The difference between learning in school and studying design and art

The most significant difference between school and a design and art degree is that it’s no longer primarily about getting good grades. Studying is about experimenting, developing joy and ambition in creative work, gaining new perspectives, and learning from others.

It may happen that our vision of a project does not match the professor’s vision. This is fine, as long as we have considered and tried out his objections and idea in the creative process. After all, the long experience of professors is a gold mine for us. The chance to benefit from them is a privilege. But design and art are harder to measure in their impact than a math path or a Spanish exam.

So instead of chasing good grades as usual while satisfying parents and teachers, it’s all about being creative. In this way, we come closer to our own voice and calling. This is what makes us interesting for future clients and job applications. Once we have achieved this, no one is interested in grades anymore.

Saving money to keep the power of saying “No”

Last week’s post was about how “No” is a tool for freelancers. But to use it confidently, we need savings, a financial cushion that keeps us independent. It’s harder to say “No” when bills are piling up.

The freedom to say “No” when requests or price negotiations don’t suit us is fundamental in the long run. After all, we’d instead work on our portfolio or personal projects than accept a project request we had doubts about from the start.

Therefore, let’s set aside enough money to allow us to use “No.” This is only fair to clients and to us.

If we need more information from the client, let’s ask

Requests from potential clients can vary. Some are detailed and precise, while others are concise and sparse on necessary information.

If we lack information to provide a quote or to confirm our availability, we are not afraid to ask. These can be questions in the illustration: How, where, and how long will the illustration be used? When is the deadline? Color or black and white? What is the print run, or what size is the format?

If in doubt, we ask several times until we have all the necessary details to make a realistic, transparent, and binding statement. Let’s prefer to be a little demanding initially rather than again and again later in the working process.

In general, these questions are a sign of professionalism. However, it can also happen that our counterpart reacts impatiently or even annoyed, and cooperation does not arise. In this case: Congratulations! If it already fails at basic things, we have most likely saved ourselves an energy-sapping, time, money, and nerve-consuming collaboration.

The precious power of using “No”

For freelancers and self-employed people, “no” is a powerful tool, like the computer, the Internet, Excel, Photoshop, pen, and paper. We use it, for example, when we don’t feel comfortable with a project request or when we’re negotiating prices.

Over time, we become more confident in using “no” because we can justify it with our experience. We learn to use it at the right time and realize that it does not imply any personal valuation, neither when we say it nor when we receive it.

We see it as an adjustment, similar to when someone on the street asks us if he is on the right way to the train station. If he is going in the wrong direction, we reply “No” and show him the right way. An honest “No” is precious for all sides. Let’s use it.

Our portfolio should convey our passion, not all our talents

Our portfolio should only present the works that we like to repeat. Especially as beginners, we tend to show everything we have created. We should definitely resist this. Especially if the response to one of our works was strikingly positive, but we felt little ambition and passion about the work itself. Being good at something does not obligate us to do it for life.

Goethe says, “I can’t get rid of the spirits I called.” If we are not careful, we find ourselves doing years of work that do not fulfill us. Our hands may do it well, but our heart longs for something else. This will not make us happy.

Self-generated time pressure can be a productivity booster

I’ve been writing about creativity, freelancing, and illustration daily for over four months. Last Wednesday was a jam-packed day, and started to write around 11:30pm. I was tired and didn’t know what to write about at all.

The motivation was low. I almost broke the streak and just went to bed. Then I saw that the laptop battery was showing 7%. I decided not to plug in the charging cable. The time to write something was thus limited, and so now all decisions fell quickly. In the end, I wrote two sentences beside the headline. But that was perfectly fine, and I got to bed before midnight.

Without the time pressure, I probably would have worked on the post for a long time, or maybe I wouldn’t have written it. Instead of adjusting the situation to our needs, we can try to adapt to it ourselves now and then.

Inspiration – a romantic notion of the origin of creativity

Waiting for inspiration is not enough. We have to get it, work for it. From my experience, it only comes in the making and playing. Not necessarily at that exact moment, but when we switch our minds into discovery mode.

This happens as soon as we try to physically capture our idea. For example, when an advertiser scribbles his first ideas for a campaign on a napkin, a screenwriter writes down the plot for the first time, or a children’s book illustrator draws his first sketch of the character in his sketchbook.

Once we break through that initial barrier, we start to see things that we can relate to our project or story anytime, anywhere. We put out our feelers, and we pick only the best from what the world has to offer us.

Let’s embrace frustration in the creative process. It will strike us anyway

Frustration is usually perceived as something negative. In a way, it is. Who likes that uncomfortable burning feeling behind the chest when the drawing, the layout, or the story doesn’t look like we imagined it. In our minds, it looked already finished, so simple to accomplish.

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As freelancers, we need a daily cut, or we are not free at all

When I decided to go the freelance illustrator route, I quickly noticed the differences between permanent employment. We usually have a commute in a permanent position that we do every morning and after work. This one we can find annoying and a waste of time. But the commute home has a valuable advantage. It makes a clear cut between our work and our free time, which helps us structure our daily lives.

As freelancers, this physical cut is often missing. Often, the place where we work and create is the same place where we eat, watch movies, and go to sleep. As a result, we quickly tend to lose track of time and merge our free time with our work time. In short, we lose piece by piece our life outside work. In the times of Covid, many permanent employees are in home offices, so they have experienced the same thing.

There are simple methods to create physical cuts if we can’t or don’t want to go to an external place, such as a co-working space. A fundamentally important one is to dress for work as if we are going to the office. Maybe not in a suit and patent leather shoes, but not in sweatpants or pajamas. This daily routine affects our attitude during work hours. Then, after work is done, slipping into sweatpants is not only a signal to us that we can leave work behind for the day. It can also feel good and earned, and there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying it.

Silence is a tool for creative ideas

Creative meetings, where participants brainstorm or play ping-pong with their thoughts, are an effective way to come up with original ideas.

I believe that creative thinking in a group is ideal for starting and finishing a new project. However, in my experience, the real magic happens in silence when there are no external stimuli like voices, music, time pressure, Instagram, emails, or phone calls. When we have the opportunity to listen to what we have to say to ourselves. Whether we call it inspiration, gut feeling, or the inner voice. In solitude and silence, all the big fish of ideas swim. Steven Spielberg puts it this way:

“Your instinct, your human personal intuition always whispers. It never shouts.”

Steven Spielberg

Switching our minds into discovery mode

The first step is the most important, they say. But why is that so?

We have managed to conquer the first stage of resistance, for one thing. This can take a lot of strength, overcoming, and a lot of time in the worst case.

The best part is that the first step can be minimal. The first sketch of an idea for a new advertising campaign, the first sentence of our novel, or the first Google search on our bachelor thesis.

The first step may take a few moments, but what happens to us at that moment changes everything. Because the moment we start, we put on a pair of glasses. More precisely, we look through a template or filter from now on. We switch our minds into discovery mode.

Suddenly, whether consciously or subconsciously, we begin to perceive things around us differently related to our project. Similar to the phenomenon that if we bought a red jeep, we now start seeing red jeeps everywhere on the roads. They were always there, but now we see them first.

Our subconscious works from now on, even when we do something completely different, like the household. The well-known brilliant idea that struck us in the shower is not creativity. It is only the result of creativity.

Building a new routine: the Golden Coin Method

A small change can make much bigger changes happen in the future. That’s the idea behind the butterfly effect. Likewise, a minimal change in our daily routine can have a massive impact on our lives in the long run. The best part is that it doesn’t take much effort to drastically change our lives and achieve our goals. All it takes is some consistency and perseverance.

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