At the beginning of March, I decided to write a thought about creativity, freelancing, and illustration every working day and publish it here.
More than three months later, a nice vacation is just around the corner. For a long time, I thought about posting here daily during this time as well. I will not do it and observe if it is easy for me or maybe even good for me to take a break.
I thank you for your visits up here. See you in ten days.
“The life you live is equally or more important for longevity.”
This is a nice and positive saying. Nevertheless, it might sound a bit trite, and you think you’ve read it dozens of times on calendars or postcards. Maybe a young fitness coach also mentioned this sentence during his lecture on healthy eating.
The words come from Alexander Imich, who in 2014 became the world’s oldest living man. He was 111. With this information, the phrase “The life you live is equally or more important for longevity” suddenly impacts us. After all, it comes from someone who has achieved something extraordinary that only a few do.
At work, we often say, “Success proves her right.” If someone is successful in his doing, it usually makes us more willing to listen to the person very carefully.
In creative work, there are two kinds of impatience. One moves us forward. The other gets in our way.
For example, let’s assume we take a video game design class and have an idea for a new kind of gameplay. We spend hours late at night and on weekends developing and testing. We impatiently long for a result.
A web designer feels similarly, sitting in front of a programming error and knowing that the solution can’t be far away. His curiosity is on. Even in bed, he thinks about a possible solution and can’t wait to test it first thing in the morning.
When I decided to go into illustration, I couldn’t wait to get my portfolio website online and share it with the world. I worked obsessively on illustration projects, tweaked the design and presentation for months, and prepared my social media channels. I made a detailed plan and worked every spare minute to reach my goal as quickly as possible.
This kind of impatience, triggered by passion, is unbeatably productive.
Another kind of impatience, on the other hand, has a toxic effect in the long run. The impatience for the reaction of others. The reaction to our video game, website, or illustration portfolio.
Frustration is not far away when we begin to measure appreciation and respect through receiving job requests, likes, comments, or any other feedback. The healthiest thing to do is not to expect anything. We can only experiment, observe, adjust and adapt to our possibilities. Everything else is out of our hands.
Let’s use the time when we hypnotically check our accounts for likes to throw ourselves back with zeal into the projects we passionately can’t wait to realize.
This is the German and Italian version of the saying “there’s no harm in asking.” Sometimes it is helpful to remind ourselves when we need advice and help.
At the beginning of my studies in communication design, I was supposed to lecture about a Korean designer. When researching, I faced a problem because I could hardly find any information: only a simple homepage, no interview, and only a few reports.
The whole week I searched desperately for information. Finally, I had to explain to my professor that the presentation would be relatively short. He said, “have you asked him?”.
The scales fell from my eyes. Why didn’t I think of it myself? The possibility was so close? What prevented me from simply writing to the designer directly and asking for an interview? Was it the thought of not wanting to bother, of being a nuisance? Was it awe? Or perhaps the shame of revealing myself as an inexperienced student in front of a renowned designer? I can’t put my finger on the reason, but eventually, I wrote a short email asking for a few questions to be answered.
The presentation was a success. My fellow students were amazed that I had written directly to the designer. So I was not alone with my initial concerns.
Therefore: It costs nothing to ask. There is nothing wrong with approaching people directly when we have concerns or need advice. We may not get an answer, but we don’t take that personally. However, if we do get one, it is most likely to be positive.
With this attitude, four years later, I contacted countless designers in Australia and Southeast Asia for a meeting and an interview for my thesis. As many as 90% replied, and about 70% were looking forward to our meeting. The result was dozens of inspiring and warm conversations that have stuck with me.
PS: there are very few cases where asking actually did “cost” me something. More about that in another post.
Bookkeeping, answering emails, and doing household tasks, have something treacherous about them. Once we get them done, it feels good. They make us feel like we’ve been diligent. Giving these tasks a high priority and doing them first thing is tempting. After all, we can usually finish them quickly and without any particular effort. In addition, we see the results immediately: the inbox shows no new emails or our office finally looks tidy again.
