Picture this: you’re at an event, a meetup or just talking to friends… you’re having a great conversation, listening to some killer advice and tips about the industry and you feel rude pulling out a sketchbook to jot notes down, so you resort to memory… and then you get home and realize that your memory sucks. Yeah, it happens to all of us.
It’s the reason I started my Works in Process podcast. I was having those conversations but couldn’t remember it all. I didn’t want to remember only the work; I wanted to remember the behind-the-scenes stuff too! So what better way than to record it. This is what Works in Process is built on: conversations with creatives to discover why and how individuals work the way they do.
So when I was asked to put something together for the Emerge blog, all I needed to do was look back at my episodes. I’ve pulled five quotes from WIP episodes that I feel work for emerging designers. These are things we all have and will continue to struggle with, being creatives. I share these #WIPwisdom quotes to remind emerging designers and myself that we are not perfect but we are also not alone. The creative profession is very forthcoming with its shared abundance of knowledge — we all want each other to succeed. I hope these pieces of wisdom — combined with my point-of-view as a designer and educator — provide some guidance as you forge your own path to becoming a seasoned creative.
Thanks EMERGE for allowing me to share these tidbits beyond my podcast. OK enough of me. Here’s some #WIPwisdom…
“I've always been the type to do my own thing outside of a full-time job. I like personal projects, so being able to exercise other forms of design is a way to exercise my brain. I think it’s the problem solving, you know, I just like taking those little bits and making sense of it all.”
Simple truth from Episode No. 04 guest, David Soto, a Graphic Designer, Hand Letterer, Forever a student
How do you learn? By expanding your skills and getting out of your comfort zone—but also by constantly creating. David’s creativity doesn't stop with his 9-5pm. LIke most creative people, he has ideas that need to get out into the world. And it’s that creative itch that needs to be scratched. Personal projects or side projects, are what can soothe it.
Your side-hustle is a form of expression that allows you, the designer, to let loose. You don't have to solely focus on what you're currently working on, but you can branch out. It’s very satisfying to unleash some of those other creative abilities that you’ve not been able to flex at your job, or just not the way you want to. With a side-hustle you are now your own boss (sort-of) and can work on the projects that bring you joy and highlight what you’re passionate about. But it's also a way to make some extra loot. And who doesn't want to save up for that next vacation or large purchase.
Either way, a side hustle allows you to explore more of what it means to be a designer. You manage your own deadlines, deal with clients directly, become more of a creative entrepreneur. You find out a lot about yourself and the way you work with a side gig.
But whatever the case may be, remember the side hustle is for you, it feeds your passion and makes you feel complete. What have you been working on, nothing? Then get to work!
“The idea of paying your dues… that’s basically what fakin’ it ‘til you make it is. That's you payin’ your dues. You say yes to everything and figure it out along the way … and, just work really hard if you want to be good.”
Simple truth from Episode No. 03 guest, Eli Neugeboren, an Illustrator and Educator
Eli's insight is one that resonates with me a lot. You’re a newbie and you’re not going to know all the answers at your first job or freelance project. But you have to be willing to go the extra mile and put in a lot of work. What happens if your boss asks you to create a web wire-frame, but you are only a print designer? You do it! You research, you stay up late watching youtube, you ask a friend or coworker for help and start to figure it out. This is the time to absorb new techniques and focus on the problem you are tackling today.
A designer is only as good as their approach to solving problems. Take this opportunity to add to your skill set. Learn to pitch that concept to the client, edit that social media video, update that creative brief… You never know what you can do until you dabble a bit. What’s the worst that can happen? Ok, so your boss may not ask you to work on that kind of creative again, but then again maybe you find out you really enjoy it. Now, you're no longer intimidated by it and it opens up a new roles for yourself.
It’s good to know what your strengths are, but also to identify your weaknesses. Either accept the limitation or turn it into a strength. Bravo, now you’ve made yourself more valuable to the team.
“… if I get stumped just try to someplace else to sit and draw. Go to a coffee shop just to kind of mix it up. I've learned that if I hit a (creative) block it's fine to walk away, don't keep beating at it and forcing it to happen. Before, I would push myself and push myself to get it right, and if it didn't feel right it would get more frustrating.”
