Things money can’t buy

Note: This was a post that I wrote for a local student magazine a few months back which I think would be useful to share here too. Enjoy!

Thomas Bayrle

Whenever I step into a classroom, the first question that I get asked is this: which profession in the design world makes more money: animators, graphic designers, or illustrators? Or how about multimedia artists or videographers? My reply was that there’s plenty of ways to make money – lots and lots of money perhaps. Not all of them are in the design industry. But all of it comes with a price. Heck, sometimes jobs that make the most money aren’t even legal, and you can bet that they’re dangerous. So again. There are plenty of ways to make money – not all of them are good. So herewith the question beckons: why all this talk about money first?

I can understand – I was once a student myself.

I was once so poor that I had to split a plate of economy rice with my friend. For those who don’t know what economy rice is, it’s a shop where they have 20-30 different kinds of side dishes that go with rice, ranging from meat dishes to vegetables, to other condiments. It’s popular with students because it’s fast and cheap – just grab a plate of rice and scoop up whatever you want and go to the counter to pay for what you’ve scooped. Back to the story: we had RM2.00 between us left for food. We went up to the lady in the restaurant and showed her the coins we had left and asked her what we could have from her array of dishes. I wasn’t sure if it was pity, or understanding – but she scooped what ever was left over from a few dishes and gave us each an egg to top it all off. We were thankful for the meal and conveyed our thanks to the lovely shopkeeper – whom we fondly patronised for as long as we studied there.

We weren’t flush with cash. We didn’t have shopping malls. And we didn’t even have McDonalds around each corner (this was in the year 2000). Money was tight – purchasing art supplies, books and endless trips to the printing house made sure of that. Whatever was left we scrimped on food. Bread was a staple at the time too – when we’re running out of time and cash, nothing fills you up faster than a roll of chocolate bun with a sticky black pseudo-chocolate filling with a side of lukewarm water.

It’s all very different now, of course. You have malls, left, right and centre. Fast food kiosks as far as the eye can see. Gourmet restaurants abound; and you’re spoilt for choice. Temptation in its many forms that clue you in on what money represents. And that’s just food. Let’s not even wander into the fashion industry, or the giant virtual malls that reside within the internet – one that offers a gateway to everything and anything your heart desires; open and available 24/7 with a mere click of a button and a working credit card.

I don’t blame you at all for thinking that cash is king. Money buys you lots of things. It buys you good food. Rad clothing. Fun toys. The best equipment and art supplies. And all these things make you happy. It’s a rather straight forward equation. Or is it?

The thing about money though, is that it doesn’t buy you freedom. When you’re doing things purely for money, you’re a slave to it. And it becomes your master. You’ll find yourself slaving away for him, in exchange for something that won’t be able to buy the things that truly matter. Things like love, friendship and time.

We’re living in a time where we constantly consume. We don’t create as much as we should, and this is a shame; because if we’re not creating, we are most likely consuming instead. Our eyes are fixated on screens while our wallets are empty. Our hearts grow heavy with greed; an endless, bottomless pit that desires more, more, more. The indescribable emptiness that spreads across our chest even as we move from one novelty to the next. One day we’ll find ourselves wondering what happened along the way that made us lose more of ourselves, little by little, piece by piece.

We’re all essentially broken – in fragments and bits, scattered around us in the people we love, the places we live in and the experiences we’ve yet to discover. Gathering those pieces and putting them together is what makes us human, and it’s what makes us special. We’re made up of everything, and yet we’re nothing. Money is merely an enabler and not the destination.

Do the things you’re good at, and the things that you love. Pick up the fragments and pieces of yourself through the work you do, so that you may put yourself back together. Figuring out how to do it is the best part about growing wiser. In the beginning you will be poor. You might have to share a plate of economy rice with a friend to get by (I hope not). But you’ll do better. The trick is to get better at the things you love, and to be nourished by the things you learn and the experiences you pick up along the way. Always endeavour to leave a mark. So much so that other people start to notice and respect you for what you do, and why you do it.

And you’ll realise along the way that the “why” isn’t always about the money.

It rarely ever is.

[Illustration: Thomas Bayrle]

How to Be More Creative in the Age of Over-Inspiration

 

Ah, the internet. What would I do without it? It’s a portal that bounces me from one wonderment to the next – an inspiring road trip filled with jaw-dropping illustrations and illuminating interviews, with sideshow attractions of fun video tutorials to community hangouts for every niche under the sun. The internet is the gateway to inspiration on demand, and it seems like the more sidetracked I get, the hungrier I get for more.

When you have a source that beckons with creativity and inspiration 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, it’s easy to be sucked into a loop. There’s always something interesting a mere click away. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in my predicament. In the age of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and the many infinite scrolling art & design websites (I liken it to a bottomless well of beautiful things just waiting to be discovered) – what does this mean for artists?

