Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What if...

In January I took the decision to quit my job. I was working in administration for a charity - on the fundraising team. It was something I was good at but I didn't enjoy it. I decided to take the plunge into freelance design, to see what would happen. It was better than the alternative: Continuing to work somewhere that made me extremely unhappy as it didn't use my skills and talents effectively.

Today I am employed as an In-House designer for a charity. I'm building a freelance career (slowly, but surely). I published a book.

Today, when someone asks me: "What do you do?", I am happy to tell them. 

It is a conversation I enjoy because what I do and who I am match up. I'm not merely doing something for the sake of a paycheque. I'm doing something that I love, that I'm good at, that I'm getting better at every day.

This comic is about that. Things are still developing and the future is always going to be unknowable. But if you'd asked me in January if I expected, within just three months, to be able to tell people that what I 'do' and what brings me immense joy would be one and the same, I'd have been doubtful.

In short, taking the plunge is always worth it because the alternative is never knowing.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Pema Chodron is a bit of my own personal hero. She's probably the most influential Buddhist teacher in my life. I've written about her often.

She has this story she tells of when she went to her teacher early on in her career as a nun. In fact, it may have been before she became a nun:

She told him she was going through a lot in her life at that time. There was great upheaval and she was completely uncertain about the future. She asked him what to do during 'this period of transition'. He smiled and said, "As soon as you accept that we are all, always in transition, your life will become so much happier." 

When I embarked on writing Wise at any Age it was following a massive, noticeable transition in my life. We definitely all experience catalysts, things that leave us groundless and uncertain about the future. But I've come to learn that the future is uncertain - whether we see it that way or not. We're just not particularly good at accepting this basic fact.

It's one of the main things I meditate on. The idea being, if one can accept the truth of our situation - that the only thing that lasts forever is the very moment of now in which we are, and that everything is constantly changing and the future cannot be controlled - then one can find a sense of contentment in any given situation. Because there are no surprises because we expect to be surprised. If that makes sense.

Anyway - I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject and listening to a lot of talks and what-not. In all my searching I have come across the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjusri. Bodhisattvas represent the elements of enlightenment within each and every sentient being. Some are more known than others, like Avalokitesvara (Try saying THAT five times fast!), the Bodhisattva of compassion, or the Green Tara, the Bodhisattva of activity and accomplishment.

Manjusri was a new one to me and it seems suitable that I would discover this Bodhisattva shortly after publishing a book about cultivating wisdom, regardless of your age. 

Manjusri is generally depicted holding a flaming sword in one hand and a book in the other. The idea is that that sword cuts through ignorance to get to the truth of the situation. The book represents knowledge and learning and the sword is like a representation of our curiosity. Our need to explore what we are told and cut through it to see clearly what is real, rather than what we project or perceive as real.

I was so inspired that I drew my own Manjusri. I'm not sure what I might do with this now that I've drawn it. I've long wanted to explore Buddhism more deeply through exploring classic Buddhist art. I love the symbolism in it and the incredible movement of the artwork. But for now, this is a start and perhaps the seed for a future project.

Monday, August 12, 2013

From start to finish - Part 2!

Another logo from concept to finished product! This is part of a bigger project I'm working on with the client. In this case the logo is just the beginning (a logo is a great place to start) on what will be a brand look and feel for a resource website.

The brief? Create a logo that encompasses a sense of community and belonging.

The initial concepts shown with slight variations. 

I am always eager to give the client a few different options to work with so when they came back and wanted to play with Concepts #1 and #4 I was happy to accommodate. 

In both cases it was the fonts they wanted to play with. I gave them a few different options based on the feedback provided. This clinched it - Concept #1 was the way to go. They requested one minor change: to see it with the 'H' capitalised and with a space. 
And voila! The final logo: 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

From start to finish - a logo's journey

I think understanding the creative process in a design project can help people to understand just what it is I can do for them as a designer. 

