Career Advice to My 9-Year-Old Self

Next week sometime we get to host a client’s son for a couple of hours in the studio. With a Lego room, brightly coloured bean bags, spanking new table-tennis table, magnetic walls to doodle on, and a fireman’s pole connecting both sets of floors, who wouldn’t want to pop by? OK, the fireman’s pole is a joke. But it has been requested.

I know from having had a brief chat to said-client, that her son is an avid artist. This is primarily why he’d like to pop by. Like me when I was his age – or at least assuming as much – he may be wondering if drawing is actually a viable career path. Obviously, I’m going to encourage him in exactly this. In the midst of helping him build his very first stop-motion animation, I will try and throw in a few golden nuggets of advice as well. The list below has some of it. Hopefully, those older than 9 years of age, and who’ve already found their true callings will also find some benefit from reading these…

1) Draw as much as you can

No one starts off as an artist. Like anything in life, the more one does something, the better one gets. Your first scribble will be rubbish. But the thousandth time you pick up that crayon or pencil, less so. Illustrate by copying characters in books. Draw the cartoons from your favourite mini-series. Do still-life nature scribbles of your garden. Trace line work in magazines to better your hand-eye detailing. On weekends, after school hours, before bed. Have fun, go wild. Explore the possibilities and develop multiple styles and range. The more you do it, the better you’ll get, and the better you get, the more you will love it.

2) Do not be scared of tech

Although growing up we did have a 16-bit colour monitor (say whaaat!), which we played a few legendary games on (anyone else remember Prince of Persia?) but it wasn’t something I saw as a tool to create art with. Only when I picked a basic animation diploma for my first year out of high school, was I confronted with working on a machine full-time. My main programmes at the time were Flash and 3D Studio max. Sooo many tools and sooo many drop-downs. It was a steep learning curve and initially I was not a fan. Although this generation may not need the push, jump straight into tech as early as possible. Don’t be the kid who always chooses the coloured pencils over the magic mouse (or Wacom), to then have to play catch up later on.

3) Dabble with as many mediums as possible

Get your traditional/ digital hands dirty in everything. For me personally, the absolute best part of the job, is that every other week sees me working on a variety of projects: be it branding, motion graphic social media posts, web layout, digital campaigns for financial education one day and then saving the environment the next, a set of logo designs (which has me initially scribbling on paper again), glossy presentations and vector character illustrations. Multiple apps are used to create these too! Variety is the spice of life. As a designer we get to have this every other day. I don’t buy into the “be an expert in one area” methodology. Be good at a dozen things. It’ll keep things fun and interesting, and in an agency environment, make you far more versatile and useful.

4) Being creative is a craft

I’ve seen very talented designers/artists plateau far too early. They got lazy, perhaps took their skills for granted, and those around them who were less gifted but who worked harder and were more hungry, quietly overtook them. I’ve had people say to me how lucky I am to be able to draw. I genuinely don’t think I have any special gift. The only difference is that I’ve spent thousands of hours on my own sketching – and in the past decade – thousands of hours hunched over a Mac. While some children perfected the art of kicking a ball against a wall, or dive-bombing into a pool, I was inside re-drawing He-man’s muscles over and over again to get them bulging just right. Being creative is a craft. It takes time. A craft takes years to hone. Don’t take early “success” or skill for granted. There are a ton of people out there who are naturally better than you and I.

5) If there’s no joy, take up accounting

I cringe a little when I hear quotes along the lines of, “love your job and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. I get the sentiment, but it’s from a very privileged position that any of us are able to say this. That said, I strongly believe that one should be able to get joy from what we do. A lot has to do with who we do the thing with – our colleagues. And a lot has to do with our attitude – choosing to smile and not moan. But as in this blog’s case, if we as designers/artists/illustrators can’t find joy in shapes and colours and type and arranging graphical elements on a page, then we’re in the wrong field. If you get out of bed on a Saturday or Sunday and never have any desire to draw (with pen or PC), then I’d encourage you to rekindle that joy. Try get back to the excitement you first had when a blank piece of white paper and sharpened HB sent giddy nerves tingling down your neck.