While the stereotype of the creative arts is often that of people jealously guarding their ideas from those aching to steal, that is more likely to be a fantasy created by television and the movies rather than reality.

Collaboration is often the key to more creativity and a better end result, says designer #b#Ronald Cala#/b#. In fact, he firmly believes that two heads, or maybe three or four, are always better than one.

Cala will be one of two dozen guest speakers at the seventh annual Thinking Creatively conference, a two-day event for people in creative arts fields. “Co-Create” is the theme of this year’s conference, which includes both nationally and internationally recognized professionals from the fields of graphic, industrial and interior design, advertising, branding, visual marketing, corporate communications, and creative thinking.

The conference will be held on Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, at 8 a.m. at Kean University in Union. Cost: $225. Visit www.thinkingcreatively.org.

“I’ve always liked to work with others; it’s more fun,” says Cala, whose topic for the conference is the “Art of Collaboration.” Cala is the art director for CMYK magazine and the founder or co-founder of three design companies. Calagraphic Design, his main company, is based in Elkins Park. He is also an adjunct instructor at Tyler School of Art at Temple University, where he received his BFA in 2006 and his MFA in 2008.

Cala credits high school teachers who thought his behavior was poor and a mother who tricked him into going to college for his current career. “The teachers wouldn’t let me into the regular art classes because they said I talked too much, so all that was left was a computer design course,” he says. “I found I was very intrigued by machines and they became my main thing.” He is mainly known for his computer-generated illustration and design work.

Never interested in school, he told his mother that he only wanted to apply to two-year art programs. She insisted he take his SATs and apply to at least one four-year school. Temple was right in his home town.

“When I got accepted she canceled all of my other applications without telling me, so I was pretty much stuck,” he says. These days, his mom likes to say she told him so, and points with pride to an impressive collection of national and international exhibitions, publications, and awards.

“As creative people, we often blindly say to our equally creative friends, ‘We should work together sometime,’ but that is easier said than done,” says Cala. He defines collaboration as “when two people work together in the hopes of producing something better than each individual could create on his own.”

#b#Choosing collaborators#/b#. The first rule to keep in mind when choosing someone to collaborate with, no matter what type of project you are working on, Cala says, is to find people who have complementary skills. “Look for someone who does the opposite of you. If you are a beautiful illustrator, look for a collaborator who is an excellent designer or is great with typography.”

“When I look for a collaborator I look for someone whose skills are really impressive,” he says. “Then I think to myself, ‘If I had that skill what would I do with it?’”

It is often a process of trial and error to find who you collaborate best with. “I know a lot of talented people who wouldn’t necessarily work out as partners,” he says.

#b#Approaching collaborators#/b#. It can be easiest to talk about collaboration with someone whose reputation or experience is less than yours. “I often look for someone who has less experience. I want them to come out of the project with new skills,” Cala says. He also finds he often has to approach several people before finding the person who is as interested in the project, and has time to work on it.

Conversely, it can be difficult to approach a person who has a larger reputation or higher position than you have. In that case it is often best to try to get to know the person before approaching him with a request to work together. “Find a way to develop a relationship with that person,” says Cala. “I’m big on networking. These days you can even start to chat with someone on FaceBook first.”

Approach potential collaborators with an understanding of their point of view, he says. “Just saying you have a great idea can be annoying. Instead, explain to the person what they are going to get out of it.” If you don’t know the person well, make sure that your approach is very businesslike and professional.

#b#Finding your work style#/b#. There are as many ways to collaborate as there are individuals, but if a project is to succeed, it is important that collaborators become comfortable with each other’s working style.

One style of collaboration is for each person to do the project separately, then come together to see whose ideas are best.

“That’s not the way I work, though,” says Cala. He prefers to divide the project into the separate parts that each person handles best. It is important in this type of collaboration, however, that one person is chosen as a project director and that everyone participating in the project understands and agrees to that.

#b#When collaboration fails#/b#. Even when a project succeeds, the collaboration can still be a failure. For Cala, one definition of failure is when the project “is no more creative than something each person could have done on their own.”

Another type of failure is when one person takes over the project and uses his collaborators as “hired help,” rather than creative partners. In that situation the final product will be stamped with only one person’s style, rather than a blending of styles and influences. If that happens, “I’d rather not even put my name on it,” Cala says.

In the end, a great collaboration is an expression of the styles and skills of everyone involved, and it creates something new and better. “It’s a blending of styles, but it still looks like the product of one brain and one set of hands. That’s great collaboration,” he says.

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