image for Live illos, Gary Vaynerchuk and Banana Pancakes

Live illos, Gary Vaynerchuk and Banana Pancakes

Published on Monday, 27th March 2017

Our SXSW apprentice Jasmine Thompson tries to sum up her life changing experience at SXSW

It’s Thursday afternoon, and I’m struggling with jetlag.

My flight into Heathrow touched down yesterday morning at 10:08am, and after teething toddlers filling the airplane cabin with their screams for the best part of ten hours, I was definitely struggling. Despite my heavy, exhausted eyes I felt high - the waves of emotion I was feeling in regards to having one of the most life-changing weeks of my life, to being on UK soil again was a big adjustment, and writing this blog post is just me attempting to process it.

For those who don’t know, last year I was lucky enough to become an apprentice with Bristol Media, who partnered with Babbasa- a Bristol based youth organization - to give one young creative person the opportunity to attend SXSW. The festival takes place in Austin, Texas, and I was the one young creative to win this opportunity. That reality was real for everyone else I told, but did not actually become real for me until I was on the plane.

Getting there wasn’t without its complications - one late departure from Heathrow resulted in putting my years of running to good use when I was sprinting through Dallas airport trying to make my connecting flight.   Thankfully I made it, and after a day of travelling I finally arrived in Austin on Thursday night. Within the hour I was at SXSW registration site - through my fuzzy memory of this evening there was a massive buzz amongst the people picking up their badges with me that night. At this point, SXSW had not yet begun, but a wave of excitement had flooded the city, and in a way it was like the calm before the storm.

The first day kicked off on Friday morning, and I began the day by going for pancakes with Ed. What arrived on our plates were like no pancakes I’d seen before - they looked a lot more like a pizza, covered in banana and cinnamon butter (?!!) and set me back a mere $4. Just like the cars here, the food is huge, but this did not reflect within the people. Austin is one of the most active cities in America, and despite the incredible portion sizes, the people here seemed to keep active.

The keynote on Friday was Gary Vaynerchuk. He was full of ideas, drive, motivation and passion, and filled the packed-out ballroom with the same energy he’d clearly gone about applying to his own endeavors. For the first time in a long time, I was listening to someone talk who spoke my language. My own ideologies about life and going about a career in this industry, and insecurities about how to go about tackling this were tapped into and pumped up when I listened to him talk. This was why I was here. I live sketched the keynote. And at the end, I gave it to him. He took a photo with the drawing, and me and then I forgot about it. Over the course of the next few days people began to approach me about the illustration and telling me they’d seen it online. Footage of our encounter had been shared on Gary’s official Youtube channel, and Gary had shared the illustration I tweeted of the talk- and it (kinda) went viral.

The massive amount of free drinks at SXSW was also insanity. We discovered this quickly, and a lot of the buildings and bars local to the festival site had been taken over by huge tech companies such as Panasonic, Youtube and Sony to name a few. These spaces were transformed into parties and tech conventions, and accessible to everyone with a SXSW wristband. Live music was on every street corner, and IBM house was where I spent the rest of my afternoon. This was a tech showcase - some of which improved teaching in schools, and some that based on a few basic taste preferences presented you with your perfect beer. There were people here from various UK agencies, which was massively valuable - the majority of people I’d met so far were American.

Saturday was spent exploring on my own. Being probably the only person without a hangover, I managed to get out early and for an 8k jog along the river with some of the people I’d met at IBM. Afterwards, I headed to the streets of Austin for some urban sketching. Capturing the city as well as the festival was vital if I were to capture the whole SXSW experience. The streets were buzzing, and didn’t take me long to figure out my way around. I went back to the convention centre in time for a keynote from Casey Neistat. Hearing other people’s journeys through life to get to the point of recognition is so important in influencing your own experience.  So far everyone I’d heard speak had a different outlook and attitude to this whole thing, but were all wildly successful. And that’s because they are damn good at what they do. And I want to be too. So above anything SXSW has reinforced that drive within me more than ever.

On Sunday, NASA were talking about their 360 VR experience on Mars, and it was out of this world (quite literally).  Instead of standing at the back and throwing business cards at the panel, which was my original plan, I sketched the session and introduced myself to them after. I learnt they showcase the VR experience at conventions across the US, and there have been graphic novelists and photographers documenting this in the past, meaning there’s an opportunity for me to do so in future. And now I’m one connection away from actually doing that. There was a big UK Agency networking party that evening at one of the hotels, which was another highlight of my trip. It gave me the chance to make connections not just across the UK but on a global scale, which in this industry isn’t always easy. Margaritas and business cards everywhere…

With a very heavy head, I was up at 7am Monday morning to live sketch a UK Science & Innovation session at GB House. Being exposed to something a little different was a good thing, as the focus this year was very much on VR. The sketches are to be used on the report of the session, which will be published at some point over the next month. A group of us also got a tour of Capital Factory, in glass offices that overlooked the entirety of Austin downtown. The Wow Factory next to the convention centre sucked me in for the rest of the day though. The Wow Factory was basically a huge play space where Sony were showcasing their latest tech, robots, and VR gaming technology. It was interactive, fun, and was like looking at the future of gaming. VR ‘suits’ which allow you an entirely immersive gaming experience, and boxes which transport you to different locations all over the world were all situated here. 

VR was a huge theme this year at SXSW, and whilst much of it was entertainment VR, we saw a lot of which was designed to improve quality of life. There was tech designed for people suffering with Alzheimer’s, and could provide an immersive experience full of sounds and smells that remind them of rich experiences in their lives. There was tech for people with PTSD that recreates a stressful experience, and uses technology to reprogramme the brain when these feelings of stress are triggered, as a form of therapy. This had never been seen before. But after 3 days of talks, playtime was due!

The experience of SXSW was like no other. Being there was like being in a different world, and the main thing for me was actually being in a space surrounded by people who were inspired and passionate about what they do for a living. Everyone had the drive to expand, and to connect, to branch further than they already know and into new areas. The opportunity for collaboration in an environment so rich with creativity was massive, and being exposed to this reminded me of why I do what I do. Working within the creative industries has always been my path and that’s non-questionable. But I feel like I’ve been working for something with no idea what the end product could look like, and this felt like exposure to that. It showed me what’s possible when you work hard and dream big because if you put in the work it can take you to crazy heights. I’m prepared more than ever to have more chances in future to see this kind of stuff again. Like, one day it would be great to dine in a hotel restaurant across from Mick Fleetwood again, but at the same time the most important thing is making sure I make the right connections and really allow myself to explore this world. SXSW was about exploring and learning from others more than anything else.

I was reminded of the importance of what I’m doing as a storyteller, as an illustrator, and how I can use these skills to contribute. For this reason, SXSW came at a really important time, I was feeling stuck, like trying frantically to swim my way out of quick sand but getting nowhere. But out of all the advice I received one thing it all had in common was to just keep doing me. And continue to do my own thing. And something great will come. There are so many options and seeing some of them is so beneficial when you’re a young person trying to pave your career path in this confusing world.

So from this, above anything I am thankful, I am motivated, and I am enriched. 

My illustrations from this trip can be found on my website. 

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