Simple truth from Episode No. 05 guest, Justin Teodoro, an Artist and Illustrator.
So you’re stuck (again)... it’s the worst! That moment when you stare at the page or screen for way too long and nothing comes out. All of these ideas are floating in your head trying to spill out, but just can’t. It’s like being stuck at the top of a roll-coaster. It scary and anxious, and you're just waiting. Now you're overthinking all your ideas/concepts and questioning your decisions. But the best way to break free from any monotonous task is to listen to Justin and “mix it up” and break your routine.
I know, what the point of having a process if you aren't gonna use it. But when you have a creative block, you need to change it up. Your methods have gotten you this far and are solid, but when that time comes, and it will, when you get stumped, stop what you’re doing. It’s time to break free of the systems you built because right now they’re not working. So look at doing something that allows your mind to wander and give it a breather. I read somewhere that Louis Pasteur said “chance favors only the prepared mind” and its true. You are probably overstimulated and can’t focus on the tasks at hand. It's all there: the research, the inspiration, the direction, just give your mind a rest. Let it do its job.
When you identify that activity: a walk in the park, a coffee shop, a visit to a museum, or a meet-up with friends, let the day happen, you will eventually get back on track. But remember, you never know when that spark comes back, so keep a sketchbook handy and finish what you were doing. 🙂
“Being overconfident can do more harm than good— (especially) if you think that everything is going to be easy for you and you deserve everything right off the bat… people get into a lot of trouble and their growth gets stifled a little bit if they're not open to just toiling away in the dark for quite some time…”
Simple truth from Episode No. 07 guest, Nick Misani, a Designer, Letterer, Lover of ornament and decorative arts.
More and more, people are picking up the tools of the trade at a younger age. Today we can view and share so much great design and inspiration, but because we see it so instantaneously we think it comes easily or even worse—quickly. To make something look easy, you should understand all of the work that has gone into it. Design is built on history and the ability to take in passed down knowledge. As in any master-apprentice relationship, you learn by doing. Nick calls it “toiling away in the dark,” and as you grow you apply your own stylistic interpretation, and make it your own.
Overconfidence, I feel, stems from superficial accolades. We get caught up in the number of likes, shares and retweets that we sometimes forget the time it takes. Who doesn't want to rise through the rank quickly and fast, but there something to be said about learning the proper ways of the profession and being guided to greatness. Being overconfident can get in the way of your creative growth. Don't let it. As you learn from all the Creative and Art Directors, let them build you up. They should push you to make you a better designer, a better person. And if they are not willing to do that, or can’t, it’s time to move on. Being humble in this field is a virtue and there’s a fine line between being proud and being cocky.
It’s better to know other people feel that you’re good, rather than you exclaiming it yourself. You’ll have a lot more longevity in this industry, and then you'll be the one teaching a young designer someday.
“…in my younger years I did a lot of over-thinking and talked myself out of doing a lot of things, Just stop that. Try to kill that voice and just do, and by doing you’re creating and by creating you’re already an artist…no one can take that away from you.”
Simple truth from Episode No. 01 guest, Lisa Pertoso, a Learning Designer, Writer, and Comedian.
What is self-doubt? Is it that voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough or is it external? It comes in many forms, but it seems to be most prevalent when you compare yourself to others. I know it’s hard to stop comparing ourselves especially when we are constantly flooded with visual stimuli from online portfolios, visual bookmarking websites, social media, and brands we admire. But we tend to forget that what we are comparing ourselves to are the countless hours of collaboration, revisions, and feedback. Also, in most cases, these are the best versions of the work, stylized, mocked up and photoshopped to perfection.
So since you’re are starting out, it’s hard to achieve that same level of perfection. I’m not saying it won’t happen soon, but as someone new in the field, it will take time. So follow Lisa’s advice and “just stop that!” When you stop comparing yourself and continue to practice your craft, you’ll get better and find new ways to make your work stand out.
Design is a career of comparisons from our peers, bosses, and the industry. Don’t start out by looking down on yourself. You’re a creative for a reason. Own that and begin your journey.
