Creative Coffee Mornings

by - 11:15 AM


I did a talk this morning for the Creative Coffee Morning.
This is what I said:


“Imagination is more important than knowledge”
Albert Einstein

I struggled for a long time to come to terms with the textbook definition of “intelligence”
At school, I struggled in subjects which demanded remembering facts an dates.
I excelled in subjects where one was left to make up the answer or work it out. I personally feel that this is a harder task as the answers are not fed to you and require more brain work to conjure up something rather than relying on regurgitating information. My Geography isn’t it’s best, but I could draw you a very interesting map.

But first, some background.
I was born, 1985, cape town city bowl.
I drew 8 legged butterflies.
I went to school and hated my drawings and had holes in my knitting.
I went to high school and doodled cartoons of me and my friend kim.
I went to college and learned about scamping and drew motorbikes.
Then, one evening, my brother mentioned how he loved that my characters had such a range of emotions with such few lines.
Then. I saw it too.
Then other people saw it.
My confidence grew as I drew and eventually, very quietly, I tried calling myself an illustrator.
It felt nice. I did it more often. I told everyone, I told the magazines, I told the agencies.
Now it’s on my business card.

I had worked in a web design agency for 3 months after college and after realising it was “not for me”, I started out as said illustrator and it was hard.
It was many nights feeling freaked out with my heart in my throat, eyes peeled open wide,
“a clockwork orange” style.
So, to busy myself whilst the flood of work came my way in ancient chinese torture droplet speed, I took a job at a little boutique shop on Long Street. With a degree in Brand Communication and sewing buttons onto pieces of felt, my father, was thrilled...

During my time at the shop, I had plenty of time to meditate on how broke I was. So, I started knitting, drawing, sewing, anything to keep my mind off the debt I was racking up with my father.
There used to be a shop down in Kalk Bay, called Blossom which was run by Sandy Mitchell. At the time, they started having these amazing exhibitions every 2 months showcasing their stockists talents in a themed show. I did many of these and a lot of my products came form these “brain pushers”
My range of circus gift cards, my tea cosies and teddy bears, my cross stitch hoops, the list goes on!
This is where the craft and thing making side of me really came out.

Now, if you’re going to start out as a freelancer, you either have to have lots of money, a lovely set of parents, or do about ten other things to keep that dream alive.
I did the following:
  • Worked in clothing shops telling people they looked “fab”
  • Served sushi to successful people, as well as to my 3rd year lecturer (embarrassing)
  • Took notes at Focus Groups from whisky to face wash.
  • Did telephonic market research recruitment
  • Selling soft furnishings over the phone
  • and designing business cards for my mother.
Finally, I caught a break, a couple of local magazines started hiring me for editorials, horoscope illustrations and these lead to other jobs. My saving grace was a company that hired me a couple of times a month to do some graphic design work and a lot of it. This was my cash cow. I started earning “real money” I was so relieved and started paying my father back that very, very long IOU. To this day, I’m not sure they know that I had no idea how to use Illustrator, even when I said I did and was frantically googling how to do use transparencies. These are the clients you keep happy, the ones that give you repeat business. Whether I was hung over, ill, busy with another job, whatever, I dropped everything for them. They eventually expanded and didn’t need me anymore, but that was fine because I was looking for more challenging work now that I felt more confident.

So, for the past four years, I am finally doing what I love. And getting paid well to do it.
Now, to talk about being a person who’s job is to be creative for others.
It’s awesome, but draining.  I often feel like I have this huge never ending well, flowing with new ideas, new concepts and there’s just not enough time to do them all!
My well will never empty! 
I scream with manic delight.
Guess what. It does.
And when you get a big job and you’re lapping up dribbles, you’re in trouble.
I cannot express the importance of “filling the well” I never understood it before when people spoke of being burnt out, I didn’t understand this concept of running out of ideas. Then it happens to you. For me, I need a walk. A walk in the park, a walk on the mountain, a walk around the block. I need to see things that aren’t my work, that isn’t the next product or illustration. I need to see the simple things on this earth. The trees, the rocks, the water. This will always bring you back, back to the source of where it all comes from in the first place. Whether it’s star gazing or grass inspection, we must see and touch the other living stuffs.

