Why being yourself is the key to making good work


In creativity tips Posted

When I moved to Gouda a year or two ago, I had spent quite some time living in student housing. Hence, I was trying to make my way as an adult. Finally, I had a place that was mine, and I could start anew in a city I didn’t know well. After our move, I started painting more and more. Before this time, I had always focused more on digital art and simple black and white drawings. I followed the minimalist trend, without much introspection. Looking back on this, it was a sign that I still had to learn how to be myself in my work.

My move was the thing that worked as a catalyst in my creative development. It helped me be myself in my illustration work. To me, this secret sauce that is you is the key to making amazing creative work. Sometimes I lose it a little bit in the hassle of everyday life, and I reflect on some aspects to retrieve it. These aspects are:

– What is my creative work? What is it about?

– How do I like to work?

– What is the connection to myself?

If you’ve read any of my blogs, you might have noticed how I’m a big fan of reflection and introspection to make better work. In case this is not something you’re used to: bear with me! I’m going to walk you through these. First, by sharing my own experiences, and then by asking you some questions.

What is my work about?

After my move, I was overcome with a desire to paint. I wanted to draw cheerful, artistic scenes and characters. In a far more detailed style than I had grown accustomed to. This came from moving to a new place, that was beautiful and romantic. I walked around curiously again, and exploratively. It’s no wonder this reflected in my creative work. It was then that I realized my art has gotten more real. The illustration work I made resembled my personality more than it had done before. Because of our move, I had the opportunity to look at things with a fresh perspective. I ended up doing things that I connect with on a deep level. I was being myself in my creative work and it happened by accident.

I discovered that my work is more about people than about things. This is reflected in how my illustrations are very people-centric. I’m very much into food, cooking, and hosting for friends and family. And so, I realized I deeply connect with work that is about people and food and gatherings. When I see that in my illustration work, it helps me put something really honest in there. Discovering again what I want my work to be about also helped me focus. I knew then what the type of projects to do for my portfolio and the type I’m trying to get in my illustration career.

How do I like to work?

I mentioned before that my previous work had always been quite simple. This happened for several reasons. I was lacking experience, did not invest as much time as I wanted, and I was holding myself back. Back then I was doing most of my drawings on the train. I was commuting to my old job, and only used fineliners and a sketchbook. Great for exploration and quick work, but limiting my potential growth as a creative. Not saying there is anything wrong with how I did stuff back then. But, when I see what I know now, it makes less sense to my personality. I notice the quality of my work grows when I use media that I like, but maybe lack some experience in. In other words: I was playing it too safe with just fineliners. Now I experiment with different media every other week or so, and try to be playful about it.

I notice the optimal way for me to work on my art is to work on my iPad or painting with gouache. This is a big reason why I prefer working in bars and cafe’s over working at home, on my own. I recognize now that this is my sweet spot for creating. That’s because I’m completely relaxed, happy, and feel a rush of some sort. It’s the signs that I have learned to mean that I’m in a flow state. It’s the way I do my best work, and knowing this helps me be myself in my art.

What is the connection to myself?

This is a hard one for me to nail down because it’s an ever-changing connection. And… I’m not saying I have everything figured out! I find that a laughable notion, almost. That’s because of the inherent vulnerability that comes with being creative. I use my illustration work to express distinct parts of my personality. You will see that my work is about several things, including a lot of people, sometimes food. But there are always expressive and emotive characters in there. Often times, the topics are abstract or fuzzy. This is inherently tied to my tendency to connect with others and my drive to talk with them. It may or may not involve hosting elaborate dinner parties. It’s one of the things that flourished after my move to Gouda because I finally had space to do these things.

It helped to be able to better pinpoint why I liked some of my works better than other ones. The ones I loved shared these values in common! In this way, I’m being myself in my work because I know what I want the illustrations to be ABOUT.

It’s how I like to be deliberate about living a life that feels true to my soul. When I do this, it helps fuel my creativity and I can put it into my work. If you’d like to explore how to be yourself in your creative work, here are some prompts to get you going.

– What is stuff that makes me happy to my core?

– What things/people/events around me feel meaningful to me?

– Are there things in my environment that cause me to feel happy?

– How can I include those things in my creative process?

– Can I translate those things into my work and how?

– What do I value in art? Why do I buy art pieces? (Embellishment, inspiration, forming an identity, expressing yourself, voicing an opinion…)

– How can I change my process, materials, and topic, to represent this?

This is an abstract and fluffy concept, that I can imagine does not resonate with everyone. I’m a fluffy person though, and chances are that if you are here, you’re the same. I’m still discovering these parts of my personality. Hence I’m still improving my illustration work, so I definitely can’t tell you all the answers. I do find that creatives who have this essence of themselves in their work are the ones with the biggest impact.

Do note that this approach and these prompts are for marinating, and do not work as fast-food. (ha!) Let yourself and your mind wander on these questions and let me know how it impacts you. I can’t wait to discover my art and myself more and I hope you feel the same. Share your findings with me on Instagram by sending me a message. Let’s all be ourselves in our work!

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