Last updated on November 12th, 2020
In the modern competitive world, even artists are under pressure to meet creativity standards and deadlines. This sometimes makes the creative work too tiring and lacking the motivation to go on producing more art pieces. In this webinar transcript, the illustrator and hand lettering expert Jay Kay advises on how artists can come out from this typical situation. Have a look.
With artists such as illustrators, hand letterers, and designers, keeping with the work schedule all the time is not possible. Many of them feel guilty about not finishing the work on time. They also fear losing their reputation amongst clients. That usually happens with most creative people when they are lacking in new ideas. Their energy also drains away due to overwork.
Know that if an artist is not providing the work to the clients on time, there are high chances that they get replaced. That puts added pressure on the artists. But, lack of motivation is something that every artist experiences. However, those who are unable to deal with it are left behind.
But, what could be the solution to stay motivated? To address this issue, leading creative marketplace Designhill conducted an AMA session with Jay Kay on 24th August 2020. Being an artist herself, she shared her experience and gave useful tips to deal with the lack of motivation challenge.
About Jay Kay
Jay Kay is an illustrator, hand-letter, and brand designer based in Melbourne, and is also the founder of @creative-wannabe.com. She followed throughout her life what she was interested in, which is creating art, and studied graphic design at TAFE, a technical college in Australia. Later, she learned communication design. After having a great management experience of handling clients in a media agency, she then started freelancing from her studio.
During the session, Jay Kay discussed and advised on how to stay motivated and overcome dry creative spells. She delivered on what best to do when the motivation just is harder to come and what are the creative inspiration myths.
Here Is The Video Of The AMA Session With Jay Kay
Here Is What Artists Should Follow When Lacking In Motivation To Produce More Work
Designhill: How artists can overcome the challenge of combining a level of creativity with the desire to share thoughts where art is?
Jay Kay: I think there are a few ways we can go about that. One big thing is trying to identify why you are at this particular point where you are struggling. There are so many different reasons, particularly when you are starting in a creative business or a creative industry.
It could be Imposter Syndrome
A lot of it can be imposter syndrome. You might not feel you are professional enough or good enough to be doing the work. You might not feel worthy of time and attention. I know I felt that starting. And I feel every single new job I get, there is a part of me that says why have you got this job. Who says you should be doing this work? So, it can come down to imposter syndrome.
You may be suffering from burnout
A key factor why artists struggle at times is that they may be suffering from burn out. It can come down to burn out, which I know is so easy to happen when you are especially working as a freelancer. It happens also when you work nine to five and then freelancing on the side. It’s so easy to burn yourself out and that will impact your creativity.
Taking up too many influences
Another reason could be taking on too many influences from other people within the creative community. Instagram is such a big platform for such influences. If you constantly scroll and look at all these amazing letters and illustrators, it’s very hard to sometimes separate your work from that. You get caught up in the trends.
Resolving these issues
Workout what is needed
For me, the number one step whenever I am feeling creatively stuck is to try and work out why. That will generally help me know what it is that I need.
Take a break if burnt out
If it burns out, then you do need rest, there you know, you can power through a lot. But, if you are genuinely burnt out, then you should take a break. While taking a break, I find that it’s very easy to say than do it. You have that break, and then stretch into a three-month break, and suddenly, you feel you are starting at square one again.
So if you are going to take a break, then put a hard deadline on it and say, I’m going to take a break for two weeks. Pencil it into your calendar that you are going to start creating something again in two weeks.
Set Hard Rules to Tackle Imposter Syndrome
If it’s imposter syndrome, I struggled with this. The biggest thing that helped me was I set myself some hard personal rules. For instance, it could be that for six months I will create something every day or every second day. And no matter what I created, I would have to post it and I would have to leave it posted for 24 hours.
There’s plenty of time to make stuff. And then after 24 hours, I went and archived it, because I hated it. And I thought it was terrible. But that enables you to get over that hump of thinking that you are doing bad work. The only way that you can get over that is to put out the work there in the world.
Post it and put your phone in another room and run away. Make sure it’s up to date because eventually after you post, you know 100 pieces of work that you might not personally love or think are as good as it should be.