Recently I was hired to do a logo for GOSH food. 'GOSH' stands for Gourmet Organic Simpler Healthy food and works holistically with individuals and families to cater to their specific nutritional needs. It's a small business that's begun to pick up speed. I specialise in providing design services to small businesses and start-ups so GOSH food fit my niche perfectly. The client was happy for me to share the development of their logo on my blog. 

After a chat with the client and receiving a completed brief, I put together some concepts. 

The client reviewed them and fed back, choosing the apple from concept #2 but with revisions. 

Concept #1 made the cut and was further refined. 

Once again, Concept #1 was chosen and a few minor tweaks were made to get the logo exactly as the client wanted it:

The final product!
In a final email from the client following delivery of the logo with guidelines, she said: "People loved it and I am so happy."

As a designer that's how I measure the success of my work. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

There's an artist in everyone...

I'm a terrible musician. I can't carry a tune to save my life. I'm totally tone deaf and as a result I'm the one person at Karaoke guaranteed to make everyone feel better about their own singing.

This wasn't always the case. As a kid I was part of the school choir and I had private singing lessons that helped me improve. I took band as an option for one year in Junior High, learning the basics of playing a clarinet. And if you give me a guitar and about 20 minutes I'll remember how to play 'House of the Rising Sun'.

It's not that music completely eludes me. I know, if I was passionate enough about it, I could probably be a really talented musician. But I'm not passionate about it and a lack of 'natural' musical talent doesn't bother me.

A self portrait
I didn't wear my glasses so I had to practice
going by shape alone
Now, I have met a few people who are naturally very talented at playing instruments or writing lyrics, but most of the musicians I know have had to work really hard at it. Music is hard work! All creative pursuits are.

Yet there's this strange belief that I encounter again and again that, despite having any proof to back it up, persists in the minds of those who hold it. It's this belief that people are born artists. That an artistic person has some inherent ability to draw or sculpt or paint or sing or write lyrics etc. That creative talent is something you're born with and if you weren't well, sucks to be you, there's simply no hope.

This sort of belief baffles me because saying, "I can't draw so I'll never learn" is like saying, "I can't speak second language so I shouldn't bother learning one." 

Artistic talent is not a personality trait.

It's a skill.

No one is a born architect or surgeon just as no one is a born dancer or portrait painter. There are exceptions - there always will be simply because there are so many people on the planet - but the nature of an exception is the rarity of it. Even those with a supposed 'natural' talent will struggle in some aspect. We all have room to learn. But it's less that we have room to learn and more that we have the capacity for it. Learning is a never ending process and something we all have a talent for if we put our mind to it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

'Possible' doesn't mean 'easy'

My dad sent me the link to Mr. MoneyMustache's genius money saving/making blog after a discussion about budgeting. Mr. MoneyMustache is a man after my own heart. He, like many bloggers I follow, admire and aspire to emulate, has a solid head on his shoulders and an ambitious outlook. He embraces the fact that life really truly is what you make it.

Recently he posted the first part of what will probably prove to be a very long series of blogs of the top 50 jobs you can get/make for yourself that will pay $50,000+. He had a lot of praise and back-up to what he put out there but he also had a lot of outrage. A lot of people saying he was a fool who had no idea what he was talking about and that many of his suggestions were fanciful or ridiculous.

People are complex creatures so there are many, many reasons for this sort of reaction.

A) A lot of people find it easier to tear someone down than to build themselves up. 

B) Some people interpreted what he posted as 'easy' ways to make money - despite the fact that he made no such utterance. 

C) Envy is a strange beast that, when let run wild, will reduce people to name calling because they don't recognise it as telling them to do their own work to finally do something different with their lives instead of just letting life happen to them all the time. 

Now, I'm not claiming to be an expert and all of this is based on my personal experience of the world so I am aware that my view is narrow and limited to me and me alone. People are like snowflakes. No two are alike. If that's a true thing about snowflakes, which I doubt.

I digress. 