As a designer and educator, I am always seeking out ways to connect with the creative community. We, as a culture, are innovative individuals who cease to amaze by how we continued to craft and collaborate on new ideas. It is this enjoyment for learning that I continually search for what’s new, and embrace a lot of the outlets that various friends produce. But for some reason, I didn’t feel good enough or entrepreneurial enough to see myself in what 30 Weeks had to offer.
Fast forward to about a month ago. While, in the beginning, stages of fleshing out an idea with a designer friend, David Soto, we began aggregating resources and inspiration via screenshots, Facebook, Muzli, and Pinterest. You know, gather, gather, gather then synthesize. While researching, I came across the 30 Weeks website again and was reinvigorated by the concept, but once again, I met myself with the reservations that this wasn’t for me. Not sure why, but for some reason, I tend to think my creative endeavors feel more personal and not for a larger audience. Nevertheless, I was glad that designers were being looked upon as the next generation of founders.
I didn’t know it yet, but the universe had plans for me. It knew what it was doing.
Around the same time, what shows up in my Inbox? An email from a photographer friend inviting me to be part of a workshop. The title of the workshop was Visual Improv: Embrace the Chaos, and it focused on anyone who’s having “writer’s” block. It sounded fun! And who doesn’t want to break free from writer’s block from time-to-time. Also, I realized that sometimes I get caught up in life that I don’t give outside stimuli a chance. I needed to stop only focusing on my own creative output and support others. How can I claim to be a part of the larger conversation if I actually don’t participate in it? I couldn’t … So I decided to stop fucking around and practice what I preached. In doing so, one night after work I braved the cold and headed downtown to check it out.
As I reached the address, I didn’t realize it was actually on the side street. (Thank you to the security guard for pointing that out to me and not making me feel like an ass. He probably gets asked that question a hundred times a day.) So I turned the corner and what do I find? A huge red 30 weeks logo painted on the white wall and also etched on the glass door. I was sort of shocked, it didn’t hit me fully, but instantly happier that I decided to go. The location was Hyper Island, a company focused on designing learning experiences and the main facilitators of the 30 weeks program. Scary, right? Something that was deep-rooted in my psyche was actually coming to fruition. OK, so I wasn’t participating in the 30 weeks program, but now, at least, I was in the space, and with some of that insight in the air it had to rub off on me, right?
The creative workshop was a collaboration between my friend, Dan Castro, photographer and founder of Createshops, and Lisa Pertoso, improv-guru and creative facilitator at Hyper Island. Improv techniques such as “yes, and … “ as well as “yes, but…” were used to help loosen up the room.
At the beginning, not many people knew each other, but after a while, we started to become chummy. This fun evening of meeting and greeting was a collaborative and loose way to showcase various types of brainstorming exercises that creatives do. Lisa and Dan stressed, through personal stories, that ideas do not only have to come from hours of painstakingly boring meetings and big-wig decision-making, they can AND should come from interaction, collaboration, and play. The breakout moment was the fast-paced use of Boomerang to stimulate idea generation. These exercises aid in uncovering new solutions and digital nuggets for anything from social media to large campaign strategies, it’s about thinking out of the box, screen, or desktop … whatever you view as limiting. When your ideas are rooted in these areas you will be able to come up with outcomes that are more interesting, timely, and creative. I enjoyed being part of this group think experiment, it gave me perspective. It put me back in a mindset that working together alongside other creatives is the best way to keep myself engaged. I have to seek out new relationships to continue to spark my own creative initiatives.
Looking back, this workshop did what it set out to do. It got my juices flowing again, it put me in contact with others in the community, and it made me feel good enough. I stayed after to help tidy up — and couldn’t stop gloating to both Dan and Lisa about how perfect this experience was. I wasn’t concerned about my own expectations, only excited about the possibilities that would come out of these fun social gatherings. I left energized and with the hope that I can use some of the strategies to help my students, and also craft a more meaningful idea surrounding my own project. Sometimes you need to see, feel, and experience the signs that are all around you. Don’t be so caught up in the routine that you overlook the obvious.