Be at the top of your game: 13 lessons on creative progress from artists and designers


Where did the time go? It’s now been 13 years since Creative Boom was first launched, back in the heady days of 2009. And we’ll be honest; it’s been a bumpy ride. At the time, we were completely stuck and made many mistakes along the way.

Sometimes we overdid it; sometimes we did too little. We tried a lot of different things, and a lot of them failed. But fast forward to 2022, and we’re still going strong. And we continue to do what we love: supporting creatives everywhere, especially the underrepresented.

If you’re early in your career, however, you’ll have a lot in common with us at the start, when we weren’t quite stable yet and were still working out what we wanted to do and how to get there.

To help you out, we asked our community for their top tips on creative progress, and we’re sharing their top tips below. Disclaimer: You never stop learning or growing – that’s part of the fun, so don’t worry if you’re already well into your career and still have ideas: that’s normal . But we hope that the following advice will be useful and reassuring for you.

1. Be honest

When you’re struggling to succeed, it’s tempting to try to project an image of infallibility. But in reality, it is normal to make mistakes. And web designer and photographer Mike Hindle thinks honesty is the best policy, not just morally, but also career-wise.

“When you do a monumental screw-up, as we all do from time to time, be 100% open about it with your client while explaining how you’re going to fix it,” he advises. They will respect your honesty. Some of my best clients are the result of that exact moment.”

2. Be patient with customers

In addition to honesty, customers will appreciate your patience. Yes, it is natural to want to dive into the creative process and start producing works. But sometimes it’s premature, and it’s important to wait until you’ve really nailed the concept and everyone is on board.

“When you get into a feedback loop with a customer, which feels like a pedantic pixel push, it’s often because they sense something is wrong, but they can’t explain why,” says Nick Ellis, creative partner and founder of Halo. Studio. “Sometimes you just have to start over.” Or, as brand strategy director Paul Bailey puts it, “Sometimes it takes a step back before you can move forward.”

3. Find a mentor

When you’re just starting out, everyone will tell you to stick to your goals, put your head down, and focus on your dreams. But it’s also good to check in with others along the way.

“I think my biggest mistake was running in the wrong direction at top speed without even knowing it!” says artist and designer June Mineyama-Smithson. “So I first had a mentor from the Business & IP Center and also worked with business coach and co-mentor Dani Molyneux to keep me in check.”

4. Find your niche

As human beings, it is natural to want to please others. But trying to be everything to everyone can alienate you from your true passions and ultimately hurt your prospects for career success.

It’s a lesson that award-winning concept illustrator Ollie Hirst learned the hard way. “For me, it was a big deal to realize that there’s nothing wrong with being niche and looking out for your interests,” he recalls. “Trying to illustrate everything wasn’t a successful strategy for me. I found much more success staying true to myself.”

Artist Paul Phillips tells a similar story. “One piece of advice that surprised me was that I should focus on the aspect of design that I was best at,” he recalls. “My portfolio included a bit of everything from photography to video to illustration. People get confused by too many variations, so I recommend figuring out where you’re good at and focusing on that.”

5. Stay open to change

However, finding a niche doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever. A creative career is about evolving, so stay open to new ideas.

In the words of textile artist and illustrator Jess Taylor: “Don’t pigeonhole yourself, keep experimenting and playing. The best way to keep growing is to try things. Even if perceived wisdom says your idea won’t work, chances are perceived wisdom might be wrong. And you might learn something that will take you somewhere exciting.

6. Surround yourself with positivity

The creative community is generally an optimistic group of people, but not universally. So make sure others don’t hold you back. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned since going solo with my consulting firm, Second Mountain Comms, is this: surround yourself with positive people,” says Ben Veals. “Take every chance you can to collaborate, interact and learn from the right people – and also be a good listener and avoid negativity.”

Head adds that real progress comes when you stop comparing yourself to others and build on your individual strengths. “Take the time to learn what you enjoy creatively and how you thrive,” Ben says. “And then be prepared to say ‘no’ to a job that isn’t right for you.”

7. Make lots of mistakes

Positivity, however, is not the same as perfection. While others might want to project images of perfect lives and careers on Instagram, we all know that doesn’t exist in reality. And anyway, whenever you talk to the most famous and successful creatives, they’ll all tell you that making mistakes is an essential part of growing up as a creative.

Take Ian Anderson, founder of The Designers Republic. His best advice is, “Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. Do what makes you happy whenever you can. Failure on your own terms is better than someone else’s success.” ‘one else.”

Graphic designer and typography enthusiast Rohit Sharma agrees. “Don’t worry about it being perfect!” he urges. “There is beauty in disorder and chaos, and nothing will ever be perfect. Instead, strive for continuous improvement. Look at the big picture.”

8. Take breaks

Hard work is essential for success as a creative. But that doesn’t mean all the time! Be sure to set aside time for breaks and vacations or you will burn out.

As illustrator and artist Frannie Gee says, “Take a step once in a while, to appreciate the things and people around you, and in general, rest. I think the overwork had a negative impact on my work. to slow down.”

Graphic designer Megan Vickers agrees. “Spending my time for me is so important,” she says. “It gives the chance to do nothing and get away from work. I learned that you can’t be creative all the time and you have to take a break.”

9. Think big

Some of the most creative solutions come from limits: as the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. So, as award-winning writer Lita Doolan advises, “Go big: Even on a small budget, you can think big. Use open spaces to create work and choose discarded things to create the biggest version of an idea. great view.”

10. Be yourself

The best thing about being creative is that there are an almost endless number of ways to approach your career. And yet, ironically, if you spend too much time on social media, you can get sucked into a stifling conformism.

“For a very long time, I tried to be ‘the right kind’ of designer,” recalls art director and designer Khyati Trehan. “After years of working in different industries and types of design studios, I’ve learned that there’s more than one right way to do something. There are a lot of rights.

11. Focus on work

Just in case you haven’t gotten the message yet, the best way to advance your creative career is to focus on the work rather than what other people are doing, saying, or (so-called) thinking. Scandinavian decoration blogger nomita just say it. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my job as a creative is to create. Not to judge my work or judge whether others will like it.”

12. Turn negative into positive

Even if you follow all of these tips, you will still encounter challenges, failures, and a lot of negativity in your career. But when life gives you lemons, you can always make lemonade.

As visual artist Clare Taylor advises, “Turn terrible clients into tips for others. Be generous with experiences, so others don’t have to endure the pain! Indeed, share what works, what does not work, expectations and how to handle the situation. My biggest personal progress was learning to say ‘no’!”

13. Be proactive

In some careers, you can sometimes be lucky enough that success lands in your lap. In a creative career, however, this will never happen: you have to create your own luck.

As graphic designer Tony Clarkson says, “If there’s something you’d like to try, do it before you get discouraged.” Send that email, write that book, grab that job, call that number. Creative Coach Kristy Martino adds, “One of the biggest lies you can tell yourself is that you have to wait for inspiration to strike. Instead, always make a fire. Keep hitting the flint and you’re bound to get Sparks.”


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