Dear students: Money isn’t the source of your problem

James GallagherDear students,

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about your concerns and how I might be able to address them somehow. First and foremost on your mind is money – how to survive in the real world when you graduate. You’ve heard countless stories, I’m sure – of how it’s tough out there to make ends meet. There’s the usual horror stories of graduates getting sucked into some MLM/pyramid scheme, or where they inevitably get so burned out that they quit the industry to badger their relatives and friends to invest in insurance. You tell me that there’s two distinct choices: whether to be rich and miserable doing something you hate for the money; or to be poor doing what you love.

But the world isn’t all black and white.

And artists don’t have to starve to get to where they are. You can choose to be smart about it, unless you’re making a choice to suffer through the whole ordeal (needlessly, I might say). Because the point here is this: no one starts off being good at what they do. Not even Vincent Van Gogh. Not even Mozart. They practiced and practiced their hearts out and they might have been poor at least once in their life (I’m making this up, but I’m pretty sure of it).

Everything is fleeting – your problems, your growing pains, the awkwardness, being poor, being a terrible artist.

Money isn’t the source of all problems. Laziness, and fear of the unknown is – especially when you’re starting out. If you’re able to spend your time watching cats on YouTube (like this cat jump fail that made me gasp), you can certainly eke out some time to do something about your money fears. As for having unfounded fears, you need to get off the internet and do something about your situation instead of reading about things you can’t control.

To start off, how about earning money on the side while you figure out what it is you want? I’ve been a busser at KFC after secondary school for 3 months, clearing tables and cleaning up poo residue from under the table from parents who thought that the floor is a dumping ground for soiled diapers (it happens more often than you think). I’ve worked in retail, standing on my feet for 8 hours a day, attending to fickle customers and being a sentry – watching out for thieves hoping to fleece some chino pants. And I won’t mind doing either one again, if I really had no other choice. Why? Because I know it’s only temporary. And you should too. Everything is fleeting – your problems, your growing pains, the awkwardness, being poor, being a terrible artist. How you get past it is up to you.

How about creating your own products to sell? You might just get spare change, but you’ll get a whole lot of insight into what people want when you put yourself out there. Plus you’ll be able to flex that creative muscle of yours. Think local craft markets, art fairs, and of course, Etsy.

And how about making sure that you’re doing the best you can while you pound the pavement looking for work? Have you brushed up your portfolio, dusted off your LinkedIn page and created a blog? Have you bought this great resource book filled with contacts of people in the US and contacted the ones that interest you?

Don’t let the fear of starving stop you from creating the work you want others to see. For one thing, you won’t starve. Really. My best friend and I once were so poor as students that we only had RM2 (USD$0.60) between us to split lunch, but we managed, because a very nice lady who manned the economy rice stall took pity on us and heaped food onto our plates after we asked what we could buy for that amount – we explained that we used up all our money to buy books for the month (which was the truth). I’m not saying that you should all go out and beg – but I look back at that time and laugh, because we were so young, and naive. We asked for kindness and we got it in return. And we make sure to return the favor to whomever we come across that needs help, because we’ve been on the receiving end of kindness. Maybe being a bit naive isn’t such a bad thing.

But that’s a post for another day.

{ Collage illustration by James Gallagher }

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Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here. 

Dear students: Niche is the new mainstream

Kate JenkinsDear students,

I was so thrilled to be presented to this week, instead of the one giving a presentation to you all. Because I’ve always wanted to know how you guys work, so that I can help you better. When each of you stood up there to tell me a little bit about your favorite characters, I was taken aback. I did not know half of the characters that you do.

You see, I live in the era of Smurfs (before it got CGI-ed the crap out of it), Sesame Street, the Electric Company, She-Ra, He-man and Thundercats. The latest cartoons that I could muster were Dexter, Cow & Chicken, and Catdog – back when I was stressed out studying and Nickelodeon was my companion. I could count on my two hands the number of characters that got me hooked, and so it was for my generation, where choice was homogenous, simply because it was mainstream at the time. This is fascinating to me because as an 80’s child, people halfway across the world are exposed to exactly the same things as I did. Same designs, same furniture, same TV shows, same cartoons, and yes, even the same clothes.

[quote] There’s not going to be another you that has the ability to be the best that you can be. [/quote]

But right now, there isn’t such thing as mainstream or the idea of “same-ness”. For all of you (and all of us), niche is the new mainstream. There are so many different intersections of style and design that were not readily available to us back then. Perhaps the time wasn’t right back then for the many different stream of ideas to take root and spread its reach, but it surely is right now.

Of all the characters that were shown to me, I could see maybe 1 or two similar ones that were favorites, but the rest of the characters and shows – about 80% of them are different from one another. All alien to me and all of them are so different from one another. Knowing what you are into helps me to place your work, and to identify with it better – it sets a precedent of what you’d hope your work can become, even if it’s an unconscious thread. And the possibilities are astounding.

From this exercise, I see all of you with new eyes. That you’re not just a group of students, united in the way that you’re brought together by physically being in one class – you’re a group of individuals. Individuals with hope and feelings. Of joy and reserves. Each with creative ideas of your own. And you should be confident in the knowledge that you are all different, each in your own way. Let’s celebrate that, and be proud – because there’s not going to be another you that has the ability to be the best that you can be.

So let’s see what you’ve got, because the world is waiting.

{ Image of crocheted fishes by Kate Jenkins }

[box icon=”heart”] Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here. [/box]

Dear students: How to avoid boring others

Border People by Volcano MotherDear students,

I’ve heard your laments about the boring assignments from school that bored you to tears. The one where the brief are based so much on real life that you aren’t really looking forward to working in the real world. Things like promotional material for corporations. Or something to do with heritage. Or a serious-looking logo. You ask me if this is all there is – if life after school revolves around boring projects with even more boring subject matters.

My answer is yes.

But here’s the thing. Life, when seen from one angle will always be one-sided. The trick is to not do what is expected of you, and to see things with eyes afresh. Easier said than done? Perhaps. This all goes back to letting your hair down to enjoy the process. If only we were all a little more quirky – I’m sure life wouldn’t be so boring!

But also, instead of waiting for boring assignments or projects, why not create your own exciting ones? Why wait for interesting and challenging projects to crop up (a rare thing to come by these days) when you can send the world a message of your own? Why not become a puppet master instead of a puppet? There’s a handful of excuses that’s usually thrown my way – “I don’t have the time. I don’t think people would be interested. Where would I start?” All of these excuses? Most of them stem from laziness and/or fear – a combination that can be both crippling and sad, and especially unwarranted for those who has all the time in the world to make mistakes and learn from it. Maybe you just don’t know it yet.

[quote] Life is too short to color within the lines and to just be what other people expect you to be. [/quote]

So what’s next? You need to make some mistakes and learn to laugh about it. To laugh at yourself. Because no one is going to go around with a feather to tickle you around the corner or dress up as a clown to make you laugh, so you might as well do it yourself. So fall down, laugh, and pick yourself back up again – life is too short to color within the lines and to just be what other people expect you to be. Shout, run, play. Just don’t sit still and take what the world throws at you. Fight back. Fight back with all you’ve got.

It’s time to have some fun.

{ Image credit: Border people by Volcano Mother }

[box icon=”heart”] Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here. [/box]

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