Monday, February 25, 2013

As good a time as any

I met up for a hot beverage with a friend over the weekend. She's heading off to Australia in a few weeks on the same sort of two year visa I originally came to the UK on. We were chatting about her plans and how she was getting on with her last few weeks of work.

As she talked I was amazed at how similar it all sounded to me when I was getting ready to go. People commented on how brave I was (although I didn't feel it.) or they would play the nay-sayer, projecting their own fear of adventure onto me to downplay any sense of dissatisfaction they had for not taking a similar risk in their own lives.

Of course there is also the FOMO Factor. FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out. As she's getting ready to leave a lot of turmoil is happening in my friend's family and she knows she could put her plans on hold in order to be there for them. When my date to fly was approaching I got the news that my Aunt was pregnant and I remember thinking I couldn't possibly go to London now - I'd miss out on watching my cousin in the first few months of his life!

As we talked about the inevitable FOMO that you can expect to experience when you leave behind friends and family for your own adventures, I felt a sense of growing realisation.

I have long been an advocate and believer in doing what you love, doing it well, and letting money or whatever you define as 'success' follow. I believe it, but it wasn't until I was sitting there across from someone who, when I first met them I would never have believed would take the initiative to fly halfway around the world, that I really accepted what this meant.

We can plan and prepare or follow guidelines or rules or 'schemes' until we're blue in the face, but eventually something is going to give. Something is going to mean we have to take the plunge and just do all those things we're always saying we would do if we had the time or money or training. 

As of right now I am self employed. I have been saying I've wanted it for so long and always thinking there was something I had to do to get there. All I ever had to do was stop working for other people and know that I can rely on myself to make my own income. I'm a talented, creative and imaginative person. I have skills that I can market and a passion for developing more. 

I could wait until I have enough money saved or the right business plan written or a big contract lined up, but it's too easy to fall into a trap of not knowing what is 'enough', what is 'right' or what is 'big'.

FOMO is just one of those things that we can use to justify holding ourselves back. Ultimately, though, it's your life. Basing your life on what other people hope or want for you, and especially what they expect from you, isn't going to help you realise your own dreams.

In short, all the excuses in the world aren't going to stop me from living my dream right now. I'm no longer going to say I'm 'setting myself up' to be self employed or that I'm 'working towards it'. When people ask me what I do I can tell them:

I'm a Creative Specialist. I do graphic design and I'm publishing a book this year. I'm self employed and yes, I'd love to do some work for you. What did you have in mind? 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Only three weeks left

The Graphic Design course I'm taking at Saint Martin's is nearing the end and the briefs are becoming more complex. The latest brief we've been given doesn't require a complete or near complete product for next week but rather a prepared concept and materials for us to model our design.

The task is to create a water bottle - either the bottle and label or just the labelling itself, that pushes the boundaries of designing for this product that is available so very widely. I've begun my concept sketches and have a few ideas, one inspire by the request of my partner to conceive of a bottle that a rower could use, as rowing is a huge part of her life.

I've decided to rise to the challenge having been briefed on the key features she and her team look for in water bottles.
1) It needs to be able to be slipped into the waistband of spandex leggings without sliding down into the crotch or along one leg.

2) It mustn't be able to roll around as it will likely spend a lot of time on the bottom of the boat.

And possibly, most importantly for the London rower, but probably a consideration regardless of which body of water you're rowing on,
3) It must have a lid that is easy to remove BUT creates a solid seal all the way around the opening where you put your mouth to keep Thames water from touching it.

I'm happy to sketch away at this. Indeed, I'd already completed one sketch with a label and bottle shape idea before the class was ended. How I'm going to model it, however, is my next challenge. At least I've got a week to sort that out.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Money v. Time

My best friend told me a story about a co-worker of hers who was working part-time. This woman had plans to go travelling with her sister - somewhere like South America or backpacking through Europe, I can't recall what it was specifically - so she put in a request for time off. When the schedule was made up her request had been denied and so she simply gave her notice.

I know this might sound reckless. It's easy to argue that jobs are hard to come by and, especially in these economic times, we should be grateful if we have a reliable income and job security. The thing is, even in the toughest of times, there are always jobs. It might not be a job that you like or is particularly stimulating. It might be shelf stacking or washing dishes. It may be the most menial thing you can imagine, but there will be a job anyone can do that you can find.

Time, however, is limited. No one knows how much they have. Life is unpredictable and can change instantly.

This woman appreciated that travelling with her sister was more important than a part-time job. Seeing the world, spending time with someone she loves, and making new discoveries were more important to her than whatever she might earn if she didn't take that trip.

Unless earning money is your bliss, don't make money the reason why you take a job or don't go on a trip or pass up an opportunity to study something new. 

And just because, here's a video clip of a heron I saw the other day. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Freelancing Fun!