You sort of get over it and you also sometimes are surprised that other people find a lot of value in work you might not have originally done. That I guess separate you from your work and it helps to develop the mindset of my work is mine while I’m making it. Then once I put it out in the world, it doesn’t it’s not mine anymore. It’s up to other people to decide whether it’s valuable or not. So, I guess there are a couple of quick things.
Designhill: How to find a way to not feel alone while creating and be happy, and vibing with what you are creating?
Jay Kay: I always considered myself an introvert and I don’t like other people being around when I’m creating. This is because it’s such a personal process and when you are making something you don’t think it’s that good. The last thing you want is for someone else to be around you and potentially see it.
So, it was COVID and locked down that made me realize that a lot of my inspiration doesn’t come from necessarily being in a creative community. It comes from being around other people. Sometimes, you will overhear snippets of conversations. Or, you will be having a conversation with your friend and it will trigger something in your mind that will help you create art.
Involve in life experiences
I have always found that creating comes from a wealth of logic and life experience. It comes from just getting out and experiencing things. We create based on the world around us. That is the way that I found to make the most authentic art for myself.
That’s hard in COVID. So, right now I’m personally relying on I guess, books, films, and attending conferences. I also make sure that I watch videos and catch up with my friends, call my family, and stay connected to the broader world around me. We are so lucky that in this world if we have to be isolated, we can access online concerts, go to lectures, watch fashion shows, and have everything at your fingertips.
So, I would advise you to keep with the world around you, and not just necessarily all that is bad news. And, you know, keeping with what else is moving and is fun or looking into history or using this time to read old novels, etc.
But, I would also say that we’re living in such an unprecedented time that you should not put pressure on yourself if you are struggling. I think that sometimes that pressure to give your best 10 out of 10 crushes your motivation more than anything else. It’s that perfectionism that ties into the imposter syndrome. So, it’s okay at the moment if you make your art and it’s based on the fact that you are tired. The fact that you are stressed and that things are uncertain and unsure art is, it’s a way for us to express and connect.
And at the moment, a lot of my art has been around. I’ve been feeling bent at being home. A lot of my art has become about resting in the importance of quiet time and downtime. I think that you just take whatever is going on with you at the moment and funnel that into your work and know that it’s okay if it’s not super happy. It doesn’t always have to be super happy. It’s a reflection of human experience.
Designhill: How to deal with the pressure of creating something unique and staying top in competition?
Identify your niche
Jay Kay: That is a super tricky one. I am not sure that you can ever completely get rid of that voice in your head that says there are many other people out there. What is important is to be able to identify your niche, if you have the whole world of creativity around you.
For me, my work is a bit mystical and it’s inspired by fairy tales and stuff like that. Similarly, for a lot of graphic designers, it could be your specialty in packaging. So, pick your interest and specialty that you focus on. And then the whole world of things that you can compare yourself to suddenly narrows down. This is because I look at amazing graphic designers who do cool packaging. But at the moment, I don’t do packaging. I can’t compare myself to them because it’s completely different.
Look to other influences
You should think of limiting your social media use and stay away from that. Instead, look to other influences that aren’t in the graphic design world, in case you can’t stop comparing.
The key is the more that you put out into the world, the more that you create. Also, the more that you share of yourself, the more feedback you get, and the more potential clients you get. And the more that that happens, the more confident that you are in your work.
You will find that suddenly, the less it matters for everyone, whatever analysis is doing. So I think you just have to hone in on yourself and what you are doing. It sounds self-centered, but you kind of have to be with your work if you can only focus on yours. Otherwise, it just kind of messes with your head.
Designhill: How to find a purpose for the job or specify the project?
Identify your goals and hone skills
Jay Kay: I think that I’m a really big believer in goal setting. And I have, you know, my yearly goals, I have my five-year goals and my three-month goals. I am a goal addict. And so I think being able to identify your goals and where you want to be in five years can help give you purpose for your job. This is particularly when your workplace, boss, and you are stressed.
You may also be unsure if you can sort of hone in your skills and find what your goal right now is. Your goal may be to spend a year at this job, to get the experience, or to move on to this job. It gives you a personal sense of motivation that isn’t dependent on anybody else, or anybody else says.
