Profile: Cars for a Cure founder, Mason Watson
Last month, we featured Cars for a Cure Apparel, a project by Mason Watson donating 20% from each purchase to breast cancer research.
We spoke briefly with Mason at the time, and learned he was going ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.
We thought a student might have a fresh perspective; iconic designers already get so much attention.
I called Mason, and asked where he got the idea to go to automotive design school.
"I figured that out through magazines back when I was in Middle School. I always knew about it, it was my dream job, so I worked my way towards that," he said.
Later, he combined his "knack for illustration" and the graphic side of car design to create the first Cars for a Cure shirts.
"I try to have a variation of products; that show different sides of art - more of the graphic style and hand drawn."
He's in his third year of design school at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA. The program is now more intensely focused after the first years covered fundamental drawing techniques.
Starting 4th term, students learn sculpting, how to model cars in clay, 1/5 scale models, and how to turn 2D drawings into three dimensional representations.
As Automotive Design is a small, competitive field, the school pushes practical experience. Internships, then, are a necessity when applying after school.
"Everything is portfolio based because we're all trying to get internships. The fifth or sixth semester is when you start looking for internships, and I'm in my fifth semester. I am getting my portfolio ready now and applying for internships. It's a lot more serious now...the school is sometimes known as medical school without the blood."
Medical school without the blood -- that caught my ear. He reminded me of two types of students I knew in college: the art students spending hours in-studio to build a portfolio, and the engineering students jostling for internships.
I also wondered how, if automotive school was so intense, he managed to run Cars for a Cure at the same time.
"I want to try to publish it more, I want to get it out to a bigger audience, but at the same time I'm a full time student. So, I'm trying to figure out, do I want to promote this a lot and then get a lot of feedback? Is this something I have the capacity for?
It's been a struggle. Sometimes, I'll get really, really high traffic and I can’t devote time to my school work so it's a battle. But I really enjoy having this side project that I can always kind of work on and keep evolving.
I've been scheduling my classes to where, if I take a really rigorous semester, I usually will take the following semester a little bit lighter if I can, just so much that I have a little bit more time to devote to Cars For A Cure
He's got a vision in his head, and he's molding his life around that vision. It's interesting to see how there is great loss in his life alongside work, moving forward, and executing a creative vision.
I asked him about what he wants from automotive design.
"I'd really like to work for a big company, certainly right out of school. I really like some of the French brands, and would like to be more on the conceptual side of things. There's the production-design side and the concept side of things; I definitely want to lean more towards the advanced and conceptual thinking..."
Which reminded me much of why Ehrlich Motorwerks focuses on vintage cars. The cars are different. Each brand had an attitude, whether or not it was successful.
I asked what he thought of the current trend toward more disposable vehicles, and how he thought this might affect boundary-pushing (read: cool or interesting) design.
"Yeah, that's the frustrating thing about how our industry is. You see a lot of replication and companies following other companies. I think it is a very difficult task breaking out of that mold into something really new and forward thinking."
Could the advance come from the electric car? Or a designer willing to go there?
He didn't know, exactly. Who could?
But he didn't stop, "I don't know where people will want to head. Obviously, the electric car is taking off and everything, Tesla, etc. Then you have economy, which everyone is trying to design. Basically, economy comes in, and exterior is going to be less important because it's just going to be user-focused interior space.
I don't know. There's been a lot of different speculations as to where it will go, and it will be interesting to see all of these new companies. There's a lot of start up companies, especially in California. [Also] Apple and Google are joining in the car game."
The Apple comment surprised me. Is that real?
“People thought it was kind of a joke, and then you started seeing people get hired by them, so yeah, we'll see.”
Apple in the car game? Although known for their design-forward approach to technology, I can't imagine an Apple car. Silicon Valley is too far removed from grease, exhaust, and burning rubber.
But for now, Mason doesn't worry about the future of design. He's got school to finish and a side business to sustain.
"As I get more into a steady job, I'm going to be able to put a lot more time towards it. It's always going to be something I'm working on and evolving and making better. I'm looking forward to being able to work on it."
That's where we left off.
After I let the interview sit for a couple of days, I realized I never asked what makes Mason to do what he does. So, three days later, I asked. What was it that inspired? What made him want to balance full time studies and a business?
"I am intrigued by people who start something from a passion they have and they are persistent enough to do anything and everything for it. I believe that if you really want to make something great and something that can change the world, you have to be a little bit crazy to believe you can in the first place."
He went on, "Steve Jobs, controversial, yes. But, I believe everyone that has made as much as an impact as he has, will be controversial. Steve Jobs is a great example of that. I don't believe in some of his tactics but, the the way he persisted throughout his career to make Apple what it is today, is pretty amazing.
Another example, Elon Musk. Elon is really a personal hero. I think he is quite a genius in a plethora of fields. He is confident in what he does and fought really hard to get where he is. He is very strict and outrageous at times, but I honestly think that is necessary at times, especially with the work he was in. He reached into fields he was unfamiliar with and adapted and he always reaches for the highest standards."
In the end, for Mason, its about doing something that stands out from the crowd of approved methods and ideas. For him, this difference will involve automotives.
"I am motivated to really do something different. I believe that will have something to do with cars and design. I don't think my field will be limited to just cars in the future. I like all areas of design and want to get involved in other areas that i think I could improve upon. I know it's cliche but, I think anything is possible through hard work and never stopping at what you believe in. As Steve Jobs said, 'I want to put a ding in the universe.'"
It's an energy you can find in all of the automotive greats. Enzo Ferrari, in particular. What Mason said sounds very much like a comment from Ferry Porsche
Porsche talked about why the company should never be subject to an outside committee. His reasoning had to do with a need to execute a particular vision.
Ferry said, "Independence then, has always been the attitude Porsche; to do not what is expected, but to do what we feel is right."
What we feel is right. This over that. It's always a choice, often a sacrifice, and one especially difficult to make in the internet's hyper-connected environment.
The decision against compromise, then, matters all the more.
Mason will be heading into the automotive design world, and we'll be keeping an eye out for that something different.
We wish him all the best.
To purchase Cars for a Cure shirts and posters, visit: CarsforaCureApparel.com