “Absolutely. Let’s go.” We had tickets and backstage passes to go on stage with the band and hang out. It’s a pretty incredible experience.
They had asked you to draw with them. You didn’t go to a concert. You were like, “I’m going to pitch them.” Did they come to you?
Yes. I was out of school for a few years. The manager came over to me and he said, “What do you do?” I said, “I’m an artist. I graduated from college.” He said, “We’re always looking for new art. The next time we come into town, show me some sketches and we’ll take it from there.” I figured, “The next time they’re going to be in town is a year from now, so I don’t have to do anything until next year.” Sure enough, they were back in town two months later because they toured so much. My wife and I, at the time who was my girlfriend, we went to the show. The first thing the manager said to me was, “Where are my sketches?” I was like, “I left them at home. I didn’t think you’d want to see them tonight at the show.” He said, “Bring them to our hotel.” They were staying at the Waldorf. “Give me the sketches tomorrow morning at 9:00.” Right after intermission, I grabbed my wife and I said, “We’ve got to get home.” She goes, “Why?” I go, “I’ve got a lot of work to do.” I stayed up all night and I did a whole series of sketches. I stayed up until the time I had to leave. I went to New York City and I gave him the sketches.
Did you end up working with them for quite some time?
It was eight or nine years I worked with them up until Jerry Garcia passed away. After that, I ended up doing projects here and there for them. They kept me pretty busy over those years.
That’s an awesome story. When you’re in a position of vulnerability and you’re asked to do something, you’re asked to go beyond your comfort zone. What you did was you left during the intermission of the Grateful Dead. You went home and you drilled all night long, coming back to the beautiful hotel, then you got this job to create all those backstage passes. The moral and the message is so beautiful, Antonio, because whenever we’re faced with adversity or we’re faced with a challenge, some of us freeze. We get nervous. We trip over ourselves. Your story is a sense of light and a sense of hope for us to go beyond and to challenge ourselves in that face of adversity.
The reason why I wanted to bring up the Grateful Dead is not that I’m a fan and I listened to them throughout my college years and growing up, but the Grateful Dead is a wonderful leadership story. Antonio, I don’t know if you know about this, but they challenged the boundaries of music in general in their age and genre. They didn’t want to put out records at the time. Their record company kept saying, “Put out a record.” Instead, they chose to tour and that’s how they broke the mold. That’s another reason for all of us leaders out there to think differently. How are you going to grow your business? How are you growing to grow your mindset, your career, your passion or whatever is inside of you by doing something different?
If you look it up, if you google at any point in time the Grateful Dead and how they got their message out, how they branded, you’ll read about this cool story of them going on tour versus everyone else putting out a record. What they did was they got live in front of people. Most of us are too afraid to pick up the phone these days or to go into a place and say who you are and pitch yourself. I love that story of the Grateful Dead. I love the fact that you got to work with them. You took the adversity. You got on your horse and you started writing. That’s a cool win story. What has been your biggest struggle and how did you overcome it?It's so important to the pass that goodwill on to other people. Click To Tweet
My biggest struggle would probably be business. We’re so focused on our art. You want to make great art. You want to have fun or just make great art. I want to makeover during the day. With me, it’s understanding how business works and selling yourself. Many times, people will ask me to do stuff for free. You always put in that spot like, “I want to do it.” Sometimes I don’t even want to get paid. I want to do the job. At the end of the day, us artist, we have bills to pay. We have a charge. I think to understand handling art as a business was probably the hardest thing for me to understand growing up in the art world.
I know from my own world growing up with artists, I launched the first marketing firm for dance. I worked with a lot of artists from Broadway to New York City to LA. How to get that business mindset into the artist’s mind where we want to create and we want to share our passion with the world. It’s such a great lesson. How did you overcome that or what is one piece of advice that you’ve learned or instilled in your own practice? Obviously, you’re continuing every day. We’re all evolving as we grow and age with wisdom. What’s one piece of advice that you have for someone out there, whether you’re an artist or not? I know a lot of entrepreneurs. I know even for myself sometimes I don’t know how to charge. In the beginning, people ask me to do a lot of things for free. I did them for free. I got caught up in that. You’ve got to separate that. What’s one piece of advice that you can give to our OnBeyonders about how you respond to someone that says, “We want you to do this, but we want you to do it for free?” What would your response be now that you have that wisdom?
You have to be willing to walk away. There’s a value in what you do and the work that you produce. Whether you’re laying bricks or you’re creating art, there’s a value in it. When you put a price tag on your work, it adds value. They appreciate it more when you charge them. A lot of times my teacher said to me, “If you do it for free, they’ll put their coffee cup on it but if you charge them, they’ll frame it and hang it on a wall.” That always stuck to me. He said, “Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price. You’re not looking to overprice yourself but charge a fair price. Standby and stand your ground.” That is the biggest thing. We’re so intimidated when someone says, “I can get it done. Someone else can do it for $500 less.” I’m not the person for you. We need to go elsewhere. You have to be able to walk away a lot of times. That’s hard for an artist to do especially when it’s such a cool job and you want to do the work.
It takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of confidence to do that. Antonio, I’m sure that the first time that you ever said no to a job like that and you walked away, you must have felt like $1 million. You must have grabbed your wife and said, “We’re going out for a martini. This is a good day.” That feeling, that inertia, that drive, that’s the feeling that you want to have because that’s when you feel your own value, right?
That’s what we’re striving for here in leadership and in going beyond and finding our way is when we can say no to things because of our value, that’s when we can learn to become better leaders. From illustration to photography to drawing with pencil, you’ve had some crazy jobs from on the water, on the top of the bridges and to the Yankee Stadium. I’d have to say that a great analogy here would be you’re starting with a blank canvas and/or taking a canvas that you’re trying to create something that’s not happening. Being an artist is very similar to being a CEO or an entrepreneur. You get up. You have a blank canvas and sometimes that canvas is from the night before, the week before, with all the splotches on it, lots of different colors or different projects that didn’t make it. How do you either paint over the chaos or decide to change direction to create something new? A lot of our audience are dreamers and doers, so I know that they’re going to learn your advice. How do you make the switch of saying, “I’m going to do something new or I’m going to recreate what I’ve started to make it better?”
I always go back to my professor because he was such a mentor in my life. He has so much wisdom. He always pushed us to create our own projects. He said to me, “Recessions will come and go. The phone will ring and sometimes for months it won’t ring. You can’t sit there and wait for that phone to ring when you’re freelancing. You have to make the phone ring. How do you do that? You have to create your own projects.” While I’m out there, I have a list of projects that I want to work on. In my downtime, when I’m not working, I’m working. I’m always creating ideas. When I’m done with a project that I feel close to me, I put it on a shelf. He used to always say to us all times, “Your library should be filled with projects that you’ve worked on, have started or completed because someday the phone is going to ring and someone is going to ask you for that project.” I’m telling you it happens all the time. I work on an idea, I put it on a shelf, then years later someone will say to me, “You have photos of buildings in New York City?” I’m like, “Absolutely. I have a whole portfolio of historical buildings of New York City.” That’s how we’re able as a studio to maintain ourselves during the tough times.
It even goes back to your advice about when you get stuck and when you trip over something. One of the things that you said to us was when you get stuck, it’s good to have a support system of the right people around you. It’s very similar to having the right people around us. We have to have the right projects around us that we’re creating. What you’re saying is don’t be lazy. Don’t get stuck up on having that phone ring or not ring. It’s having that mentality of consistent commitment to the art and the craft of what you’re put on this Earth to do, what you were destined to become, the legacy you’re creating and putting your life in action. It doesn’t always have to be work. I’m thinking about New York City. A lot of us in this area on the East Coast are very destined to work. We forget to have a break and create. What you’re saying is when you stop and take that pause and you create this library of opportunities that you’ve created around you, that opens the door to the phone ringing and then sharing your truth or your passion of something that you’ve created from that downtime. A lot of us don’t have that downtime.
I was already married. I study with my teacher up until the day he died. He gave me a project to photograph buildings. I used to commute with my wife every morning. She works at a building on 26th Street and I worked on 34th Street. While we take the express bus in, I’d walk her to her job and then I walked back to 34th street. On my way walking with her, I photographed the building that she worked in. Every morning, I took photos. At night, I’d go back and take more photos. I spent probably about three years photographing that building. As I compiled all those photos, I made a presentation to her company. I presented to them and they loved the idea. They loved doing a calendar on this building because it was a historic building. It worked that great.
After a few weeks, we had a call that the salespeople didn’t want to distribute a calendar of black and white photography to their clients of the photos that I had shot so the project got killed. I was disappointed with how it all turned out. A few months went by and my wife called me up crying and she said, “You’re not going to believe this.” I go, “What’s the matter?” She goes, “They produced the calendar that you proposed to them.” I said, “How is that possible?” She says, “They went and they reshot all your photos with another photographer and produced the calendar.” I said, “That is terrible.” My wife was devastated. To make a long story short, I hired a lawyer. I did get my rights. I did get paid for the job.
What was interesting is it bothered me for a little bit, but what ends up happening is I started doing work for shipping terminals in Staten Island. I couldn’t get access to that terminal. A great guy by the name of Jim Barry got me access. At the time right after 9/11, no one was allowed to go photograph in the shipping terminals. Uncle Jim got me access to these terminals. He got me access into Staten Island. I started photographing. That project that I shot of the building in New York City, I presented it to them at the shipping terminal. For the past several years, I have been shooting calendars for this company because of a project that went bad that the company in Staten Island love so much. To this day I’m still shooting for that company.
This is an eighteen-year project. Jim Barry is my father. I didn’t know this story.
His introduction and his passion to get me in there led my career as an industrial photographer.
