Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Scott Vradelis |

Interview :: Scott Vradelis
by Juanita Berge, 1 Mar 2010

Scott Vradelis is the owner/operator of The UPS Store in Society Hill, and curator of The Customer Show, an exhibition of works printed at The UPS Store and displayed as part of DesignPhiladelphia's Design Week last fall.

PCG: Explain to us what the Customer Show is.

SV: The Customer Show is a presentation of work by some of our favorite graphic designers, photographers, painters, fashion designers, architects, jewelers, collagists, illustrators, ceramicists, and systems designers/developers whose work it has been a privilege to participate in the production of here at our store. We are proud to know them as creative professionals, and look forward to what's next for them and for us.

Scott Vradelis
Carmelita Martell
Principal, Carmelita Couture

PCG: How did you come up with the idea of a 'Customer Show?'

SV: I was looking for an effective way to market my large format printing. I wanted to use strong, effective images and, I was struggling a bit in finding what those images might be. I asked one of my customers for some input, and he immediately and generously allowed me to use examples of his work. I knew right then what the best images would be, those of my customers. The initial idea was to show 5 or 6 pieces, but then I realized the show wanted to cover every bit of the available space in the store. When I've done projects on a larger scale in the past, and they want to be bigger, it may not be the easiest solution to do so, but it's usually the right choice.

I want to quickly talk about the title of the show, "The Customer Show". I want the title right up front to be sure to indicate the emphasis of the show, and of my efforts in doing the large format work. I feel that if my customer is successful in their endeavors I will, by default, be successful in mine. I want them to have the best possible images, at the best possible prices, with each of us benefiting from the transaction.

Scott Vradelis
Robert Bender
"Snow Shack" Oil on Canvas

PCG: I understand your show was part of DesignPhiladelphia's citywide design week celebration in October. How did you come to be involved with them?

SV: Several of the participants in my show had participated with DesignPhiladelphia in the past and, they were very enthusiastic about having me participate in this year's event as well. It was great to have them as a supporter of our event, and I look forward to participating again in the future.

PCG: Are the works featured in the show only those that have been printed at your UPS store?

SV: Absolutely yes, all the pieces in the show were printed in our store. Though we can use many different types of media, including canvas, we limited the works in the show to two types, Canon Photographic resin-coated Semi-gloss 240gsm/10mil, and Moab Entrada Natural which is a 100% cotton, archival, smooth fine art paper. That sheet is a nice, slightly warm paper that feels like a "medium pressed" print making or watercolor paper.

Scott Vradelis
Hratch Babikian
Custom Jewelry

PCG: How do you determine what works go into the show?

SV: There were two basic criteria for each piece in the show. The first was that you had to be a customer of the store, the second was that the image simply needed to be what I define as a strong, interesting image. Yes, that's a subjective point of view (when evaluating images, what isn't) but I bring 30 years of studying images to the question, so I hope that helps me be an interesting, critical curator.

For me, finally compiling all the pieces for the show was really the most eye-opening aspect of the project. It's great to look at these images and realize that the creative persons behind them are customers of my store. It helps me stay excited and engaged in the process.

Scott Vradelis
Kateri Likoudis
"#39" 35 mm Film Photography

PCG: What's your background?

SV: I have a fairly broad fine arts and design background. I earned an MFA in painting from Carnegie Mellon University. I maintained a studio and painted in New York City for almost 20 years, participated in several group shows from LA, Chicago and Pittsburgh to New York and had a one-person show at the Phillipe Briet Gallery New York City. During my time in New York, I supported myself and my family as a janitor, carpenter, painter (the commercial kind), graphic designer and finally as a web-developer/interface specialist. I have studied image-making in one form or another for thirty years.

PCG: So it's all done by luck of the draw? Whomever comes in during the year and uses your services is eligible? You have that much talent in your area that purely by luck it gives you a pool to choose from?

SV: I'm not entirely sure what luck of the draw is. Yes, whomever is a customer is eligible; no, we didn't hang everyone's' work. As to whether we have that much talent in our area, I certainly think we do, I couldn't have done the show without having that confidence. Actually, I'm not sure how special my area is, I think there's "that much" talent everywhere, I was just fortunate enough to find it.

Scott Vradelis
Design For Social Impact
Book Cover for "Posters for the People"

PCG: How many artists did you showcase?

SV: For this show we presented the work of 32 artists.

PCG: Are the entrants all professional artists?

SV: Where the majority of the participants in the show are professional creatives, others are not. I caution observers not to make judgments on the quality of the images based on that fact. We are proud to be able to help professionals with the work they do, and acknowledge the difference between a professional creative and those who are not. Sometimes though, those who are not "professional" are able to avoid some of the challenges encountered in the professional creative world, leaving them free to pursue their passion without the burden of requiring financial feedback.

PCG: How did you come to be running a UPS store?

SV: I made the move, with my family, to Philadelphia and The UPS Store after my wife and I realized we weren't able to raise our children in New York the way we thought was best for us. We have three great kids, Helen, a freshman in high school, Henry a second grader, and Louisa a second grader. (Yes, they're twins) My wife Catherine and I both have fine arts backgrounds, and it turns out, all our children are creative thinkers as well. Supporting my family by owning and operating a The UPS Store has given me the opportunity to continue to operate my own business and interact with many different types of people here in Philly.

Scott Vradelis
Adam Cohen
"Wonder Bubbles"

PCG: So the Creative Economy is alive and well in your corner of Philadelphia?

SV: I know that there are many artists and designers of all kinds who are fighting to create a system for themselves and their businesses which will convert their ideas into positive financial feedback. The Creative Economy, much like the overall economy, is currently challenged to fulfill that goal. One of the things I find exciting now is that there is a kind of critical mass around the idea of a Creative Economy, illustrated most obviously by the book and ideas of John Howkins. One quote from his site which precisely describes one of the challenges of the artists and designers I work with is, "In some sectors [of the economy] the output value depends on their uniqueness; in others, on how easily it [the product of the creative effort] can be copied and sold to large numbers of people". I want to continue to be involved in helping creatives convert their ideas to positive financial feedback. Professional high-end digital output is one way to do that.

Scott Vradelis
Allen Spencer and Deborah Imler
"Parquet 36" Photo Collage

PCG: What piece from the show has gotten the biggest response? (Either from the judge's panel or from the public-at-large?)

SV: If you are asking for my favorite, I don't have one. But, the piece in the show that gets the most feedback from customers is a photo by Catherine Hennessy called "Irene the Ice Queen". Among other projects Ms. Hennesy is currently working on a book about the people in and around Wildwood NJ. Irene is a woman who seems to be in her late 70's and in this image, is celebrating the New Year with other revelers in Wildwood NJ at the Polar Bear event. For those who don't know, the Polar Bears are those brave folks who go into the ocean on New Year's Day, (I think there's a chapter in Coney Island, New York) because they can. Irene is standing proudly in her two-piece suit, bellybutton decoration, and a wig. Some observers look on Irene and recoil, though I have a different point of view. I may not want to be a Polar Bear when I am near 80 but, if I choose to be, I certainly want to be able to take that plunge.

PCG: Will the Customer Show be an annual event now?

SV: I'm going to continue to do different versions of The Customer Show, though not with 30 people at a time. The next show will be a show of three illustrators. It will open some time in March, but we're still putting the finishing touches on the show so we haven't gotten a firm date for the opening. As soon as we do we will let you know!

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