Unsolicited Advice: You can do it!
This post was originally published September 22, 2012
Creative work is frustrating. You come up with an attractive, useful solution to a challenge or prompt, and your clever design or awesome illustration gets shot down. It’s not the right fit, it’s not what the client had in mind, it’s “too something” or “not something enough.” That’s okay, that’s just the reality of things. Other times work is great and you make a ton of stuff that is perfect and appropriate and you are proud of your accomplishments, but you feel underutilized or maybe a bit bored. Or maybe you’re not even in that world yet and you pay bills by waiting tables at a diner. Dude, I’ve been there for all of this, and here’s my advice: Do It Your Fucking Self.
Sometimes the best way to make the work you want to make is to just make it. Draw, design, photograph and build, whatever the fuck you want, and don’t look back. Find the time for yourself and explore your ideas fully. Share the work on your own. You don’t need anyone! We live in a world where you can publish work instantly, you can get feedback nearly as quickly (“FIRST!!”). With print-on-demand services, anyone can produce prints, books, and other objects in a cost-effective and relatively simple way. I’m not even talking about printmaking, which is not nearly as daunting as it may seem (though it will require supplies, space, and time).
So get started already! Make something tangible. Hold it in your hand and give it a big smile like you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby, because you have. Recognize it as the product of your efforts, and feel warm and gooey inside. That feeling is pride, and it’s just a step away from motivation if you give it the right push. Make more work. Create more stuff. Post something on Facebook and see what your friends have to say. Update your blog. Tweet your tumblr post. You just made a set of greeting cards. “Favorite, like.” You just produced a zine. “Add to cart.” You’ve got a new t-shirt. “Buy later on Svpply.” You can do this, trust me! “Share: On Your Own Timeline.”
When we’re in school, it’s all prompts and problems, studio sessions and short deadlines. In the real world, it’s whatever you’re doing to pay your bills, and then a whole lot of nothing. Nobody’s going to send you a concerned email if you don’t turn in your first draft of a personal project, but you should still be concerned. Stay active! Stay busy! Push yourself to do what you love before you forget how to do it. You have a fucking talent! Make birthday and holiday gifts. Design party invites. “HAVE YOU GONE MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?” (Ron Weasley, noted motivational speaker).
Start off small. Create “a thing.” Then one more. Make what you love (& love what you make, see “given birth” above). Don’t worry about the bigger picture until, if you’re lucky, you may have to. D-I-Y is alive and well and you can get into it! Tap into a network of like-minded buyers on Etsy (and do it right). Grab a Big Cartel shop for your website. Participate in independent craft fairs and meetups happening in your city or bigger ones nearby. Sell small works and zines on commission to local independent bookstores and boutiques. If you’re producing great stuff, people are going to be excited about it, not just because it’s unique and special, but because you are too.
Sometimes I write advice that I should take more of myself, but this time I’m sharing advice that has kept me from going literally insane since graduation. I’ve just produced a new zine, and while I used to work in a print shop, this one is entirely home-grown, printed on my trusty laser printer, cut with the paper guillotine I keep under my bed (seriously), and assembled with my beautiful long-reach stapler. Not everyone has a small army of tools stashed around their bedroom (I’m at “Claudia from Babysitters Club”-levels, seriously), but maybe you’ll get there too. It just takes one project to start.
You can do this, your magic is real, I believe in you.