The National Centre for Biotechnology Information’s research in April 2015 has surveyed that the average attention span of people in 2015 is now 8.25 seconds, compared to 12 seconds in the year 2000. That means our capacity for holding attention is 30% less compared to 15 years ago – and it’s not surprising, given how our brains are hard-wired to crave new information; according to Bruce Morton, a researcher with the University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute.

With each click leading to the next and the more information we devour, the novelty wears off quickly, and off we go in search of better, more beautiful, more interesting things. It’s nasty cycle that perpetuates itself; leading to a host of other problems like a lack of productivity (hey, where did the time go?), procrastination (just one more website!) and for some, the inability (or reluctance) to dive deeper; to analyse and synthesise the information they’ve already visually absorbed.

I’ve talked to college students who were confused by it all – there was no lack of inspiration, and yet they weren’t inspired. They grew up with the internet being a very big part of their lives, and yet they seem to be suffering from inspiration fatigue, and couldn’t understand why. One theory that I brought up was that perhaps they’ve been looking at what was already completed and done by other artists, therefore subconsciously they didn’t need to figure out the process for themselves (hey, since it’s already been done!) Replicating something visually without finding out the underlying thought process behind it all is just like skimming the water without knowing its depths. It’s also a little like eating junk food all the time, which tastes great but isn’t very good for you.

I recommended my students to try and be more conscientious of the information they took in. Instead of merely looking at the aesthetics of the many works of art in front of their screen before jumping to the next, how about they pause for a moment and focus on finding out more details about it instead? Dig through archives of the artist’s work, and perhaps catch a glimpse of their process. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t (the ails of over-inspiration runs far deeper), but the reminder to dig vertically instead of mindlessly pacing horizontally might just be a good start. I needed the nudge too as I’m sometimes guilty of the same.

It’s times like these that it’s useful to remember Charles Eames’ quote:

Art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic.

Maybe we don’t really need more inspiration. We need more doing instead.


[This is an article I originally wrote for Illustration Friday]

[Illustration: Neil J. Rook]

Dear students: Get your hands dirty

Kathleen Habbley

Dear students,

Whenever we talk one on one and I give suggestions on how you can improve your work, I am often time met with frustration. It’s not directed at me, I know that. It’s more that you are frustrated with yourself. I understand this, but when I’ve given you concrete leads to go on, and nudging you with examples on how to proceed, short of taking away your pieces and going to work on it myself – I am a little perplexed at why you aren’t excited (or at the very least, appreciative) for the many suggestions and examples I give.

You have to forgive me. Perhaps it’s because throughout my career I’ve had to solve problems that at the moment, seemed insurmountable. I’ve had to crack my head to think of solutions at the drop of the hat. That’s the life of a project manager, of an editor – we come up with ideas to solve problems that’s right in front of us so that we can move on, quickly. Our team depends on us to wade through problems, shifting them aside to create a clear path for others to do their work. We don’t mope, or show our frustrations – not because we can’t, but it’s because we’re busy thinking up other solutions; and can’t wait to begin putting those theories to the test.

At any point during my problem solving process, I have a Plan A, and a Plan B, and a Plan C all planned out – so I’m not worried about the ideas. Those are cheap and easy to come by. We’ve got to work first and foremost and see which ones will work out. And if Plan A didn’t work, we know that we’ll try Plan B. If we were constantly worried about things we couldn’t see or that we think might happen, we would be frozen indefinitely. Too afraid to move, to try, to fail.

But that’s what too much thinking – instead of doing – does to you.

Maybe the internet has something to do with this. Perhaps if you think you googled something hard enough, or if you used your extra time to search for more ideas online, then you’d be spared of the pain of failing. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. You can’t avoid failure. But by avoiding failure, you’ll ultimately be avoiding success.

[quote] When you’re limited to what you have – instead of being frustrated at what you don’t have – that’s when you are able to shine creatively.  [/quote]

Or maybe you’re looking at what you have, and you can’t wrap your head around how you can change it, to tweak it to be what you see in your mind. If all you do is to piece everything together as is, what is your role then? What makes you different? Why would someone hire you, when they could easily complete a project by throwing stuff together, like you did? Tim Gunn’s infamous words “Make it work,” applies here brilliantly – often time you think you need some expensive material to complete a project. But it may not be so complicated – something simple will just do fine. When you’re limited to what you have – instead of being frustrated at what you don’t have – that’s when you are able to shine creatively.

Real life isn’t like the internet, where everything is limitless and available at a click of a button. But having no borders can be suffocating as well. I see young people exclaim that they don’t have the same materials as they see online, so they can’t produce what they want. They’ve boxed themselves in because they feel they’re limited by what they have, instead of making the best of what they have. And that has got to change. You’ve got to change.

Make stuff. Break stuff. Get your hands dirty. Laugh, cry or scream. But you’ll need to learn right now that you can’t just coast by, expecially by avoiding the work. You need to DO the work. So I suggest that you start right now.

{ Illustration by Kathleen Habbley }

[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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