Skills & Making
Looking back, I think the first side project I completed outside of my day job, was designing my own wedding invitations. (I laughed out loud when, referring to wedding invites, Simon Manchipp from “Someone’ said in this week’s lecture, ‘never do that, it’s always a nightmare’.)
Being a designer, it was kind of expected, but that didn’t mean it was easy. I have always had trouble designing for myself – no-one to give me a clear brief and no-one to tell me when my ideas are rubbish!!
I made every invite by hand – around 80 in total. The front of the invite was made using different mediums – paper, paint, and metal. The text was embossed and printed onto individuals squares, which were then stuck on the inside.
I was working for a big corporate company at the time, programming websites, and while it was a lot of work to make each individual invite, the hands-on creating was a welcome change.
Of course, once I had designed my own invites, our friends started asking me to do theirs! We are going back in time a little now, so there was a lot of paper, sticking, cutting and folding to do – hardly any designing on a computer.
These side projects allowed me to start building up a small portfolio of work outside of my main job and came in really handy when I decided to start my own business. Had it not been for these little projects, I don’t think I’d be where I am now today.
Over the years I have completed quite a few of these projects. They have mainly been ideas for gifts to give friends and family but also to help people, charities and organisations.
In this week’s lecture it was interesting to hear Julian House from ‘Intro’ talk about giving side projects a purpose. He says, “I always feel that that self-initiated work that just exists online in someone’s Flickr account, for another designer to give an uptick for or to say I like the colours, feels like a bit of a vacuum. I don’t think, it doesn’t necessarily need to be commercial, although that helps, but I think if you’ve got a side project, there should be some criteria it has to meet in the end.”
I agree with Julian and think this is true – projects don’t always need to make money, but there should be a reason as to why you are completing them. Trying new things that you may not be doing in your job, improving your skills or just gaining experience, all valid reasons to initiate a side project.
Some of the side projects I have worked on are wedding invitations, posters, framed artwork, books, tickets and videos.
One I enjoy doing at the moment, which will take 12 years to complete, is designing a Christmas card each year for the 12 days of Christmas! This year in 2020, means I am halfway through – the sixth day of Christmas, ‘Six geese a-laying’! I illustrate each day by hand and paint them in watercolours. I finish them off with ink and use embossing powder to add a bit of sparkle.
It has become a tradition at Christmas where I get to have fun away from the computer and use my hands again!
When designing the first card, I don’t think I really thought it through that it was going to continue for 12 years but now amongst our friends and family, they’re the ones who expect them and keep me busy! They are collecting and bringing them out each year as part of the decorations around their homes. The fact that they have to wait a year for the next instalment, adds to the excitement and spirit of Christmas, which is lovely.
Drawing, painting and making, are skills I have and which I really enjoy, but don’t always get to use on a regular basis. I would like to paint on canvas and experiment with different mediums and techniques, but I don’t have the confidence. Knowing ‘what to paint’ is holding me back and what I should do is experiment and take the time to understand the subjects that interest me and see if I can generate ideas from that.
As Brian Eno says in one of the recommended video’s this week “the biggest obstacle (to creative potential) is that people have to earn a living”.
He goes on to say, “Do the things you want to do with your time and take maximum advantage of whatever your abilities are.”This is where I think I am vulnerable. I stick to what I know, and I am scared that my other skills and abilities aren’t good enough. Meaning I don’t advertise them and in turn, don’t use them enough to get better at them – technical skills and non-technical skills.
‘The Importance of Vulnerability’ video was a great watch, and I understood the message completely – however, I am just not very good at putting it into practice! I think I am getting better as I get older but because I like to think of myself as happy and positive, it is not always easy to share with others when I am weak or when things aren’t going well.
From experience, friends tend to come to me with problems and concerns, which I will then open up to, but generally, I’m not the first to open up!
Working for myself and being on my own has definitely had an impact on my confidence, especially when it comes to considering the possibility of working in a studio environment again. However, I believe in developing as a person and learning new skills.
