I suppose this post is a bit like the blind leading the blind - for I'm just starting out the same as you. I had wanted to start dabbling and putting myself out there in illustration for the past three years and design for one, but when did I actually start doing it? Only a few months ago! It's time for you to start too. So without further adieu, here's my two cents from me to you.
1. start and don't stop learning
You've gotta start somewhere. Learning any craft should start with knowledge and then the application of. When you want to learn design (illustration, or any craft for that matter) you should start with the basic principles. You won't build a pyramid without a sturdy base.
Once you've learned some stuff, learn some more. There's always something new to learn. Read books like you're hungry, quiz yourself often, and apply what you've learned to anything you make.
If any of you have heard of Karen Cheng, you'll know she took a year of her life to dedicate learning graphic design, and in turn, got a really rad job at a pretty rad company - without a design degree! If you don't know her.... well now you do. Cheng is going to be your virtual mentor, your online spirit animal. This is someone who understood if you want to know how to do something, you've got to learn how to do something. If you wanna be gouda (cause cheese is gooooood), you better set aside a portion of time in your day to learn.
- 20 most Important Design Principles Illustrated: Here
- How to Become a Designer Without Going to School: Here
- 50 Totally Free Lessons in Graphic Design: Here
2. apply what you learn
Build that pyramid! Practice makes perfect. Rome wasn't built in a day. Yada yada. But seriously, if you don't apply what you've learned it will easily be forgotten like whatever you learned in eighth grade math class. The only downside of not going to a university or college to learn design or drawing is that it's hard to apply what you've learned without projects. OH WAIT, there's a website for that.
- 50 of the World's Best Designers, Artists & Animators Have Developed Briefs For You: Here
- Briefbox. Weekly Briefs for Practicing and Developing a Portfolio: Here
3. Believe in yourself - or something
I think what holds most of us back is imposter syndrome. I have always struggled with it. It's easy to feel like you're not good enough or are a joke in an industry when you're self-taught. But keep in mind, if you've followed steps 1 and 2 then you're in the exact same boat as even the people who have a degree.
Confidence is hard and so I ask you to step back and really be confident in the feeling of what you want if you can't be confident about yourself. When I say "believe in yourself - or something", what I really mean is to believe in an idea. If you truly know you're doing something that's unique, or your style is interesting or innovative, or if you just LOVE doing what you do. That should be enough to believe in something.
Another reason we get held back: Thinking the market is too saturated. There's too many blogs, there are so many illustrators, infinite graphic designers. Hey guess what? There's only one you ;). Your voice, experience, and style is unique enough. Jump in and start already.
4. Don't Compare
In Todd Henry's book, The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant At A Moment's Notice, he talks about the importance of comparing ourselves to others. It's easy to read industry magazines, surf Behance or Site Inspire. These types of things are wonderful sources of inspirations. But he warns of the side effects of being paralyzed by others work, especially when you're just starting out.
"While you certainly need to be willing to learn from the competition and from our own creative heroes, don't let their influences cause you to condemn your own abilities", he writes.
It's true! We can easily get caught up with trying to measure up, or that dreadful thing that happens when you have a great idea but whenever you try and produce it, it is nowhere near as good as you envision it. Ira Glass calls this "The Gap". Some words about the gap: watch the video below if you take anything from this post away.
Remember, Malcolm Gladwell's rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of "deliberated practice" to be a master of something.
5. Have a Toolbox
Like any craft or trade, you've gotta have your trusty Marry Poppins closet of supplies. Be it physical or digital. Always be adding. If you're an artist I suggest buying one copic marker a week, or anytime you visit the art store. That s#&t's expensive if you buy it all at once. This is an effective and fun way to build your supplies. If you're a designer I suggest have a very curated "Bookmarks" list. Folder for inspirations, folder for online tools, and OH BOY - let's not forget the apps and programs you need. Invest in yourself if you're serious. Buy Creative Suite, pitch in on that website membership. The toolbox must ever-expand.
Make sure to file ALL of your inspirations and ideas and sift through them at the end of the week. If you're like the old me, you're a bookmark hoarder. Saving pages like it's going out of style and then never looking at them again. NOT ANYMORE. You're going to buy the book Let The Elephants Run Wild by David Usher and learn how to organize IDEAS. Refer to new bookmarks bar above. Squeaky clean. Filed Ideas is where I store inspirations, then review them weekly.
6. Social Media man.
The world is a digital battlefield. You're not getting far if you don't have a website and social media. You HAVE to market yourself. It doesn't matter if you're a one man show, personal branding is key. When you brand yourself, your audience will follow whatever project or venture you take on next.
Take advantage of what a visual and aesthetically based platform social media is. You should ALL have Instagram. Captivate and create good content. Make a social media calendar each week. Always post content that is relevant to what you do. Stay cohesive. Quality or quantity.
7. "Just Do It"
That's right. I threw a Nike quote at you. But seriously, stop fretting, stop planning,and stop saying "I'll start when I'm ready". Most of all stop waiting for perfection. If you listened to what Ira Glass said, it'll come much farther down the road, a point you won't get to if you don't just start. When you're self-taught, you're never going to be ready or done. Just doooooo it. Nab yourself a squarespace site, hit up wordpress, start a Behance portfolio and add as you go.
Go start creating.