Motivation VS Procrastination
The war never ends. Procrastination will flirt with you with all it’s amazing delights.
The lamp shades need cleaning, oh, I haven’t practiced guitar in so long, what’s that, dishes?
Being creative is weird.You have all this energy to make things and draw stuff whilst sitting in your car or watching  movie, standing in line at the shops. It strikes you at the weirdest times. It’s a great feeling when work and motivation suddenly synchronize in perfect harmony. You feel golden, you feel like you’re working at the speed of light, yet also slowly, in a graceful humming motion of the universe. Or something.
Illustration and art have always been two aspects of my career that I find confusing. The illustration part of me knows that they are doing this work for a commercial nature and the artistic side of me knows that the images I create must be conceptual and evoke an emotion or reaction. But I often find them blurring into one another.
At the end of the day, my paranoid self draws many lines for detail, many hours wrapping my head around a concept and then puts it out into the world with hands over the face and an eye peeping out. In my type of work, you heart and soul pieces go into almost everything you create. When someone scrutinizes that, it feels like they’re looking at your face REALLY close up. The longer they look without any reaction, the faster your heart beats. This is a natural reaction, when your client says it’s not quite what they were looking for and your stomach drops into your shoes and your heart fills with lead, you smile, you say, “sure, what is it that you had in mind? I want you to be happy with the end product.” or if you really believe in the work that you’ve done you stand your ground and explain your concept to the client and ask them their opinion on what they think you should do to make that clearer for them. At the end of the day, it’s a tricky thing to deal with. Creative people are already a little unsure in the first place. It’s an aspect of my work that I deal with everyday and with it, I’ve become better with people and how to deal with them. I think this is where people who create for the commercial world and artists are different. Artists tend to stay in their studios, paint, have an agent, have a show at a gallery. In my work, I deal directly with my client and I get the luxury of getting steered into the right direction when I go off centre, even when it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Working in Cape Town, I feel that my clients are more relaxed and also more open to crazier or more interesting ideas. I’ve had a few international clients and they’ve always felt a little safe. I think in my line of work, Cape Town is such an ideal environment to be in, where people take in creativity into their everyday lives.  This, I think is really special for such a small city. I love that the people I’ve worked with, young, old, corporate and whacky have all understood what I do and why it would be an asset to them. I take my hat off to my community, they’re switched on.

In the same vein, the feeling and experience that one can get from fulfilling another person’s vision, is out of this world. I’ll never tire of the feeling of the happy client. When you both come together and create something that you’re both ecstatic about. When someone buys an artwork of mine or a gift card, when I’m endlessly thanked for the time I put into for each cross stitch hoop, this is why I do what I do. These feelings can fill the “creative well” instantly and cause it to overflow.

In a nut shell, being a creative is challenging and fun. I’ve always enjoyed all aspects of creating and expression of self. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s do what you love, be who you really are, without apology and feel free to love yourself, cause after all, you’re quite nice and you’re with you for life.

To end, a quote:
He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.
Lao-Tzu

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19 comments

  1. wow Lauren, thank you, that was exactly what I needed to read today.
    x

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  2. seriously good article. thx for your inspiration and honesty.

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  3. Shew, inspired! Well done lady x

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  4. Cool post, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I'm a freelancer too, and can relate to quite a few of the things you mention.

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  5. this is great - even though I'm not a creator of things or drawings like yourself I still find that as a blogger I have moments of self-doubt as blogging is a somewhat creative outlet - putting your life on show in a small way... thanks for this i will be bookmarking it to come back to when i have moments like that!!

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  6. So inspiring thanks so much for sharing-love your work

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  7. thank you for sharing your story Lauren, I really enjoyed reading it... and since when do lampshades need cleaning?

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  8. thanks for the inspiration and motivation!x

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  9. I loved reading your story - rich (in the real way) and rewarding.

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  10. Wow, a really inspiring post. I have just left a traditional agency environment to "do my own thing" & your hearing your story has really helped make it all a little less scary. Thanks!

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  11. Thank you for this. I have recently started quietly calling myself a clothing designer, but it takes so many um um um um's before I can get the words out.

    I nearly kissed the first customer to buy one of my garments, they must have thought i was seriously deranged and sometimes (most of the time) i do too.
    Thanks for sharing and making me feel less bonkers about putting myself out there.
    Shan

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  12. Loved that!!! You said the right things that I fail to put words to but feel so deeply. Thanks chick, you are very inspiring and deserve the golden path :)

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  13. This is such an awesome speech! it is so inspiring and honest. I'm so glad I read this :) Kudos to you, Lauren for not being afraid! :)

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  14. Greatly inspiring read, whether you're a creative or not. Thanks for sharing :)

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  15. Thank you for sharing this. It added some nice colours - like orange and yellow - to my grey day. and some good tips for overcoming the woes of finding your feet as a freelancer. x

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  16. Lauren thank you for posting this. I think you've put into words what so many of us creatives feel but battle to express. My well feels a little fuller after reading this.

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  17. Thanks for sharing the speech online, it's been a really inspiring read for someone like me who still trying to find my place in the creative industry!

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  18. wow. thanks so much. just stumbled across your blog, while blog hopping.

    This is just what I needed to read and "hear".

    Kind of in a creative slump with my writing. But your words have helped.

    Great stuff and all the best with your creating :)

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