The advice always given to young writers by professionals is to read – a lot. Then the advice is; learn to recognise good writing and then read consciously so as to understand what the writer is doing and why. And always the technical (grammar, spelling, structure, editing) go hand in hand with the artistic (word choice, plot, dialogue, setting, character).
And not surprisingly my advice to young designers is to do the same. Look at good design – a lot. Learn to recognise good designing and study it consciously so as to understand what the designer is doing and why. And always the technical (shape, line, contrast, proportion, type mechanics, materials and measuring) go hand in hand with the artistic (colour, image, typeface, emphasis, repetition, contrast, flow and focus).
To start with you’ll look and like designs that are crap. They’ll be confections that give you a jolt but no satisfaction. They’re sugar bombs that have copied the real thing without comprehension. You can most easily find this in photographs. Hang what looks like a great one on the wall and in a few weeks it gives you nothing. Hang a really great one on the wall and it will repeatedly reward you with a small jolt of energy, even years later. That’s one of the measures of what makes art art. Timelessness.
Only experience and time will bring you to where you really know what is good. And it will take time, time spent looking, learning and practicing, but most of all keeping going. The devil is in the detail. Small changes make the difference.
Being talented is not that special. Plenty of people are talented. But what is special is that all that talent came about because of hard work and you probably didn’t even notice.
Because the term ‘hard work’ gives the wrong impression. When you were a child being creative and working hard; drawing, painting, writing, making music, playing, whatever – you might remember that hours or a whole days flashed past in what seems like minutes. So ‘hard work’ can be neither hard nor feel like work.
The trick, as an adult, is not to take your talent for granted and bask in what you’ve gained so far. Otherwise those with the sense to keep on doing the ‘hard work’ will leave you behind.
I’ve seen it, the odd student coasting along avoiding effort, risk and discovery because they have built an existing fine talent that allows them to be ‘good enough’. Those students are then bitterly disappointed when their classmates seem to magically start producing better work than them.
Don’t be that student.
Have a browse in my Pinterest collection where there are examples of good design and illustration. Build your own collection, but trust yourself and be picky, don’t drown quality with quantity.
Design Books to browse.
Three books that are great for confirming your understanding – when you get it. I say this because you will only really ‘get’ what’s on a page when you’re ready for it. This is always the case. So keep the book/s and keep flicking through them from time to time because when an item leaps off the page that means you now understand it and reading it will cement that knowledge.
Graphic Design School; David Dabner, ISBN 0-500-28526-8 and The Complete Guide to Digital Graphic Design; Various Contributors, ISBN 0-500-28315-X both published by Thames and Hudson. Either one is excellent or get both for comparison. Buying an old second hand copy is fine, the bulk of the content will not age. Mine are 2004 editions.
Steal Like an Artist; Austin Kleon, ISBN: 9780761169253 is in there because I’ve repeatedly heard students saying I will look at nothing. I will be original and unique and completely new that way. Utter Bollocks. Grow up. Even geniuses will tell you that they stand on the shoulders of giants. We all build on what others have done before.
We want to get ideas from other peoples work but we don’t want to rip off other peoples work. That’s what steal like an artist is about, knowing the difference. Austin Kleon – “read my books”, his web site.