First Hand — 2 years on: What we’ve learnt from our most popular articles

Posted 11 April 2019 Written by Indi Davies

Today marks Lecture in Progress’ second birthday! That amounts to 730 whole days of insight, inspiration and wisdom on working in the creative industry. As a day that naturally calls for some reflection, we’ve decided to look back at our most popular articles in that time, and share some of our most important learnings from interviewing and meeting so many talented, experienced creatives and industry experts.

That’s just a few of the brilliant creatives interviewed as part of our Creative Lives series

There are tonnes of creative jobs in the world
At this point, we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard the words, “I didn't know my job existed,” when interviewing people about what they do. Having covered just under 80 job roles, and interviewed well over 500 people about their work, we still get excited when we hear new job titles – be it digital matte painter, licensing manager, curator of digital design or chief talent officer.

Added to that are the creative roles that sit within (what we might traditionally consider) non-creative companies, including copywriting for a charity like Oxfam or designing systems for prison as a service designer for the Ministry of Defence, along with the ever-growing design team for the UK government, at GDS.

We need to talk about money!
One of our biggest learnings in talking to so many creatives, is that most of us (especially Brits) don’t like talking about money, and yet so many of us want to know more about it. This is evidenced in the fact that so many of our articles about earning and fees have become our best-read – from how to identify when an unpaid internship is illegal to negotiating salaries and rates.

Following our 2018 salary survey and Insight Report, we were taken aback to discover graduate incomes of as little as £3,000 per year, which is especially problematic for budding illustrators. This has raised a huge issue in our minds: where’s the conversation around this? What information and support are we missing in order to push forward and protect talented emerging creatives?

This is why we started a series dedicated to the topic, so if you’re curious about creative cashflow, further finance-related reads include: Craig Oldham on charging and calculating rates; illustrator Steph Coathupe on why she chose to reveal her annual income on Twitter; agents Handsome Frank on rewarding illustrators for their work.

There’s no shame in getting it wrong
It’s always a surprise to find out that creatives who seem to have it all sussed out ever experienced a monumental fail moment, or once contemplated giving it all up. Cliché but true, one of the most repeated pieces of advice we’ve shared is that making mistakes and enduring tough challenges has more benefits than disadvantages. It’s how you learn from them and overcome it that counts.

In this piece by Michael Lester, he lays out some of his most painful lessons with client work. Now equipped with a checklist of all the ways he’s known a project to go wrong, he uses his learnings as a way to protect his future work.

Similarly, the experience of rejection has become an important talking point, with creatives including Craig Oldham, multi-camera director Jan Genesis and illustrators Cécile Dormeau and Helena Covell all weighing in with their tales of overcoming particularly crushing periods of their careers.

You don’t need to be in the capital to have a successful career
We realise that this will be stating the obvious to anyone reading this outside of a capital city! But one of the most revealing and refreshing parts of researching creatives, companies and studios across the UK, is discovering so many thriving creative hubs – from Bristol, Brighton and Glasgow’s illustration and animation talent, to the design scenes in Leeds, Liverpool, Bath and Sheffield, as well as the myriad of brilliant agencies in Manchester – the list goes on.

Taken from Karen Rosenkranz’s book City Quitters, this extract about creatives working in more remote parts of the world got a lot of attention, with profiles of creatives ranging from photographer Luke Evans, based in Hereford, to Yoshiko Shimono and Eric Vivian who moved from California to a small island in Japan.

Your education does not define you
Discipline-hopping has become a much-covered topic of discussion at Lecture in Progress, and a reassuring one if you ever catch yourself panicking that you want to switch paths, or are starting out without a formal education.

The list of people we’ve spoken to about this is so extensive we can’t list them all here, but some of the most widely-read examples include: storyboard artist Gabriel Schucan, who made the leap after studying maths; comic artist Alex Norris, whose degree was in English literature; copywriter and creative Ellen Ling, who studied contemporary performance; and dance student-turned-chief talent officer and agency co-founder, Shanice Mears.

And for some encouraging words on self-learning, we also recommend this article from ustwo Adventure’s Neef Rehman on educating yourself online, having learnt the ropes with coding and design after graduating with a degree in physics. Plus, animator Kévin Gemin’s piece on how he taught himself to animate, using only a Nintendo DS!

