Friday, 10 October 2014

staying positive as a creative

 above you can view me in my natural habitat: lounging around like a tramp in my pyjamas, wading my way through various books while trying to pull together some ideas worthy of any merit

i haven't kept it a secret on my blog over the last couple of months that i've been struggling creatively, and for a while i'd been thinking about the things that i do and the mindset i try to adopt in those times of crisis, and decided that i wanted to jot them down into actual words rather than scattered thoughts, however it wasn't until reading through a book today that i found any kind of motivation and wanted to actually put pen (my fingers) to paper (to my keyboard.)

now, i'm not claiming to hold all the secrets to creative happiness, because if i'm honest, i don't think it exists (not permanently, anyway,) what with creatives generally being a huge bunch of perfectionists, but i think i can at least share what i feel helps me to feel momentarily better in the hopes that it might inspire or help somebody else out, too. my audience here is perhaps a little broad, but i'm deciding to aim it at 'creatives', who i'd describe as people who bring new things into existence based on their own thoughts and ideas, so if you feel that the term applies to you, feel free to sit down and have a read. heck, make yourself a cuppa and get comfortable if you so wish it. 

the very books that provided my brief kick up the bum; picture book enthusiasts, i recommend!

one: take time out when you need it

over the summer i struggled with the idea of taking time out, and in attempting to do so failed miserably. i think i went wrong because i failed to set myself any time limits (or deadlines, per se,) so i just kind of lost track of time, organisation, and along with it my motivation. while it's important to realise when you've burnt out and need a little recovery time, it's also important to keep yourself well organised and aware of when work needs to start again so you can understand your 'free time' and in effect use it wisely. these breaks can be as long or as short as you feel necessary – from a quick hour break with a cuppa to a week's worth of seeing friends and exploring your surrounding areas – but it's important to be honest with yourself and clearly outline what constitutes as a break, and what's actually helping to steer you off track and curb creativity. 

it's also important to remember that your 'breaks' can help you see current projects in a new light, or help to spark ideas for new projects altogether. carrying a notebook around with you at all times is useful for jotting down any sketches, words or phrases that occur to you that could come in handy later but may be forgotten in the moment. a couple of my favourite projects have simply come from words i've jotted down or thoughts i've had that i've revisited later, so although at the time it can seem a little bit pointless, it's important to remember that most big things start out small!

two: try to silence the voice of self doubt

if there's anything i've learnt since becoming a part of several online illustration communities, it's that all illustrators, no matter how big or small, go through serious bouts of self doubt and a lack of confidence in their own work. to me it seems completely bizarre to read illustrators such as gemma correll or alex t. smith for example tweeting about how they can't draw this or that because i know that they're utterly fantastic at what they do, yet in a sense it's oddly refreshing to know that these seemingly superhuman people sometimes struggle too; not because i love that other people face internal dilemmas, but because i think to myself, "but their work is fantastic, how could they ever doubt it?!" and it makes me consider that, "hey, maybe my work isn't as bad as i think it is?" i'm not sure if to think that way fills me with false confidence, but hey, a positive mindset spurs me on to draw more than a negative one does, and that can only ever encourage progression. so, the next time you're flicking through your sketchbook pages despairing, just take a moment to tell yourself that you're probably not as bad as you think you are, and then create a little more until you can see that for yourself.

three: you don't know that there isn't room for you

a demon of mine that occurs quite frequently is the fact that in an already saturated market of fantastic children's illustrators, there just isn't room for me within there. it's extremely easy to look at the work already out there and compare your own work to it, and it's even easier to attempt to emulate the work you see, but it's important to remember that developing your own style, or 'visual language', is the one thing that will potentially see you through into a successful career. if you take a walk into a bookshop and browse the picture books section, it's easy to spot particular trends and what's currently popular, and while most of it is extremely beautiful and skilfully executed, i do think that there's very little room for progression within the field when such work is being chosen over and over again, and i no doubt believe this will be true across many creative fields. 

it can be a daunting task presenting work that doesn't bare resemblance to anything you know to have once been successful, but in doing so you're helping to push boundaries within your chosen field and that will no doubt get your work noticed – after all, just because your work looks different to what's expected doesn't mean that it's bad, right? in the past i've let myself become too worried with others' work and attempted to emulate particular aesthetics, but i found that i created my best work when i let go of those worries and instead just created what came naturally to me, and i intend to keep on creating work in the same fashion in the hopes that i can build up a distinct visual language like many other successful illustrators have done. of course i can't comment on the effectiveness of this strategy just yet, but i feel happy knowing that i'm trying to create my own work rather than just blindly copying those who came before me. i think the key here is to believe in yourself, work hard, and not give up, and in terms of university, those things have seen me through pretty well so far.

