The GIOGRAFIK Story

 
Photo | Stephanie Pilon

Photo | Stephanie Pilon

Thinking about what to write for this website’s About page has felt daunting to me from the moment I knew it had to be done. I toyed with the idea of getting someone else to do it. It takes a specific type of perspective and self-awareness to write about yourself properly. But in the end, it is my story, and who better to tell it than me. How do I make my experience sound interesting? Unique? I went back and forth over what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, had it looked over by friends, edited, rewritten... the whole nine yards. I left it alone for weeks on end, hoping that the literary equivalent to the Keebler elves would magically take care of it for me.

But just like everything else, I knew I had to do it myself. One day while absentmindedly staring at the GIOGRAFIK logo, I had one of those ‘uh-doy’ moments. The silhouetted speech bubble was the answer staring me in the face. I’ve always been notorious for being a chatterbox, so it just made sense that the tone of the site would be conversational.

Now let’s go back a bit...

Baby Gio with a fan, circa 1993.

Baby Gio with a fan, circa 1993.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I was that kid: the doodling dandy, constantly sketching on every surface that found its way in front of me. Scrap paper, magazine covers, notebooks, even myself… To the point where I’d upset my Nonna for constantly vandalizing her newspaper. It wasn’t my fault that she didn’t appreciate that I’d given a fabulous new set of eyelashes, hair extensions and lip liner to the politician on the cover.

From the early days of constant rehearsals as Baby Spice’s understudy, to when I started this journey, my parents have always supported my creativity. First they tried the sports thing with me and I was not having it… oh, at all. They insisted on bringing me week after week until my fits of anger were so rehearsed and perfected, they gave up completely. If anything, they should have thrown me into an acting class. My flair for the dramatic was very evident. Eventually, having accepted defeat, my mom switched gears and signed me up at the tender age of 10 for art classes at The De Paoli Studio of Fine Art in Windsor, Ontario. This is where I first met my Tribe. 

The De Paoli’s were a family of local artists that used their incredible talents to teach artistically inclined kids how to hone their skills through a series of traditional training exercises. I always looked forward to class. It was my favourite thing! Being surrounded by other kids who liked to draw and paint like I did made me see that I wasn’t alone. I’m sorry, but running around a field kicking a ball was not fun for me. The environment of the studio was collaborative and engaging: be presented with an art style, learn some history, create. I was actually engaged. For the next 5 years, my mother would chauffeur my swishy little self to class every weekend, sometimes taking on the role of a Nascar driver just to get me there on time. The Petrucci’s were not known to be punctual back in the day.

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Skip forward a few more years and the time had come for me to choose a direction for my post-secondary education. I hadn’t taken art seriously during high-school, a time in my life I now lovingly refer to as the Dark Ages. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to pursue any schooling in that realm. I was lovingly reminded over and over: “You have to make a decision! Do you want to end up on the streets?” Leave it to my Italian upbringing to strike fear into my soul, which actually lit the proverbial fire under my ass to make it happen. 

In the end, Mama came to the rescue once again: she had done her own research, knowing 17 year-old Gio would have rather watched Paris Hilton get tangled in a chicken coop on The Simple Life than do it himself. She presented me the idea of applying for the Graphic Design program at OCAD University in Toronto. Finally! A reason to leave home and parental support? In my mind, I was already gone!

When I moved in 2007, my life went from black and white to IMAX in a matter of hours. I was (sort of) living on my own, able to come and go as I pleased, stay out late without having to explain myself… I felt like I’d been given a new lease on life. Alternatively, as I spent more time in the city meeting other Torontonians, I felt as though everyone else had been given the handbook on how to win at life. There must have been a mix-up at the post office with my copy.

My undergrad was flying by, real quick. Nearing the finish line, I didn’t have enough foresight to really think about what I wanted to do once it was over. Truthfully, I was avoiding thinking about it because it terrified me. I was just getting comfortable with my life, and before I knew it, it was time for another adjustment. With my random selection of courses, I hoped something would stick enough to inspire me. By 3rd year, I’d found it: Editorial Design. It was a mashup of everything I liked about design. I actually had a connection to the work. What I came to realize was that editorial was about two things: communication and collaboration.

