Just the Tip: Not doing work

When you are being paid, you are being paid to do work, when you are not being given pennies to do that work, you need to rest from doing said work—advice that I give so easily and barely ever listen to.

I am writing this from my kitchen table, piled high with foreign objects that we’ve occurred through a short break that has just ended; the kitchen is our first port of call and the table our dumping ground of miscellanea. Like most employees, I too was entitled to time off work which I have recently seized and not until the day of my return have I realised how liberating it is to change-up routine and to hide away in the woods for a week.

I have always been a person that valued the importance of time off, headspace and mindfulness but it’s not something that I put into practice that often because, simply, I love the things I do. I turn no scornful eyes to finishing a day of work and continuing the work again later that evening, but like any human – or even any machine – rest and repair are vital to optimise performance.

I hope to ignite a fire within you for not working and understanding the importance in the lack of progression, not all the time but some of the time. It’s a message I will likely not take heed of but I pray that you might.

Tip 1: Do or do not—creative purgatory is not an option

A common place many creatives will find themselves in is the place between actively making something and purposefully not making something; or even the guilt of not doing any said thing. You must decide what to do and when not to do things, for you only waste time and emotion wishing your were doing something when you are not and it’s hopeless to wish you are doing something when actually doing something else.

Tip 2: Time off doesn’t have to be time off everything

Myself, like every ‘millennial’ (christ, I hate that term) finds enormous worry and guilt when we recognise that we are currently not working towards our main productive narrative—but to not be building your career does not mean that you cannot do anything. Read a book, visit a museum and climb a hill; productivity is natures’ greatest distraction and it has no restrictions on whether that productivity is work-based or personal.

Tip 3: The Wind Down Period

As described to me by a friend, the ‘Wind Down Period’ is something we all do naturally that hasn’t any designated name, but if you just nurture it a little, pay a little attention and allow yourself to shut off—the time you spend not working can really enhance your time when working.

If you work a non-creative nine to five job, it’s easy to come home, pop on your slippers and tune out until your post-work haze is shattered by the morning alarm but being a creative means that your work continues after the office door closes. Clearly you relax more at home but to enduce the WDP you need to actively force yourself to relax. IN JUST 5 EASY STEPS, YOU TOO CAN RELAX LIKE TRUMP IN AN ARMS FAYRE!

  • Give yourself a bedtime and stop an hour before bed
  • In said hour, be selfish and do whatever you need to relax
  • Go to bed and allow yourself to switch off—design ideas at bed don’t bode well for great periods of rest
  • Avoid screens where possible in this hour, imagine trying to sleep staring at a lightbulb; a screen is no different
  • Do not even think about Adobe in the WDP, for this hour, it is the devil

Tip 4: Proactive breaks

Sometimes when you are operating on all pistons, your head can only think of nice shapes, colours and compositions; you couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting and doing nothing with only a sandwich as company—I’m referring to lunch hour here.

I found myself in my current job sitting and being bored just staring into the void of a packet of crisps, so now I draw people, their hats and shapes with felt tips and cuts of paper. If you can’t rest and only want to keep going, then do so; but make sure it’s totally bat poop crazy for me, yeah?

Tip 5: Sit and do bugger all

Apposed to the previous tip, sometimes you just need to not do any work or anything full stop. It’s not wrong to want to do nothing every now and them. Sit down, stare at the wall and enjoy doing nothing more than carving the seat of the chair.

I’m even hoping that reading this could be part of your break from work, your choice to not do work and pleasure yourself (not like that) with the mildly amateurish words I present to you here. Failing that, see below your nice distracting imagery.

A creative’s guide to words

It might seem a little obvious, but words are pretty critical to the success (or failure) of any creative person; said wrong, set wrong and drawn wrong can make great work irrelevant.

How wrong you are

As an avid complainer, it’s easy for me to merit the power of words but they shouldn’t be disregarded if you don’t constantly write upon the internet, fulfilling some deep fetish for someone to care about what you think. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that words are a crucial tool for any creative, any person—as it’s the first learned human activity we are thrust into. That alongside making abstract patterns with a pack of crayons.

For anyone visually minded, I assume copywriting (the art of writing copy) seems a little boring, but we should accept it’s importance—for with the wrong words, we say the wrong thing. The way we interpret words has forever been the driving force behind all passions of this earth; how we understood the bible created endless masterpieces, and how we misunderstand the Qur’an spawns the fountain of hatred we see on our British streets today.

In a small studio (or even freelancing) any given graphic designer is rarely just that—you’ll find yourself playing accountant, conversing as a secretary and most importantly scrawling as a copywriter. Like swimming with dolphins, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to find yourself completely supplied with all necessary copy, professionally written—so knowing how to make clients eyes sparkle with thesaurus-like lust is a powerful tool for any designer.
note: this does not mean using ‘buzzwords‘ it’s about using the most correct words.

It’s not just designers that need to know their allegory from their exclamatory—as an illustrator knowing how to decipher the words supplied to you is imperative. Whether these words are those of your brief or the title of an article that you are creating imagery to support, you need to know how those words work before you can see how they look. Though you might not directly write words in your work, your work is to provide the visual release where written conversation would not, from colour to subject, words are your foundation.

