Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

Conversational: Isaac Gibson

I happen to know what seems like an unusual amount of incredibly talented, creative, humble, and hard-working humans.

On the first Monday of every month in 2017 (Pls ignore the fact that it is in fact Tuesday! Thanks! Love you guys!) I'll be sharing a conversation with one of those friends — the people I ask for advice, find empathy in, bounce ideas off of, look to for inspiration, and hope to collaborate with someday.

This month, meet Virginia-born and based Isaac Gibson — a photographer, videographer, graphic designer, and snowboarder. And all-around nice human.

I met Isaac my senior year at Liberty. As part of my senior portfolio, I wanted to write a longform story shadowing a competitive snowboarder for a season. Isaac's coach volunteered him, and, lucky for me, he obliged.

I spent hours upon hours crafting the story, which is still one of my favorite things I've ever written, and about 20 minutes on the accompanying video that the professor required. Isaac had mentioned in passing that he did some "video stuff" for Snowflex, but it wasn't until weeks later when I followed him on Instagram that I realized what he'd made sound like a casual YouTube hobby was just some extreme humility. Even in this interview, he plays it down, but guys — he is so talented. (And I was so hopeful that he had never, ever, ever watched the video that went with the story. I was so embarrassed. I am still embarrassed. I DIDN'T KNOW, OKAY?)

Isaac has a lot of wisdom in him, and it was fun getting to talk to him about creative work, social media, and playing outside. I just know you're going to like him a lot. Enjoy!

Alright, so when did you graduate?

I was supposed to graduate in 2015, but I actually didn't graduate until this past year — initially when I came to Liberty I was a cinematic arts major, did two years with that major set in place, and then decided that I wanted to change to graphic design. So because I changed my major late and didn't want to overload myself with classes, I graduated late. I basically finished in December of 2015, but then found out I had two more classes I actually hadn't completed yet *laughs* so I took those online spring of 2016 and I actually graduated this past May.

Well, congratulations on finally getting done! I never changed my major, but I had lots of friends who did and they all said it was the worst.

Yeah, I mean it wasn't super bad, but it was weird that going into junior year I was taking my first-ever graphic design, arts classes. They were, like, all intro classes so that was kind of strange; and it was crazy just in the two years that I was in those classes the amount of stuff that I learned. It kind of blew my mind.

What have you been up to since graduation?

Before I graduated, I had a ton of free time in my last spring semester. I ended up only taking two classes online and they weren't even until the end of the semester, so within that period of time I had space to still kind of figure out what I wanted to do after school. I obviously needed to start working a full-time job and all of that, but at the time I was still working at Snowflex as an instructor. I went in for just a normal instructor meeting with my boss and coworkers one day, and in that meeting found out there were possibilities for full-time positions at Snowflex. They weren't actually positions that had been created, but they had spots available where they could create new positions if people were interested in specific areas. I found out in that meeting that they essentially wanted someone to start a development program for kids in Lynchburg and just local people in general, getting them into snowboarding and skiing to hopefully feed into the collegiate team. So after I heard about that program I was like, dang, this sounds like something I could potentially love doing. It might not be my end goal as a career, but it was definitely something I could do and really enjoy for a little bit. So I decided that I wanted to interview for it, interviewed for it, and got it.

So I started last March working full-time for Snowflex. Initially, I came in as the development program manager, that kind of thing, but since then I have moved into the ski school manager spot as well, and I also help out with running our summer camps.

That's awesome! I feel like my creative friends have all gone one of two routes — they either find an entry-level job in the field they want to be in and are gutting it out, working their way up, or they get a job in a totally unrelated field and do their creative stuff on the side. So you've taken the second route — do you like that?

Yeah, I definitely do. It's still in an area that I’m really passionate about, that I really enjoy. I'm sure if it was something I didn't care too much about it would be a lot different. Working at Snowflex means being in an environment that I love being in, surrounded by people who are pretty like-minded and are super passionate about skiing and snowboarding, and being able to share that love and passion with other people. I mean there are still days that it's slower and I'm like, dang, I wish I was just doing design and creative stuff full-time, so I think if I was doing a job that wasn't something I cared about or had a really big passion, for I probably wouldn't like that route quite as much.

