Finding inspiration and getting inspired is the easy part. But what to do and how to channel that energy is the hard part.
This past 2 weeks, I’ve been teaching/guest lecturing to second year Illustration students at Sheridan College, my old stomping grounds. My goal was to inspire them to think outside of the typical route for illustrators. The illustration and overall creative industry has changed and is changing. I believe embracing this and taking advantage of this should be top of mind. (It’s worked wonders for me so far!)
I shared with the students my own career trajectory as well as showed them tons of successful illustrators that were sure to inspire. But I also gave them a disclaimer:
I’m hesitant when giving inspirational talks or talking about inspiration because I think that’s something we’re all already experts at. One minute on the internet and you can be left overwhelmingly inspired. No matter where you are in this world, there’s likely a little square of technology in your pocket that you can seek out anything you want to see or know. Heck, with Pinterest and all of the blogs and online magazines out there, it’s never been easier to hunt down inspiration. Knowing what to do with that inspiration? That’s the hard part.
I’m sure we’ve all been there; I know I have. You hear a TED talk, or someone inspiring comes to speak or go to a gallery or even see a great movie for pete’s sake and you naturally get all jazzed and inspired. Then you get home, sit on the couch, look at your surroundings and life and think, “Huh… Now what?” After having been there myself many times, I can tell you by experience that these 3 things have helped me harness that inspiration and channel it to help my career.
1. Define Your Natural Skills & What You Really Like
Before you do any inspiration-digging, you should define and have an understanding of what you like and what you’re naturally good at. If you don’t know your inherit skills, now’s the time to figure that out. Sit down and write out the skills, abilities, knowledge and interests that comes naturally to you. Now focus on those strengths alone. I fully believe in taking advantage of your strong point, running with them and ignoring what you’re bad at (for the most part). There’s always room to grow in your weak areas, but you’ll never master them like you will something that you’re inclined in.
Once you’ve defined your strengths and abilities, define what inspires you and why. Really pin-point what it is about that thing you’re inspired by: is it the color; the technique; the person behind it; the concept? Once you discover why you like it, dissect it and borrow from it. Having this list will help you start to develop your own brand, voice and look.
2. Diversify and Dilute Your Sources
Once you’ve defined your skills and what you like, seek out myriad sources for inspiration and pile it on! In the talk I gave the students at Sheridan, I used the analogy of a meat grinder: If you looked to only 3 illustrators for inspiration, your work will likely look like the end product of those 3 styles after being combined in a meat-grinder. The more sources you add to that grinder, the less likely that what comes out will look like any one thing and the less likely it will be that you can discern and point to a spot in the sausage and say “Hey, that looks like the work of X.”
While we all borrow from each other and there’s nothing new under the sun (and that’s fine), adding more and more to your pile of inspiration will lessen your chances of copying anyone. Pin more to your Pinterest boards, bookmark more sites and blogs. Look to film, fashion, culture, blogs, business, music etc. The larger your pool of inspiration, the more likely you are to create your own style and define your own voice.
3. Explore, Ask Questions & Go For It
While being naturally good at something is great, there’s still room for play and exploration beyond that. Explore that strength in combination with something else you didn’t expect; push your skills to new places; explore them deeper. Now that you’re aware of your limit, you can you push it a little and a little more each day. Stop thinking of your work as so precious; mess it up a little, take feedback and criticism and you’ll likely learn something.
If you have a dream, work toward it; it’s likely not impossible or ridiculous. Just go for it and put your neck on the line where you can. You can’t do it all, all the time, but you can try. Like that old saying goes, failing to try is trying to fail, or something like that (or did I just make that up?) So get out there and don’t be so shy! You are awesome and can be even awesome-r.
What are your dreams? What are you working towards? What would help you reach them? What are you afraid of?
If you have any ideas or suggestions or questions about business, freelancing, the creative industry, entrepreneurship etc. please comment below. I’ll answer any questions in a new post!
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