Your core values and role matter
Additionally, I think being clear with your core values, maybe your current role is to help you expand your skill set into something you haven’t done before. Or perhaps, your side hustle is to reignite your creative spark because you are not feeling it at your day job. You need to have a purpose for everything you do because creating is hard and creating regularly is hard, and exhausting. And so you need to have a deeper purpose on those days when you don’t want to make anything and you don’t feel it.
You are not burnt out but you just don’t feel like creating something. In my last advertising job, I worked with an amazing team and I was very lucky, but I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator. That was where my heart was at. And so that was my moment when I had a deadline when I was going to quit that job. And I need to have x y z lined up, to have stopped having clients, and have a bit of an audience. That was the motivation at midnight when I was exhausted, and I had to get up the next day at six.
You need to get clear about something that matters to you. It almost feels a bit of life or death because it is hard to motivate yourself. If you hate your job, that’s an amazing motivation to make something else and start something else. Or if you want a promotion at work, that’s another great reason to be upskilling and working on yourself.
Also, you want to stand out from other designers while focusing on your work because that’s all you can focus on. If you want to stand out from other designers, essentially what you are saying is that you want to get better. So you need to upskill. That’s a fantastic motivation for doing your passion projects on the side and upskilling, learning, and attending courses.
Therefore, layout your goals and map out your plan, and then break that down into timeframes and put a little bit of pressure on yourself. Don’t burn yourself. That’s why self-awareness is key because you need to be able to logically identify. Find out, am I just tired? Or, can I not be bothered? Or am I burnt out because I’ve done two weeks of 12 hour days because that’s physical burnout? So you’ve got to be sort of smart about that too.
Designhill: Can you suggest some tips for self-discipline?
Jay Kay: Self-discipline is not easy. I think being very prepared is not easy because otherwise, you are just setting yourself up to fail. I guess I can only talk from my experience.
Find an accountability buddy
In building my Instagram audience and starting to find clients, one of my big projects was for six months. I was going to make something every single day, and I was going to post every day, no matter what. That was a really big thing for me. And I found what helped me a lot with that was my partner. He was doing a similar challenge.
Therefore, we agreed together that we were both going to create art every day, and we post it and so it almost became a bit of a competition. I’m a very competitive person and I wouldn’t miss a day. And so I was really tired, but I’d be, no, he did it so I have to do it too.
Find some sort of accountability buddy. It could be your friend, mentor or anyone to hold you accountable. It could even be so much as you could announce to your Instagram audience you or your family on Facebook. Just announce that you are going to do this challenge of a logo a day for a month. Or, say that you are to create packaging in 30 minutes for a week, every single day.
Do something every day
I think that doing something every day is key. Honestly, even if it’s only half an hour, even that could be your challenge. I operate under personal challenges quite a lot. So even if it is, I’m going to draw for 30 minutes every single day and I’m not going to miss it. And I don’t care if it’s 11:30 at night,
I will draw every single day. I think that once you build that momentum and once you’ve done it for three months every day it becomes such a thing that you say that you don’t want to break this. I’ve done 90 days, I’m not gonna wreck it because of something silly like being tired. It becomes a matter of personal pride. So, I think telling other people, setting up systems to hold yourself accountable.
Reward yourself with a lot of money, say $100, or something I can consider and it would make you unhappy to lose it. So a friend can hold on to this for a month. If I don’t complete this challenge, you get to keep it. And you will do that challenge, you will get your money back. So I think it’s about setting up creative little ways to either reward yourself for completing it could be if I post every day for three months, I will buy myself something I want. Or, it could be a punishment sort of thing, my friend gets $100 or it could be a challenge. I will post every day and my friends post every day so I feel I have to.
I think that once you start getting into that rhythm, you need little tricks and tips to start you off. But once you get into a role, the momentum picks up. It almost feels to me I don’t draw it. Every day now I would still draw every day. But, it almost feels to me now, if I do have a day where I don’t draw that I am, something’s missing. And I think that’s the point where it becomes so ingrained that if you don’t do it, you feel odd. But, where I am now is due to daily practice.
I also wanted to post every day and that was my challenge because I wanted that real-time feedback. And I didn’t want to just be creating and putting it in the dark. I want it to be put out there and be able to get feedback to adjust what people want or do not want, and take that on board. So yeah, challenges, punishments, rewards for at least three months daily practice, and then once it becomes natural to you, it gets a lot easier. The start is always hard, though.