As I plunge into the world of freelance design I'm very aware that I have a lot to learn about being self employed. Fortunately I have a few essential skills which have been helping me immensely.

1. I'm super duper organised - I'm really good at making a schedule and sticking to it. If I intend to spend seven to nine hours a day working on something, I'll do it. I find it easy to avoid the time sucking temptations of the Interweb. I know that if I don't do what I have to do, it simple won't get done. 

2. I love learning new things - I don't believe there are any excuses for ignorance. If I want to figure out how to do something, I do it or I go about finding out how I can do it if it's a long-term skill that needs developing. For that reason is just about my most favourite website ever at the moment.

3. I'm persistent - The people who don't make it are the people who give up when the going gets tough. I am under an immense amount of pressure and throwing in the towel could seem like the easiest thing to do. But then I'd keep doing work that doesn't use my time and talent wisely and continue to feel a general sense of dissatisfaction.

On the flip-side, I have a few 'humps' that have come up. They aren't unbreakable obstacles but they are general challenges I've got to come up with feasible solutions to or at least remain aware of. 

1. I currently have no reliable source of income - I'm looking for design work and developing my portfolio at the same time. I'm pretty busy and I know that eventually, in six months or so, I'll start seeing my workload increase, which will ultimately mean my income will increase. But I'm still in the starting out phase so money is tight and I have to use all my excellent organisational skills to stick to an incredibly tight budget.

2. I need help - Everyone needs help. No one who ever accomplished anything great did it on their own. We all need a team of people cheering us on from the sidelines. I do have a lot of support but a large chunk of it is 3,000 miles and seven time zones away, which makes spontaneous phone calls or hanging out to de-stress rather difficult. The other chunk lives in London and anyone who lives in London will tell you that spontaneity isn't easy to do when the average journey takes 45 minutes to an hour. There are phones, of course, and email and other ways to keep in touch, and I need to make more use of them when I can.

3. There's so much to do! - I love working for myself. I love the adventure of it and the potential. I love knowing that there will be challenge to overcome and new opportunities I've not even considered yet just waiting to pop up. But I have to make sure I've got a solid base to work from which means developing my skills alongside the work that I do. Graphic design is a competitive market and the technology involved in it changes frequently. I've got a lot to do in preparation but the lack of an income also means I need to do as much work as I can to relieve financial pressure.

I know I'll be O.K. because I always am. When taking on a big life changing thing like this I like to ask myself 'What's the worst that could happen?' I came up with some pretty horrific possibilities. I'm imaginative and the multitude of painful scenarios that played themselves out were pretty intense.

But none of them killed me. 

Then I played out the worst possible scenarios involved in continuing to do jobs that I have no passion or drive for. Compared to everything I could come up with that was terrifying about taking the plunge into freelance, the idea of stagnation caused far more dread. I could go into more depth but this incredible comic of a Chris Gillebeau's take on mediocrity by Gav over at Zen Pencils illustrates things perfectly.

Alternatively the best possible scenarios I could imagine about being self employed as a graphic designer include:

Using my creativity to develop business solutions.

Having new projects that challenge me and use my imagination for the benefit of my clients.

Having flexibility in my work, where I work, when I work, how I work.

Refining my skills with Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign to the point of being an industry expert.

Taking my passion for good design and putting it to productive use, instead of hiding it away as something I would fancy doing but never do.

Expressing myself through what I do - screw work/life balance, this is my life and I should be doing something I'm good at and I love. 

Not dreading the question "What do you do?"

Collaborating with other Creative Specialists in fun, original ways. 

So ultimately, I know this is the right choice and I also know that if I hadn't made it I'd only have myself to blame for feeling trapped in an average job doing average things.

Monday, February 11, 2013

London Journal - Just because you're broke doesn't mean you can't find art to appreciate

I've written entries before about London's incredible public art collection. One of my favourite things about this city is coming across little gems. Some pieces are obvious but others might go entirely unnoticed if you don't have a wander. 

I went for a wander to the Design Museum, despite being completely broke (Having spent all my money on fantastic courses that will help me to improve my design skills so I can follow my bliss) and knowing full well I couldn't afford the £11.50 concession. I decided against dipping into my savings and confined my visit to the gift shop. Being a Design Museum the gift shop had a lot of interesting stuff to look at. I will be back when I'm not skint as I'm quite looking forward to seeing the exhibitions.  

But on this particular visit I left after perusing what the shop had to offer and went in search of a place where I could sit and do some concept sketches whilst enjoying a hot beverage. 

Displayed just outside the museum on the North bank of the Thames
I find I can never go very far in London before seeing some new and wonderful bit of art I've not encountered before. I was on the East side of Tower Bridge, a bit of the Thames bank I'd not yet explored. Not far from the museum I encountered this delightful block of textured something. 