For me, this MA Graphic Design course is the first step. Fingers crossed my confidence will start to build!
I started this week’s challenge by writing a list of skills that I have in technical areas, non-technical areas and areas of design practice.The challenge was to create a design that summarises a process model that works for me, highlights my skills and shows any gaps that I might have.
Having written out my skills a thought about a design process model that works for me, I wanted to create a design that could connect these elements in some meaningful way.
I couldn’t do it!
I mentioned on the ideas board that I actually had some extra time this week to work on the challenge but that because maybe I didn’t quite understand the requirements or I was just over thinking it, I wasted a lot of that time.
I had an idea in my head of how I wanted the overall piece to look and I couldn’t get away from it. Lots of different sized circles in various colours showing my abilities and skills.I couldn’t connect the circles to my process, and it didn’t show any skill gaps. I wasn’t happy with this and spent far too much time stuck on this idea, wasting time, hoping something would come to mind.
In my sketch book I tried to explore other ideas of how to represent my skills and started to think about my design journey and trying to grow as a designer. Using, trees, roads, tube map, and signposts to represent growing and journeys. Steps, ladders and mountains for climbing. Puzzle pieces, brick laying and bridges for gaps – some possible and interesting ideas but nothing that jumped out.
At this point on Wednesday evening (with deadline of 1pm on Friday to submit Crit .pdf), I decided to step away and have a rest. I still couldn’t make anything work and I was beginning to panic.
Going back to week 5 of the course, I talked about a ‘thinking process’ created by a man called Graham Wallas. I chose his process of thinking for the workshop challenge that week because I could relate to it the most, particularly the ‘Incubation’ and ‘Illumination’ stages.
Going to bed on Wednesday night having decided not to think about the challenge, I woke early Thursday morning with a possible idea! Incubation and Illumination – fascinating!!
I felt there was something in the fact that I had skills, but I wanted to get better and improve on them, getting from A to B. Essentially, sharpening my skills.
That was what I was looking for. I focused on the word ‘sharpen’ and thought about pencils for designing and a sharpener as the tool.
I did a quick sketch of what was in my head and thought how to go about it.
I got 3 pencils and a sharpener. I made one pencil blunt, one pencil sharp and got the other pencil in the sharpener midway through sharpening.
These 3 pencils are to represent where I am now, the tools to get me where I want to be and where I want to get to.
I set up the pencils and took some images, experimenting with photography.I added the text ‘sharpening my skills’ to the image in ‘InDesign’ and exported it as a PDF document. InDesign is software that I haven’t used before so totally out of my comfort zone but hopefully with further use, I can add it to my technical skills list.
Because the idea came late, the overall piece could do with further development. I need to add my list of skills to the design, playing on the pencil theme. I also got some good feedback from the ideas board which I’ll consider when developing the design.In summary, I have learnt this week that side projects are good for designers. They help develop your skills and get you to try other things that maybe you wouldn’t normally do. It’s good to have a reason or motive to complete these projects, even if it’s just to stop you giving up halfway through!
I have also realised that being vulnerable is okay, we need to recognise what we are good at and take advantage but to also recognise where we are weak, so that we can develop and grow. Sharing and admitting our strengths and weaknesses with others is a risk but hopefully it will show them that you are just as human as they are and help to build lasting relationships with one another.
Finally, even though I know this in the back of my mind, taking a break from work is hugely beneficial!! Sometimes you can lose sight of what you are trying to achieve and so stepping away and having a change of scenery can mean you come back with a new perspective. Ultimately, giving you the clarity you need to keep going.
How important are side projects and are you currently working on any? 2020. GDE710 for MA Graphic Design. Falmouth University.
Eno, Brian. How to Beat Creative Block. April 5th 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tURRSJ-q4bg Last accessed 14th November 2020
The School of Life. 21st September 2017. The Importance of Vulnerability https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJsJ96yyVk8 Last accessed 14th November 2020