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You have what you need to create

Dozens of bottles of inks. Fourteen calligraphy nibs. Paints ranging from artist-grade acrylic to metallic watercolours. Too many sketchbooks to count. Like most graphic designers, I have a life goal of amassing as many tools as possible.

Eventually, I realised hoarding stationery doesn’t make me any better at my craft. I wanted to make things using the tools I lovingly collected over the years.

Steer clear of the stationery store. You don’t have to enter it each time you walk past. Really. My number one weakness is brush pens. I tell myself that each one has its own characteristics (not untrue) and that I need to bring them home (untrue).

Do a full inventory of all your art tools. I put together everything I own all in one place to help myself see what I need. It turns out I don’t need anymore brush pens.

Once you’ve gone through what you already own, you can start a wishlist of what you’d like to purchase. If you still need a certain item after waiting for a week, feel free to make the trip to the stationery store. If it’s something you don’t need, buy it as a gift to yourself in the future.

Work what you got. Experiment with what you already have. Bring out the colourful markers you used in school or craft your very own pop can pen. I’m always used to sketching in pen, so switching to pencil once in a while helps break routine.

Simplify. I travel a lot, so I ended up paring down to the basics. I put my favourite tools in one small bag. This small bag can go a long way.

  • Uni Pin Fine Line 0.1 technical pen for journaling
  • Pilot Futayaku double-sided brush pen in black and grey
  • Pilot Kakuno fine fountain pen (a new year gift to myself)
  • Staedtler Luna Blue colour pencil, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 HB and 4B pencils for sketching
  • Eraser, pencil sharpener and ruler

For me, the pen is the only tool I need to create.

What’s yours?

Rein in your productivity

Copperplate calligraphy comes with strict rules – light upstrokes, heavy downstrokes, measured movements. You repeat the same strokes over and over so they become muscle memory.

All to achieve one thing. Perfection.

For years, I had taken everything I knew about copperplate and applied it to brush pen calligraphy. And then it occurred to me you could break every single one of those rules with a brush pen.

Exulted by what I had discovered, I began practicing nonstop. I sketched and inked furiously, ignoring the dull ache that had formed in the middle and ring fingers of my right hand hours later.

I have carpal tunnel syndrome, a souvenir from engineering school. If you use your hands a lot, you run the risk of getting CTS. Repetitive motions like typing and drawing can compress the nerves running through the wrist. I do stretches every other morning and wear a splint whenever my wrist acts up.

At my best, life goes on ostensibly well.

At my worst, I showed up to Object Oriented Programming in C++ with both wrists in splints, much to the horror of my classmates.

I knew better, but I kept going even as the telltale pain made its way up my elbow. Close to midnight, it felt like someone had strung metal wires from my fingertips through my arm up to right shoulder. My hand was shaking. I could barely draw a straight line if I wanted to, let alone draw the alphabet.

I couldn’t even glorify the fact that I had produced quality work because I was five hours overdue for a break. It will take a fortnight of rest before life can go on ostensibly well again.

Rein in your productivity. There’s excitement over making things, and then there’s pushing yourself too hard. Doing a week’s worth of work in one night is not only unsustainable. It stops you from producing your best.

What I should have done was taken breaks when before my hand began to hurt. Called it a night and tucked away my sketches somewhere safe. Returning to them a few days later with a fresh set of eyes would allow me to judge my work with the objectivity it deserves.

All to express one thing. Creativity.