Thinking about thinking

My friend Suha offered me a tip on battling negativity and it got me thinking.

One of my most persistent thoughts — you are not good enough — could easily lead me down a vicious negative spiral of thoughts.

The single thought could colour the rest of my day or week.

Track down the source of your thoughts.

“Your emotions are usually induced by a thought,” wrote Suha. “Influence your emotions by tracking back to its source and countering that thought by working through it.”

It struck me that a majority of my thoughts weren’t my own. Growing up, I wanted to do something, I did it. I taught myself how to code and design.

I didn’t pause to consider whether I was good enough.

As an adult, I was informed that I was in fact, not good enough repeatedly until I caved in and believed it.

Allow people to form opinions about you.

Today, I was casually reminded I was a perfectionist. It’s why I set high standards for myself. It’s why I never get anything done. And it’s ingrained in my DNA, which is why I will always be miserable.

In the past, I would have retaliated. Today, I took it.

I don’t have to agree with anyone who offers personal attacks as criticism. I can improve what I can, with the help of my unwavering support system.

Pause whenever you’re feeling negative.

Identify the root of why you feel the way you. Journaling or talking to a friend can be helpful.

The most important thing is to be aware of your thoughts, and to reexamine what you truly believe about yourself.

How to be inspired by where you are

Working from home save time and money on meals an transportation. My familiarity with my desk means it takes me less energy to get into deep work. But sometimes I need to shake things up a bit when the air gets stale.

Explore art galleries and museums. Explore what other artists are making. Find out what interests people. Instead of going to the movies, take your friends to the art gallery for a change of pace. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across free exhibitions. 

Learn something new or brush up old skills by signing up for workshops. Not only that, but you’ll also meet interesting like-minded people who are into the same things you are. Observe what it takes to run a workshop. What makes someone sign up for a workshop? What sort of things are people interested in learning? What does it take to market such an event? How much would people pay for these sort of things?

Visit a co-working space. Some coworking spaces have free days on the first Thursday of every month. Take the opportunity to try out hot desking and see if it’s something that works for you. Chances are your city has several coworking spaces within close range. I try out different ones to check out the crowd. 

Volunteer at events. Volunteering at an art festival gave me some insight on what it was like in the art industry. I later went on to spend a year working at the said art festival. Again, it’s one of the better places to meet people. I’m still in touch with the people I volunteered with.

Always have your name cards with you. You don’t know who you’ll end up meeting, even at family gatherings. 

Attend networking events. Like workshops, networking events are where you meet like-minded people. But this time, they are people who are open to getting pitched to. Think about how you want to introduce yourself. Be open to suggestions. Be interested to be interesting. Are there any people you can collaborate with? Think about how you can work together to benefit each other, rather than just to hire.

Talk to people who aren’t in the creative industry. If you’re a designer, talk to your friends who aren’t designers to learn more about they do. Ask them what they’re passionate about. You’ll find out that even accountants can teach you a thing or two about creativity – or at least how to keep your finance in check. 

Even so, inspiration means nothing without hard work. “Inspiration exists,” said Pablo Picasso, “but it has to find us working.

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?

January links

Interesting links on design and creating I’ve come across throughout the month.

Video: Stephen Shore | HOW TO SEE

Stephen Shore reflects on the past sixty years of being a photographer, from his early work with Andy Warhol and his travels around America. In this video, he talks about how inject “stage presence” into one’s photography.

Article: A Visual Typology of Japanese Logos

Logos from Japan is Counter-Print’s curated reference of Japanese visual branding. No one combines modern design and traditional artistry better than the Japanese.

Article: Gestalt principles in UI design

Gestalt is a group of visual perception principles developed in the 1920s. Almost a hundred years on, the key ideas of Gestalt can still be applied to UI design.

Podcast: Choosing a Monthly Focus

Designers Charli and Femke talk about choosing a focus for each month. I’ve had a very scattered January I’m looking forward to applying their advice in February.

Keep your dreams safe

As I explore new things, I’m careful with whom I discuss my future direction. I’m lucky to have a group of people who are supportive of me, regardless of what I choose to do. We discuss our goals, dreams, and where we see ourselves years down the line.

Guided by honest, gentle criticism, I want to nurture a mindset of openness. I want to see opportunities where I before saw potential failures.

I’m still learning to shrug off bad criticism. The kind that makes you shrivel up with shame, wondering why you even wanted to try.

“You can’t do it.”

I leapt to defend myself. “I’m going to do it anyway. I won’t know unless I try.”

But underneath my defiance, I felt self-doubt resurface. What if it’s too difficult? What if I’m not good enough? What if I burn out?

I turned back to my support system. I calmed down and realised – I don’t have to react. I don’t have to course correct because of anyone’s feedback

For the one time I was told to give up, five people wished me luck. And there are countless more people who are in between, who could not care less what I do with my life.

Find someone you can share your dreams with. And keep them safe together.

State of the union 2018

What went well last year

Redid my portfolio. I took part in the May 1 Reboot, a global movement to relaunch websites everywhere. I intend to take every 1st of May as an opportunity to rework my website.

Returned to blogging. I began writing regularly again and finally completed the 30 Days to Better Writing course. My confidence grew and I returned to blogging after a ten-year hiatus.

Designed my own products. I started learning handlettering back in 2015 but never took it further. This year, I produced a series of hand lettering prints and stickers.

Fell in love with photography again. Over the years, photography had gone from being a serious merely become a method of documenting my work. I picked up my DSLR, attended a portrait photography workshop, and remembered what it was like to enjoy being behind the lens.

Focused on my health. In October, I began exercising every morning. I haven’t skipped a day since. I also started seeing a therapist. I went from being ashamed of my depression to volunteering with a local mental health initiative.

What didn’t go well last year

Frequently burned out. I was constantly exhausted. My CTS flared up all the time, the worst it had been in years. At one point, I found it immensely difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

Didn’t focus on personal work. After taking on a full-time design job, I had little interest or time in my own work. I now know how important it is for me to express myself creatively outside of my day job.

Lost my dad. My dad passed away from cancer just days after I turned 27. I tried to find a way to make myself feel better about losing my favourite person in the world, but there is none. And it’s okay.

How I plan to carry on this year

I’m happy with the progress and plan to continue what went well. 2017 taught me that I don’t have to face difficult times alone. Each time I needed it, my friends and family have lent me support. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Here’s to beginning the new year with renewed strength.