You don’t have to be one thing
It’s not a new idea that creatives work and trade in multiple art forms and specialisms, and today, there’s much less expectation to become an expert in a single area. “You can’t really be one thing anymore,” argues writer, podcaster and broadcaster Emma Gannon in our podcast back in October of last year. A role model for a new wave in multi-hyphenate working, Emma discussed how our current economy and climate has evolved younger attitudes to creative careers.

This is also something Anyways senior creative Ellen Turnill Montoya explores in her article on breaking away from the idea of being a ‘proper’ designer; “When I graduated, people would always ask me what I wanted to specialise in,” she reflects, “But I didn’t really know.”

Other shining examples that have caught our readers’ attentions include Mahaneela – talent manager, photographer and filmmaker, Diogo Lopes – Kyra’s creative director with a background in illustration and expertise in art direction and filmmaking, and Nicole Crentsil – co-founder of Black Girl Festival, curator and speaker, with a training in product design.

Good mental health and social media don’t go hand in hand
Self-promotion can play a key role in a creative career, and for many that means carving out and maintaining a presence on social media. While this has the potential for a whole range of perks and positives – from building an empathetic and helpful community to attracting clients and press – it also has its pitfalls.

Time and time again our contributors have admitted to having a love-hate relationship with platforms including Instagram, and in this piece by Handsome Frank, co-founder Jon Cockley spelled out the complexity and scale of the problem. Other articles raising similar concerns include our interview with social media creative James Parker, and this piece by illustrator Aleesha Nandhra.

Most of us experience imposter syndrome: don’t let it be a barrier!
Another recurring theme over the past two years of interviews has been the topic of imposter syndrome. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you’re not good enough for your chosen career – you’re really not the only one.

In our recent interview with the talented, outwardly successful illustrator Helena Covell, she admitted that even a few months ago she had contemplated giving up. Then a while back we spoke to animator Katy Wang about overcoming crippling anxiety, something photographer Olivia Rose and Amaliah founder Nafisa Bakkar also touched on.

Work hard and be nice to yourself
Our very first print edition launched with Anthony Burrill’s iconic, and incredibly popular ‘Work Hard and Be Nice to People’ artwork as its cover – a timeless, failsafe piece of wisdom that will inevitably get you far.

However, if there’s anyone you want to be especially kind to as you take your first steps into industry, it’s you! This might sound cheesy, but burnout in the creative industry is rife, and a lot of it stems from personal pressures and expectations on ourselves.

In this article on the topic of burnout, we highlighted and shared experiences of the many Lecture in Progress contributors who have struggled with work-related exhaustion. It was something Leyya Sattar covered in her podcast, and the reason why we decided to fully switch off this past Christmas. Then just this week, writer and designer Anoushka Khandwala explored the symptoms, causes and potential solutions for battling burnout as a student.

Show what you want to do more of
When it comes to portfolio advice and going after your next goal, we’ve built something of a treasure trove of tips, from thoughts on curating a showreel to photography and design presentations. But one sentiment that spans all disciplines and career phases is the idea that you should show the kind of work you’d like to be commissioned for. There’s no use in telling potential employers or commissioners about work you didn’t enjoy or weren’t happy with, for the sake of proving your competency.

This is something Wallpaper*’s Holly Hay affirms in her advice on how to present your work, and illustrator Xanthe Simmans asserts in her First Hand piece on staying true to your interests while studying, also backed up by photographer Cait Opperman in her podcast.

Creative career paths are unpredictable, and – in the words of Ollie Olanipekun – they’re anything but a straight line; you don’t know where you’ll end up, so keep chasing what you enjoy!

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We want to say a huge thank you to all our readers, members, contributors, collaborators and partners for a brilliant two years of learning and sharing... Without your generosity, insight and curiosity, none of this would be possible. We’re very much looking forward to continuing our journey with you all.

To find out more about our backstory and thoughts for the future, read this Medium post by Lecture in Progress co-founder Alex Bec.

Posted 11 April 2019 Written by Indi Davies
Illustration: Jiro Bevis
Collection: First Hand

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