I also happened across a random sign. I didn't follow it although I may go back and do so on another day. I find these 'street art' signs pop up now and again - an indication of someone being creative or clever or possibly just surreal.

 The walk along the Shad was very enjoyable. The twisting street and tall shipping buildings converted to flats has a sense of being out of time. I also suspect this was the area which inspired the well known 'Shades' to any Pratchett fans out there. Something to look up, I suppose.

 But my favourite discovery of the day was after I'd spent some time sketching in a coffee shop. I was warmed up and ready to head home. Though my surroundings were unfamiliar I knew exactly where I needed to head to get to London Bridge underground. I was about to hit my commuter pace stride when I spotted this fountain down a little cobbled street to my left.

The centrepiece has women moulded into it, but it's this one on the edge, with her pen and notebook, which pleases me to no end. I also love the small collection of abandoned personal items that surround the edge of the fountain.

The watch looks very real. I suspect it's simply coated in metal.
I thought that would be the end of the surprises for the day as I quickly found myself on the familiar route past Foster's incredible London City Hall, but then I spotted the distinctive work of Julian Opie. He's probably best known for the cover work he did for Blur. An artist that walks that line between design and art, if it can be argued that such a line exists.

I may not have been able to go to the Design Museum this time around but I feel that I had a very cultured and productive afternoon, none-the-less.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

From concept to design

 I've been building the logo side of my design portfolio since the start of the year. I've had some great project to work on and wanted to share a bit of my creative process.

Personally, I don't like jumping straight onto a computer. I find it much easier when I can doodle my ideas on a piece of paper before tackling a project with mouse in hand. I'm a strong believer in figuring out your own way of working and sticking to it but I have to admit, I did a bit of a happy dance when I came across Von Glitschka, an incredible talented designer who firmly believes leaving analog (sketching) methods behind will only hinder you as a designer.

This sort of validation, like when I started the Intermediate Graphic design course at Saint Martins, helps boost my confidence and acts as a strong motivation. I have a lot to learn, we all do no matter what field we're in, but I already have a strong foundation to start with. 

Below is one of my recent projects, from concept to the finished product that the customer is now happily using to promote their business.
Concept sketches. This is for a painter/decorator

The brief included a suggested colour palette to work with. I wanted to incorporate the tools of the trade into the 'NBH' of the company name.

I came up with A few sketches and refined those into a selection of logo concepts for them to choose from. 
Mock-up #1
Simple, clean design
Mock up #4
I got the idea for this one
from looking at parquet flooring

Mock up #2
One way of working a roller
into the logo was to have
one painting the logo.
This was probably the most 'fun'
concept I came up with

Mock up #3
It was easy to imagine the
'H' as a paint brush

The client loved #1 but wanted to see it from a slightly different perspective. They really liked the look of MC Escher's signature on his lithograph drawings and requested something inspired by this. 

I modified the first design and ended up with what you see below, as the final product. 
The chosen logo
What I like about it is that the NBH can be used on its own or with the handle, depending on the context. I love the palette I was given to work with and the final product communicates the professionalism and artistic nature of the business owner.

Monday, February 4, 2013

All the ideas we have

A new character came to me. This used to happen to me a lot, but not so much since I’ve started sending out manuscripts and sharing all the other characters I’ve written in the past.

I saw a name written down and suddenly he started to talk to me. I could picture what he was like – fair haired, quiet, a little moody. It’s all terribly inconvenient though. Because a character showing up is how I start writing a book and writing a book is something I simply do not have time for at the moment. So I’m making a little shelf and I’m going to sit him on it, to wait.

The inspiring view of King's Cross St. Pancras
from Central Saint Martins
Where there is one more will soon follow. It’s an inevitability. One by one I’ll line them up together, where they can wait for me to find a plot for them to live in. Perhaps in a few months, or perhaps in November, for NaNoWriMo, but not just yet. He’s there and with him are ideas and ideas are fuel for my creativity, so he won’t be ignored or forgotten.

He’s not alone of course. His shelf sits above a chest full of costumes I will one day create which is next to two giant sculptures I have planned. Hanging by their laces from hooks on the wall are shoes I will paint and in a filing cabinet are the frames of animations I will draw. All of them are waiting for their moment.

Right now the moment belongs to a book called ‘Wise at Any Age’, which I’ve been working on for three years. It belongs to three edited young adult fiction manuscripts which I continue to submit to agents. It belongs to psychology studies and design courses and freelancing.

When these things are done they will join the list of accomplishments: The shoes I have painted, the animations I have done, the places I’ve travelled, the books I’ve read, the paintings I’ve brushed, the facts I’ve learned, and all the wonderful discoveries I’ve made.

This is how it should be because these are the things a life is made up of.