By the end of that year, my internal dialogue sounded like a broken record. ‘Thesis is coming. Thesis is coming. Thesis is coming.’ Karen Simpson, my instructor at the time, suggested I create a product that I felt didn’t exist on the market, and blend it with my love of editorial design. I mean, I had a TON of opinions on what could be done better but had no idea what that thing could be. 

Work hard, play harder. That was my approach to life throughout my 20s and looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. I started going out to clubs and raves, being exposed to nightlife in the city. This turned me on to the club kid subculture from the 1990s, and subsequently, I became obsessed. I wanted to be one of them. The only disconnect was I didn’t dress in in the way most club kids would, but it heavily influenced my creative output in school. I convinced myself that spending countless sweat-blurred hours at gay clubs, dancing to deafening house music like a red inflatable tube man outside a car dealership, was not only time well spent, but most definitely research. And I was right.

At that point, what I needed most was the idea. One day after writing an exam on the art of the African Diaspora, I sauntered over to Butterfield Park for a smoke and an iced coffee. The lifeblood of my degree. The semester was coming to a close, and of course ‘Thesis is coming’ played in my head for the 145,684th time. I flipped through a copy of a free local LGBTQ+ focused periodical that I had in my bag. I used it primarily to check club listings to scout out where my next all-night-drunken-dance-a-thon would be. Or to look at pictures of hot guys. Occasionally I would read the articles for actual content… but it was mostly for the hot guys. I sat under the giant coloured pencil sticks that held the school together, tossing the magazine aside thinking that Toronto needed better magazines for gays. And that’s when I had what I call a download from the Universe.  

Photo | Stephanie Pilon

Photo | Stephanie Pilon

It was as though every brain cell I had murdered from all the drinking and partying I’d done had simultaneously risen from the dead to tell me what I already knew: I just needed to stop overthinking and pay attention to what was right in front me. I spent so much time getting into any trouble I could find, that I’d been subconsciously collecting data. I had everything I needed to get going that I started mapping out ideas over the summer before my final year. See Mom? All those sleepless, drunken nights weren’t a complete waste of time and money. 

Once I knew what I wanted to produce, the only way I was going to make it happen was through collaboration. I knew that I had enough friends I could ask to help make this happen, and they were all on board to get involved.

That’s when Beau Magazine was born.

Frantically designing the magazine while researching everything I could about editorial design, I envisioned the finished product to be a collective of artists, writers, fashion designers and illustrators who were making waves in the community. I loved my friends and their work. By the grace of the small but fiercely talented community of creatives I had in Toronto, I collected a ton of unique content and developed plenty of interesting content that would stuff the magazine.

Photo | Melissa Jean Clark.

Photo | Melissa Jean Clark.

Photoshoots were being booked, articles written and most importantly, Beau was taking shape. I always liked the idea of being a connector, someone who brings people from all parts of my life together. I’ve been told that my infamous parties were exactly that. If any of you reading this remembers Beardmas, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It only made sense to apply that approach to my work. I was creating my own collective: I was Warhol and Beau was my Interview.

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With the concept of Beau Mag pinned for future exploration and graduation finally behind me, I dove head-first into all of the gigs! I collaborated with fashion atelier VAWK on the SS’13 collection, designed textiles for WORTH. by David C. Wigley’s menswear collection and designed a one-of-a-kind limited edition tank / t-shirt celebrating World Pride in Toronto in collaboration with Over The Rainbow. Everything was moving along nicely, and I felt like my career was on track… but quickly realized that I needed to pay my bills. So I did what most young designers would: I checked myself into Corporate Rehab in order to find a steady income. 

Photo | Steve Alkok (Shot of WORTH. Runway)

Photo | Steve Alkok (Shot of WORTH. Runway)

I booked a meeting with a local talent scout that offered portfolio reviews to young creatives looking to find the next gig. No idea where to start, I hoped that this meeting would enlighten me on what my life was going to look like. My portfolio at that point was a blend of illustrations, collage work, a few one-off stationery projects I’d done for friends and the bulk of the runway work I’d done up until that point. To me, I was as good as hired.

The woman I’d met with wore a black tailored blazer over a skin-tight red dress, her glasses barely hanging onto the end of her nose. Her dark hair was pulled back, so tightly it looked as though the permanent look of disdain she had for me was almost neutral. “Well, you’ve got talent. But you’re going to have a hard time finding any real work. Do you have any corporate work? People want to see corporate work. I think you need some time to build more experience before you’ll be taken seriously. Think corporate.” 23 year-old Gio's sass levels were bubbling up under the crooked smile he was forcing. She abruptly ended the meeting, and as I left her office feeling angry at the fact that she’d dismissed me so quickly, my only thought was that I'd prove her wrong.

