Winter has come, the black hole is here. I don’t think it’s 100% black. Maybe more of a dark grey, or a very deep purple. But there is a hole, that’s for sure. Everyone tells you that, but it’s difficult to really understand what that means before you’re in it. I think it might be different for everyone.
For me, it’s more of a grey hole. That’s because the last six months have been full of ups and downs. I lost some structure, because my part-time contract was not renewed, so I had to go and look for a job again. But this also gave me the drive to explore what I could do with illustration. My work is a big source of joy for me, so I spent a lot of time on that to get a grip on everything. So much was changing in these six months that I focused on the things that weren’t.
To create a bit of structure for myself, I looked at other creative people. There were a few recurring themes I noticed. I think that having a space to work, planning well and giving yourself time to relax are the most important.
Unfortunately, a good space to work is the most important and the most difficult thing now. I started with my small room of 20m2, using my desk as the divider between my living space and working space.
I’m even thinking of getting a folding screen to separate the two. Fortunately, for December I’ll have a workspace at the Creative Pop-up Lab in Hilversum. I managed to put my Risograph there. There’s a big difference between working there versus my own room – fewer distractions, more space and better concentration. Too bad it’s just for one month, but I’m going to find out if I could maybe rent a cheap little workspace somewhere else. Even if it’s just a shed in someone’s backyard.
Other than that, I’m trying to stick to a good planning, although it’s been a process of trial and error. When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to estimate how long something will take you. To create a bit of structure in my days, I looked at Studio Bobbin Hood. She once devised a very cool planning system with cards that show your to-do list for the day. I designed and printed a few of these for myself. Every week, I try to use them to make a visual planning. I decide which days I want to spend on ‘making’, a timeslot for my social media (Wednesday morning is standard), which days to spend on administration, e-mailing, my web shop, my health, my part-time job and when to take a day off. Especially this last one is so important, but so difficult! It’s hard to allow myself time to relax when I have the feeling I haven’t achieved enough. Truly relaxing, not just physically but also mentally, is not easy for me. I tend to ruminate about things and have difficulty letting go. Sometimes I even feel a bit guilty when I decide to watch some TV or play a game. But still I think it’s important to give yourself one day a week to recharge.
Other than relaxing, “keeping busy” seems to be the most important advice and that’s also what I learned from the lecture at Hard Hoofd that I attended. They had a bunch of good illustration tips, but the most important one was to “keep making things!” At that lecture I talked to a bunch of young illustrators who are in the same boat. It helped us realize we’re not alone and that, even though social media make it look like everyone is wildly successful, we’re mostly just still figuring out the basics of being an illustrator. And “keeping busy” also applies to things that are unpaid or don’t seem immediately advantageous to you. For instance, I participated in the Young Alumni exposition of the BNO [Dutch designers’ association], which might not have been that useful right away. But it was still a good experience and I had both positive and negative impressions. I’m trying to let go of this notion that ‘everything should be productive’. Growth is a continuous process and not everything you do is going to launch your career. It’s all experience and you can learn from anything. I try to remember that I haven’t even been working for six months.
I made a kind of plan to try and get more attention for my work. I’m going to make a list with Hilly de Bruin (follow her on Instagram!) of people who inspire me and whom I’d like to meet; as well as a list of people, art directors, publishers, newspapers etc. that I want to send my portfolio to. Making new contacts is the scariest part of the illustration world to me, but I know it’s the best way to go about it. You can’t just sit and wait for something to fall into your mailbox, no matter how nice that would be.
I also want to apply to the Creative Industries Fund and I’m making plans for that. Right now, I’m brainstorming about how to present myself. I know that there are different facets to my work that I could highlight, and that I need to find a clear direction and plan. I also want to get back to animation and woodwork, but also to printing. I’m aware I enjoy doing multiple things and I don’t want to limit myself to one medium, but I also know I’m making things difficult for myself. Because people will ask me: “But what is it that you want?” and I actually want all sorts of things, but is that really possible? Fortunately, a friend of mine knows someone who used to be a jury member, so I can ask them for advice.
And that’s the last thing I’d want to share for now: don’t underestimate the support of the people around you! Without my good friends and family, it would all be much more difficult. When you have very little security and a lot of existential questions, you need people who can help you feel grounded and take away a few of your concerns. And although you should definitely share your worries with the people close to you, you should also remember to just have fun with them. A regular movie night, playing games together or a day trip somewhere can be the small bright spots when you’re having a difficult time.
Translation by: Witold van Ratingen