Designhill: What are the best websites that you know that can help us improve our art?
Jay Kay: This question is interesting. I would advise anybody, particularly the earlier you are in your journey, the better it is to learn and improve your art. But, more importantly than that is to improve your business skills, pitch skills, and presentation skills. You want to be a good designer and a good artist.
Future.com and Christo for Selling Tips
But, the way that you sell your ideas to people is infinitely more important than the way that you created that. That’s why when we go out we see not the best designs out in the world. This is because people who are good sellers can get people to buy into the ideas even if they’re not the best that it could be.
So, my number one resource for that would be the future.com, and Christo, which has a series on YouTube about business and pitching and selling your ideas and balancing. You know all of their different design elements and how to talk to clients and get them to buy into your idea. So that one’s really good.
Skillshare for Lettering and Illustration
Skillshare is fantastic. I’ve learned a lot of lettering skills and illustration skills from Skillshare. I particularly like Aaron Draplin’s course and Gemma O’Brien courses. They share so many tips and tricks in it that I never thought of. I think that they’re my main ones in terms of improving your skills.
If you are a graphic designer, I buy a lot of books. So I have a lot of biographies. A lot of different lettering books again Jessica Haitians Martina. A lot of the main designers who you might look up to and recognize will generally have some sort of resource, whether it’s a Skillshare course. So I don’t necessarily go directly to a place to learn. I find the people that I admire and who I would emulate in my work, and then I’ll go and buy their resources specifically. So I start with a person first rather than a particular thing. Also, on YouTube, it is amazing to learn things.
That’s a lot sort of easier because you can sort of Google how to mask out some hair in Photoshop and you can find a wealth of answers. So my tip is always to start with the artists you admire and work your way down from there.
Imperfection can also become your style
But, the future is my biggest one because the things that you think about your art aren’t necessarily good. This is what I found. So the things that I think clients sometimes end up liking because they’re often the things that make you unique.
Your imperfections are what give you a distinctive style. In a lot of cases, some of my letterings are a bit wonky. My color choices are a bit different. But that’s sort of the stuff that has now I guess, in some ways become known to be mine. And that’s why people hire me and they’ll send me screenshots of work. I wasn’t even the biggest fan of them and they wanted to make me something like that. So I wouldn’t stress a teacher. If you are starting and you are learning technical things such as how to do things in Photoshop or Illustrator.
Designhill: How do artists stay updated and adapted to the new changing trends?
Jay Kay: I think that this is something to be sort of careful because following trends, you want to have a distinctive voice and you want it to be sort of unique to you. You can follow along with Pinterest and Instagram as your best friend in this sentence because you will sort of be bombarded with trends.
But, I think whenever you are trying to take on a trend because you always try to consider how you can put part of your existing style as it currently is into it. This is because you don’t want to be creating a replica of somebody else’s work. I think that the more distinctive and unique you are, the more you can charge more for your work.
But, it is harder to be you. If you are trying to copy everybody else, then why would you necessarily go to somebody else? You either want to be unique, or you want to be the best at something. And so I think you can adapt by attempting or trying to copy a style.
Pick trends and give it your style
But, you should always try to infuse a trend with something of yourself. So I’m trying to think of a trend that I’ve seen recently, even my Instagram fade lately has just been filled with repeating patterns. And I’m not necessarily a patent artist, but I decided to have my own go at it the other day. I did this Tiger pattern, but I decided to still make it my own by using colors that I use fairly regularly. I used my illustration style. And I’ve seen Tiger patterns before, they look cool.
But I think that whatever the trend is, take it and move it three steps away from everything you see while you are not necessarily copying someone else. And, if you are staying updated with Christo and the future, and new Skillshare tutorials and YouTube design videos, you will be in the loop with trends. And so I think that it’s more just how you adapt them to yourself.
Designhill: How to be okay with failure that gives us a sinking emotion?
Jay Kay: I have had failures. There have been times when I put so much work into a pace and stayed up all night working on something that I’m really happy with. And then I put it online and it just flops. You almost feel sticking your stomach. I think acknowledging those feelings are normal. And so don’t stress about that. I think this is what I was sort of saying a bit earlier about my post and run mentality.
