Let’s imagine that we would do something important to us every day from today on. This could be, for example, a drawing in our sketchbook, a page of our novel, a sports practice, or a Spanish lesson. We can create a minimum amount of activity even on our most stressful days. A rough sketch can be done in a matter of seconds. Instead of writing a page of the novel, even a few lines will do. Instead of 30 minutes of workout, we do only push-ups. Even repeating vocabulary takes only a few minutes.
It’s not about how much time and effort we put in. It’s about doing it daily so that we develop a new habit. Day after day, we reprogram ourselves. Before we know it, the activity becomes second nature, like brushing our teeth.
Now let’s think about what we could have in front of us in a year. The sketchbook is full of drawings, the novel may already be finished, physically we feel fit, and on vacation in Spain, we can now communicate. Making and creating every day has exclusive benefits for our personal and professional development and is quickly done.
Especially when we as illustrators are at the beginning and want to set foot in the market, we need attention to attract potential clients. There are some basic requirements to achieve awareness. We have a portfolio website, have found our style, and share our work regularly on social networks and platforms.
Another method of doing this is beneficial: We reach people when we make illustrative works on topics they already know. This can be movies, music, video games, sports, celebrities, politics, or the latest news. For example, a caricaturist gets more attention when she illustrates famous musicians instead of drawing her family members.
Reimagining the familiar builds a direct connection with viewers through the element of surprise, and there’s a greater chance they’ll forward the work to friends and family. Perhaps this type of connection is even more promising than the originality and quality of the illustration style.
A dream job does not only consist of dream tasks. The first step is to follow our passion in search of our calling. Once we find it, we quickly realize that our dream has a few catches. For example, writing invoices, maintaining the website, night shifts, stressful negotiations, and calls.
Project requests can also seem unspectacular and monotonous. “Why do I always get these boring jobs?” “I’ll get this one over with somehow now, and I’ll go full-throttle on the next one.” However, with this attitude, we sabotage our arduous journey to get here.
The only thing that matters is the work on our table here and now. Instead of condemning and devaluing it from the start, let’s dive into it and grow from it. This is the only way to keep the passion that got us here in the first place.
Competition stimulates business is an old saying in economics. I had a D- (4- in Germany) in my Abitur in geography. But for some reason, I have not forgotten one thing: The agglomeration advantage. In retail, an agglomeration advantage is an increase in sales through spatial proximity to stores with a similar assortment or a similarly pursued pricing strategy (source: onpulson.com). A street full of restaurants and snack bars attracts the hungry. Even though each vendor is in competition, they all benefit equally.
Can it be a coincidence that some of mankind’s most significant artists lived in the same place in the same era? Names like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Botticelli ring bells even to the art philistine. The great masters learned with and from each other. And they were also in competition with each other. For example, Da Vinci found his personal and professional rival in the young Michelangelo. Both of them were commissioned in the early 1500s to each decorate a wall for the Florence’s Council Hall in the Palazzo della Signora with their art. The mere presence of the other will have affected and motivated them somehow. They will have benefited from it. How exciting it must have been to watch these two ambitious geniuses at work in direct comparison.
Our environment affects us, and we affect our environment. Depending on where we move or who we meet, the place and the people influence our path. For my studies in communication design, I moved to Dusseldorf, the fashion city par excellence. As a graphic design student with a passion for illustration, it’s no surprise that I ended up creating t-shirt graphics for fashion brands like Esprit while studying.
Rules, constraints, direction, templates, time pressure, or experience are guardrails of creativity. When we create something that is not bound by any conditions, such as a briefing or deadlines, it can quickly scare us… We are 100% responsible and accountable only to ourselves. Without some kind of primal trust, fighting this resistance is hard. We freeze instead of starting the journey and having an adventure.
I used to feel that the evening and night hours were when I was most creative and worked best. This is not the case.
Over the years, I’ve found that the time right after I get up is when I’m the most productive. I am concentrated, work faster, and hardly get distracted. I also find it easier to come up with ideas. The tank of thoughts is relatively empty in the morning. They don’t jump around yet.
