A look at why graphic design is boring, and why it’s okay to admit it.
I have had issues with anxiety all my life. Anxiety makes me work very hard, sometimes it stops me being able to work.
Not being able to get started. This can happen for reasons other than laziness, or bad time management. I read a great phrase that resonated with me, ‘perfectionism paralyses’. Whereby the desire to create something that must be perfect, can lead to an inability to start the project, an inability to work. It’s a very destructive train of thought. A swift Google linking it to anxiety disorders and various other psychological issues.
There is a more positive lesser version that drives most creatives. To never be entirely satisfied with what you create, therefor the current project is the most important which keeps the creative brain striving forward, always trying to improve. It’s when it becomes a negative energy it becomes a problem.
The wheels on the bus go…
I came up with a way to deal with this when I was younger. If my art stopped, and I couldn’t work. Through too much anxiety or my brain overloaded with pressure, I imagined my art, or creativity, as a bus. It didn’t matter how slow the bus moved, as long as the wheels were moving even very slowly. Then everything would be okay. And whenever the wheels of the bus started moving, it always sped up again, picking up momentum, and all was good with my world.
The task could be, ‘do a ten minute drawing today, and nothing else’. That’s all it would take to get the bus moving.
Nothing new under the sun
I have since realised there are many inspirational quotes that relate to this. Far more concise and to the point. More perfect than my bus metaphor.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu (601 BC)
“Big things have small beginnings” – T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together” – Vincent Van Gogh
” The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking complex overwhelming tasks into manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one”. – Mark Twain
So it’s nothing new, and it’s very common in all aspects of life. So sit down and write a list of what needs to be done. Then work out what needs to be done first, and do it.
Iain Cameron is a freelance designer and illustrator based in Copenhagen. About me.
The nights are turning darker, the shops are selling Xmas stuff, is your business ready for Xmas? A Xmas illustration, a little snow on your logo, a little bit of the magic of Xmas… In the words of Slade’s Noddy Holder, “It’s Christmas!” (in a few weeks).
I draw a mean Santa, and a mean Rudolph.
This scene really reflects the spirit of Xmas for me. I was working all day in this pub in Harringay in North London. It was a Wetherspoons (a quick search online says it is now shut). Unusual for a Wetherspoons in that it was a nice pub, not the Airport hanger factory feel of their modern outlets. Hyggelig they aint!
These two fellas were characters. During the full day I was in the pub painting the blackboards these two were commenting on everything and everyone. Very likeable guys, I don’t think a positive word was said about anyone or anything at any point. The contrast between Santa and Rudolph’s happy faces, I thought was just lovely.
This was one of my favourite aspects of working in pubs and restaurants, merging into the background and hearing all sorts of conversations and dramas unfolding throughout the day. It was like an episode of Eastenders, but with good acting and writing. In one pub I was working near Oxford Street, the actress Wendy Richard (Pauline in Eastenders) was drinking… doof, doof, doof (Eastenders theme). I wrote a lot more on my celebrity experiences in this article.
This is a developed illustration for my then client Aberdeen Football Club. The Aberdeen FC mascot Angus the Bull is in the centre. Aberdeen play in red, but when they won the European Super Cup, beating European Cup holders SV Hamburg in December 1983 they wore their away strip which was white.
As a freelance designer in Copenhagen I love the cyclical nature of the seasons with regard to clients. I have two busy periods as regards new clients and new inquiries.
The first is obvious, January. Middle to late January, the emails and phone calls come in. Companies have a new budget to spend, new ideas to implement. Not everyone is a fit, either me for them, or them for me, but I always try and direct clients to where may be a better fit.
The other time, and the most busy, is late August and September. A Danish friend of mine who’s freelance told me years ago, after a long restful summer, people in business have ideas, are energised, therefor new projects are begun. This period always brings me enough work, to get me to Xmas, and the January period. And off we go again. An opportunity to meet new people, learn about businesses, and work together to solve creative problems.
Book keeping for freelancers is the necessary pain that goes with the freedom and creativity of the freelance world. It’s the part of the job I consider ‘work’. The bit I really don’t like.
That’s not strictly true. Not the book keeping itself, it’s the last minute getting it all to my accountant. The oh my god, where is that receipt, have I remembered everything, the impending deadline that has exactly the same feeling of dread, as approaching exam dates when I was a kid at school.
When it’s over, when it’s delivered, when I’ve got over the guilt of delivering my messy pile of invoices, receipts and accountancy guesses, to my accountant, when he is at his busiest, and really it should have been in months ago, the release, the sense of freedom, the joy is just sensational. Almost like all the pain is worthwhile for that joyful feeling.
But not next year. Oh no. Next year, it’ll be done much earlier, in fact I will begin now. Well that would be silly. Tomorrow though. I’ll get organised tomorrow. Yeah, I’ll do it tomorrow.
Art college is for many a great experience, however it doesn’t always go to plan. So I’m going to look at the less positive aspects of art college, including my own time at Robert Gordon University’s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.
The great portfolio swindle
No disrespect to art colleges but they are almost all thieves. At portfolio submission time to cover the cost of handling your portfolio, plus for sending to your second and third choice art institution, they require a fee of, what is it now, 50, 60, 100 quid? They receive how many applicants? 2000 x £50 = £100 000.
In return for a cursory glance at your work, you will be accepted or turned down. No feedback or advice. Any passing to second or third choice institutions does not happen. The vast majority of colleges are not interested in second or third choice students. They can argue they are underfunded, but it is immoral to take money from the pockets of the people you are rejecting to pay for the tiny minority you are accepting.