For quite a while I would post or I have a scheduler. I don’t even see when my stuff goes live because I have noticed a lot of my audience is American. And so I post it at 6 am and I miss it. So I think leaving your phone for a solid day, and not looking at it and having really hard limits for that is helpful. And then when you go back to it later, being able to look at it critically and try to identify trends in your work.
There’s no point just looking at one piece if it’s flopped. It could just be the algorithm or the time of day it could do this. We may not know many factors about how Instagram backs works. But if you can look at all of your work over a three month period and see if there are trends in stuff that’s popular and stuff that’s flopping consistently. Then, you might notice that people are drawn to your emotional work or to your packaging or when you break down a logo.
Have a Critical Eye
I think being able to train yourself to have a critical eye and never looking at one piece as a failure in isolation helps. It might be a bigger trend, or just that you posted at 6 pm instead of 6 am. I did notice trends in my work overtime due to things failing. And now in some cases, I can sort of predicting it. You can then get to a really interesting point where you will say that you do not think that this is going to be super popular. But you post it anyway because I like it and my fate is mine.
Moreover, you have to feed the algorithm you have to keep posting content. So, you should look for patterns. Don’t look at one piece and when you post something don’t look at it for 12 hours.
Designhill: What is your strategy to come out of the creative rut and any tips that you can share with us?
Take a Break
Jay Kay: Creative ruts are so common, Once a week, I feel I am in a creative rut. There are a few different ways to get out of it. One is to take a break from your work. I find that if you are in a rut because say it’s 3 pm and you have been working hard on stuff all day and your brain is frazzled. You need to take a break and go for a walk around the block.
I know it is hard enough to do in COVID times. When the world was normal, people used to go out to a cafe, take an hour off, and let their mind decompress. It’s just as important. That is why we have ideas come to us in the shower or right before we’re sleeping. This is because our mind has a chance to relax. So if you are struggling, giving yourself a bit of mental space will be helpful.
Just start with the project
If you haven’t started a project and the deadlines coming, then lean into that pressure and feeling of the deadline. I always think that the first design or illustration is kind of working with clay. You just start with this lump. And you are slowly peeling back layers and it looks rubbish about 80% of the time. It is only the last little bit where you can start seeing that it might look good. If it is that you are writing a blog because you haven’t started you need to start.
You should know that it’s going to be rubbish when you start and I tell myself this is not going to look good for quite a while.
But, you start putting ideas down on paper and set a timer. I will work for 20 minutes, no excuses and I’m just going to force myself. It is not going to feel nice, but with self-discipline, I’m just going to do it. It is going to be trashed. Then after 20 minutes, you find that you are kind of in the group a bit more. Then, it is a little bit easier. Put on some music that energizes you and just start chipping away at that lump of clay.
I think setting those 20-minute intervals can help with that too. So, it just depends if you are exhausted or take a break. If you haven’t started, then self-discipline comes in. You just have to white knuckle your way through it.
Designhill: How budding artists can let go of fear or awkwardness when sharing artwork online?
Just act despite the fear
Jay Kay: I think that courage is feeling the fear and acting in the face of it anyway. I had quite yesterday I think that was, it might have been. If you can’t do it on being afraid then just do it as scared. So I think if you can just own the fact that you are scared and you are beginning and you feel awkward and post and run. If anybody has read my captions, particularly some of the earlier ones, I write pretty emotional captions sometimes and they ramble.
And there would be times when I feel very uncomfortable sharing what goes on in my head. I would have to give my phone to my friend or somebody else, I’ll put it in a drawer. Same with analytics and doing it. If you are starting and you don’t have much of an audience, try to take a bit of comfort in that. When I was starting, it was a lot easier for me to sort of mentally justify and go. I will say ah I only got 50 followers, who even cares? I would tell myself, nobody cares, because that helps me get over it.
Do not hype yourself with pressure
So I think that hyping yourself up with pressure wasn’t helpful for me. That way you get over the rut and you just start posting. I think leaning into that stage, be scared, put your phone in a drawer, and set yourself challenges, and take solace in the fact that you can be free to post. Think that you are not a prisoner to trends and analytics. Just have some fun with it, because it’s a great time for experimentation. So, I guess try to flip your thinking as much as you can.
Designhill: What helps you increase your creativity?