However, each of us has a period during the day when we are particularly productive. For many, it’s the first hours of the morning. This is definitely true for me. That’s why I tackle the most critical tasks in the morning. These are tasks that require my total concentration and creative thinking.
It has turned out for me that spending these precious hours on “simple” tasks is counterproductive. Instead, I schedule them for the afternoon, when my energy starts to wane. That’s the ideal time to answer emails, write bills, and clean the dishwasher.
These mundane tasks also have a nice side effect. We can consciously use them as a little motivational boost. If our concentration is at its lowest point for the day, it’s best to pause the important work and go for the things that don’t demand much of us. Usually, we feel good, relieved, and full of energy afterward. Finally, these tasks are off the list, and we can use this inner boost for our essential tasks again.
By consciously paying attention to how we feel in different situations and moments, we get to know ourselves better.
A simple example is movies when we go out of the cinema and afterward talk with our friends about how bad the movie was? In the next step, we can try to find out why exactly we feel that way. Was the story perhaps too predictable? Were the dialogues too unrealistic or the characters unsympathetic?
Now we ask ourselves what we would have done differently? Can we think of any ideas on how the story could have been more exciting? How would Tarantino have written the dialogue? What exactly was missing from the main character so we could have empathized with her better?
We can apply this inner analysis to almost everything in life. We usually remember one or two works in particular when we visit an exhibition. Maybe it will stick with us for the rest of our lives. Let’s not just take this experience for granted. Let’s find out the reason. Is it the colors, the idea, the material, the motif? What precisely in this particular work is the essence of our attention? The answer to this question is a piece of the puzzle to our vocation, style, and inner voice, making us unique.
I have always liked the color combinations of black, white with red, for example, like the movie posters for Scarface with Al Pacino or the covers of Sin City comics. They have stuck to me since childhood. In retrospect, it was inevitable that my Mindshots series would consist of this color combination.
How we stand in front of our audience immediately reflects how we feel: insecure, confident, nervous, on the verge of flight, or joyful anticipation. But more importantly, our stance and posture directly affect ourselves.
A secure and firm stance means that both feet are shoulder-width apart. This automatically means that the knees are pushed through, and the back is straight. Through this stand, completely different energy flows in our bodies. Our voice becomes minimally deeper, our gaze more concentrated. Shoes with a stiff sole can support this, as we are not as flexible wearing them as soft sneakers.
With the firm stand, we give our body and our head the signal: Now it gets serious! We go into communication mode. We are facing the audience head-on. Our total concentration belongs to them, and we start to talk consciously and thoughtfully about what we have planned.
No matter how the audience perceives us, sympathetic, arrogant, friendly, or hardened, there is one thing we do not appear to be: insecure.
We all know that nagging feeling of procrastination when we put off a job, a study project, or a simple call to the tax office. The task is stuck in our head and keeps popping up, whether we wake up, work, watch a movie, or are at the gym.
The best solution is to just get it done. But sometimes, things get in the way and make it difficult or even impossible. There comes the point when we think about the task and feel more pressure to get it done than we did yesterday. Perhaps the client or professor has asked about the status, or the deadline of the tax office is about to expire.
Suddenly, an uncomfortable heat rises inside us that stirs us up. We should never ignore this moment. Our subconscious fires a final warning shot that we should listen to. It means that it is not too late yet… but it will be very soon. Even if our head could suppress or postpone it for a long time to do the task, our subconscious does not.
When people visit me in my home office or see my office via Calls, they are often surprised and sometimes even disappointed. At first glance, it hardly differs from the office of a tax consultant.
If we think of artists, the image is usually beautifully chaotic, in a studio with high ceilings, the walls, and the artist full of paint. Pens, brushes, and unfinished sketches are scattered everywhere.
It might look like this when I’m trying new techniques or need watercolor splotches for my illustration. But as a freelance illustrator, it’s all about one thing: efficiency. We serve with our skills to achieve the goals of others.
