First Hand — Allow yourself some downtime! Conor Nolan on battling creative frustration
The last time we spoke to Dublin-based illustrator Conor Nolan, he was fresh out of uni, and beginning to build a portfolio of illustration, animation and print work. Now, two years on, a lot has changed, and he’s found himself facing an altogether different set of challenges as an emerging creative. Feeling deflated by the constant search for commercial work, he tells us how an unlikely addition – his dog, Bert – forced him to take time away from his work, helped reignite his inspiration, and taught him about the value of balance in the creative process.
In the last year or so I’ve spent a lot of time chasing commercial work, and was finding it frustrating. When you first graduate and start working in the industry, you think that you should have it all figured out, but that’s definitely not the case. There’s a lot of learning on the job, and as your practice is still developing, your standards are constantly changing too.
At times you can find yourself under a lot of pressure from different directions. You end up looking back on projects that were really exciting to work on, but not wanting to have them in your portfolio, for one reason or another. So I decided to take a step back, and allowed myself more time to develop personal work. Since then, I’ve not only learned a lot about working as a freelancer, but also about the kind of work I want to make.
“When you first start working in the industry, you think that you should have it all figured out, but that’s definitely not the case.”
I started making prints, participating in exhibitions, making editorial work and murals, which have become two big areas of interest for me. I also started working with a screen printing and risograph studio in Dublin called Damn Fine Print. It taught me not to dwell too much on it all, and I actually started enjoying getting back to pushing my work forward again.
I also started going out for walks. I got my dog Bert a year ago; he was only a pup at the time and required a lot of attention, which also forced me to step outside of the frustrations I was having and remove myself from work.
Walking him in the evenings made me take time away from my work – time that I simply hadn’t been allowing myself previously, and it became a really valuable part of my day. When you’re busy and get caught up or overwhelmed it can be really beneficial to plan in some separation time; walking Bert was perfect for that.
Spreads from Conor's zine, Dog Days
Last Summer, I had my first solo show, Welcome, which consisted of a bunch of screen prints based on people and places I pass by where I live in Dublin. Depicting that environment is something I’m always thinking about. I’ve also become more interested in the narrative element of my work, and this period of frustration left me wanting to develop that side of it. That’s when I decided to make a zine about exactly this, called Dog Days.
“Allow yourself some downtime, and put your energy into something positive.”
Telling this story was a really interesting exercise, and something worth illustrating; something I was really naturally drawn to and felt the need to indulge. I set myself a deadline, and tried to be very disciplined about the timeline, not agonising too much over decisions and trying to allow it to come together naturally. I think this helped instil a bit of confidence in my decision-making.
The big take-away from this is just to allow yourself some downtime, and to put your energy into something positive. And if you’re not getting to make the work you want to, just do it anyway. Oh, and maybe get a dog!