So where did that passion for action and outdoor sports come from?

I pretty much grew up in the country. Where my family's house is, there's at least 50 acres of property. It's where my dad grew up, and when he was a kid it was a farm. Now it's no longer that at all, but there's a lot of woods and space and stuff like that.

When I was younger I was homeschooled, and I'm from a large family, so I have a lot of siblings; and it was basically like, get done with school and just go play outside. Play in the woods, play sports, build forts, whatever. I spent the majority of my childhood outside playing with my siblings and cousins and friends, and part of our activities were always, you know, adventurous things — climbing trees, riding bikes, I did a little bit of skateboarding when I was younger but nothing too crazy. Scooters were super popular and when they first kind of got big, so I had a scooter. I had roller blades. I was always doing things that were "sports with wheels," or I guess more action sports. Adrenaline-pumping-type things.

I also grew up doing traditional team sports — I played little league baseball, football, soccer, golf, all the usual sports. Then, when I was like 14 or so, I was playing on a travel baseball team and I kind of just lost my love and passion for the sport; and because of that, my performance definitely suffered. I just got to where I didn't really enjoy it anymore and I was like, alright, I'm done participating in team sports in general. Like, I went from always participating in some kind of sport to not doing anything. I got more into skateboarding and doing that a little bit more seriously. I got an actual, legit board that wasn't from Walmart and spent a lot more time with it. I had some friends that were also into skateboarding, so we had other people to do it with and kind of push each other to get better.

Then my parents — I guess they thought maybe I wasn't busy enough or had too much time on my hands — decided I was going to play some kind of sport. I remember being really angry about it *laughs* because I didn't want to play sports again, but they were like, how about roller hockey? I didn't even know we had roller hockey, but we just happened to have a roller hockey league in town. It was a team sport that was really fast-paced, and we were still skating, which is something that as a kid I really enjoyed. That was probably one of the first team sports, especially as I was older, that I really, really enjoyed. The program eventually faded out, though.

I was still skateboarding throughout all that time, but my best friend hit a point with skateboarding where he decided he didn't really want to do it too much anymore and pretty much quit completely. He got into mountain biking, so I naturally also got into mountain biking and did that for a few years, I guess. It was like junior and senior year of high school by that point, and then I came to Liberty and found out about Snowflex.

Snowboarding was always one of those things where it was something I really wanted to do, but because of where I lived and the friends I had it wasn't something I was ever able to go and participate in. So once I got to Liberty, I was like, wow — there's Snowflex and I can go and snowboard for free! I went and started snowboarding and that all led to where I am now, I guess; but it all started mostly from living in the country and being bored and harnessing that outside.

So that's not just a separate passion, then — it really influences your creative work.

Absolutely. Being outside and doing adventurous stuff has always been a place where I really enjoy life, and there's so many aspects to that and reasons why I enjoy those things but I'm positive it's because I grew up where I did and spent so much time outside as a kid. And then I guess, in addition, I just always remember being interested in cameras.

I don't know specifically what sparked my interest — for video cameras, I think it was just as simple as like, you could record things and watch them again later. How cool is that?! And I remember my mom had this big camcorder that, literally, you put VCR tapes in — it was huge — and I remember finding that when I was around 13 or something. It was pretty old, but it still worked, so we started making these dumb videos with that. It wasn't something I was doing like "Oh, wow, I'm doing this because I someday want to do it as a career." It was just fun. You could goof off and it was time spent doing something outside of the normal things we did — something different.

My sister got a digital camera when she was probably like 15, 16, something like that. She's a year older than me and she let me use it, so I started taking some pictures and really got interested in photography. I literally would just go out in the woods and find things that I thought looked really cool and take pictures of them, and then eventually when I was a little older and had a job and stuff, I ended up spending a decent amount of money buying a nice DSLR. I don't know — I guess when it comes to nature and other things, for the pictures and videos I take, I just try to capture the photo the way I view it through my own eyes. But I also try to get the small details in things that we typically wouldn't look at, the beauty we miss.