As the day goes on, the tasks on the to-do list pop up and stick stubbornly because I still want to wash the car, write the bill and go grocery shopping.
Meanwhile, I put the most critical tasks in the first hour of the day. That means no meetings, appointments, and no social media, or news.
The first hour is sacred to me and belongs to me alone.
The search for my illustration style has been exciting, full of highlights, and at the same time, often tedious and frustrating. Because I wanted to reach clients, there were always thoughts like what might appeal to potential clients and what’s trending right now. So I tried my hand in different areas. But again and again, I hit a wall. I just didn’t enjoy the topics.
Without motivation and vision, I came across drawings I made as a teenager – a small A6 sketchbook. It was full of ink portraits of Hollywood stars and rappers. When I made these drawings, I wasn’t thinking about customers, the market, or my dream to make money with it. Nobody had paid me to draw this. It was my own drive. Maybe I’d better focus on that, I thought. I did, and it felt liberating.
When I think about advertising on the Internet and conversations with friends and strangers, it is strikingly often about the question: How do I get a lot of money quickly, without much effort? This is a legitimate, albeit risky, goal, as this incentive opens the doors to fraudsters and criminals.
10 years ago, I had the goal to earn a living with my illustrations. As I worked on it for months, searching for my style, I realized something at some point: no amount of money in the world would be able to help me do that. It wouldn’t have spared me the frustration I felt when drawing after drawing ended up in the trash can. Nor would it have made me realize that I’d be better off focusing on athletes and portraits, which I enjoyed the most. And finally, it couldn’t have given me the courage to publish my work on social media. That can only be done with the classic ingredient you can’t buy: Our passion.
In Singapore, I attended a design conference at a university. The host asked a successful creative director what advice he could share for young people and students looking for their own path. He replied, “Ignore the money. Focus on what you love and enjoy doing, and the money will follow you.”
Instead of asking ourselves what we need to do to become millionaires, what would I (continue to) do if I were already a millionaire today?
“You can’t read the label when you’re inside the bottle.”
Chris Do (The Futur)
Business marketer Chris Do is talking here about how we have trouble seeing our own problems and the accompanying, most straightforward solutions. We can only see the world from our own point of view. People who give the most valuable advice often fail in their own lives. For the same reason, advertising and design agencies hire other agencies to develop their own corporate design. We are just too close.
I remember my classmate Laura. We were about 13 or 14 years old and sitting next to each other. While she was diligently taking notes in her notebook, I noticed something. Laura underlined headings and important points. Nothing unusual, actually. But the strokes were extraordinary: every single one was perfect. As if drawn with a ruler. No wobble, no quiver. They were all bolt upright.
I was amazed and asked her to draw several strokes in my notebook. She looked perplexed and drew several lines, one below the other. They looked like they were printed out even when I looked closely. Her friend on the other side had been listening and now noticed it too and said, “That’s right, they’re absolutely straight! Huh, how do you do that?”. It was fascinating.
But what surprised me the most was her reaction when I pointed it out. She was amazed at our enthusiasm, “Honestly?”. She had no idea of her gift. How could she not have known? Minutes later, as I turned back to my lesson, I saw Laura flipping through her notebook, examining her lines, and drawing more.
I don’t know what Laura is doing today. But somehow, I have the feeling that she still hadn’t forgotten that brief moment when she became aware of one of her talents. Just as I have not forgotten it.
When we recognize giftedness in people, we should let them know it. There’s a good chance they won’t have a clue about it, and who knows what direction their lives will take once they find out about it.
Sometimes we feel unmotivated, sluggish, and without energy. We all know this feeling. Yet we wanted to get so much done today. This mood can last for several days or even longer. The unpleasant thing is that we find it more and more challenging to get going each day. To get out of this hole, we can use a little trick that becomes easier the more often we use it: We consciously turn off our mind for a moment at the right time when we feel doubt and the nagging voice creeping up. For this moment, we leave all hindering thoughts outside.
