Throughout his career, Sheldon Popiel has proven you don’t have to starve to be an artist.
Popiel’s artistic talents — he studied painting, illustration and photography at the University of Alberta — led him to work as a graphic artist, which he later parlayed into a successful marketing and branding career.
“I’ve always done what I was passionate about,” says Popiel about his decision to pursue art, even though, at first, he didn’t really know where it would take him.
In 1999, Popiel worked as the art director of Eyewire, a Calgary stock photography company. Eyewire owned a large database of photos, illustrations and typefaces that it would sell to clients — mostly newspapers, magazines, advertising companies and marketing firms — to use in their publications and advertising campaigns.
In his role at Eyewire, Popiel addressed what he saw as a flaw in the industry: no one was using clever marketing to sell these images to their clients. By speaking to “creatives” in their own language, through well-designed websites and witty promotional materials, he sucked them in as paying customers. The approach not only earned Eyewire industry accolades, but also caught the attention of stock photography powerhouse Getty Images, which acquired the company in 2000.
After Getty bought Eyewire, Popiel was one of 14 co-founders of Veer, another Calgary-based stock photography company. He helped to take Veer from a startup to being one of the largest stock photography companies in the world.
His understanding of the creative and business aspects of the industry has made Popiel a branding expert. As he’d done with Eyewire, Popiel gave Veer a consistent look and feel.
“What I offered Veer, on the branding side, was everything from naming the company, to creating a way, look and a voice for how we communicate with creatives,” he says. “You need to create that pure connection with your audience.”
Although Popiel works in a creative environment and describes himself as right-brained, a large part of the work he does involves left-brain, analytical thinking. “I am able to walk the line between the creative side and business side,” he says.
In 2007, Veer was purchased by Corbis, a Seattle-based stock photography corporation. Popiel has been the creative director of global brands for Corbis ever since.
Every year, Popiel also donates 48 to 60 hours of his time as a mentor to young graphic designers as a part of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada “Design-A-Thon,” during which seasoned pros help students rebrand local charities.
Although Popiel has great pride and passion for what he does, he tries not to let work interfere with his most important job: fatherhood.
“Now that I am a dad, everything else is my second job,” he says.
Why he’s the top: He has used his insight as a creative thinker to sell stock photography to other “creatives.”
The key to his success: “Success to me is doing what you love and being okay with whatever comes of it, as opposed to trying to do what everyone else wants you to do,” Popiel says.