So you do photography, videography, and graphic design — do you have a favorite out of those?

If I had to choose one thing — like a "couldn't do anything else for the rest of my life" kind of thing — I would probably choose video, because I think out of those three that one was probably the first one that I really loved and had a lot of fun with. Even before still photography. And I mean, growing up I would draw and do all these art kind of things, but I didn't know anything about graphic design. And there's such a big difference between drawing and painting and being able to do those kinds of things and design. You might be able to be good at both of them, but there are definitely people who are super good at drawing and painting, but as far as graphic design goes, they're just not really that great. Even for me, literally going into my first design class my junior year of college, I knew little to nothing about actual graphic design. But I think a lot of the pictures I would take — whether I knew it or not — the way I would take them, the things I would take pictures of, the way I would frame my shots, all that kind of stuff had graphic design principles behind it without me even really recognizing it. I think they all kind of tie together, and that's one reason I've been able to kind of catch on with graphic design, really enjoy it and, I don't know, potentially produce pretty good work.

No, your stuff is so good. I think out of all my friends who do creative work, your stuff is some of the only where I can recognize that it's your photo or video or whatever before I even see your name attached to it. Your stuff is so. Good.

Thank you! I appreciate it. That's cool to hear, because I feel like when I get on social media — especially Instagram — a lot of pages just seem really similar. That's definitely not my goal. Instagram for me and social media in general isn't something where I want to follow the trends and get a bunch of followers because of that or whatever, and it's cool to hear that before you even know, you can recognize something that I produced in the style or whatever... that's pretty cool to hear.

For sure. Also, speaking of social media, you've shared some of your thoughts on and frustrations with it before, and I think they're really interesting — I definitely relate to them. Can you share a little bit about that?

Yeah, so social media... I'm just so torn with it. I think really when it comes down to it, it's about figuring out how to do it in a healthy way. A way that you're not finding your identity in it, that's for sure; but also that it's not super, super important and there's not a ton of value placed in it.

I think it's fine to have some sort of value in it, whatever; but for me, I've gotten into times where I recognized in myself — I’d be scrolling through Instagram and liking pictures in this almost-robotic process, where I'm not even really seeing what I'm liking. I'm seeing really, really good images, but it's become so normal and I can get to where I’m not even appreciating it. Half the time I'm not even reading what the person was saying about what they were posting, I'm just scrolling to scroll. It can get to where there isn’t any real meaning or purpose behind looking at what people are posting and, like I said, I'm not really appreciating these images for how good they are and thinking about the time the photographer spent capturing this image and composing their caption.

You can just get into this weird state of mind where you're doing it and not even thinking about it, and there's not even really any good reason behind it. Most people have their phone on them all the time, and I know for me often it's any time where I'm not giving my attention to any specific place or person it's like, oh, I'll just pull my phone out and give my attention to that. For a while, the last thing I would do before I went to sleep at night was just scroll through social media; and oftentimes the same thing in the morning. Wake up — oh, what kind of notifications do I have? Like *laughs* it's so dumb! Why do i give so much value attention to something like this? I finally realized — this isn't how I want to live. I don't want to just be constantly going to social media anytime I have free time instead of interacting with people, blocking them out with my phone. It easily gets to a point where it seems like a real waste of time. I could be using my time a lot more productively.

Currently, I'm happy with the balance of time I've spent on media lately. Within the last few weeks I haven't spent much time on it at all, in fact, and the main reason behind that was because I got to a point again where I was like, okay, this is ridiculous — I'm giving way too much of my time and my thinking to social media. When I start feeling like it's taking too much of a priority in my life, I need to step away from it to refocus.

It's tough, too, because — I know we've talked before about social media and self-promotion. I want to do creative work and be able to someday make a living strictly doing creative work. Obviously, being active on social media right now, with how prominent it is, is a great way to connect with people and get your work seen. So in that sense I think it's pretty important to post regularly. But even though that may be true, I don't want to post just to post — I want to actually have a good reason to post a picture, usually. And honestly if it's ruining the way I live and I'm putting more value in my phone than even, I mean, my relationship with God, and focusing less on God, then I definitely need to change something. Most things in life, even if they can be a good thing, can also be used in a bad way.

