Surprise ourselves to break through walls that block us

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.  

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When it comes to clients, it’s all about trust

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?

Our path is a lonely one

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.

How I write posts as a non-native English speaker

  • 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 #2grammarly.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

Procrastination is not always bad (part 2)

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

The smart one takes notes. The dumb one remembers

In 2003 I worked as a comic artist for an advertising agency. My boss at the time, Andrea, noticed that I was taking notes on my drawings during all our meetings and every brief feedback. She said this sentence, “The smart one writes it down, the dumb one remembers it,” which has remained in my memory. So often, we forget things. Yet we were so sure we would remember. Then we get annoyed when we have to ask the customer or teacher.

But taking notes is not only helpful in conversations with others. Without a notebook or sketchbook, a thinking mind is like a gold panning sieve with large holes. So many creative ideas, clever ideas, and ideal solutions slip through our fingers because we haven’t captured them at the moment. This can be recognized because long-forgotten thoughts jump at us when we browse our old notebooks.

On the other hand, we can also see it like Stephan King, who says: “A writer’s notebook is the best way in the world to immortalize bad ideas. My idea about a good idea is one that sticks around and sticks around and sticks around.” So maybe we just need the fat gold nuggets in the sieve after all? The fat fish in the pond?

„We need to tell a story!“

Whether it’s an insurance company, a manufacturer of gasket rings, or a designer of handmade jewelry, when it comes to marketing, the topic of storytelling quickly comes up: “What story can we tell about our product or service?“ The answer is that we don’t need to find a story. We already have one: our own.

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Procrastination is not always bad (part 1)

Sure, the sooner the dishes or paying bills is done the better.

However, in the creative process, we often read about the burden of procrastination, the first stroke on the canvas. The first step is always the hardest, it is said.

But what does procrastination mean in creativity? It means to be afraid. Fear of our own failure. It means being afraid of disappointing ourselves when what we create doesn’t look, sound, or feel like we thought.

However, it also means that it is important to us. We want to do it well. We want to give it its due. Resistance knocks on the door whenever we care about something.

So as soon as the often frustrating state of procrastination and uncertainty arises, we can see it as our compass. We are on the right track.

“Do you have a second?” questions are a lie

Every one of us knows these questions and has certainly used them before. “Can you print that out for me real quick?”, “Will you take a short break with me?”, “Can you write him back just briefly?”. Whenever someone asks us to do something like that, we know it will never be quick, short, or brief. Both sides know that even writing a “short” email takes time and that printing something out can lead to complications, for example, when the printer cartridge is empty again.

But that is not all. “Do you have a second?” is a distraction vortex. If we are pulled out of our work, we lose our flow. Just as we lose momentum when a slow truck moves into the passing lane in front of us. We have to work our way back into it later, which takes time and energy. We always lose significantly more than “one second.” 

In their well worth reading book “Make Time,” Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky write about how minor distractions create much larger holes in our day. They call these events time craters and explain how to prevent them and protect ourselves from them.

Quick hack to organize emails: using keywords

To have important emails quickly at hand later, we can include keywords that we can then enter into the search. For example, in price negotiations, we often send several versions of the offer until we have agreed on a fee and the rights of use with the customer. Keywords such as “clientname-finalestimate” help here. Other possibilities are “projectnamehiresfiles” if the print data has been sent or “database” if the contact is to be entered in the database later.

These keywords can stand below the signature in light gray or in white font if they should not be visible to the contact.

Emails are risk-minimizers

From my experience as an illustrator, most communication with clients is via email. And that’s a good thing. The written record, starting with the inquiry, the individual process steps, and the data transfer, gives both sides the necessary security for smooth cooperation.

It forces us to think in a structured way and quickly shows which points are still open or incorrect. Especially at the beginning, all basic conditions must be clearly formulated, such as illustration style, scope, rights of use, and deadline. Even before it goes into pricing, establishing these points is crucial for the client and us. They are our location coordinates to keep track of where we are and where we are going during our journey together.

