Last week was FITC Toronto 2015 and I had the pleasure of going again through their Women's Initiative. It is a 3-day conference jam packed with creative and innovative tech talks. I always leave this conference on such a high having been introduced or re-introduced to artists, designers and creatives that do amazing work and share wonderful insights. Thank you to FITC for allowing me to attend!
Here's some of my favorites and standouts from the conference:
Gavin is a graphic designer from Bristol, UK. He opened the conference with his Keynote presentation and went through some of his work and his path to being a designer. He is an incredible speaker who manages to make every one in the room feel like a friend that he's talking to over pints at a pub. He is Senior Designer at Aardman, the studio behind the Wallace & Grommit franchise among others. By night he runs his own independent design studio JamFactory where he creates both personal and client work. His outlook and work comes out of a genuine appreciation for his craft and the ability to design for a living. He says time and time again that we're the lucky ones–we get to do this for a living!
Gavin's work is fun, quirky, lighthearted but has so much personality. You can check out his impressive portfolio and see that this guy just loves what he does and constantly gets shit out. On top of his day job he does so much personal work that's opened up opportunities to him. For example, he was able to turn some of his personal characters into actual, tangible toys. His enthusiasm and love of his craft is contagious and makes me realize the importance of play and personal work.
I took so much away from his talk, all of which stem from his excitement and positive outlook on life and his work:
- Just do the work, there are no shortcuts.
- Care about the things you can control, don't worry about everything else.
- The reason we struggle with insecurity is that we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.
- Work can be enjoyed, not endured - We're the lucky ones that get to do work that we like!
- Be the change you want to see - don't complain, do something to change it
- You don't stop being great at 5pm. Seek creative satisfaction wherever/whenever you get it.
- Don't worry about being original, just be true to you and that in itself is unique.
- Make time for the things you want that excites you.
- If you can make things, make it. We live in a time where producing things is inexpensive.
- Be silly. Make silly graphics & mashups just because it's fun!
- Put your work out there.
- Be positive. We can make people feel good with our work, exercise that ability!
If you don't know him, check his work out. It's fun, lighthearted and makes you smile!
By far, my favorite talk this year was Shantell's. It wasn't just her talk, I just love her. And I can't believe that I didn't know of her until now. She is an incredible artist who stays true to herself and encourages everyone to be true to who they are.
Her path to being an artist started when she was young. She grew up in Thamesmead in Southeast London. She always doodled and wrote poetry and she went to art school. She spent a few years in Japan which is where she began to develop her drawing style. She was a Visual Jockey and would perform live drawing events with music. She began experimenting with digital techniques and spontaneous performance art. She drew for the moment and let the atmosphere drive her drawings.
She moved to NYC in 2008 and literally had to start over as no one knew who she was. So she began making things for herself and made work wherever she could. She left the digital techniques and reverted back to analog, using just her pen to perform spontaneous live drawing performances. She drew on everything, cars, circuit boards, walls, etc. She hustled and she stayed true to herself and continues to do so. Her work has been exhibited and featured in so many places including Hong Kong, New York, Toronto and London. She continues to draw on literally everything, collaborating with other designers and technologists to draw on people, walls, furniture, shoes, circuit boards, buildings, etc.
I had the pleasure of talking to her briefly after her talk and after the panel about making money that she participated in and she is genuinely nice, personable and helpful. You get the sense that she genuinely wants to help people, taking a moment to talk to everyone who wanted to talk to her and giving them her undivided attention. I just love her!
Some takeaways from Shantell:
- Find your way to yay. Just keep finding your way to what makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
- It's not precious. It can be scary to start with a blank canvas, what happens if you make a mistake? But really, everything is a mistake, so just enjoy the process.
- She realized after having to start over in New York that she needed to make work for herself and that's what she focused her energy on.
- You can't please everyone.
- Say "No" to people who want you to work for free or for exposure. Your ideas, your work, your time is of worth. You wouldn't ask this of photographers, marketers, etc. so why you?
- Saying "No" will bring respect and people will come back to you.
- She spent 1 - 2 years struggling, sleeping on friends couches and hustling trying to do work and lived month-to-month, but when she started imagining what her life would be with steady work and money to live on for loner than a month, somehow things started to change.
- Be careful when working with people, even and sometimes especially larger institutions who have bigger contracts. Charge them for your lawyer fees to go through their contract. If they want your work, they should value your work and your terms.
- If you approach everything with good intentions, then it could never be a mistake.
3. Ash Thorp
I knew nothing of Ash Thorp before FITC, but his motion graphic designs, UI designs and art direction can be seen in many popular films including Ender's Game, Total Recall and Prometheus.
This talk was really fantastic for me because Ash seemed really keenly aware of how he works, his strengths and weaknesses and I think identifying that in ourselves, especially as designers, is extremely important in order for us to understand how we work best. Ash writes down his daily habits to help break out of creative block. That's helped him identify what his patterns are. His daily routine seemed very structured and that's what's worked best for him. He writes down his talks every evening for the next day and prioritizes them. This allows him to block out time for each task and stay focused. It also let's him think about what he needs to do as he goes to sleep and he starts to visualize how he'll do everything. The result is when he wakes up he already has an idea of how he's going to do everything. He sets goals for each week, a month, 3 months, etc. That way if he sets a date or timeline, he gets things finished and stays focused.
