Between Creative and Technical

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  1. Agree with your point about style. For those (including myself) who battle with this issue I’ve discovered that you can’t “find” your style. Your style will evolve over time with the more work that you produce. Like a piece of wood that starts out rough, you widdle it down with each project you create by building your strengths and discovering your weaknesses.

    It’s totally normal to emulate the people you look up to early in your career, but if you find that you’re emulating others simply because you think your own style/talents are weak then you’re just delaying the inevitable. This might be why you see so many artitst/designers having persona projects. That’s where you cut your teeth, have failures and bounds of creative discovery. 1hr a day of personal work is a great prescription for discovering who you are as a creative.

  2. great article james,
    i think the research part of designing is the most exciting part of being a graphic designer because you always learning something new.

  3. Thanks for the insight James, was a really good read. I’ve been following your blog for a while but haven’t posted before now. Even in the short time I’ve known about your work I’ve seen it evolve and progress while sticking to a ‘style of your own’.

    It’s actually refreshing to know you’re 32 as I’m 26 and thinking “I need to hurry up and find my niche, there’s 20-year-olds who blow me away with their [insert Adobe product here] skills!”. That’s not a dig at your age, it’s just great to see you’re still pushing your creative boundaries and enjoying what you love :)

    I was trying to think of a question to ask but you pretty much covered it all in this post. Thanks again.

  4. “Personal work shouldn’t feel like work, it shouldn’t have pressure or deadlines attached. Personal work should be fun. When you start having fun generating ideas and trying new techniques it relinquishes all of the pressure you put on yourself to create, and it feels like you’re a kid again slopping around paint just for the hell of it.”

    Oh, man, I really wish I could tattoo that on my brain. I try so hard to force myself to do creative stuff that I loose the pleasure of doing it. I’m still struggling to find out who I really am as a creator, but posts like this help a lot. It’s reconfortiing to see people already suffered from the same symptoms and overcame them. Thank you :)

  5. Your article has a lot of good advice.

    I have actually been struggling with the question, “is this even fun anymore?”

    I have been actively working (yes, getting paid) since I was 11 years old using Corel Draw back in 1991. When you’re 11 years old and you get a lot of attention and MONEY, you can’t help but enjoy it. I took to photoshop and illustrator like a duck to water, went to design school, got my degree, working the whole time, advancing along the way – could write the book on technique.

    Don’t get me wrong – I really don’t mean to be boastful. I say this to set up a point.

    I am now 29 years old, and have been wondering if I truly enjoy designing, or do I just enjoy the praise and money it brings. I rarely do ‘personal work’ anymore.

    One of the things you bring up is ‘style’. To be honest – I don’t have a personal style – I can mimic any style I see (and often do for various jobs) to an exacting level of attention to detail. I follow all the trend to stay wanted.

    I often wonder if there are others out there who design because they CAN, not because they LIKE it.

  6. Thanks for all the comments and stories, everyone. We all go at personal art and design differently so it’s wonderful to hear how others progress and develop their work.

    Eddie, great points. When it comes to emulating the work of others, it’s a great way of learning new skills by examining and replicating. I have done this many times myself and it’s a wonderful way of honing technical skills, but you’re right in saying it delays the personal creative journey.

    Michael, you hit the nail on the head. There’s no rush in developing your own material, it’s a process not an overnight epiphany :) I don;t put a time limit on these things anymore as it’s all about personal fulfillment.

    Szy, my pleasure! As I said, I don’t see my personal work as a destination, it’s all about the path. If you never stop moving you will only discover new things :)

    Duluoz, you raised a very interesting point. I take it for granted and assume that designers do what they do because they love it. But you are right in asking if others fall into the field due to technical know-how. Very interesting topic.

  7. To expand on the personal style topic a little-

    I think modern young designers are so inundated with the amount of high-quality work online that there is a ton of pressure to immediately be as good. There is this demand for instant gratification in one’s own work that I think is very detrimental to designers, especially ones in school or just out of school.

    People believe it is so important to have a unique, ground-breaking style when the REAL value is in your fundamental skill a visual thinker, regardless of the style that you dress it up with. Tools like Photoshop make it easy to throw everything possible into an image, many times giving the illusion of skill or quality, when the underlying fundamental design principles in place are very poor.

    So my advice is to focus on the fundamentals and learn proper design. That alone can take decade to master, and a personal style is something that only really shines once that has been achieved. Modern designers put too much pressure on themselves to be unique and not enough on their foundations.

    The struggle I had personally was that even in school I didn’t comprehend a lot of the fundamental material that was taught, I didn’t see its application. It’s only been a few years later that I’ve picked up some books, done some reading and have really been able to apply fundamental principles to my work.

  8. I think this is my first post on your site…which should be taken as a compliment that i appreciate you sharing this response from your experience. it’s very similar to my own and encouraging to feel the resonance. It’s a bit like people trying so hard to be unique or individual and end up being one of the crowd that seeks the same…you don’t become unique by seeking that as a goal but rather it happens accidentally as you become gripped by a vision of something you have to pursue at any cost. Then people start to recognize something unique about the flavor that life starts to take on. For me one of the biggest distractions to getting down to business in my own work is often getting lost in how much there is to explore on the internet. Everything in moderation!

    great post.

  9. This must be my first post as well. But I’ve been visiting this blog ever since I first saw it about a year ago. That was a very interesting article. It was something I needed. I’ve always loved art, and I did pretty well when I was in school. I studied traditional painting and drawing, but that was such a long time ago. I can hardly remember a time when I last touched a real paintbrush. I’ve been using PS since version 5, but I have never been able to perfect any special technique or style. I was very enthusiastic when I first started using the computer. Back then we didn’t have the internet, and whatever I learned it was from borrowed books and experimentation. I was 18, now 28. I have a wife, a kid, and a decent job. With all the pressures of life, I am finding it very difficult to do what I always loved. But reading this article made me realize that its never too late or too early to keep moving.

    Your work was something fresh. I became a fan ever since I first saw it. I just want to thank you for this great blog, where you post articles about your inspirations and thoughts behind your work. Really valuable info.

    Anyways thanks for everything, and I hope that one day I would be able to do something as exciting as you are doing. Meanwhile I’ll keep on visiting and admiring your work.

    Thanks

  10. This has come at exactly the right time for me.. or maybe just a little after my own personal discovery – but still on target. For years now (I’m 27) I have been working as a graphic designer and honing my skills for work. This in itself has been very rewarding, but earlier this year I found I wasn’t enjoying the job. Looking at many other designers/artists I was like a moth to a flame (i.e. I was drawn to the wonder and spectacle of such great composition in design but could never get close to what I was seeing – thus being burnt). Sadly, this ‘try but never quite get there’ phase led me to design depression and I spiraled downwards – passing my old designs as I tumbled and consequently hating all that I put my hand to creatively.

    It wasn’t until I stumbled across your site James and saw the growth and experimentation in your work, that I realised that design (no matter how old you are) is art and art is a journey – a continual self exploration and demonstration of what makes each creative tick. Once I began to change my perception, my designs began changing and I actually started to enjoy designing again. I found myself like a child in mud – exploring, laughing out loud and generally getting down and dirty.

    So thankyou so much for this post. Like I began, it came at just the right time. Even though I had already began to realise this, it was reassuring to know that I was not alone in previous frustrations.

    Keep up the great work. You are an inspiration.

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Signalnoise James White

About James

James White is a digital artist and speaker hailing from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. With over 20 years of experience, James has worked with many international brands and has taken the stage at design conferences across the globe. He loves hot pink, chrome text and stuff from the 1980s.

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