Reflecting On 12 Months Of Portfolio Changes
In recent weeks, I've started to print out my latest piece of work and pin in to the board over my monitor. Quickly enough, the board began to sag with clippings of new work and shiny bits of inspiration. This has encouraged a slow turning of thoughts in my mind. The outcome, here, is a summary of the key takeaways from my last twelve months of self-teaching and business launching.
Creating something new every single day made the biggest difference in levelling up the quality of my work
It can be hard to motivate yourself to create consistently on top of everything else. We forget that, in reality, you are always racing against yourself. The only way to stay ahead of your own work is to keep processing through new ideas as much as possible. To my perception, there seems to be a fairly direct correlation between consistent levels of new work and a steady climb in the quality of your designs.
People say to put yourself on a deadline and I won't contradict that advice because it is certainly very wise. In terms of getting started, though, I found that I needed to get my daily creation into my routine. If work overspilled to the next day, that was okay, as long as I gave it the same dedicated time each day. At the beginning, I worked full-time in the city as a digital designer, so this focused time came in the form of my daily commute on the train. I couldn't escape and there was nothing to do other than read a book or cruise Twitter. I dedicated this time to working on new designs every single day and this was how my portfolio first developed before I was able to take on surface design full-time.
Having said that, occasionally switching my gear to doing less work but in a new technique actually helped push me out of my comfort zone
While I was busy hitting the anvil so steadily, I still had to learn that sometimes stopping and spending more focused time on one project will help push you over the edge of a learning curve. I took some opportunities in the last twelve months to step out of my comfort zone. This ranged from taking on new live workshops and working alongside other peers to sharing my work in more professional environments for critique.
Everyone knows when their work is at a plateau. The ball is in your court to change this. I'm motivated to excel by accountability because I don't like missing deadlines or letting people down. For this reason, workshops or collaborative challenges are useful for me. What motivates you to push beyond your own expectations? I would say that this is likely the key to you getting out of your comfort zone and levelling up.
Mindless sharing was fruitless but offering authentic insight was worth its weight in gold
Getting started is the most challenging part of creative work and the same applies for the act of putting your own creative work out there. I only really started doing this around 18 months ago and my intuition told me that I would need to keep publishing designs, even when I wasn't confident in the quality of that work. I went through phases of posting the same kinds of content because I was scared to see a drop in my engagement (and then inevitably seeing a drop anyway because my feed was too repetitive). I battled the predictable dips in days and times for engagement. Some evenings I was in such a hurry to post new work that I forgot to add any search-friendly hashtags until the post had been live for some hours. After all of this fussing, I finally learned my lesson. Do less but better and do it consistently. Authentic insight and documentation of your journey is worth its weight in gold but mindless sharing will prove fruitless and draining.
Figuring out which colours made me tick helped me understand my motivations
There's a lot of advice around building a colour palette into your style and subsequently your 'brand' of surface designs. I think this is pretty reasonable advice and it helps add professionalism to a portfolio when it is more visually unified. For me, the unexpected joy of following this advice was that I started to learn about my own appreciation of colour. Colour is a powerful motivator and a large part of being a surface designer is understanding how to manipulate colour and mood. It also helps to be able to manipulate your own mood. When I hear successful entrepreneurs being interviewed about what helps them stay motivated and focused, all I can picture in my own head is the colour of my own motivation. I use colour because I know what makes me tick and therefor my entire workflow now benefits from my improved relationship with colour.
Pattern design is not a shallow act but possibly the most emotional work I've had the pleasure of designing
A very honest 'truth moment' here. I followed my nose into pattern design and followed the passion of creating new designs as a hobby. In those early times, I found other designers were implying that it was a shallow form of design - creating for the surfaces of products, apparel and interiors. While I ignored this, the memory was heightened when I attempted those kinds of self-branding tasks where you have to answer questions like, 'Why are you doing this?' and 'What is the purpose of your brand/work?' because I struggled to verbalise any impressive answers. However, struggling to verbalise an emotional answer does not make it invalid.
Recently, I started documenting my new designs in a private way. I printed out examples of new collections, older portfolio highlights, bits of inspiration and every single new pattern I completed from that point. These clippings made their way to the wall board above my screen and I began to notice how much emotion and memory was wrapped up in each one. The boards tells a story of development and motivation, clarifying my reasons for what I do.
The act of focusing on the minute details and quality control of my designs leads to a very silent and concentrated work environment. In these moments, my thoughts and values seemingly leak into my work subconsciously. Pattern design is possibly the least shallow work I've ever created. That's not even considering the value added in the final outcome of the design - when the level of identity is enriched as a part of someone's home, a loving quilt project, a brand new nursery or a secret journal of scribbles.