Skip to main content
10 minute read

Peering backwards

Looking back and wishing you could change the past is common. Especially after a few too many bevvies but there is no point changing the past if you ask me. It’s done. Move on and learn.

Hindsight (Noun)

Understanding the nature of an event after it has happened.

In regards to my experiences as an adult artist there are some things I wish I had known and could pass on to my younger self. Alas, without the ability to alter space and time I figured maybe I could pass on some things I have picked up to you: The Reader. Maybe you’ll think it’s bollocks. But if I can aid in one persons journey then that’s a win for me.

Table of contents

  1. Ignore the lure of graphic design. (It’s a sham)
  2. Fuck University. It’s pointless as a creative.
  3. Become an artist. Not a designer.
  4. Avoid computer aided drawing & stick with what you know.
  5. Beginner/New to the game? Think long & hard before joining communities like Behance & Dribble.
  6. Stop self deprecating, Stop dickin’ around & just start the work.
  7. Keep experimenting & stay creative.
  8. Fuck the Curriculum
Foksy style hand drawn text overlaid on an inspirational coastal photo. The text "shoulda coulda woulda" is scratched out with the main text "Doin' It!" in bold.

Before continuing I think a quick background in bullet point could be of use. I’m an illustrator/artist currently based in Europe.

  • I learned oil painting at 9 and inhaled comics like Garfield and Footrot Flats. (1989)
  • I spent a lot of school scribbling in the margin of my text book with my trusty ballpoint.
  • My primary school teachers always told me off for day dreaming in class. 
  • All my teen years I was obsessed with drawing comics and becoming an extreme ski pro.
  • Photoshop turned up when I was in my last year of high school and I hated it. (1998)
  • I completed a bachelor of Multimedia and became a jack of all trades and a master of none but drinking. (2004)
  • Worked bars, factories and left Australia in search of adventure. (2005)
  • Acquired the aforementioned adventure for 5 years and saw amazing parts of the world. (Kept up my doodling)
  • Got sick of couch surfing, settled in the UK and listened to the adults of the world. Career, house and shit like that. Tried being a creative alongside full-time employment. It sucked. (2010)
  • Became a Designer and enjoyed my work. But alas the road was a calling my name. (2018)
  • I recently quit my job to chase the dream. I sold/gave away 10 years of accumulated crap and left the UK as I arrived; with a rucksack, guitar and a head full of dreams. (2020)

Ignore the lure of graphic design. (It’s a sham)

When I was 13 I had my first class in graphic design. I loved it. We got to draw all sorts of things and learned a load about design theory. In its physical sense. At that time (Early 90s) the artwork for posters and adverts were still painted or drawn. I was blissfuly unaware of the role of computers and visual editing. I had found my path. 

I wish I had not been so stubborn in continuing. I should have flitted and frolicked around, kept creating and left the decisions for later when I was older and had more experiences. When you’re young you’re asked what you want to do for a career. In most cases: You don’t really know do you? Some amazingly do and the rest are pressured into some semblance of an answer by adults and it sucks if you have creative ambitions. 

In reality, I was just late to the party to take up graphic design as a purist.

Computer aided drawing was around the corner so if I could reach back and whisper into my innocent 13 year old ears I would tell him to stop designing and keep drawing.

Fuck University. It’s pointless as a creative.

I applied to a bunch of Graphic and Industrial Design courses after high school. I got accepted into a few but it meant moving to Canberra or Bendigo. I had my heart set on Melbourne for some reason so got my 9th choice… Multimedia. 

I only added this course to my applications list as I was won over by a slick presentation by the head of faculty who had come to my school. She painted a wonderful picture of the campus and the advanced technological equipment there. Explaining how there would be approx forty thousand jobs awaiting us when we finished our degree. Fuckin’ bonza I thought.

To cut a long story short the course was in its infancy and there weren’t enough computers to go around classes. On day one they told us “You’re not here to learn the tools but to learn how to teach yourselves”. I did my best, passed the degree and realised the dot-com bubble had burst during my first year of uni. So much for those forty thousand jobs. Students I had worked alongside who were fucking mavericks and studied super hard found it difficult to find work. Sounds no different to todays issues facing new designers. Different bucket but same crap, eh?

I may as well have bought a computer and moved to Melbourne and used the internet to teach myself while working nights or something. I’d have had time to mess with ink and paint more. Hell, I was in Melbourne and the graffiti scene is flippin’ rad. 

Become an artist. Not a designer.

Mainly because you don’t have to know how to draw to be a designer these days and that pisses me off something chronic. I put long hours of practice into my abilities and now you can just rock up with InDesign and smoosh some text and photos around and voila: You’re a graphic designer.

