The Comfort Zone article I wrote cleared up a lot of things for me, so I decided to put it into practice and see how effective it is. I put a few weeks into deciding and establishing a comfort zone for myself, and it turned out pretty well! Here are the steps I took to get there.
What I did
Picking a path
I started with listing options for paths I could pursue and rating them based on how comfortable they currently were – how skilled I felt I was and how much I liked doing them. I ended up discarding a lot of things I like because I just wasn’t skilled at them yet, which hurt a little but is for the better in the long run. I can tell myself they’re not truly given up on, just set aside for now to focus on something within closer reach. I can dedicate time to improve my skills in those areas and make them more comfortable, when I’m established in one.
I decided on simple vector art as I have a lot of experience with the tools from design work, and the results look very clean and finished without having to be careful with your line work (something I’m not great at and eats a bunch of time fixing). It was the closest to being production-ready without having to learn too much, and I do like it as well.
With that decided, I jumped into research to collect examples of vector art I both like and think I could do, to get style and subject inspiration. Colour ended up featuring heavily, as well as minimal line styles and simple characters. These are all things I knew based on previous taste explorations I’ve done, but it was good to see a collection of specific examples to give me a clear direction to go in.
I did studies of a selection of those pieces to figure out a workflow and get comfortable with it, without having to think of what to draw at the same time. I got a feel for the shape language and effective colour use – you have to be a lot more careful with colour selection when you’re using flat shapes with no lines, else you get weird vibrations and low contrast which affects readability.
Next was supposed to be making combination pieces that took parts of each studied artist’s style and melded them together, but I ended up skipping that to go straight to original pieces. The purpose was to practice making something that didn’t look like a straight rip of another artist, but I ended up using a lot of my own intuition and taste anyway, avoiding the issue.
Continuing to push out original pieces for a week, I got more comfortable with it and built a chain of wins doing achievable pieces, sharing on social media when finished. When I had a decent selection, I decided to put them up on Dribbble. Dribbble is an invite-only design-focused social network, but you can upload work as a “Prospect” that only people with invites to give out can see. I was grumbling and buckling down for a grind, ready to start searching for people with invites and sending out my work as often as I could for the next few days, but I got a very pleasant surprise. I don’t know if this is normal, a testament to the process giving me an appealing portfolio, or I was just incredibly lucky, but out of the blue I got invited within a few hours of posting. I’m going to count it as a strong indicator that the path I’m on is a good one and I have potential for success.
How it made a difference
I have more energy in the mornings, procrastination is easier to avoid, and easier to limit if I do start. I daydream about cool things I can do, and I can actually execute them as long as I filter it through my current abilities. I can actually enjoy my time off as there’s much lessened guilt from not having achieved much in my time “on”. All in all, it’s definitely been a positive change for my well-being.
Next step: Making work with purpose
So far I have been finishing out sketches I thought had potential, but there’s no deeper meaning I’m consciously aware of over “I think this will look good”. Giving a little more thought at the start should help give my work more impact and lasting appeal. Some ways to do this:
- Convey an emotion
- Explore a concept
- Express an idea
- Convey a message
These are incredibly vague but that just means there’s a rich well of possibilities to plumb. I could also combine them to get more permutations. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just some sort of direction to start things off.
I’ve started already with this series of posters exploring the concept of a person who’s body turns into a smokey, shadowy form with glowing eyes when in a harsh enough cast shadow. It’s an idea I’ve had for a while. This is a good example of filtering it through my current abilities to get a good result, instead of shooting for something way outside and falling short. (That’s healthy to do once in a while to push yourself and try new things, but exhausting consistently.)
That ultimate version is still in my mind as a possibility for when I expand my skills to be able to execute it fully, and it would make a cool comparison, but this looks good for now. I just need to continue doing work with a purpose, keep up consistency in production and get it in front of the right people.