Influence Marketing on one of our legendary retreats!

Influence Marketing on one of our legendary retreats!

A few short months later, I wound up in an interview at Influence Marketing, an agency specializing in Experiential Marketing. This was it! They gave me a one-off assignment to test me on, where I designed my first pitch deck. It was presented to adidas, and we won the business. After a few months of freelancing, they offered me a full-time position and I continued to grow in that role for the following 3 years.

Being the only designer at Influence, I had no choice but to step up my creative game. The old adage ‘Fake it til you make it’ was basically my mantra as my role grew within the company. I wore many, many hats through it all. I learned so much in such a short span of time, I can’t imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t dragged my butt to and from Mississauga every day for 3 years.

GIOGRAFIK Booth at Windsor PrideFest (2016)

GIOGRAFIK Booth at Windsor PrideFest (2016)

Never an underachiever, my side hustle was growing as well. I took on any freelance opportunity that came my way. It was another outlet for the creativity I had to tone down at my day job.

The year of my 28th birthday, with my Saturn Return coming in hot, I left Influence Marketing and Toronto in one fell swoop, hoping to find what it was I was really meant to do. On paper, I was living the dream. A hard-working, 27 year-old graphic designer with high-profile campaigns under my belt, I was being primed to become Art Director. Everyone around me was telling me how lucky I was to be moving ahead so quickly in my career at such a young age. The issue I had with all this was that I felt disconnected to the path I was clearly on.

Toronto Pride Crew (2016)

Toronto Pride Crew (2016)

That big life change led to a lot of questions that I think everyone asks themselves at some point: What is it that will fulfill me in life? What do I want to be? Who do I want to be? How can I make my mark? This was the thing that plagued me, just like when I had to think about what I wanted to take in University, just like when I had to figure out what I wanted to do for my thesis. The cycles in my life seemed to be about making a major life choice, live that reality until it started to feel stagnant, and then change again. But this time, I felt like I couldn’t coast anymore. It was time to make it work. Tim Gunn got it. Now I had to, otherwise, I’d end up in the same spot again in a few years feeling unmotivated to create.

I took some time to do the stereotypical “finding of self” that most millennials do. I started to really pay attention to what was happening around me, as well as the energetic output that I was producing. I discovered yoga, which changed the game for me. It chilled me out in a way that I had never felt before as a young person. I knew this was something that I wanted to pursue. Not only for the grounding it created in my life but feeling a sense of community. After about a year of jumping from gig to gig, while continuing to build my freelance business, I knew that I needed to get serious about what it was I wanted to build for myself in this lifetime.

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By mid-2017, I felt it was time to start my own company. The only thing standing in my way was naming the damn thing. I meditated, sketched, held late-night brainstorm sessions with friends over Skype, writing down anything and everything that would come up. I did anything I could to manifest the name. My notebook eventually looked like an artistic toddler with an insanely advanced vocabulary got hold of it after raiding the marker section of Michael’s. Once again, the answer was staring me in the face, but I had to go through the motions to bring it to life. 

I was hanging out with my friend Samantha Walker, owner of The Art Lab Windsor about what the company’s message would be and what it should be called. “Of course your business is going to be about your creativity, but honestly, you’re the product. It’s about Gio.” That stuck in my mind because she was right.

All of this time and research culminated with me constantly thinking about the name. I always had paper with me. One day, I absentmindedly wrote down GIOGRAFIK on a pink Post-It, and there it was. Another download from the Universe.

With everything I’ve experienced, both professionally and personally, I feel as though Beau Magazine was what laid the groundwork for me to explore my own creative pursuits. A project that I created from scratch, for myself. Not a client, not for a job. It was a visual representation of everything I loved: art, creating, photography, my friends, collaborative pursuits, the list goes on.

Without knowing it, Beau was the inspiration for GIOGRAFIK. Just like the rest of my life, my creative past came back from beyond the grave to inspire my professional future. I thought back then that I had no idea what I was doing, fumbling my way through life. At this stage in the game, I see that the path had been laid for me, and I continue to walk it.