V-Insider: Achieving Greatness With Creative Discipline
Developing the motivation and discipline to realise your ambitions in the creative industry is a challenge. What’s the best way to learn? How do you know where to focus your energy?
We speak to Jordan O’Connor, Digital Visualist and Vidsy motion graphics designer, about taking control of your career, establishing creative discipline, and ensuring you reach your goals.
Hey Jordan! Creative technology is your passion. How did you know that was where you wanted to be?
I’ve never really considered myself academic. I enjoyed maths and other core subjects, but I was always drawn to the more creative aspects of those studies. The first A-grade I ever received was for a piece of work in media studies, and that was for deconstructing a film sequence. I could have written forever because I enjoyed it so much. I knew then that creativity was something I was naturally good at, and I thought, “this is something I need to pursue”.
And I had always been interested in technology too, especially for gadgets, but I never thought it would ever go hand-in-hand with creativity. I’d always been intimidated by coding and development, and then I suddenly realised how much of it can be made easier if you have some sort of awareness of what you can do. Once you’ve dipped the biscuit in the tea, so to speak, and had a little look at what’s possible, you understand how enriching the tech you have at your disposal can be.
I was drawn to problem-solving. The kind of thinking that involves trying to push the boundaries of what technology can do for us. It’s all about understanding what could be improved if we used specific tech and specific software. Adobe After Effects is a prime example. On the surface, you have this very cool animation system, but underneath you have so many people who are making awesome scripts and plugins. I feel as though we’re all moving towards the bigger picture: “I have this cool idea, how quick can I get this to execution?” We’re all trying to understand how to take away the mediocre tasks so we can focus on creativity.
Making progress can help creators build momentum and achieve their goals. Do you have any advice for learning efficiently?
Make small burst projects. Allow yourself to do extremely small challenges that you can get quick rewards from. Setting yourself very small challenges that only last 2-3 hours, a day max, is more rewarding and enriching than getting bogged down in something for a long time. Once you reach the limit you set, sign it off. Even if it’s not finished, tell yourself that it is. Don’t come back to it.
You can spend a lot of time on a project that never really gets finished, and that can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing. When you’re working on your own projects, you don’t have a creative restriction and it can be very easy to get overwhelmed. The trick is treating yourself as your own client. If you’re going to start a project, say, “I’ll be done in 3 hours, or 3 days, or whatever”. Make sure you’re concrete with your time limit. If you don’t, you’ll continuously make more and more iterations.
Your thinking changes over time. We look back at old projects and go, “oh, I don’t like this now”. And if it’s a project you’ve never been able to close off, it sits in this purgatory state. Whereas, if you physically say, “I’m going to spend a week on this” and then close it off, you’re able to look back at a project as a complete thing. You might still go, “oh, that’s wrong, this is wrong”, but your relationship with that project is much different to one that’s still ongoing. Instead of, “I’m sick of this project”, you say, “that project is done, but there are loads of things I could have improved”.
Any tips for standing out from the crowd and getting yourself noticed within the creative industry?
Show off your skills, whether you have a client or not. Think about what sort of things brands are going to ask for based on your current skill set, and experiment creating content for a brand that you’ve made up. Employers won’t always care if it’s a real brand or not, they want to see if you can execute to a standard that looks and feels like a real brand.
It’s always about taking things that you can learn. Not necessarily to copy them, but to take learnings from them. Have a little look at what’s possible with the tools you’re using. That’s one of the main things when it comes to tutorials. You don’t just say, “oh cool, here’s a tutorial on how to make a globe spin, this is perfect, now I’m going to make a series of globes spinning”. You should see it as a, “now I know how to make a spherical entity that could be anything. It could be a golden ball, it could be an alien planet”.
Push loads of variations out, get some responses. I feel as though not getting stuff out demotivated me, and really affected my mental wellbeing. With the internet, in the right places, you can find people nurturing talent. If you see something get 600 likes, you think, “why did that get 600 likes?”, and then you deconstruct it. Being surrounded by the internet, you see so many people who are great at what they do, and you can get overwhelmed thinking “what does it take to be great?”, but you have to understand all work comes from years of practice and testing. It’s one of those things when you look at successful artists, they’ve left all their old work online. You’ll see that they tend to try a bunch of different things out and think, “cool, this one got more response, maybe I’ll keep pushing here”.
It’s a fast-paced world. How can we avoid burnout?
It’s synonymous with our generation. To be successful, it’s almost like we feel we need to burn ourselves out to push our careers further. And I don’t think this pressure is talked about enough in the creative industry, where we’re expected to give more because we’re ultimately doing something we enjoy.
It’s all about valuing yourself. Don’t devalue yourself by working for free. One of the things I found within the creative industry, is a lot of people will ask you to do things for exposure. “It’ll give you lots of stuff for your portfolio”, they say. A lot of people, especially young people trying to break into the industry, will feel they need to give out free work, but this is the worst thing you can do to yourself. It’ll make you feel undervalued and you’ll burn out faster. Even if you’re doing work for your friends, get them to buy you a pizza. And if you have to do free work, do it for the imaginary brand I mentioned earlier so that the work directly benefits you in the long run.
Whether you work in the creative industry already or not, it can be hard to go home after a day’s work and feel that you want to carry on pushing, or working on something creative to further your skills. It’s all about setting yourself a limit. One or two hours. Set it as a task, even if it’s something that takes an entire week overall. Be strict with your time, because it’s extremely important to wind down. Creativity can be all-consuming, so it’s really important to recharge and reflect. There is always tomorrow.
Looking for more insights into building a career in the creative industry?