I studied design in high school and uni, continued to self train afterwords and was determined to make it. I owe the Aussie government a bunch of money and they’re still chasing me for it. Even when I lived in England. I just wanted to do something with the 3 years I had spent in tertiary education. I don’t know many of my uni friends/colleagues who completed a degree in multimedia who are even close to the same trajectory. I don’t know if people these days even know what a degree in multimedia entails. Dunno why it’s even on my bloody resume. Not one employer has ever asked to see it.

All I know now is that I should have aimed to be an artist. Sure the money is better as a designer but it’s just another rat race isn’t it? I got crap marks in design cos I never followed the brief. You can imagine how that impacts you in the real world when the client looks at your work and proclaims it’s not what they asked for. All the while you’re weeping and gnashing your teeth because in your head you gave them something so much cooler than that hideous brief.

Avoid computer aided drawing & stick with what you know.

All that time I spent learning and honing my abilities to create with brushes, pens, pencils, markers, inks, charcoal and spray paint. What did I go and do? Ignore it all and try using a pen tablet. This just led to a loss of interest. All whilst self flagellating and trying to compete with a current generation who’ve used digital drawing from the start. 

Don’t get me wrong. My little Wacom has its uses for me. I can scan some work in quickly and experiment what colours I might want to use. But I am generally terrible with it. Paper, wood, canvas and brick: They’re my tablet of choice.

For all those who have mastered using it. Nice one. The stuff that comes out these days is next level. But on the flip side it feels like people are just making as much digital art as possible as fast as possible. Doing things quickly or putting time pressure on art kinda takes away the fun for me.

So in hindsight I would probably say if you know how to paint or draw without a computer then stick with it unless you’re feeling experimental. Personally there is no better feeling than getting my hands dirty, forgetting to wash them and then getting ink all over some brand new clothes. 

Beginner/New to the game? Think long & hard before joining communities like Behance & Dribble.

NB. I find that CAD over stimulates the quest for perfection. I was advised in 2010 to join Behance to get work as an illustrator or designer and all it did was sink me deep into depression (as well as draw less) as my work looked like a cat’s post litter box frenzy compared to the work I was looking at. No one has ever approached me through Behance to create for them and I have had my work on there for like 10 years. I guess I just suck.

This doesn’t mean to say they’re bad. Its just my experience. I go on there and I’m in awe of the work I find. I imagine it’s helped a tonne of creatives along their journey to get recognised. Just beware that if you’re a beginner avoid avenues where you compare yourself against the seasoned. Be wary of social media and the internet. Check out the real world for inspiration.

Stop self deprecating, Stop dickin’ around & just start the work.

Seriously everything falls into place eventually. Stop making lists, researching and start.

Stop fooling around. Actually pick up that pen you had to steal from the estate agent cos you’re skint and start drawing. Creating can be done anywhere. I have pages of my visual journal filled with bits of pizza box, receipts and newspapers with my sketches on them because it’s all I had.

There’s little excuse if you want it bad enough. I met an airbrush artist who was teaching himself to paint with his opposite hand just on the off-chance he had an accident and lost the ability to use his main hand. Just so he could continue creating. That’s legendary.

All the desires we have as kids are knocked out by adults and teachers telling us that we need a direction and so on. Fuck that shit. Stop telling yourself you’re crap. Stop telling yourself your work sucks. Stop selling yourself short. Stop listening to other people. Question your teachers. Question your peers. Question the news. Question the internet. Question social media. Question yourself. Question this fuckin’ article!

Keep experimenting & stay creative.

Creative (adj.)

Having the skill and imagination to create new things and ideas.

Keep trying new things, researching and watch other artists. There is no need to follow trends but I get excited seeing other bodies of great work. It lifts the soul to see others succeed. Or at least it should. If you’re feeling jealousy at others successes remember that some top artists and illustrators still struggle to pay rent, go hungry or stress about were the next job is coming from. They’ll still consider them selves successful though. Know why? Because they’re following their dream. 

The very act of pursuing a creative life is surely one worth chasing. I have yet to hear a story of a creative that regrets the journey. If I can be self sufficient while being an artist then that’s a win for me. Being an artist for the sake of being rich is like being an endangered animal species. Could go either way but the odds are defo against you.

Fuck the curriculum – check out these awesome cats who’ve inspired my journey

James Victore

The legend that is and who has inspired me immensely. His videos are flippin’ amazing and get me going every time i need a push in the right direction.

Learn More

Jaron Lanier

I just discovered this guy while watching “The Social Dilemma” movie. Watched a bunch of his videos and I really like his stance on social media.

Learn More

Edward Snowden

I recently finished reading his book: Permanent Record and he is truly someone to look up to. Real David and Goliath shit. Knowing what I have learned from web design and SEO he has schooled me hard in privacy and the state of our information.

Learn More

Alexander von Humboldt

The original Eco warrior and my hero. There’s a book about him called “The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf and it’s so in depth. Andrea has done an incredible job of explaining this forgotten visionary German naturalist.

Learn More