As you know, (and if you don’t) I’m a commercial artist—illustration and graphic design. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and love every moment of it. Though, here are ten life lessons I’ve learned while growing with my career.

  1. Clients Suck. Face it, even if you have the best of clients at some point they will get on your nerves. However, when dealing with them—in their idiosyncrasies and multiple emails, which fire rapidly at you like machine guns of red sharpies pointing out every flaw in a design—I’ve come to realise the simple truth, no matter how talented you are, you must earn your clients. They are not handed out on a platter with an abundance of resources for you to take your time and create a masterpiece, at least not at first. And while eventually they will suck, guess what—they will rock too, if you work through it. Life is earned. Work through the suck and it will be well worth it in the end.
  2. Bold lines help to draw attention to the subtle details. There are some days when I want extravagance. I want the champagne and cheesecake with just a bit of editable gold leaf crust. And you know what? That’s fine. Do it! Live life man. Love life. Just remember the more bold lines you create in your life, it may start to dull your life’s painting. Take the opportunity to have subtle details in your personality. Balance your bold lines with the quiet contemplation the inner-self. Whether that contemplation is through meditation or learning a new language; learn to appreciate balance.
  3. What you want is not always what the client wants. It may be a beautiful work of art, or an illustration that took 60+ hours to do. Sometimes, no amount of rationalisation will make a client like it. Don’t whine, it’s just a job—backburner the project for someone more receptive. Your job, the one you currently work at, may not be what you want. Mine wasn’t. For a long time it wasn’t. But I always consider myself as a client of life. Life may throw at me lots of ‘stuff’ to make me like it, but if I’m unhappy it’s my choice to say, “Nope. I’m good,” and move in a different direction. Sure, I may have to pay a few penalty fees, but in the long run it’s so worth it.
  4. Photoshop just crashed and I didn’t save. Everyone has had that moment. When you are on your umpteenth hundredth cup of tea at three in the morning, when software decides it hates you. I’ve found that life is pretty much the same way. There are days when the universe declares that it will not be your day. But you know what? Once you’ve had your pity party, you reopen the file and start over, usually doing a quicker and better job. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a pity party in life, as long as you start the next day knowing it’s going to be better.
  5. If it’s not working, don’t force colour. At times we try to read too much into something. I’ve learned that sometimes, it really is just black or white. Right or wrong. You are either a good human or not. One thing I’ve found is that I can over analyse the simplest of things. Especially in the arts industry, where everyone wants a meaning behind a colour choice, or even, a subject matter of a painting. There are times when I just want to paint a peacock without having to craft a story behind why the peacock is looking so far off into the distance. Don’t force a meaning on your life. Just live it to the best of your ability.
  6. Three T’s – Time, talent, and taste. No one tells new designers the most fundamental lesson, you may have talent and taste, but only time can hone your skills to something that’s worth paying for. A writer can write everyday, produce thousands upon thousands of words and yet only sell short story or novel after many failures. I can practice the same words in French for years and still be corrected. I have drawn the same types of drawings for years, but I can still screw up. Doesn’t mean I should quit. It just means that with more time I’ll be a bit better.
  7. Walk away. I was coding a website and couldn’t get a section exactly the way I wanted it to look. It was frustrating. It was dumb. It was infuriating. I’d been working on the problem for hours when I just got up and walked away. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. The next day I came back and realized I was an idiot and forgot to close a bracket. Sometimes distance is a grand thing. I can now look at problems that crop up, frustrate and confuse me, only to realise I need to walk away. Perspective and time away from an issue can help see it in a different light especially if it’s going to be there for a while.
  8. Wireframe by hand, then prototype. I love planning new sites, developing new apps, and with that comes information organisation. There’s been a big push towards rapid prototyping and I love it, however, wireframing by hand—working through problems without technology first is still key. We are all still humans (last time I checked). We still think first without a technology aid. Our minds are limitless technology is not. You can work through your problems by thinking through them. Only when you have a good foundation plan can you move forward and prototype movement in your life. Not all your plans may work, but if you are working on a clear set of goals you can find a solution to work within your life’s wireframe.
  9. When in doubt, make sure you have permission from the photographer. You don’t know how many times designer’s use the phrase: “Did you get permission from xyz?” We then have to make two solutions. One that is 100% based on our creativity and one that has questionable content which we don’t know if we will be sued or not. Go to the source. Don’t trust second-hand ‘Okays’. Do a little research, email the photographer, and get it in writing. If I have questions about life hacking I go to the source. I’m not sure how change a bike tire—I call my local bike shop. Life is about making connections and not getting hurt in the long run by one off decisions based on bad information.
  10. Not everyone is on your timetable. Being able to do my own artistic and design based work; I know how quickly I can get something done, as well as how long it should take to get something done. Unfortunately, this leaves me with a skewed sense of other’s work ethics. You need to make allowances for other people’s timetable. There are so many variables that go into just getting out the door that you just need to understand and be gracious to those whom may be working on a different timetable as you.

Are you an artist? What have you learned from your career? I’d love to know what other people—artist or not—have learned from their job path! Let me know in the comments below!

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