Emails are our joint diary on this trip. A documentation of our collaboration. The client and the freelancer keep each other updated and agree on our next steps.

Phone calls and Zoom meetings are great for quickly exchanging information or discussing more complex issues. However, most misunderstandings and mistakes hide here. Discussed points are forgotten, and things are understood differently. That is simply human. Therefore, we take notes during every call and announce that we will send the customer a short email with the discussed points after the conversation. In it, we ask for a quick confirmation that everything has been recorded correctly.

We secure ourselves and our work steps. At the same time, we also give the customer security. This is so important for cooperation. He feels transparently kept up to date and can devote himself to other tasks with complete peace of mind.

From the basement to the attic – moving a creative mind

As stressful as house moves usually are, there’s something very comforting about them. We can finally sort out the things we no longer need. Some decisions are easier than others. It looks more organized, and we feel relieved to have parted with things. 

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Observe externally. Observe internally. Create immediately. Repeat endlessly

One of the most frequently asked questions by design students is “How do I find my own style?” The way to get there is by observing or absorbing our environment with all our senses. That’s why many teachers and professors insist on sketching regularly, capturing our environment. More about this here.

At the same time, we closely observe our reaction to it. What do we like, and especially why do we like it. Why can’t we get that book cover out of our heads? Why can’t we get enough of that song? What do we particularly like about this painting? Is it the colors, the motif, or the loose brushwork? By observing our inner emotional world, it is as if we are trying to taste the ingredients of our favorite dish. 

Now comes the most crucial thing: action. Without the act of creating, we are stuck in this world. We hold on to our discoveries. But we need to make room for the next ones. So we start taking action. We draw, write, design, compose or build. We create. Only then are we open to new things again.

The intensive observation pays off because the gained “ingredients” slowly start to flow into our work. The more we produce, the more intensively we “taste” them, and the stronger our intuition becomes. 

Plan B simply doesn’t exist. We can only do plan A or either not do plan A

When we commit ourselves to doing something that will significantly change our lives, we automatically look for a safety hook. What if it doesn’t work out? Isn’t it comforting to know that we can always go back or have an alternative at hand so we don’t find ourselves destitute on the street?

When I decided to do illustration for a living, I had a plan B (more on that in a more detailed post). Even today, I think that plan B would have been a great success. The idea was good, the demand was high, the effort was manageable. For weeks, I worked on it, the product, the website, and the logo (all this while trying to get a foothold with my illustrations). But one crucial ingredient was missing, with which, however, everything stands and falls: passion.

It actually felt like work, unlike drawing and experimenting with colors and materials. So I deleted plan B from my life and was finally able to invest my gained time in plan A, the only plan that matters.

We feel fear precisely because something is important to us. Fear of the unknown is part of our journey. It has to be. After all, we’ve never been there before. Let’s set out without a safety rope, without a double bottom. Otherwise, we rob ourselves of this critical component on the way to our goal.

Copying honestly is not cheating

One student said that she always feels guilty when she tries to copy work from her role models and lacks the motivation to start. “It’s not even my work.”

My math teacher at school once said, “Go ahead and make your cheat sheets. Write down the formulas, the example calculations, and the solutions. Then before you enter the classroom, throw the slips of paper in the trash can.” She knew that something was already happening in our minds when we write things down, and more of the subject matter sticks.

It’s the same with creative work. Let’s copy, trace, and replicate our heroes’ work as many times as possible. Eventually, something magical happens. The more we copy, the more a secret ingredient gets mixed in: It’s ourselves. In the process of creating, it is impossible to prevent our personality, our view of the world, our interpretation, our handwriting, our attitude from flowing into the work.

There is also nothing wrong with sharing this work with people, as long as we include the source of inspiration. There is hardly a greater and more flattering compliment than reading “Illustration based and inspired by one of my favorite artists Sergio Ingravalle.”

Only when we copy work and put our name on it, it’s like slowly pulling the cheat sheet out of the pencil case during the exam and painfully straining our eyes.