a messy desk and the intimate beginnings of a project

four: just do what you can, when you can

in the age of social media, following the accounts of the creatives you most admire can be both a blessing and a curse; the intimacy that comes with the frequent instagram updates of the very beginnings of pieces of work is not only inspiring, but it can often be a little disheartening to realise that you don't churn out work half as fast as your favourite creative does. again, it's important here to remember to not compare yourself to others too much as we all work at our own paces and in completely different ways. if you want to take inspiration from an individual's way of working or the speed at which they work that's completely fine, but when you begin to think bad things about your own working process because of it then it's time to take a step back and start thinking a little bit more sensibly.

while the mind of a creative is always switched on, things often get in the way to stunt our 'physical creativity', the time spent actually making things; outstanding projects, food shops, hangover days, whatever they are, things will always crop up to get in the way of you sitting down and working, but this is where it again becomes important to carry around a sketchbook. sure, you might not be able to develop and create your masterpiece there and then, but at least you know the seedling has been safely planted in your sketchbook ready to be grown another day when the time becomes available.

five: always stay switched on

going back to point four, while it's not always possible to be sat at your desk pulling your ideas together and creating your physical work, it is always possible to be thinking about current projects or potential future projects. while lately i've been a little unproductive in creating physical work, not a day goes by where i'm not thinking about the projects i currently have on the go or new ones i'd like to one day pursue.

i'm not a superhuman unfortunately, and i do occasionally hit a wall creatively and struggle to find inspiration to get me back on my feet and going again, but i've found that i can get myself going again pretty quickly by doing a couple of things. one thing i like to do is to listen to everything going on around me, because no doubt i'll hear something intriguing that i can jot down for later; one of my latest favourites was a couple of little old ladies in a council building complaining about the wait time and wishing there was a burger van outside to keep them occupied while waiting, and while i haven't done anything with it, it's jotted down in my sketchbook, should my eyes scan over it in the future and find inspiration from it.

another thing that helps to inspire and motivate me pretty much instantly is sitting down and reading a good bloody book, but i suppose a good web article or blog post would do the same thing. a couple of books i've read recently that have given me a swift kick up the bum are show your work! by austin kleon and illustrating children's books by martin ursell. i'd recommend show your work! to any creative who's wanting to learn a bit more about self promotion tools, but of course illustrating children's books is for a more specific audience, but it provides some fantastic examples of work and some really helpful tips for working within the picture book format that i found made me just want to stop everything i was doing and start drawing (unfortunately i couldn't, though, as i was researching for my dissertation...)

six: just be nice!

and finally, a short and sweet paragraph to wrap this horribly long post up with. i've found that online, being nice, having a positive attitude and interacting positively with other creatives really helps to spread positivity all round. while it can be easy to wallow in self pity – and i'm definitely guilty of it myself over on twitter on occasion! – nobody likes reading about how badly you feel about yourself and your work at the minute, so just suck it up, look at some great work, compliment the creator of it to make their day a little better while inspiring yourself to want to be better, and you're already making a fantastic start on achieving an altogether more positive mindset and contributing to the creative community. 

now, of course i'm happy to engage in healthy debate about what keeps us creatives positive, but please, if you don't agree with anything i've said, try to tell me in a polite, respectful manner – after all, the last thing we want is to spread more negativity, right? so if you have any burning opinions or tips of your own you'd love to share with me or any other creatives that might find themselves at the bottom of this post, please do share them below and i'll get back to you asap!


  1. It's simple really, just do you, have confidence in yourself and believe in your work. Easier said than done though. So many times I hesitate doing a blogpost because I think "does anyone really care?...It's not as good as this persons post...or what if I'm judged by this?" It's hard putting yourself out there. Especially things you've spent so much time on. It takes a lot to push that post button. Creativity and originality is a rare thing these days, but personally, I love your illustrations! I could really see them in a children's book, or on a cute card. Please don't ever give up on it. You've got real talent. (I can't even draw a smiley face without something going wrong..seriously!)
    Have a great day!

    1. thanks so much for your comment, it was really lovely to read! i completely agree, confidence is the key and it's a tricky thing to keep a hold of nowadays when everyone's sharing so much and there's so much to compare yourself to, but again it's the comparing that is most people's downfall! it's a tough one to get right.