Despite having the word “creative” in his title, Lyft creative director Jesse McMillin admits that sometimes his work puts limits on his imagination. “I’m one of those people who it’s hard to turn my brain off–it’s constantly going with a million ideas,” he told Fast Company. “All of those can’t be used in the specific projects that you might have for a commercial purpose. Those types of projects are very restrictive.”
Instead of letting his many ideas become a distraction, he diverts them to another more free-form endeavor: abstract oil painting.
McMillin has been painting and drawing since he was a child. Before deciding to pursue more lucrative endeavors, he studied fine art at the San Francisco Art Institute. About halfway through the degree he switched his major to the more marketable major of graphic design. “I was having the typical struggle that a lot of artists have, wondering if you’re going to make a living when you get out of school,” he said. He chose well, having had a successful career in graphic design and branding. However, while pursuing a career in design, he has never stopped painting.
These days the self-described insomniac spends the hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m in his studio, an unfinished garage space beneath his house that he describes as “my little cave,” and paints. His latest series focused on the idea of stars as both “a symbolic icon that just about anybody can understand and reference, and these mysterious things,” he said. He held an exhibit in his studio and sold 10-15 paintings for between $150 and $1,500.
Financial success of any sort from his art is a relatively new phenomenon, although McMillin doesn’t do it for the money. He’s probably doing pretty well at Lyft.
At Lyft, McMillin is responsible for the overall brand experience–everything from the way the car-sharing service brands the vehicles to the rider experience. New Yorkers can thank McMillin for shaving Lyft’s signature pink mustaches for the city’s summer launch. Before coming to Lyft he spent seven years at Virgin America, where he oversaw popular projects like revamping the lame in-flight safety video into something passengers actually enjoyed watching.
Sometimes McMillin’s after-hours hobby and his work projects blend. A recent obsession with geometric shapes in his artwork manifested in a new cup design at Virgin America. “The two really fed off of each other,” he said.
More often, his painting doesn’t directly feed into his work, but indirectly helps him focus his creative energies. “It’s that release valve; it’s that ability to get those ideas out–to try interesting ideas that might not work,” he says.