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Soren Petersen

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The Value of Creative Mentors

Posted: 08/09/11 07:21 PM ET

In my 18 years in the cutthroat world of product and automotive design, I have seen designers compete fiercely to have their car or cell phone designs selected for production, often hiding their most promising concepts from their colleagues, to prevent them from stealing their ideas. However, the most successful designers I have known were the ones who collaborated, and then created shared value for the world based upon each other's ideas.

As Jack Nicholson once said, "When you have made it to the top, you've got to send the elevator back down."

The famous artist, illustrator and photographer, Per Volquartz, was an example of one of the most amazing artistic mentors that I have been privileged to know.

He was the cousin of my brother's friend in Denmark, and the only Dane I had any access to upon my arrival in Los Angeles as a struggling student back in '92. Needless to say, I beat a path to his door and Per quickly took me under his wing. He worked with me on my portfolio, politely injecting suggestions for what must have seemed at the time like rank beginner's work. Per showed me how to create graphics on a Mac and how to program a website, before most people could spell "www."

Per was known to all as an incorrigible optimist, and although he had many severe health challenges of his own, over the years, when things got tough, a good talk and a cup of coffee was never more than a phone call away. Per had the gift of kindness to all and of living fully present in the moment. Problems were always framed as opportunities and his encouragement always seemed to propel one into new and inspiring projects.

Last weekend, we came together to celebrate Per's 64th birthday, which, as it happened, was also the day of his memorial service. This was our opportunity to pay homage to his many contributions and his gift of service to others. Artist friends from all over the world came to honor him and to speak of how inspiring he was to them personally.

As I listened to the many tearful speeches and conversations, I learned that Per had been mentoring countless numbers of now successful artists, as well as the every day folk who crossed his path. Always making everyone feel special, he had helped many expand their insights into what made art great. This single artist, through his collaborative endeavors, had helped to raise the bar of creative art in Southern California and also in China, among the artist community there.

So, if your dream is to create immense value for yourself and your community, caring and mentoring for others is the best investment you will ever make. For not only will you harvest goodwill galore, your art will skyrocket, your personal stock value will never tank and your life will be richer for it. I guarantee it!