Mid-post niceness

With so many words in existence, how do you know where to start? How do you know the best way to tackle words? I’m afraid it’s just the most obvious method, read words and see words.

This isn’t simply me just saying, look at the word document before you and read all 150 words sent over to you by your client—I’m suggesting you find your way to words before anyone sends you them. Like many things in this world, if you are looking for the solution to a problem, it’s likely the past will hold the answer. Lucky for us, the human condition defines that we desire to document the past in great quantities, both in words and imagery. So here’s what you need to do, my child.

Read, read, read. Look, look, look. The people we refer to as great writers are heralded in such manner because of their taming of the language. The paintings we call masterpieces stand upon their pedestal because of how their shapes convey messages we couldn’t hope to read on a page. You’ll never know how to illustrate surveillance if you’ve never seen a copy of 1984 and you’ll never know worship until you’ve fallen into the ethereal skies of an Italian masterpiece. It’s all a matter of experience and understanding, to develop, just as language has.

Learn to love. Perhaps a desire for words doesn’t lay within us all, but a strong grasp of them can. I can’t think of any course that doesn’t have students terrified over the idea of the dissertation, but we should relish the opportunity to explore our passions in such depth with the promise of it being read.  The problem many of us face is the fear of having to use words to any extent – whether needing to write said words or read them – and this is likely due to the masses of history locked away behind the printed word, intimidating us to live up to their god-like legacy.

Lose the fear. We shouldn’t fear words as we do, because each of us use them everyday but only fear them when we are required to use them rather than using them of our own volition. I understand the fear we feel, as misunderstood, twisted and construed words have been the source of countless conflicts through our history but as words slowly lose their  physical existence, we should strive to employ them to their best available use.

Use the facilities. When talking to people, they often exclaim they know not which words they should use or even when to use them. If you give yourself a second to figure out why you think this, you’d see the problem with writing isn’t as tough as you think it to be.

Can’t find the right word, source a Thesaurus.
Not sure how to write, read a well written piece.
Bad with spelling, get a spell check.

I can see that if you were forever faced by these problems, writing anything would feel daunting but they aren’t impassible barriers. My other half who struggles heavily with dyslexia spells me under the table and works daily with drug names that even a greek scholar would struggle.

Words are important, treat them as such and they’ll look after you.

Just the Tip: Mindfulness

Mindfulness, I’m not talking about creating an Ohm at your desk, but taking a minute out—makes a world of difference.

I recently started a new job, and that job required me to work as a Graphic Designer—exactly what I’ve been doing for the past four years, so it shouldn’t be too hard should it? I know how to design things, and that’s why I was hired but what happens when you have internal panic, blocking all normal process? Nothing. Nothing happens.

Well, nothing useful anyway. Day to day, I could create endless shapes and forms in the lunch break as sort of creative cathartic release, but my work was lacking and I was just six steps away from being completely useless. In the pressure to be the best I could be for my new employers, I created abundances of stress for myself, clouding my head with anxiety and dread—not a common state for someone as laissez-faire as me. I had let the fear of not achieving, stop me for actually achieving anything.

I was so bogged down in fear that I was forgetting simple changes, mishearing easy instructions and basically creatively vomiting onto various Adobe software packages. It took two days away for my birthday, an honest and frank chat with the employers and a seismic shift in mindset to break free of the original Walden Creative Block ’17 Edition.

I’ve never needed to rely upon actively seeking mindfulness but now that I’ve employed it once, it’s become a great process for fixing issues before they’ve gripped a hold. So, should you need a space for your brain to do feck all every now and then, read on my beauties.

Tip 1: Get out, stay out and then return

Like a design based Jedi, piss off for a bit and come back—dependant on your availability upon the annual ‘Piss Off for a Bit’ calendar. If at most you can get 2 weeks, then go to Mexico and pretend not to see the crippling poverty you are facilitating in your enclosed holiday bureau and if you can merely get a longer lunch; go to that nice place with the slightly more fancy napkins and order that £22.50 dish that has no place being so darn expensive, because either way you’ll have mentally distracted yourself enough to slowly begin the worm-like process of exiting the dark hole of creative struggle.

Tip 2: Getting from place to place, opens space for the mind to race

I find that I get my most free times mentally when I’m carrying myself down an ever constant path of repetition that I don’t need to focus on where I’m heading, leaving time for focus on my head. From podcasts to music, if chosen correctly, you can zone out just enough to get where you need to but focus almost exclusively an external source you decide upon.

Tip 3:  It’s about the needing for reading

Now, this is quite a personal tip, but if you find yourself stuck in the loophole of blocked ideas; it can’t hurt to try. Reading any good book requires one thing of its reader – absolute concentration – which mimics exactly that of Yoga, Meditation or most Cult-based activities. I would recommend non-fiction as you learn as you do it and you needn’t imagine characters or places but if it comes to a pinch, I wouldn’t turn down a good Harry Potter book.

p.s. if you are actually interested in using reading for mindfulness, as a creative I cannot recommend anything more highly than Penguin’s Great Ideas collection. There are now about 100 of these short books, all with beautiful covers and extracts of not-so-ironically great ideas.

