Cynicism

The guy next to me can't help but publically complain about every client email he recieves, every piece of feedback that needs clarification. He brings other people over to bear witness to the stupidity of the people asking for his skills.

The other people in the studio will laugh, and agree, that was a terrible and stupid thing for them to ask for. And, back at our desks, all of us are left thinking, yeah, our clients can be pretty stupid, too. They don't understand video editing, or page layout, or what exactly Photoshop can and can't do.

But this kind of thinking allows us to put other people below us because of their lack of knowledge in our field.

And this is why cynicism is so deadly: it helps us forget that we're not just designers or photographers, but that we're also advocates and educators for our craft, and sometimes, mediators.

Sure, they may not want to hear their slogan idea is terrible, or that the background for the leaflet shouldn't be hot pink, but you owe them your counsel. And then if they don't like it, well either you presented your argument poorly, or they need to find a worse designer.

You have more time than you think

This article from The Creative Independent really struck a chord with me, particularly this bit:

You have more time than you think. Seriously. For someone who has never had a singular vision of what I should be doing with my life, accepting this was a big step towards putting goals in perspective and accepting that my curiosity for music, writing, and education could all be explored. Renowned rock climber, musician, poet, and writer Pat Ament describes just this in his 2017 Aquarium Drunkard interview:

“It’s like love. There is no end to the amount of love one can have. You can love multiple people at the same time, your mother and father, your friends, your girlfriend—but it’s the same with our pursuits. There is more than enough time in life to do more than one thing,” he says.

Over the past year, I've been switching lanes so often, it feels like I've spent most of my time in-between them.

After a while, it made a lot of the projects I wanted to work on, a lot of the new skills I wanted to learn, or even future careers I wanted to explore seem like pointless exercises.

Keeping room in my heart for my varied pursuits has helped me understand that I'm not fruitlessly spinning in place, but rather, I'm growing.

"Nobody's going to die"

This is a common and comforting refrain I tell my coworkers and closest friends, when their project is running late, when things fall through. It's good to remind yourself that, despite a creative failing, it won't cost anybody their life. So ease up on yourself.

But this bit of wisdom has another purpose, too. What happens when, at the outset, you remember that no matter how badly it goes, nobody is going to die? No matter how bold, how questionable, how unpopular your idea may be, it's not going to cost you or anybody else their life. "They can't eat you," Bob Parsons once said.

So, why not do something crazy that just might work? Nobody's going to die.

Second-hand books are great.

They're cheap, and unlike Kindle books, the more popular they are the cheaper they are. If I know there's a good chance it will only cost me a few pounds to get a copy, I'll be more likely to ask for recommendations and keep track of things I want to read.

If I really like a book I've got second-hand, I can display it in my house, or better yet give it to a friend. If I don't like it, maybe I know somebody who will - or I can donate it to charity.

Thanks to this realisation, I went from reading 8 books in 2017, to 16 books in 2018.

Having a book on hand also fits right in to a digital detox, though it's even healthier as a regular part of my mental diet, rather than a last resort.

Who's making new tools for artists?

There has been a lot of attention on tech in the past ten years or so, and it touches us all the way from us-as-customer (what do we want to buy?), to us-as-us (what do we want to do?).

All this attention has created a lot of new things. Tech is where new tools are made (Trello, Slack), where new ideas come from (agile, the service economy). There are new tech-focussed courses to enroll for, and even new tech-focussed colleges to study them in.

So how can I help in my corner? How can I help make new tools for artists? How can I innovate? How can I make my own life easier, and help other people be excited about making art?

Congratulations, you died

I've recently started playing RPGs again, at a local tabletop gaming group. It's been a strange experience joining in as a player instead of a Dungeon Master. But it's also been educational to see how our DM, Jack, encourages his players to make really interesting decisions.

A big part of this comes down to rewarding the players in fun ways. At the start of the game, Jack normally asks for the players to recap — remember where the party were travelling, what bounty they were trying to collect, which mysterious wizard they were seeking out. If you wrote any of these details down, Jack gives you an action point, something immediately valuable in the game to that player.

Even when things don't go well, like when my character was slain by a banshee, I got a fun sticker in the shape of a twenty-sided die for my trouble. The players who have been with Jack the longest have a whole series of these stickers decorating their notes, dice boxes and laptops.

It's left me thinking, what other relationships in my life could I improve with just a small generous gesture?

Check the box

Diversity is an important part of how any modern company talks about their customers or their own staff. At its core, the problem isn't too difficult to understand: people want to see a reflection of themselves in the work the company does.

So, in my own experience, why does it seem so difficult to talk about diversity with clients? And why do those conversations so frequently go in the direction of a 'spec' or check list?

Because if we can formalise something like diversity, if we can make it a series of check boxes, then we don't have to fully engage with the idea of diversity.

If the marketing team can have a list of required minorities to include in their next campaign, it gets them off the hook. It stops them from having to think more deeply about inclusion and representation, and what important wins could be made for underrepresented groups.

Doing it

It's hard to do creative work when you're dead stuck. Like, just 'do it'. Even when you do push through, it feels alien and weird, as you leave the well-trodden ground of the doldrums, and enter uncharted territory.

There's no let's-play of your doing-it to explore before you decide to make it happen. There's no book with a table of contents to browse. It's just a big blank page, and that's scary. But if you push through, if you ship, you come out the other side in a beautiful and exciting place you've never seen before.