I went to London for second time during New Year. Basically, I was all alone and surprisingly figured out what type of trip would be my favourite one.
I visited museums and galleries, spending my daytime to immerse myself amongst those master pieces and heritages, and being stunned by things I have never seen before in my hometown. Then I would take a rest for some meals or coffees, reading a book in a cafeteria.
'Steal Like An Artist' was written by Austin Kleon, who is a writer and artist living in the US. I bought it from York Art Gallery in September but barely had time to read it until Christmas holiday. The title with craft font on the cover captured my attention, and I knew that I wanted even needed it after skimming the catalog.
'How to be an artist?' I always question myself like that. Sometimes I feel not being entirely creative working as a commercial designer, especially dealing with overloading tasks and some annoying demands. I have started to truly reflect on everything since I quit my previous job that I had done for almost five years before I came to the UK. In this book, four notions that inspired me the most were: stealing the works, keeping all the things of yourself, leaving home, and sharing things with others.
'Nothing is completely original.'
I love to collect everything that I appreciate. I will feed my drawers with some printed stuffs until there is no space for more; I pin posts about art, design, crafts, even tattoos or something else interesting on Pinterest, Behance or other social platforms; I write lyrics on papers when I am listening to the songs; I take pictures of every single building or object like I am an interior designer or architect or photographer but actually I know nothing about architecture and even have no professional camera. The things is, I am collecting attributes that I am obsessed with, I am stealing fascinating ideas as a graphic designer. Frankly, I don't know any relation between those collections and what I have done for my works at that moment, but I can feel something singing, dancing even having conversation in my head just like brainstorming on my own.
The truth is I am building my own database and cultivating my sense of aesthetics. When I worked as an associate chief designer in a design agency, my young colleagues often asked me, 'How to improve design skill?' Let's break down this question into several parts: How to come up with ideas in limited time? How to conduct a layout with little elements? How to recognise which is good or bad? And how to convince your clients?
I have to say there is no shortcut for being a good designer, no best but only better one. It is normal to have no good idea when you need to do the work every day, but at least having one or two even it is awful. You need to learn how to remix like a DJ, but you have to steal and collect things to fill your library before composing one. Just like creatures that inherit the genes from parent generation to generation, and we still perceive them as unique and original individuals. So, embark on your creative works like this.
It is important to make yourself persuasive. Try to analyse what other people do. Always question yourself and try to justify for your works during the process. Logic is not just for scientists, so employ it to form the rationales behind your works.
Embrace everything you are keen on. I used to have a busker band performing on the street when I was a student. I really enjoyed and did well as a vocal. Friends came to see me in competitions and performances, strangers appreciated my voice and leave positive comments on it. However, I discarded it after I started working, labelling it as completely leisure item because I was too busy then. Now, I feel like missing some parts of me, and decide to catch it up again, expecting some chemistry in my future life.
Couple years ago, I had indulged in pure graphics and judged it at shallow level for a quite while. My mentor who is a freelance designer and photographer enlightened me a lot. When I was in last year in university and learned design, he saw something in me and offered me a part time job with relatively satisfying wage by case. He shared literally everything with me including not just art and design things but also movies, musics, articles, exhibitions, books, and so on. He has constantly worked on a lot of side projects such as taking pictures of adopted pets, and always appreciates people who do great works in whatever fields. He told me that we can not only read books about design, or we will be stuck. Be engaged with anything may inspire you, because you will need to cope with people from different backgrounds when you are working.
Practice makes perfect, not just skills but also ability to connect ideas. People have their own recipe to bake creativity, some people start with countless ideas with no associations while others are able to work on one concept and grow it into a tree. Train yourself with either method as long as it works to you.
Go travel, perhaps alone and bring a book with you, just like I did.
People always suggest that go for a trip if you are heartbroken. It is not cliche. You can even still do it when you are in a relationship, because sometimes you need to get out of comfort zone and be stimulated by different scenarios. Remember stealing things for your remix works? Why not try to do that in entirely strange places? Put some fresh seeds in your pocket, bring them home and nourish your garden with diverse fertilisers to make it more colourful.
During the trip, you may have chances to meet people, or just be an quiet observer and allow curiosity to temporarily control over you. When you are all alone, it is a perfect timing for you to concentrate on absorbing information, or reflect on yourself without interruption by any conversation.
After you are charged, share what you saw and even what you have done with others. I got some intimates in common that enjoying reading and travelling. I contact them time to time as long as I need someone to talk or feedback. Good friends are like gardeners that help cultivating your garden. It is beneficial to listen to other voices, looking at the same thing again from different aspects. You will see it advantageous to put yourself in other’s shoes.
It is taxing to build your own world and share the works that you might think not done yet. I am not thoroughly confident with my language skill but I realise how it is important to step out and improve it by doing authentic works.
‘Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.’ — Jonah Lehrer
As the author wrote this book, he realised this book was not just for artists, but for everyone. I also sensed a mutual feeling during the reading away from home. So after I came back, I decided to share my opinion and experience to everyone from a designer’s perspective.
Sincerely credit Austin Kleon for the ideas. Please visit the website here.