When a client hires freelancers, be they web designers, art directors, translators, or illustrators, they are looking for anchors for safety hooks. Usually, the client does not know the freelancer personally and wants to work with him for the first time. Of course, this involves risks for him. It’s about quality, reliability, speed, flexibility, openness to criticism, friendliness, and positivity.
Once these values and qualities have been conveyed, the subsequent price negotiation is the most minor step. What good is the most beautiful work of art to the customer if it is not delivered on time for the printing deadline? Leonardo da Vinci regularly infuriated his clients by putting them off for years or never starting or finishing orders.
Contracts or no contracts, especially when international collaboration, where litigation is complicated, building trust is crucial. The portfolio is our digital front door. Our business card. We signal here to potential clients that they are in good hands with us through the following points:
Clarity: What do we offer? How can we be reached?
Professional presentation of our services, e.g., low-resolution pictures on our homepage, does not show our exceptional attention to detail. Illuminated photos of our work, on the other hand, do.
About us-page: A portrait photo, a few words about us, and images of our workspace give the client additional insight and a face to the work, emails, and voice on the phone.
Listing of clients and agencies we have already worked with. One completed client project shows that we can reliably bring projects to completion.
Recognition: Whether internationally won awards, online interviews, or local newspaper reports. Every recognition testifies to our professionalism and seriousness.
Testimonials: Words that are worth their weight in gold. Quotes from customers about a successful collaboration are the ultimate confidence builders.
Other ways to build trust:
A blog or vlog with additional behind-the-scenes insights and creative processes.
Behavior on social media: how and what do we write under our posts? How do we formulate comments and answer questions?
When we decide to go our own way, in search of our vocation, we quickly realize that nothing and no one can take over anything for us. Perhaps a teacher can show us a shortcut, or compassionate fellow human beings can hand us a walking stick and offer us shelter. But we have to take every step. We have to face the uncertainty alone. It very much resembles times of grief or lovesickness. Not our mothers, not our friends, not all the money in the world can make it disappear. We are on our own. And that’s perfectly fine.
Audio record – I have always found “write like you talk” a helpful tip. So before I write about a topic, I talk about it in my native language (German) and record my words via my smartphone. Speaking helps me keep sentences short (even if I’d like to get to the point faster). While speaking, I imagine giving a short lecture to students, as I so often actually do.
Write in German – Afterwards, I listen to my words, put them in order, and write them down.
Translation to English – For this, I use deepl.com. Up to 5000 characters per text are possible for free. In addition to the translation, you can search for alternative word suggestions by moving the mouse over the words.
Spell-checker #2 – grammarly.com is an excellent program to find more mistakes and improve the structure of a sentence. The price for the premium package is $144 per year.
In the long run, it will come down to a professional translator. In the meantime, if you have any other suggestions for writing texts in English, feel free to share them with me.
The first part was that the fear of the blank page can indicate being on the right path. It is important to us, so we should pursue it even more. Now we are talking about procrastination as a tool for quality.
Leonardo da Vinci was a genius in his art but a lousy freelancer. He was known for not meeting deadlines on commissioned work and even failing to complete much of it. It got to the point where his father had to do the condition negotiating, knowing how unreliable his son was at work.
But of course, he was never lazy. Doing nothing was as much a part of his creative process as the act of painting itself:
“Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work less, for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterward give form.”
Leonardo da Vinci
One day Leonardo da Vinci was discussing creativity with a dissatisfied client. He demanded that Leonardo stop taking breaks. But Leonardo replied that “sometimes it requires going slowly, pausing, even procrastinating. That allows ideas to marinate. Intuition needs nurturing.”
So doing nothing does not literally mean doing nothing. Ideas need time to take hold and mature. That’s why solutions or ideas often come to us during activities that have little to do with the task. The classic “aha” moment is while taking a shower or driving a car.
So we don’t always need to feel guilty when our bodies aren’t working. Our subconscious mind continues to do it. Without our action, however, it will never exist. We must be aware of this.
A tip when working with clients. Let’s not complicate the client’s life and our own unnecessarily. We need a buffer for schedule and fee for just this “doing nothing.”
Book Tip: Leonardo da Vinci – The Biography by Walter Isaacson