The first full year out of university.
Moved house. Again.
Painted a big dragon.
Drew a lot of foxes.
Made a book.
Had my first stall at an art & craft market.
Watched my bank balance drain away into redder and redder numbers…
Got worried about lots of things.
Got excited about lots of things.
It was an interesting patchwork of things, events, feelings, and general nonsense. In many ways, it was a good year.
I had plenty of inspiration and drive fuelled days where I managed to produce a whole bunch of work I was actually happy with, which was a pleasant change from the constant drag of all day art blocks I had back at university in 2013/2014. Those busy days sometimes even coupled up with some ‘big break’ days when big commissions and big jobs would fall in my lap and make it all temporarily seem worth while. My work with GoGoDragons and working on my first Kickstarter based commission were just two of these brief moments which really helped me feel like I was progressing. GoGoDragons finished at the auction in October and the Kickstarter didn’t get funded, but despite this abrupt endings to the larger projects, it still really helped me visualise my improvements and progression with this complicated and weird career.
But these bigger projects didn’t pop out of no where. They came from my persistent updating of my portfolio and constant promotion of my own work, and the only reason I know this is because the months I failed to do this properly were the worryingly quiet months. I noticed this quite a bit during the year, I ended up posting a lot less work on social media and updating a lot less on other pages, and the fallout from that was definitely hard to ignore. So if I’m going to do resolutions for this new year, one of them will be keep everything up to date (including this blog…).
I certainly feel like 2015 was productive overall, despite the lulls, the red numbers in my bank account, and the less than nice things that happened during the year. I produced an awful lot of work that I’m incredibly happy with, did lots of thinking about important things, and set out goals and milestones for both my personal life my professional life. Having a solid, set in stone plan is super duper hard for anybody, very few people can settle on a plan immediately and continue down that road for much longer than a few months, but I feel like I’ve taken some steps towards beginning to understand what sort of route I’m going to take. By persistently experimenting with my art style and subject focus with my illustration I’ve been able to cross off paths I know I won’t enjoy or be able to make a living from. Some of these were easier to see than others, some took quite a bit of trial and error before I realised they weren’t working, but I’ve sussed them eventually. I’m most definitely still doing things that, a year or so down the line I’ll be able to look at and think “why the bloody hell was I doing that?!”.
But that’s a huge part of forging your way in the creative industries, trial and error will always be a massive influence in how your create your work, where you see it, and who you do it for, I know it has been for me.
The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.
– Dee Hock
For 2016, I need to keep this flow of good and bad practice going. Just like jabs/vaccines tell your antibodies what to kill by introducing ‘dead’ diseases, I need to provide bad ideas for my brain to identify and kill them before they start up again. Of course, research and learning from others’ experiences can aid in this, but trial and error seem to be the best way to me to properly cement the lessons in my mind.
One major thing I’d like to achieve in 2016 with my illustration work is client growth. Work was sporadic and unstable throughout 2015, but it was work. Unfortunately, 90% of this work was for small, independent commissioners who may have brought good ideas and fun projects to the table, but the finances and the high profile portfolio pieces were certainly lacking.
There’s an array of different ways I can achieve this; send out more mailers, send portfolio out to more people, work harder on online visibility, have an agent, and I’m sure many many more. This, as well as getting my work into as many places and getting it seen by as many people as possible, is going to be top of my to do list for my illustration work. It can be hugely frustrating to work so hard and spend so long on your artwork but to see no real increase in clients, funds, or high profile portfolio pieces. Frustrations lead to disheartening, which leads to procrastination, which leads to not getting shit done and there’s nothing worse – for me anyway – to get to the end of a day and have nothing to show for it. Time to really strive to climb up the ladder and take my career up a level.
One other thing, a small, slightly niche thing that I’d like to work on in 2016 is mornings.
I’ve come to realise over the last few years, that I really bloody like mornings. The getting up part, not so much. But being awake early, doing stuff early, and generally existing in the first few hours of daylight is super enjoyable and fulfilling for me. It may well be a false sense of productivity, my brain tricking me into believing I’m being a hard worker just because I’m awake (I could be browsing Pinterest until lunchtime, but hey, I woke up early! Gold star for me!), but sometimes that false productivity can lead the way to real productivity. It provides comfort and content-ness with my current state, and that in turn will make me more likely to be in a good mood and sit down to do some real work. I’m also more likely to do the work I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to. Nobody wants to do book keeping or house cleaning when they’re in a normal mood, never mind a bad mood. So by getting myself in a nice good mood by waking up early, I’m 50x more likely to willingly open Excel or pick up the duster without immediately wanting to cry with boredom.
More early mornings. More early coffee shop people creepin’. More nice, warm, morning light when I’m in my studio instead of the looming afternoon light telling me how little of the day I have left.
And finally, BOOKS!
Reading is something I’ve always been slack with… I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who can blitz through books, who would have shelves and shelves of books they’ve actually read rather than ones they bought months ago but have yet to barely even open. There’s this irritating little voice in my head that, if I ever consider sitting down to read for a bit will suddenly speak up; ‘you don’t have time for that! Get back to the study, reading is for people with free time!’. And it, on some subconscious level, has convinced me that reading is a waste of time and I should just get on with doing other things. I know this to be wrong, I definitely know it’s wrong, but it’s a tricky voice to silence.
So 2016 will be the year I shut this voice up and read stuff, whether it’s industry books with helpful advice and knowledge, or weird & wonderful fiction with inspiration and ideas brimming from the pages. People will almost always list getting out of bad habits for their new year’s resolutions, this will be my bad habit I break (as well as my Pinterest binging… one will be harder than the other, I predict).
So, to summarise, I have a pretty good to do list to start off the year with. No doubt the list will grow and change, but I like having something down in black and white to give productivity a boot up the metaphorical butt.
- Keep everything up to date. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the whole lot. Don’t let things get stale.
- Keep making mistakes. Gotta purge those bad ideas and habits from my brain, and the best way to do that is to make those mistakes as early as possible.
- Grow. Client base, bank account, portfolio, everything needs a good growth spur, it’s been sitting in a dormant little comfort zone for too long.
- Enjoy your mornings. Get up earlier, start work earlier, see more morning light rather than evening light, make the most of those lush few hours where hardly any people are about but plenty of ideas and good vibes are.
- Read more! Books are your friends, they are not a waste of time or a procrastination tool. Just imagine how much more knowledge and inspiration you would have if you had actually read all the books you’ve owned.
Let’s be ‘aving you, 2016.