As a software engineer turned web developer, I tend to design in straight lines and square angles. I love FITC Toronto because I get exposed to creative industries outside my comfort zone and peek into the lives of fascinating individuals with great artistic sensibilities. At times when work can turn into a routine, I come out of this 3-day conference pumped up with a drive to create and try out new things. Each speaker hands over many takeaways for the audience, but an overarching theme never fails to emerge from all the talks I attended.
FITC Toronto 2015
Last year, the theme that stuck with me was ‘everydays’. From songwriter Jonathan Mann, who pretty much coined the term by releasing a song a day on Youtube for the past 6 years (that’s 2,300 days and counting!!!), to renown design directors Beeple and Ash Torp, who compose stunning visuals in Cinema4D, many advocated the practice of honing your craft by creating something new each day.
Creativity, they said, is a muscle like any other. Exercise it regularly and you will thrive. Let it decay and inertia will plague anything you attempt. Repetition is key to master the skill you’ve set to gain. Repetition helps you get past the writer’s block faster. It trains your brain to quickly get into the mindset necessary to start something anew.
The daily deadline is also a great motivator. There is only so much time you can dedicate to your everydays, so you have to make every minute count:
- make hard decisions to move forward when you’re stuck,
- don’t obsess about details when there is still a lot to cover,
- accept imperfection and call it done (this year, Daniel Scheibel and Adrià Navarro reminded the audience that nobody else but you knows what you meant it to look like).
Finally, put it out there for all the world to see. Get used to people judging your creations. Remember that it’s a numbers game: when you do only one thing a year, you’ll either have a success or a failure to show for. When you do 365 things a year, your many successes will eclipse your many failures. (Jonathan Mann’s experience puts your creative outputs at about 20% terrible, 60% acceptable and 20% exceptional).
I applied this everyday principle during the conference by creating a Yearly Clock, which took me 2 days to complete. The web-based visual experiments I had in mind took too long to setup for me to sustain a daily rhythm, so I shelve the idea for a while. Later that year, I ran across the Pixel Dailies challenge on Twitter where pixel artists post their interpretation of a daily theme under the hashtag #pixel_dailies. Pixel art was something I wanted to pick up to create video games on my own, and it didn’t require much effort to start doodling once I dusted off my Wacom tablet. I drew over 100 characters or scenes and learned a great deal from other pixel artists in this Twitter community (e.g. pixel art has much to do with colours and lightning than with placing individual pixels)
Meanwhile Lan Luong, a talented UX designer and colleague of mine, found her inspiration quite rapidly after the conference and created 366 (leap year!) colourful characters in Adobe Illustrator and even live-streamed some of her everyday sessions on Twitch.tv. Check out her Super Happy Rainbow Land portfolio on Tumblr.
FITC Toronto 2016
The theme that resonated with me this year was to ‘take lots of small bets’, which seems a natural continuation of ‘everydays’. Several renowned artists like photographer Michael Muller, graphic artists/designers James White and Mr Bingo shared key connections between the many projects of their humble beginning that eventually led to their current success.
Johnny Cupcakes (not his real name!) joked that he had sixteen jobs before he was sixteen. A gifted performer, he held 20-minute magic shows at birthday parties for $20. Rather than spend the money, he would use it to purchase a small quantity of items at wholesale price and resell them on his school grounds (e.g. he could get 100 whoopee cushions wholesale for the price of 4 in retail). The proceeds would serve to renew his inventory or be invested into another endeavour. He dabbled in swapping candies for lunch sandwiches and reselling these sandwiches, printing a yearbook when the school didn’t have one, turning fleece fabrics into scarfs with only 3 scissor cuts, and investing into a press to create his own line of pins before stumbling upon the iconic cupcake design that crystallized into a successful bakery-themed T-shirt stores.
Each time he was willing to take a small financial risk to get started. Should one endeavour fail, his capital loss was fairly minor. Should it succeed, he would make enough margin to keep it going and take another bet. This arrangement let him explore many different ideas that led him to the one he is now famous for.
Brendan Dawes also articulated another benefit of taking lots of small bets, whether they be financial enterprises, artistic creations or whatever is relevant to your craft: you build yourself a large collection of experiments. Each one teaches you something. Each one improves your ability to execute, to reduce the gap between the perfect thing that lives in your head and the imperfect thing you create in the material world. Each one you can quickly draw upon when confronted to a similar situation in the future. Eventually, you will be able to combine elements of your curated collection into something of greater value.
I have experienced, at a much humbler scale, the benefits of taking lots of small bets: in 2015, I submitted a talk on screen orientation techniques in HTML5 at a couple of web industry events, one of them via a publicly accessible Github repository. Though the talk didn’t get accepted, it caught the eye of Net Magazine editor Oliver Lindberg who was browsing that Github repository in search of content for the magazine. Oliver offered me a commission for a tutorial on the subject followed by another one for a screencast (which got published in the summer issue of Net Mag and creativebloq.com/net-magazine). I had never written an article before, nor recorded a screencast, but I jumped at this opportunity to learn how to. I knew the content well and only had to figure out the form. The talk proposal itself was a summary of what I learned the year before while making a web-based video game for tablets called Forex Hockey. While I won’t deny there is definitively an element of luck involved, my debut as a published author is also the result of a series of small projects, each one feeding into the next.
Other bets I’m taking this year include:
- turning my pixel art into T-shirts for sale after being accepted into the Merch by Amazon program (I’m learning a great deal about dropshipping and the tee printing business),
- creating more web-based visual experiments like the end credits effect of Pixar’s Inside Out movie or randomly animated patterns (I’m progressively building myself a collection of utility functions which helps create the next experiment faster)
Now it’s all up to you
The world has no shortage of things for you to consume. Remind yourself to switch side and create something of your own. Keep on learning and stimulating your creativity with the daily practice of your craft. Build yourself a treasure chest of learnings and experiences by taking lots of small risks, exploring many ideas and interests of yours. When your big breakthrough comes, do you want to be ready or do you want to figure everything out for the first time?