Go out in nature
I find getting out in nature works for me though it is hard right now due to the lockdown. But I used to take a drive up to one of our national forests and see around in the national gardens. I am inspired by nature. So going to the beach, even going to the city, an art gallery, or a movie, doing something that I don’t do so often, breaks me out of my routine.
I go to watch a film that I wouldn’t normally watch. Or, I try to pay attention to conversations around me instead of just having my headphones on. I think that routine can be very important for business and to develop a following and forgetting clients. But breaking up routine for me has always been the key to increasing my creativity or getting out of a rut. I also experiment with other mediums.
For instance, I’m not a physical painter, but I just decided to challenge myself and buy some paint and no expectations, just start painting again. So, don’t do what you normally do and find ways to break up your routine.
Designhill: How can one stay focused on their work and deliver the best quality of work to their clients, with the current situation of work from home?
Know what relaxes you most
Jay Kay: This is hard. I think this is where you almost have to become a bit of a detective for yourself to know what works for you. This is because what works for me might not necessarily work for you. But when I came out to work after a while, I was so focused, and in the zone. Take note of what you were doing, the type of music you were listening to, or have a TV show in the background or note down the variables that happened. Then you can try to recreate that and see if that helps again.
So, for me listening to certain types of music or putting on a TV show that I have already seen on Netflix on my second screen sort of helps to tune out the background noise. Or, phone calls, it’s a bit harder, I suppose if you have kids and stuff that I’m no expert at that. But I think you become a detective for yourself, what is it that when you work well, what is going on around you? Then try to recreate that as much as possible.
In terms of technical challenges? I think that we’re mostly pretty lucky in the sense that people fairly understand right now that we’re all working from home. It is a different situation and it’s hard. So, if you are getting a video call test your microphone, headphones beforehand, but I think that people are mostly okay with that. And, don’t be too hard on yourself. If the internet drops out, people understand and they are kind.
Take the pressure off yourself
Additionally, I think that it is important to take the pressure off yourself. You don’t even have to be feeling your best. The world is crazy right now. Do not feel hard on yourself. We can’t expect ourselves to be performing at 10 out of 10. I think the best thing that you can do is have a schedule. Don’t let things sort of creep up on you. But also be kind to yourself and take lots of breaks. Put on your favorite music, have lots of tea, do those little things throughout the day that it takes to be able to get your work done.
You are not going to be useful to anybody if you just burn yourself out and don’t move from your desk all day. Take care of yourself. There’s a quote, and I’m loving this quote lately by Andy J Pizza on Instagram. He is an illustrator, and he says doing your most is not doing your best. Think about all the times that you have done your most in life, really pushed and granted, chances are it wasn’t your best work. So in your mind, try to reframe your client work and how you are working as I’m trying to do the best that I can.
So if that means that you have to take breaks. If that means you have to go outside for a walk every two hours, do that. Take care of yourself. That way, you can do the best that you can. If you are a freelancer, that means having slightly less work on at the moment or if that means, potentially talking to your manager and shifting deadlines. We are here for quality, not quantity. So, take care of yourself.
Designhill: What is the one piece of advice that sticks to your life?
Jay Kay: I think that this too shall pass. Whatever you are feeling, It will pass so try not to get too hung up, just enjoy and savor it. I think that that applies to every stage, and try to make a conscious effort no matter what stage of my career to enjoy. After all, nobody expects me to know everything. And I try to lean into it because I can experiment and have fun. I can make mistakes and get more professional. I start to enjoy that because I get to do cool talks and meet people.
These are the fine points that Jay Kay made about how artists can motivate themselves to produce quality work consistently. You can pick those tips and implement them into your daily routine of work. But find out what works best for you, which is more important.
Meanwhile, if you are looking for new graphic design work from clients, Designhill, the leading creative marketplace can help.
Just visit this platform and find hundreds of design contests from clients who look for unique design solutions. You can work on those projects and win prizes. That will keep you busy and you can apply the tips offered in the above discussion to your work life as a creative person.
Artists sometimes find it hard to go on with their routine creative work. They do not have that motivation level high all the time. In such time, Jay Kay advises to have patience and break away from the routine. Take inspiration from nature or what you like in other activities. Do not put pressure on expectations on you much. Let imperfection become your style and identity in terms of the use of colors etc creative elements.