Those who can’t do… often teach art very badly
Art teachers. They know their stuff. Well maybe some of them do. Communication skills? Empathy? An ability to spot different students are at different places on their artistic journey? An understanding of which students need a kick up the backside, and which need some kind words of encouragement? An interest in teaching the whole class, not just their favourites – the ones that remind them of their younger, beautiful selves. An ability to hit on 19 year old students, despite being well into their forties, fifties, sixties, hello Operation Yewtree, how can I help you… Let’s put it this way, it’s not that hard to become an art tutor at an art college, but I suspect it is very, very hard to get kicked out.
So you may have picked up a little bitterness in this article. I was ‘asked to leave’ Gray’s School of Art in 1988. The head of graphic design Ian Cargill (the only graphic design tutor) had taken an instant dislike to me, and seemed determined to remind me whenever he got the opportunity that he hadn’t changed his opinion throughout my short time in his class. I was far from perfect, but I was then, as I am now, a graphic designer.
I received a letter at my home informing me to meet at the Head of School’s office at an allotted time. On arriving for the meeting I was immediately informed by Head of School, Professor Eric Spiller ‘we have no option but to ask you to leave’. That was my first communication on the subject. In the corner looking at the floor was Ian Cargill. Next to me was Malcolm Brown*, head of Textile Design at Gray’s School of Art.
Malcolm leaned into me, face to face, about 15 centimetres nose to nose and growled/sneered, ‘So are there any mitigating circumstances to take into account, Iain?!’. Safe to say Malcolm was enjoying the ending of a twenty year old’s education. Despite the fact he had never taught me, didn’t know me at all, had never previously been in the same room as me.
I just looked at him, speechless. Looked over at Ian Cargill, still looking at the floor, looked up at Professor Eric Spiller, waited a few seconds in an idiotic act of politeness to be sure they had finished talking, stood up and left. I didn’t utter a single word the entire meeting. And that was me done with Gray’s School of Art, and full time education. My self confidence shot to pieces.
I’m still not sure why I didn’t take my own life afterwards. I certainly thought about it, little else for over a year. Graphic design, my art, was my thing. It was all I had, and it had been taken away. Knowing more now I should have seen a doctor. I wouldn’t have known what depression was. I’m not sure how many would have. It would be two decades later before I began work as a graphic designer. Self taught thanks to the internet, Apple and Adobe. Shocked at how easy design was for someone with my skills. Two decades of working as a barman, postman, dishwasher (no disrespect to anyone working in those jobs) I wasn’t even good at the jobs, the wasted years.
I wondered why Ian Cargill did it. I joined the class late, having been initially turned down by Cargill on first applying for the over subscribed class. Another tutor on learning I was to leave art college as I was unhappy in the Painting department (whoever became a successful painter on the back of being turned down by graphic design…) got me a place in his class. In about 10 minutes. You can see how he may have borne a grudge. While the class had many talented people, on arrival in the class, I was shocked at how poor they were as graphic designers. I had presumed I was turned down due to the talent of the preferred students. I didn’t know then, why I knew that. I know now, as well as graphic design, one of my skills is spotting talent in others. Oh the irony.
Not all bad…
But it would be wrong to end it there. George Craigie had taught for a few months in Graphic Design and was a great teacher. The artist Joyce Cairns taught me during a brief spell in the Fine Art department. She was excellent at her job, is a great artist and a kind and decent human being. Gordon Hamilton’s art history lectures engrained in me a love of the history of art I will never lose. And the library, oh the library, like a sweet shop for the creative brain. The lovely helpful librarian. The shiny new Creative Review magazine that arrived every third Thursday in the month, about 10.30am. The collection of back issues of assorted design magazines, which had it’s own cupboard, with a desk and chair. And the fabulous book collection…
The best of times, the worst of times.
Update: I have since been informed by a former student of that era, the head of textiles was Malcolm McCoig at the time. Despite the very traumatic experience feeling like it was just yesterday for me, I can’t be sure whether I got the name or the job title wrong. Perhaps the particular person would like to get in touch to take the credit. To be fair there were a number of balding, bearded, angry middle aged men working at Gray’s at the time. So that’s why I may have made an error. It was definitely Ian Cargill and Eric Spiller though.
I have written previously as to why companies should not use stock photos to promote their business. In this very amusing video from the actress Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Solo, Terminator etc.) she brilliantly destroys stock photos.
While her video is for comic effect, she is inadvertently pointing out why serious businesses should never use them. They are cliched, the are easy to spot. The people are too beautiful, too gender/race diversity centric, too sharp (studio lighting), too perfect, and I’ll add, too cheesy.
Back in the Nineties I worked as a freelance blackboard artist in London. I came into contact with all sorts of people, and the occasional celeb. As no one cares about blackboards, I’ll write about my celeb spotting.
Content on a website is an integrated, and incredibly important element of a brand. The website is the shop window, it is here where first impressions are made. As we all know, we make our evaluation on a person or business very quickly. Messing up that initial impression, is really not worth it.
There are a number of web platforms set up to match freelance graphic designers to customers looking for logos or other design requirements, using a bidding system. Some of them may well work for all concerned. My experience using some of them when I first started as a freelance designer was not good. I experienced a complete lack of respect for design, the design industry, personal abuse, and criminality. How this could damage young designers entering the profession concerns me.
As a graphic designer my browsing history means I get marketed to by companies and websites that sell design, and specifically logo design. This includes the company Fiverr, that advertises logos for a fiver. One of the aforementioned web platforms. That’s five US dollars. So I created these graphics in reply to their ads.
A Copenhagen based, freelance graphic designer, web designer and illustrator. Originally from Scotland with more than two decades experience in design and marketing.