Geometric Sunset: One of The Art Prints for Personal Project

The Power of Personal Projects

When and Why?

Five years ago, I was so excited about starting my career in 3D Motion Graphics, creating TV Commercials and all kinds of promo videos for brands, thinking that it was cool to have some of my works used by some of big brands on the television and social media platforms. Sometimes they screened them on big screens, billboards and those giant screens at Orchard road. It was a pretty awesome feeling.

Galaxy in The Jar. A result of daydreaming when I was walking to grab my lunch.

After a while, I started to feel that the ideas revolved around the same process. There was a certain pattern that always happens in the process of creation. It all started to feel the same and I didn’t feel much of the excitement anymore. I was wondering why and looked closer into the process of making those videos. There was actually a lot of bouncing ideas back and forth with agencies, clients, their bosses, etc. throughout the process. That killed my excitement over time when I got some of these replies:

“It looks great, but I don’t think it’s suitable for the project at the moment.”

“Let’s just stick with our brief and give them the safest bet. I think our CEO would not prefer to go too far with this.”

“We love your idea, but I think we should just follow this (..insert some cliché TV Commercials that have been done over and over again..) closely as our reference.”

“We would like to go with the safer option you guys provided earlier.”

“Can you do something like this but change it to our corporate colors?”

These are the words that creative people face every single day. Sometimes great ideas are lost in the midst of all the discussions, clients’ business policies, systems, egos and all of other things throughout the process of creation. When the final result is out, we sometimes say,

“Oh well, it could’ve been done better if …..”,

“The initial concept was a hundred times better than this. Such a waste.”


Commercial projects have to be done in such a way to suit clients’ business. And sometimes they know better how to reach to their customers. There will definitely be restrictions of what can be done.

As a young creative person facing a lot of these everyday, a lot of my visual ideas were being rejected or morphed into something else to suit client’s requirements. I came to realise that all of those are not my idea anymore. Sometimes the final outcome looked so much different from the initial plan and I hated myself after seeing it.

I asked myself, “why do I need people’s permission to create something? I can actually just do it myself and invent my own projects.”

Some stills inspired by Pixar’s Short Film, La Luna (2nd from the left) and Pacific Rim title sequence (3rd from the left)
Some of the images from 2013 personal projects when I started off to do 2–3 design frames weekly.

So I decided to start my self-initiated projects after my day job. It was a small start by just doing one image every 2–3 days. I sometimes participated in online events like GSG 5Seconds project. Those images I created every 2–3 days were slowly becoming a daily habit for me. After 3 years of doing it, I decided to put them on a better platform. I bought a domain and created a professional website dedicated for my personal works. One Hour Gallery was then born.

“Paperworld”. I participated in 5 seconds project, an online contest by Greyscalegorilla

Some of The Perks of Personal Projects

To sum it up, I tried to reflect on what I have learnt by committing my time to my passion project

  • Sharing my passion, connecting to people through my art: The first year I completed, I finally put it up online on Tumblr to update it daily and interact with people on the internet. I got to interact with people from different industries, asking about things. Being able to share with them is a pretty rewarding feeling too! Here are some friendly conversations that happened. Little sparks of motivation to keep going.
  • People start to discover my works: Some friends and people stumbled upon One Hour Gallery and they ask me about it. Some are willing to pay me for commissioned projects using the style they found on the website.
  • Keeping My Ego in Check: Doing my own projects after my day job has been keeping my ego in check, by not being too attached to my commercial works when they are rejected by clients. I would simply listen to them, asking them what they prefer and tell myself, “I’m going to make this rejected ideas into my personal project instead and do whatever I want at home later. No judgement!” In fact, it has been therapeutic as well.
  • A Few Cups of Coffee: I managed to sell small numbers of them as art prints and laptop covers online. A couple of Starbucks cups from personal project earning is pretty rewarding after all.
Some of the prints I sell online.
“A ship in the sky.” I got this idea when I was on the plane. I got down and I knew I had to do it immediately.
“A beach in the can. You can beach anytime.” A piece made prior to my summer holiday.
  • Personal and commercial projects compliment each other: I used to think that personal and commercial works are two very different things and could not be integrated. But I have learnt that they actually compliment each other in the creative process. I learnt how to keep the balance between injecting my own creative voice and client’s requirements into commercial projects.
Commercial project in 2013. This has been one of my favourite projects because of the freedom given by the awesome client and the boss.
  • Adding value to my works: Personal projects teach me how to add a little bit of my character into commercial works (my choice of colors, design languages that I use, etc.) Commercial projects usually have very tight deadlines. They teach me to be more efficient in time management and communicating my ideas in my personal projects so that people understand what I am trying to say.
  • Get things done and better each day: I have made this project a priority as a way of keeping a visual journal, working on my craft by taking one small step each day and telling myself, “Not that good, but I know I will get better tomorrow.”

Here are a few links to articles and talks from some of the great creative professionals on the power of personal projects:

  • Beeple — Everydays: Beeple, a great artist and designer that sparked my interest to start my own passion projects. He gave this super inspiring and funny talk at FITC.

Do you have something you have been working on or wish to create? I would be happy to hear more about yours. Drop me an email and let’s share the excitement or even collaborate on something!

    Dionisius Kartalaksana

    Written by

    3D Illustrator & Designer. Making cartoons and imaginations come to life weekly.