Tip 4: Lunch is a break

It’s called a lunch break for a reason, so have a break, a walk, a run or a half hour cutting various shapes from sugar paper. The latter is my creative break, for when I have the time I make whatever shapes are spinning around my cranium; it’s now developed into a bit of a thing of its own, under the branding of #lunchhour. A range of quick projects that set me free, it’s rather fun.

So if making random crap isn’t your scene, get outside and actually break from work. We have a lunch break because science defines we work better when we have breaks. Don’t check those emails and don’t pixel tweak, just bloody well get out that door!

Tip 5: Mindfulness doesn’t end at the workplace

Allow yourself to tune-out, allow yourself to do nothing, allow yourself to make creative work without boundaries and allow yourself to be mindful when you need to.

It may be a little obvious that for me, this blog is an external project to allow myself to stop thinking about producing design and start critiquing it, flipping stress and anxiety on its head and making myself the master of them. Give yourself time when you have the time to, it’s horribly refreshing to do nothing for a while.

It’s not all singing bowls and vibrating your centrifugal sounds, do what works for you, for your brain, for your life.

Just the tip: Honesty

In a world where being dishonest causes very few waves, it’s surprisingly important to be honest—you no good rotten raggamuffins!

Often it’s said that you can lie on your CV and nobody will notice; assuming you don’t claim to be a doctor or something. It’s much harder to lie on your portfolio but I’m pretty sure it’s doable. Plagiarism is certainly a thing and it’s something that keeps art directors and creative directors awake at night, restlessly wrapping themselves around their covers wondering who will next be asked to create something from their portfolio to find that it was in fact a quick ‘pinterest theft’.

There is a saying that goes along the lines of “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should”, clearly this could be appropriated to almost anything but I certainly think that it smells just about right to scent the air of design dishonesty. Just because you weren’t caught out today, don’t assume you’ll never be caught out—your superiors are in the same industry as you, and have been there for longer than you.

Ever famous design studio Snask built an empire, talks and a book on lies, or what they refer to as pink lies – essentially white lies, a little more camp/Snask – and though being dishonest has worked out well for them, just like them, be aware of the consequences of being dishonest before you swim the depths of the honesty pool.

Tip 1: Be honest about your limitations
We all want to see ourselves as strong, exciting creatives but it’s important to understand the difference between where we want to be and where we are. Personally, I want to do everything and try solve every problem but it’s important for me to understand that my ambition is separate to my knowledge. I can professionally make you a corporate identity but just because I’ve tampered with a Raspberry Pi at home, it doesn’t make me suitable to write a full python script for operating a lighting system.

Tip 2: Be honest about your skills
Before I quoted that I could professionally make a corporate identity, but that was perhaps an exaggeration on my behalf, twisted by my own perspective. I believe I could create that, and I have created many logos before but there is a large difference between branding for a local business and that of a global franchise.

Tip 3: Be honest about the past
I’m not convinced many people would do this, but if you lie about a previous employer, you’ll be caught out pretty bloody speedily. This will likely also apply to any false claims of study or internship—the creative field isn’t that expansive, especially in the UK. This isn’t just about bare faced lies either, if you have told your employer that you’ve taken on more responsibility before or tackled a certain task, make sure your up to facing just that in the future. Art direction isn’t quite as simple as organising a small team in university.

Tip 4: Be honest to yourself
Once you’ve rapped yourself around an idea, it’s hard to untangle that knot—especially if someone pulls harshly at the edges by rejecting your idea. Being honest with yourself is likely the hardest and most important tip of the five, because it takes the most effort. If you’ve ever found yourself being angry at requested or concise feedback, it’s because someone is being honest with you and your not being allowing of honesty with yourself.

I can’t describe to you on how to be honest with yourself, but if you can’t figure it out; do what I do—get a fail safe, get a shit spotter. Mine is the other half and she’s great at it. Here’s how it works.

Firstly, she’s dyslexic so if I’ve made any spelling mistakes, she’ll spot them in a peco-second, as it’s how she’s survived for the last 23 years. Alongside that there is a process of identifying the crap; here’s a step-by-step breakdown for anyone that would like to copy as I do.

  1. Show work to said ‘shit spotter’.
  2. Ask said person whether they like the work, whether they understand it and if there is anything clearly wrong with it.
  3. Seek their answer, in the best binary form; good or bad.
  4. If they say “It’s crap” assess it and see if you also think it’s crap.
  5. If you find it’s crap, then it is indeed crap.
  6. If you find you have an argument to explain why it’s not crap, then it isn’t.
  7. Depending which path is taken, follow the correct action to fix or finalise the work.
  8. Make cuppa for said ‘shit spotter’.


Tip 5: Be honest to another
It’s simple, if someone asks your opinion, give it honestly.
If someone wants feedback, lie as if you were Ghandi—don’t.

Not sure what’s going on, but it looks good.