Last year I was working on setting myself up as a life coach. Why? Because I wanted to have a successful, well-paid career doing something I actually love and care about. I was working as an administrator for a charity at the time and though I'm wickedly good at organising things, filling in databases, and sorting post - I don't enjoy it. I garner no satisfaction outside of the general sense of smugness that comes from making something work effectively.

It does not sustain me and so I began looking for something that does. The first thing I touched upon was life coaching. This was because I love helping people.

I love when I have a conversation with someone and afterwards they tell me:

"Because of you I have started painting again" 
"Because of you I've decided to move to another country and finally do all the travelling I didn't do when I was younger because I felt pressured into getting a degree I didn't want" 
"Because of you I have decided to start-up my own small business on the side and even if it doesn't go anywhere at least I can try and find out instead of wondering all the time." 

The problem with trying to 'sell' this skill was that I loved giving it away for free. I loved giving it away so much that I found myself stifled when I couldn't and wouldn't on the principle that I was 'trying to make a living'. There are a lot of life coaches out there and they make shedloads of money and have incredible careers of which I am envious. They all have a niche and their niche makes them saleable.

If I were to pick a niche my niche would be artists. Creative polymaths like myself. Writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, designers - trapped in retail or administration or something similar that does nothing to feed their creative soul.

The problem with this niche is that Creative polymaths don't recognise that's what they are and if you don't know what you are how can you seek someone to coach you in being that person? Well, you can't.

So I went back to the drawing board and thankfully, because of an incredible manager who knew exactly what being a manager is all about, I had all these design programmes on my computer and had been dabbling in design for months. And I love my artwork and I'm totally comfortable with selling it (Although I do sometimes like to give it away) and it's definitely something I'm well-suited to as a professional because I get great satisfaction in creating something with someone in mind, rather than creating what I'd like to make. Or rather, I like making the ideas of others a reality.

So six months ago I made a career switch. I quit a job and gave up all the security that comes with that to step off into the abyss and try my hand at freelance design. Within a month I had landed a steady three day a week, six month long contract as an in-house designer. And voila - I no longer dread being asked what I do for a living.

And here's the thing. One of my co-workers where I have this contract said, "I'd love to do what you're doing but you have to train for that."

"No," I said, giving her some totally free life coaching, "You don't. I'm totally self-taught. I use online courses through and I fund all my supplies myself. I wanted to be a designer so I made it happen."

Me doing an abseil earlier this year. Because I can. 
It's not been easy. It still isn't. I'm starting out in an extremely competitive market. I'm starting out in a world that, despite the possibility to make a career without a degree, still puts immense value on post-secondary qualifications regardless of whether they're even relevant to the role. I know there is a lot of work ahead of me and that it will be slow-going at times and there will be hurdles and growing-pains and so on.

But the point is, life is for living and living is the journey because the destination is death. Death is inevitable but when it's gonna happen is the unknown factor. Knowing that I could be dead tomorrow I simply ask myself what matters the most right here and right now.

Which is why I self-published and why I quit a job without having another one lined up and why I invest in a membership and make a point of completing two to four courses a month and why I've got the Creative Cloud and will switch to whatever might be the industry standard in the future to ensure I'm keeping up.

Anything is possible and it's true that there are an abundance of jobs out there that don't require four or even just two years of schooling for. There are jobs out there that don't require any schooling what-so-ever. But that doesn't mean getting them isn't going to be difficult. Not needing a degree to do something doesn't mean it will be 'easy'. If anything the work you have to put in is going to be that much more because you have to really prove your capabilities. You have to fight extra hard to do something for the love of it. 

But it's worth it. It is. Because at the end of the day I am able to say I am a published author and a graphic designer. I am an artist who paints, sculpts and makes costumes. I am an animator.

Which is saying, "I do not limit myself" 

Don't limit yourself and don't let anyone else limit you either. Be your own best friend. If you want it you will make it happen. 
Cheesy representation:
The Sky's the Limit!