Hey creatives, I have a little rant for you today that I have been working on this week in between projects. I hope you’ll find it useful 😉
We don’t need art in our life, …are you sure?
The odds against a ‘creative’ begin from when they tell their parents they want to take up art at school (unless their parents are artists, or rich) because creative careers are tedious; the path is distorted, there are no defined rules, and if you find out at the end of it that you’re just not that good enough, there are little things you can do to advance (plus you also get a broken heart, a broken ego and possibly an empty wallet).
Before you decide to study arts & creative subjects, be aware; people who don’t care and understand the subject will put you down constantly, most of the time unintentionally, because to most people, art & design are pretty things that we do for fun. You wouldn’t ask a doctor to see you for free, but you would ask your neighbour’s son who knows how to use a bit of Photoshop to fix an old photograph for free.
Most people do not take art and design seriously because they not deal with life and death. We could live without them I suppose, but can you imagine life without them? Can you imagine not having art to show us a glimpse of history? Look at yourself and around you, who designed your laptop? The icons and any sort of interface that you are using online? Your clothes, your shoes, your chair, desk, the covers of your books and the sleek look of your iPad (Not to mention the fantastic 3d animation that you have just seen at the movies). Can you imagine engineering without design? Imagine just for one second, functional objects that have been created without aesthetics in mind, and if you’re picturing a cool minimalistic environment, you’re wrong again, minimalism is an art movement.
A distorted path is not bad, it’s normal
The good news is that studying creative subjects is becoming more more acceptable, if not more trendy. Creative careers are continuously expanding and becoming more specific (just look at film credits), so if you’re good at what you do, and you’re willing to work hard, you will probably make it. It is important to remember however, that not every artist goes through the same path. Some decide to move abroad to give their brain a bit of a culture shock, some are lucky and get good jobs immediately, others have to work in catering for ages before getting something worthwhile, while others develop their career slowly through contacts. It shouldn’t matter on which point in your path you are at the moment, what should matter is that you are creating work that you are proud of, rather than making bad work for quick cash. This is why low-paying agencies can kill a creative’s drive. Do it for a few years to get experience and industry practice, but run as soon as you find an opportunity, and never stop working on your own projects if you’re serious about your work.
When I was a kid, I wanted to become a fairy, then a pharmacist, and even a hairdresser but eventually I decided that I loved drawing and wanted to do something with that. I never wanted to be a fine artist though. Consoles took over my childhood; Socrates, VideoPainter, the MicroGenius, PS1, PS2 and when the PS3 was out I lost interest, but I chose to study graphic design, because it was the closest thing I could do in Malta to gaming and art. I then travelled to the UK to study multimedia, technology and design; this involved filming, web and programming. My last endeavor was taking up a part time Masters in Digital arts.
Why am I telling you all this? The point is that I can honestly say that although I have hopped from arts to sciences and back, and trust me there were a couple of modules that I disliked and others that I hated, I am now thankful that I had the chance to study them. I still utilise all the skills that I have learned in both my teaching and freelance projects. It’s hard to be working on a project that involves animation and special effects, and then switch to drawing and Photoshop, and then Dreamweaver and messing around with html and CSS, but you get better at it, and Google answers everything nowadays, no excuses! It’s fine to choose the wrong subjects, or subjects that are not exactly what you wanted to do. Take what you can from them, and start again with extra knowledge in mind, and then combine. And this is not only true for art and design related subjects.
Most of my students choose their career by asking themselves – will I find a job with this? If you study something based on how easy it is to get a job, this is what will happen: You’ll get the job (well.. hopefully), you’ll hate it, and then you’ll hate yourself for choosing the wrong subject. Yes, sometimes choosing to study what you love means you will struggle to find a job you love. Creative careers are so competitive that if you don’t have contacts, you don’t stand out from the rest, or you’re not naturally talented, you better be a fast learner, and a hard worker. Do think about whether this is worth it first. If you’re not good at what you love, perhaps you are in the wrong career.
I am a bad programmer, when I studied programming, I felt worthless and stupid, which is why I don’t do it anymore. I can understand bits of it, but I cannot write it, I’m not a natural. I pay (or beg) other people to do it for me. It is so much easier, and the work is better.
Finding a Job is hard! How about Further Education?
If you can afford it, by all means go for it, after all what’s better than working on your own projects with people who share your interests? If you can’t, well, think about it. At the moment, the world is riddled with creative graduates with massive loans on their backs and no jobs, plus sometimes you can learn more from working than from education. What’s the point of education then? Well besides the learning part, you do learn to be disciplined and manage your projects, and I guess most of the time this is why employees look for qualifications; it means you were disciplined enough to finish projects on time; you can research, discuss and evaluate.
