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.
Interesting links on design and creating I’ve come across throughout the month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And yes, even weekends.
I love trying new productivity apps. I’ve tried dozens over the years. My go-to apps are Google Calendar for scheduling appointments and Fabulous for building new habits. But when it comes to-do lists, I’ve always relied on pen and paper.
A to-do list instills a planning mindset. Learning how to plan your day is the first step in planning your week, month, and eventually your year.
When it’s in head your head, it’s an idea. When it’s written down, it’s a plan. Those who write their goals down longhand are more likely to succeed at them. Break down a goal to its smallest components: it is made up of the things you do on a day-to-day basis.
Writing down your tasks clears out your mental storage, freeing your mind to focus on the problems at hand. You no longer have to worry if you have forgotten to do something. Interestingly, the physical act of writing also helps you remember things better.
There’s something satisfying about crossing out tasks with your favourite pen, however daunting they may be. Never mind the fact that you might be daunted by the simplest of things, like a phone call.
Writing it down on paper means it can be done.
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.
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.
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