The clients are often magazines and agencies with strict deadlines. The goal is to achieve visible results in a short time. Any available means are okay for this, such as Photoshop. If the client’s feedback on a portrait is, “Could the person smile a little more?” it doesn’t mean I redraw the mouth completely. Deadlines often don’t even allow for that effort. Using the distortion tool in Photoshop, I pull up the corners of the mouth in a few seconds until it fits. If the client is satisfied with the result, my work is done.
By doing so, we are making a few promises to ourselves and the people we try to reach.
For weeks I wrestled back and forth. What do I want? Am I a graphic designer, a T-shirt designer, or a communication designer? What job title or description should I put under my name?
In and out of college, I developed many interests. To survive in the marketplace, I needed to serve a niche. That was clear to me from the start. As an all-rounder, it would be difficult for me to be successful and, above all, happy.
Sergio Ingravalle – Illustrator
When I called and recognized myself as an illustrator, my life became easier. Even though I had already done some illustration jobs by then, this step was precious.
An illustrator illustrates.
He doesn’t create corporate designs, program websites, or layout magazines. He creates images. He draws, paints, cuts, glues, doodles. And that’s what I did from then on until people who visited my homepage could clearly see what they could expect from me.
Let’s face the truth. There are countless artists, illustrators, designers, musicians, and writers out there. Just take a look at Instagram or Youtube. We are inundated with people and fantastic talents working in the same field and who are more successful than we are. Each one has his own story, vision, views, and skills. But part of the truth is that countless clients worldwide are willing to work with us. There are enough opportunities for all of us.
If we want to reach people and create new opportunities with our creative work and ideas, we need to share them with the world. There is no other option.
We need a dose of courage to do this because suddenly, our work is no longer just in our drawer. People see them, can evaluate them, or ignore them. We have to get used to that, especially at the beginning, and by building sharing into our daily routine, we will sooner or later.
So let’s make a practical and realistic plan. A simple calendar will do. On which day do we share what and where with the world? If we stick to this plan long enough, it will soon become a habit, and we will learn to break the initial resistance step by step.
Working as a creative requires courage. A writer doesn’t know how his book will end when he writes the first page. An artist doesn’t know what her painting will look like when she starts mixing the colors. Even the most experienced professional cannot guarantee that his next work will be a masterpiece.
The final result is written in the stars. To charge for creative work, therefore, requires even more courage. The outcome is intangible, and its impact is initially hard to measure. We need confidence in ourselves, a form of self-awareness that makes us realize that we can only influence and control the process. We are paid for finding the idea, not for the idea itself.
Asking ourselves this question is crucial to our business. If we are an illustrator or a designer, our clients are usually advertising agencies and publishers. To make them aware of our work, we have several options.
Social networks are one. But who are we really reaching on Instagram? Are our followers really potential clients or mainly students, fans of our work, family members, and friends? Even though fans can turn into clients now and then, we should be able to answer this question.
It gets more concrete on platforms like Behance and Dribbble. This is where designers of all kinds publish their work. Someone looking for a professional illustrator or book designer is more likely to find someone here than on Facebook.
At design conventions and award shows, we mostly meet fellow designers instead of new clients. Giving talks at local events may be more effective.
To see where our target group stands out, we can simulate their view and path. Let’s imagine that we, as an illustrator, go on a search for a suitable illustrator for our project ourselves. We observe and register all our actions in the process: What search terms do we enter? Which website does our search take us to? Which platform seems most promising?
We have to walk in their shoes to see where our customers stand.
Maybe you don’t feel blessed with creative talent or are not yet exceptional in your skills. But there is a hack that allows us to see the world differently and with a new view. It allows us to see it through the eyes of an artist right here and now. Are you ready? Ok.
Look for something natural in your environment, for example, a cloud or a leaf. Your task now is:
How would you explain what you see to a blind person?
Give it a try. I will go into more detail in a future post.