Your portfolio is what should get you in, your qualifications are the stamp that says you are reliable.
Teaching & Freelancing
Most designers go for agency work, but this can get boring and repetitive unless you’re in a *dream* agency, that’s a whole different scenario (check the sources at the end of the article for advice on getting agency jobs). But if you don’t want to work with agencies (like myself) you’re gonna have a bad time. Here’s the thing we all want to be independent and do freelance full time, and although freelance is great, it is highly unpredictable. I personally work full time teaching and freelance at the same time. This means better pay, but hardly any time for myself, which brings me to: there will come a time when you will have to refuse work that isn’t right for your portfolio and is just not worth the time. If you’re gonna sell yourself – sell it for something worth it, and sometimes if you have time it’s best to do things you love, such as personal projects.
Teaching is great, but you soon come to realise that it’s not just about what you know, but it’s how you deliver it. You also have to keep learning and researching constantly and finally you have to be good with (all kinds of ) people. You have to motivate everyone, and you are not allowed to give up on students because your job is to find the good in people. The downfall for most artist-teachers is that if you do teaching full time you can very easily lose touch with your own creative projects. Personally I love doing my own thing too much to do that, which means I have to work double. Think before you decide to teach as a first job, unless you’ve been working freelance or independently for a long time. You will feel uncomfortable & you will put making your own work before your actual job, which is not right for your students, and frustrating for you. Would you want your teacher to be a student who has just graduated?
I’m not going to go too much into freelance in this blog post because that is a whole different subject, but know that freelancing takes great communication skills (asking for late payments without sounding rude, politely replying to rude emails, trying as hard as you can to understand the client, no matter how wrong they might be), organisation skills & time management, and finally… great work! (yes I’m afraid there’s no escape from this one!)
OK so, since internet readers love lists, here’s one for you. These are some tips that you should keep in mind before deciding whether you should pursue a creative career. Feel free to add your own:
- You got to have the EYE, yeah you know the one! You can instantly spot a beautiful composition, clashing colours and textures actually get to you.
- It has to be your hobby, but if you’re studying it, this might be a little bit difficult. I enjoyed drawing mostly when I was studying programming & doing filming & special effects. When you’re drawing all the time, you start to hate it a bit… give it time.
- Art & creativity are strange because you can’t be on auto pilot, you have to be focused and you need constant IDEAS – are you stressed out and out of ideas? Let it go & work on something else, or just have some coffee and chill, maybe watch a movie to get the creative juices flowing.
- Bad taste cannot be cured – but sometimes can result in happy accidents. Now to learn how to accept being bad at proportions, and start embracing these accidents! A talented individual who looks them over is equally bad.
- Do your own thing – trends go in and out of style – mix them into your work if you want, but do keep your own sources. This sounds cliche but everyone does it. Are you working with geometrical line work, neon shades, triangles and deers? That’s what’s in now just so you know! Work with it to attract trend-seekers, but be careful before setting it as your staple.
- Remember – talent never goes out of style. I suggest being really good at something & then branch out – for creative careers it can be colour / line drawing / painting & yes even creative coding, composition, space, typography, animation (which can be broken down into further sub-sections) and 3D ( and it’s sub-sections)
- Know your context – you can’t create something different if you don’t know what’s out there. Different from what exactly? Don’t compare your work to what is worse, compare to what is much much better. Set the bar high.
- Sometimes, It’s not what you know; connections and if you’re not lucky enough to know creative people who can help you, look for them – add them on facebook, collaborate with them.
- Promote your work, but don’t force it down people’s throats. Share it online and take note of feedback. (I got better at illustration after years of posting not-so-good work on deviantart.com as a teenager).
- And finally, cut the bad attitude and get motivated. (Bonus rant warning) I live in Malta, a tiny island in the mediterranean sea. If finding creative work in a decent sized country is difficult, in Malta it’s a thousand times worse. I often hear creatives moan that ‘we’re behind’. My question is who is we? ‘who is Malta?’ isn’t Malta, you, and me, your friends and your networks? Yes there’s bad work, there’s bad work everywhere, but why aren’t you making the good work? Stop blaming your country, your society, your clients and blame yourself – now get your ass to work 🙂
Some other articles you might enjoy:
Super Obvious Secrets that I wish they’d teach me Art school
5 Tips for a Creative Career and Life
How to Get a Job after Design School
10 Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks and Boost Creativity
What I do: http://moirazahra.prosite.com/