I write this blog for two reasons. Writing helps me organize my thoughts. It is an attempt to make them more tangible to me. Formulating forces me to focus on the essentials, which allows me to fill in gaps and identify contradictions. In short, afterward, I realize whether what I have been thinking corresponds to my reality.
On the other hand, I have gained much experience in the creative industry over the last 20 years. Starting with an internship at a small advertising agency, then an apprenticeship and a degree, and ending with many years of freelance work as an illustrator.
Both reasons are equally important to me. It is a pleasure if the reader can use and take away something from my experiences for his or her own journey. After all, I know from my own life how much people can positively impact others.
But they are and remain my very subjective experiences and views. If I write in a post about how I think it’s helpful in the home office not to work in jogging clothes or pajamas for various reasons, that’s entirely my view. It is my experience. It cannot and should not necessarily be taken as law. Some people would vehemently disagree with me on the jogging pants question. And that is perfectly okay. Everyone eventually finds their own methods and makes their own experiences. There is no right or wrong sometimes. I avoid formulations like “you must” and “you shall” when writing. No one can know what works best for the other. That is up to each of us.
However, sharing your own experiences can have a positive effect, especially on young people. It can motivate, encourage, warn, and provide clarity. That’s why I do not expect it, but I am happy if you gain something of value for your path in my texts.
It starts with the language. In Germany, we say, Ich bin Illustrator, Ich bin Maurer, Ich bin Psychologe (I am an illustrator, …). This formulation creates a strong connection between work and identity: I am what I do.
But this attitude is risky and can be unhealthy. From a connection, dependency may arise. So, as part of society, I am measured by what I do. At the same time, I begin to measure myself by it. It’s constraining.
What happens when a serious injury forces a professional football player to end his career? Or when a 5-star chef loses his sense of taste? Is his identity lost with that?
In Italy, they say Faccio l’illustratore, Faccio il muratore, Faccio il psicologo. This means as much as I make … or I work as … The language creates a distance to identity.
Once we realize that what we do is only a by-product of who we are, our lives will become easier. We deal better with criticism, detach more easily from expectations, and take the freedom to redesign our lives.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
What exactly makes a child an artist? The first thing that comes to mind with this is fearlessness in creating. A toddler who sees a pencil and a piece of paper doesn’t hesitate for a moment. She doesn’t wonder if the paper is rough or shiny. She doesn’t consider whether the crayon is sharpened or dull. She starts, draws lines, taps dots on the paper, and tries different colors.
As soon as she is done, she puts down the pencil and runs to her friends or the next toy. She has already forgotten her work. She does not sign it and then carefully puts it in a folder. For the toddler, the picture has no value. When my son scribbles lines on a paper, I’m the one who keeps it or hangs it on the wall. He, on the other hand, moves on.
From an adult’s perspective, this is enviable. It is not about fearlessness but the absence of judgment. The child does not yet evaluate her work or compare herself. She has no expectations towards herself, her abilities, or her talent and does not think about the expectations of others. She just does it and then does it again.
This approach we can take as a model because, out of fear of the outcome, we often don’t even start or, as Homer Simpson would put it, “Trying is the first step towards failure” 😉
A sketchbook can be an outlet. It’s where we can try things out, make mistakes, and record bad drawings or ideas. The pages are not masterpieces. They are our playground. And when the book is complete, we close it and just move on.
When we talk about the profession of an illustrator, we usually think of drawings. But drawing talent is not necessarily required to create an illustration. A cursory doodle while talking on the phone, a photo collage, or a child’s drawing can be an illustration when used in the proper context.
In art, the artist usually tries to externalize his inner emotional world. On the other hand, an illustration always serves the viewer, the audience. The illustration is a call to action. It captures the reader’s attention in a magazine, encouraging him to read the article. In advertising, an illustration style can be distinctively associated with a product or service. In a medical book, the purpose of illustration is to simplify complex content.
As long as an image that is not a photograph conveys or supports a message, it can be considered an illustration.
Creating a portrait is a process full of ups and downs. Some parts of the face are always exciting to draw, while others drag on torturously.
The most exciting and crucial part is the eyes. The eyes never lie, they say, and this is just as true in portrait drawing. A perfectly drawn ear cannot save the work if the look is not on point.
It’s pretty different when drawing long, dark hair. I often put off this part as long as I can because it’s by far the most monotonous. For hours I draw one line over the other. In the process, I usually feel boredom at the beginning. Sometimes even frustration and the feeling that I am wasting my life. In the best case, a kind of meditation develops after a while, where my thoughts drift away and time flies.
But I know hair is also part of the finished portrait, just like the eyes. Knowing that this part also has its place and needs my full attention helps me deal with the monotony. Better yet, I can adjust to it. Often, that’s when I turn up the music loud, talk to friends on the phone, or run an episode of Breaking Bad on the iPad.
Every “dream job” has its small and large downsides. However, if we enjoy doing something and are passionate enough about it, we can counter these phases consciously and positively.
Usually, the first hours of the day are our most productive, focused, and energized time. Spending them on reactive work (for example, answering emails, bookkeeping, or on social media) comes at the expense of the actual and meaningful work, which is creative work.
When we create things, shape our environment and develop ideas, it triggers the most diverse feelings in us. Often it is frustrating, sometimes fulfilling and satisfying. Even a sense of pride in our own work is possible.
Creative work, it seems, has something magical about it. Sometimes we are overcome with the belief that we alone can change the world, improve it and reach for the stars with our work. To live a creative life is to live a valuable, contributing, good life. Without becoming blasphemous, creation from nothing inevitably has a spiritual, religious connotation. It must therefore be positive.
The truth is that creativity is just as cruel and destructive in nature. Torture methods of all eras are full of creativity. So are smoking campaigns, propaganda tools, and any weapons. Even the targeted starvation of the enemy by cutting off supply passes as a war strategy came from creative thinking.
I’m not sure why I’m formulating this thought on creativity right now. Maybe because I find myself putting it on a golden pedestal from time to time. Sometimes in front of others and sometimes in front of myself. Yet, like everything else that makes up life, it is dual. And thus, responsibility arises within the creative process. I find it grounding to keep this in mind from time to time.
Saying “no” or asking follow-up questions can be difficult, especially at the beginning of our career. Yet we usually save ourselves a lot of trouble by doing so.
If we are not satisfied with the terms of a job request, let us communicate our concerns to the client. These can be about the budget, the briefing, the deadline, the creative process, and more.
If we don’t address the issues right away, we’ll have to do it at a later time. And then it gets complicated for both sides. After all, we’re already in the middle of it by then, and the questions we didn’t ask blow up in our faces. That can be very upsetting and annoying, especially for the client.
So let’s be upfront about everything from the beginning and insist on answers before we start working. Worrying that our concerns will stress or even scare off the client should not be a reason not to do it.
Are all the issues resolved? Great, we can get on with the project. Have we lost the client through our necessary urge for clarity? Great, we’ve almost certainly saved ourselves a challenging assignment that would have been nerve-wracking and financially difficult due to the inevitable hurdles in the process.
When in doubt, let’s use the big No just once at the beginning, instead of little No‘s over and over again later in the process.
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.