He's battled self-doubt, analyzed his daily habits, grown to understand the need for rest and recovery and play. He shares all of this in his talk.
- Don't wait for inspiration, create a framework for it. Take a break, exercise, take a walk, do what you need to to recharge.
- "Just for now." You can do anything just for now... for the next 30 minutes, for the next 1 hour. It's a good way to break down a big project that otherwise might overwhelm you.
- Visualize the person you want to be. What is your dream day? Write it down.
- Value Time.
- Play! It helps you mentally and spiritually recharge.
- Take care of yourself. Exercise, rest. It makes a difference!
- Stay humble, stay hungry.
- Keep your work at a certain quality level, be great at communication and be on time! These are most important especially when you're a freelancer!
Re: work and his process:
- Write down everything, even if you don't know where it'll go and sketch!
- Identify things that stand out and clarify them.
- He takes his sketches into illustrator and goes with the flow, letting the idea and process take over. This allows him to get all his ideas out.
- Then he brings it into Photoshop trying colors, textures and effects.
Sheena is a self-described certified unemployable. She did work in the advertising industry for a time after moving to New York from India, had good pay, stability but it didn't fulfill her. She didn't want to just make a living or do the sensible thing. She realized that she likes doing many things, wearing different hats. That makes it hard to find work, but she pursues the things that she wants to do and figures out a way to make money for it and a living from it. She is probably unusually comfortable with instability and uncertainty which is why I was drawn to her. I am not fully comfortable with uncertainty but I'm learning to appreciate it and embrace it, so hearing Sheena talk was refreshing to say the least.
Her work varies from film, to design to production and digital projects. You can't define it in a few words and that's just how she likes it. She's not about the definitions, the predictable or the usual. It's just how she is comfortable living her life. Her work explores and questions ideas and she does it for the journey. Many of her projects always involve community in some sense, whether that's an analysis of it, involvement or any other form. The moment people want to turn her projects into something profitable, it looses it's spirit and she usually ends it or converts it into something that will in turn contribute to the community in a meaningful way.
I had the pleasure of talking to Sheena about her work and random things at the after party and she was lovely to speak to and incredibly honest. She also shared some insights in the 'art and making money' panel where she openly admits that she doesn't value money in the usual sense. She is driven by doing the things she wants to do and spending her time doing the things that are valuable to her.
Some takeaways from Sheena:
- There are many of us certified unemployables but not all of us are comfortable in this role.
- The unemployables don't necessarily make a living or make sense but they have many callings and pursue them.
- Being an unemployable shouldn't work but maybe the traditional way doesn't always work either.
- Laws of nature and creativity look very similar to each other. There is chaos, flux and impermanence.
- We are used to packaging everything and turning everything into a profit, into a definition, but the employables fail at this because the chaos works, making sense of things doesn't work, they don't thrive on structure or doing things the 'right' way.
- If you're unhappy with a job, quit! Always.
- Do what works for you.
- Don't worry about what other people think of your decisions, be true to you.
4. Jason Theodore (jTed) and The Working Dead
Jason's talk titled The Working Dead explored the traditional ways of working and how they're just not working. He unpacks the traditional work ideas, routines and attitudes and how they breed a culture of cynicism, politics, mistrust. I found his talk so incredibly eye opening. It's easy to say do work that you love or don't work in a cubicle. But have we actually sat down and thought about why some of the traditional maybe corporate working environments don't work? We know somehow in our gut that it doesn't feel right but do we know why? Well Jason breaks it down in an incredibly enlightening way. He takes us from "Workpocalypse" to "Jobvana". You can actually read the article he wrote that birthed this talk of the same title on Medium: The Working Dead.
Enlightening takeaways from JTed's talk:
- Rid cynicism by creating an environment built on purpose rather than preservation.
- Mission statements are great but they can turn into dogma. It should be intrinsic not imposed!
- Earn respect through collaboration not through cliques. Collaborative leaders rather than traditional leaders. It's not about getting your job done, but about learning, adapting and collaborating. Note: you need people who can collaborate and let go of egos to do this!
- Trust people rather than breed paranoia. Let people do their jobs and take ownership. Give people respect and they will want to do good work for you. Responsibility drives ownership.
- Real time feedback is more important than yearly performance reviews. Be transparent and work out loud.
- Don't hold people to defined ways of doing things but allow them to adapt and be an active participant. Play to their strengths.
- Purpose drives people.
- Find your own purpose and find a company that links to that or partner with someone who believes in the same values.
Other notable speakers:
- Shawn Pucknell gave a really honest talk about the ups and downs in his career and how he came to create FITC into a worldwide event.
- Jason White of Leviathan shared some of his work and some advice: document everything. People hiring you want to know what the story is that you're trying to tell and your thought process.
- Chip Kidd. I don't know what else to say about this man, but he is a great speaker and an incredibly talented designer. He's beautifully designed so many books to count.