Risks and Rewards: MICA Alumni Succeed as Entrepreneurs

Payton Turner ’08 and Brian Kaspr ’06

Creative businesses founded by MICA alumni stretch disciplines and showcase the endless possibilities of a MICA degree.



Established in 2006, New York-based THUSS + FARRELL is the vision of MICA alumni Rebecca Thuss ’95 (general fine arts) and Patrick Farrell ’95 (general fine arts). Partners in both business and life, Thuss and Farrell are married with a daughter and have worked together for the past 23 years. Their firm incorporates a range of disciplines: lifestyle, still-life, and portrait photography; creative direction; crafting; furniture design; graphic design; and set design. THUSS + FARRELL’s notable clients include Target, Chronicle Books, Knock, Inc., Procter & Gamble, The New York Times, and Food & Wine magazine. The duo is equally as successful individually. Thuss is an award-winning photo stylist, style director, wedding designer, and crafter, having worked at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for a decade, and has received six Society of Publication Designers (SPD) Merit Awards for her styling work. Farrell focused on fine woodworking, furniture restoration, and photography after graduating from MICA, and then created Branch Design Office, a graphic design firm that focused on identity and web design. He is also a photography retouching artist. “We both feel that our general fine arts background created a foundation for us to experiment with many different art forms. Our multidisciplinary studio allows us to incorporate our diverse skill sets to produce work that is multilayered. For example, with our book, Paper to Petal, published by Random House, we created and crafted the content, authored the text, styled and photographed the book, and created the graphic design,” Thuss and Farrell said.



PJ Richardson ’00 (graphic design) is director at Laundry, a California-based design and animation studio. Richardson, who partnered with Anthony Liu, ventured into self-employment a few years after graduating from MICA. Employing around 25 staff in addition to freelancers, the firm’s clients include Sons of Anarchy, The Simpsons, Nike, Sony, Eminem, Vevo, The Black Eyed Peas, and The Rolling Stones. At MICA, Richardson says the critique process prepared him to be able to sell his ideas and vision to clients, a critical component of his success now. The design program also taught him to create solutions to design problems that could be translated across various media. With faculty members’ guidance, internship opportunities, and informative guest lectures, Richardson received a true-to-life glimpse into the workforce. “MICA showed me a world of creativity across a multitude of mediums like nothing I had ever seen before. My time there taught me to experiment, work extremely hard, and always put thought behind my craft. What really stuck with me was the idea of pulling from all these different mediums into my design work. MICA has been and always will be the burning foundation to how I approach my design and animation past, present, and future,” Richardson said.


Flat Vernacular

Payton Turner ’08 (painting) and Brian Kaspr ’06 (general sculptural studies) both came to MICA because of the openness that permeated the campus. After meeting here, they took MICA’s concept of collaboration to a new level—they are business partners in New York-based Flat Vernacular, design consorts, and husband and wife. The origins of the company began with Turner’s senior thesis project, when she developed “sticker wallpaper” made up of commercially available stickers. Post-graduation, she was commissioned for similar work for a home in New York. On a professional level, Kaspr shared Turner’s interest in decorating. They saw an opening for niche wallpaper—meticulously designed, limited-edition works of art. Ultimately, they want Flat Vernacular to be perceived as a lifestyle brand, extending what they know about creating living environments beyond wallpaper. After being featured in The New York Times and Elle Décor, among other publications, they are on their way to becoming household names.



David Quattlebaum '91 (painting) is the founder and vice president of development and operations at MedProcure, a company founded in 2007 and based in South Carolina that provides supply management solutions for the healthcare industry. Following graduation from MICA, Quattlebaum purchased his first business, an art gallery in Ellicott City, Maryland. Over the years, he has owned and operated several businesses, and most recently branched into the technology field as a software developer. But he didn’t leave his skills in the arts behind. At MedProcure, he blends his artistic and technical expertise. He directs the software development and deployment process, guiding the design of the user interface, and architects the data structures and how the application stores and accesses data. Quattlebaum also assists in the strategic vision for the company and technical aspects of the sales process. “Whether I am making a painting, developing a piece of software from scratch, or starting a business from the ground up, the process of creation is the same,” Quattlebaum said. “I would credit my arts education with everything I know. As I grew older, I realized that ‘making things’ was what really excited me. Understanding that the creation process can encompass many aspects of a career was key to my success as an entrepreneur and became a strategic advantage I had over others in my field,” he added. For Quattlebaum, there are many paths to becoming a successful artist, not just one. He sees his art education as an advantage, dispelling expressions such as, “get a degree that will make you successful instead of an art degree,” saying, those who discount art degrees “simply do not know enough artists.” His advice for artists: “Understanding yourself and knowing what makes you happy are key in measuring your future as an artist. Don’t let society, or your parents for that matter, dissuade you from your passion."


Gearbox Software

“Now is one of the best times to be an artist—especially if you are in the tech field,” said Brian Martel '93 (printmaking), co-founder, executive vice president, and art director of Gearbox Software, an award-winning developer of interactive entertainment. “Whether you are doing special effects, modeling for gaming and movies, web art, design work, or illustration, every year it gets better and better. But when I look at an artist, I want to know how well [his or her] fundamental training is. Foundation is very important. You have to be able to convey your ideas to the people you are working with,” Martel added. His Texas-based company employs 200 people and has worked with franchises that have defined today’s gaming industry, such as Halo and James Bond, and has created successful franchises like Brothers in Arms and Borderlands. Martel was a transfer student to MICA. His exposure to the gaming industry came as a direct result of the network he built while at the College. He tapped into his MICA network to help him land the contract that helped launch Gearbox. Martel makes a point of realizing the value in every employee, which has helped him create a culture of teamwork at Gearbox where employees think outside the box to figure out the best way to do things. Martel and wife Meghan Martel '95, '96 (general fine arts, Teaching) served as MICA’s Annual Fund co-chairs.