So what I hear you saying is that you're for social media and self-promotion and all of that, but in line with your values.

Yeah, definitely. If you're a believer, anything in your life that you're doing that's destructive to your relationship with God is clearly something that needs to be changed. Social media, anything like that — if it's destructing my relationship with God and the way that I think, then something needs to be changed and realigned and focused. God needs to be put back in the center. Why am I posting to social media? Why am I spending massive amounts of time scrolling through Instagram when I could be spending time you know reading the Bible or praying or really getting to know God — seriously! Instead of seeking God for satisfaction in life and security, I think a lot of times we go to things like social media first — things that you can see right in front of you, just because it seems easier. Obviously that probably a lot to do with sin and the devil — like, that's what he wants you to do, is look to the world for satisfaction. So I would say, yeah, anything in my life — whether that's snowboarding or any of my creative outlets or even my relationships — if it's destructive to my relationship with God, then something needs to change.

Amen. So — switching gears here — what do you want to do someday? Do you have a "dream job" or anything like that, or do you even know?

I guess I have an idea... I know that I want to use the creative abilities that I have for sure, but use those to help people. I want to really teach and share, not only be like, "Oh, look at this thing I can produce or make look pretty, look what I can do!" That's fun, that's great and all, but I want to share that in a way where you can also enjoy it.

I think that's a big thing for snowboarding and skiing — I've kind of realized I really enjoy sharing things that I love and have a passion for doing and being able to help somebody else share that same enjoyment. It's funny, before working full time at Snowflex, I definitely thought I wanted to be pretty much a full-time freelance designer, photographer, videographer, whatever; but after working at Snowflex and spending so much time either directly teaching kids and adults how to snowboard and ski and then also managing other people who are doing that same thing, I'm like, okay, maybe this another area that I could see myself wanting to continue working with.

I don't know if that's something I want to do long-term... I do have a lot of ideas for ways for Snowflex to grow and to build up a much larger community of snowboarders and skiers in Lynchburg and the greater area, so actually seeing that happen would be super cool. And I know that my favorite time of year at Snowflex by far is our summer camps, and seeing so many young kids out on that hill having the time of their life. The atmosphere at summer camp, I just want that at Snowflex all the time. So if I could see that happen — or maybe, you know, not literally all the time, but a much larger portion of the year — it would be super cool. I think Snowflex very easily could be the number one action sports facility on the east coast because of year-round snowboarding, and then we have really good skateboarding and other facilities for learning to be a better rider with trampolines and foam pits and all that stuff. I think Snowflex could very easily be the best place. So if it continues to kind of move in that direction and that seems like it's going to happen, I think it would really cool to be a part of that.

At the same time, I really just don't know what God has planned, and I'm definitely okay with that. Because from what I've seen in my life so far — like where I am now compared to back when I was in high school thinking about the future and where I might go and the things I might do — God's plans have definitely far exceeded the plans that I thought I might be doing. So I don't know for sure, and I want to say that I'm perfectly okay with not knowing currently. I just think the most important thing for me is I want to use the talents and abilities that I have to help other people and do something God wants me to do — whatever that is, wherever that is, you know? Because I know that I'm not going to be satisfied in my own life unless I'm doing what God calls me to do. So yeah. In a way, I'm just excited for what could potentially be in the future for me, and I'm just resting in God's faithfulness to provide and direct.

Want to keep up with Isaac? Of course you do. You can follow him on Instagram, and while you're at it, vote for the Liberty Ski & Snowboard team in the Red Bull Bracket Reel video contest. Do what I say.

Also, I swiped these photos of Facebook again, and I wanted to give credit where credit is due — going off the captions, the first one was taken by Daniel Agre, the second by Andrew Pierce (I think that's the right link!), and the third one by I don't know, I'm sorry, okay bye.


My Story (Again)

High-Five Friday: February 3