What you’re saying rings so true. Many of us get stuck and hung up on projects that go awry. People are backstabbers. People will do things behind our back. We get thrown under the bus. We can either choose to complain about it or take action. Antonio, what you did was you took action and made something that was not so great into something that was extraordinary. The other thing that you did was you made the ask. You had the courage to ask a friend for advice or help or to get in and to do something new. That created an evolution of eighteen years’ worth of industrial photography work. That’s an incredible story.
Many times people will ask to do stuff for free, but at the end of the day, we have bills and cards to pay. Click To Tweet
Asking people for advice and favors can help. People always come to my aid. I’m always surrounded by good-hearted people that are always willing to help me out. Now that I’m much older, back then I was only 25, 26 years old when I started, the younger generation will come to me and they’ll ask. I always try to do what people did to me to give back and to help the next generation of artists or illustrators or even a friend who’s starting a new business. It’s so important to pass that goodwill to other people.
Beyond Ego, in general, is just that. It’s having humility, being humble as much as you’ve worked with all of these great celebrities and have had so much success. There are a lot of people that are either/or. They’re too busy for people or they’re too proud to make the ask. Those are great lessons to give back to the next generation, to never forget where you came from. This entire time you’ve talked tremendously about your mentor, your teacher. That’s so important to have leaders and have mentors in our life that we can reach out to and we can go to for guidance, help and support. It’s one of the reasons why I created this brand. I’ll also be celebrating my eighteen-year anniversary of being a solo entrepreneur. I think so much has changed from the beginning. We can always go beyond our ego, beyond who we think we ought to be in any phase of our life to become a better version of ourselves. You’ve done that. I’m so happy to have had you as a guest. Antonio, I’m going to have a little fun with you. What I want you to do is I’m going to say one word and you’re going to give me a one-word answer, the first thing that comes to mind, but you can’t say the same word twice. Painting?
Havoc Media? You’re supposed to say the best. I love catching people up on this little game. It’s fun to see people thinking. Even the artists have a little bit of a struggle getting those colors on the canvas. Antonio, you have been so amazing to speak with. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you that you want to share with us? Anything new coming up that we should know about you?
I started a company called I Am Creative. This is a new approach to art. It’s pretty cool the way we work. Some people have large homes, some people have small homes, but no matter what size your home is, some people don’t know how to populate art on their walls. They don’t know what to buy. They don’t know where to go. Sometimes they feel intimidated by going to a gallery in New York City. What we have done is we go in and learn about the family and then we teach them about art. We dig a little bit. We find out what they love, what’s dear to them, then we produce sketches. We show them sketches. When they pick, then we create either photography or painting or sculpture or whatever it might be.
There’s a connection to their life and this art. When the art is finally up there, it gives them something that they were a part of in the creation. It’s their feeling with how they want it to be expressed. That’s what we do. We dream for them. We were able to translate it. That’s the most exciting part of our career is we’re able to paint and do what we love and able to share with people that need art for their homes. Sometimes you’ll find something that you absolutely have to have. Sometimes walls will go blank for years because you can’t decide what to put on them. We’re there to fill that little bit of void and help populate that wall with something that you love. That’s the latest project. Always direction with our company, our career and our life, that’s what we love doing.
Where can we find this? What’s the website for I Am Creative?
I have some photography I’ll have to show you, as well as some art on my walls from an artist out in New Orleans. It’s from O’Neill Studios. He has beautiful paintings. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to dip my toes into art. I’m still getting there. I’ll have to look into this website. If you are interested in art and photography, take a look at HavocMedia.com, go to IAmCreativeArt.com. Thank you so much for being a wonderful guest. We’ve come to the sun setting on this episode. I ask you to think about how you can create your very own canvas in life and fill it with color. We’re all artists of our lives, painting and drawing inside and outside the lines so make it count. If you’re looking to go beyond your ego and you wish to further connect with me, your host, Elizabeth Barry, I encourage you to visit ElizabethBarryConsulting.com. Follow me on LinkedIn for tips on living the life fulfilled. Don’t forget to join our Beyond Ego Facebook Group because that’s where you’re going to see some of the links to Antonio’s work, Antonio’s wisdom and advice. As always in life, let’s go beyond.
- Havoc Media
- I Am Creative
- LinkedIn – Elizabeth Barry
- Beyond Ego Facebook Group
- https://www.Instagram.com/ElizabethBarryLeadership http://www.Reonegro.com/REONEGRO/ABOUT.html http://www.Havocmedia.com/HAVOC_2014_2/ILLUSTRATION_2_2.html
About Antonio Reonegro
Antonio Reonegro is an artist and graphic gadfly. Read on with a smile… Creator of joyful reportage. Seriously educated. Pratt Institute. David Passalacqua School of Illustration. Chosen by The Grateful Dead to bring the backstage pass to life. Creator of HAVOC. Media Design. Book covers. Corporate branding. Logos. Murals. TV. Film. Penguin USA. ABC Sports. Ford. Monday Night Football. Soft. Ads. Posters. Dreams. That’s Antonio.