On: Showing Your Work
Okay, I haven’t professed my love of Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work” yet, here, but it’s a masterpiece. You’ve probably heard about it. Seriously, a revelation. He’s so straightforward and just hits the nail on the head with what creatives who are hesitant to show their work online are thinking. It’s been on my bedside table for a long time, I just savor a little bit of it every so often because soon I know it will be done (uh...maybe so I can procrastinate showing my work, I’m just realizing?). It’s short & sweet, and so, so valuable.
Here’s the gist of the main points of it, at a glance:
This whole sharing-your-work thing has been nagging my brain for months. As in: I’m not sharing my work enough, as a new grad. How will I get work if I don’t let the world know what I want to do? Where do I start?, etc. And then Crew via Unsplash sent out an awesome newsletter a while ago about these very thoughts I was having, called “Don’t Hide Your Brushstrokes”. You guys: it was kind of a revelation for me, in the midst of a week spent stressing about compiling my first print portfolio & trying to figure out what or how much of my process to post here, on this blog. Who am I kidding, a thing I’m still trying to figure out.
You see, I’m kind of all over the place as a person. Aren’t we all? And I tend to both overthink and just take random leaps, which is a weird (and sometimes unpredictable) combination. Yes, I specialize in design & illustration now, and that is the focus of this, my place on the web—but I’m still working in animation today, I have some crafty hobbies, an old car that I try to help fix, a lot of camping adventures, and thoughts on design and my values that I’d like to share, too. Lately I’ve been wondering: is this too much to show? Thinking about it, though—this stuff makes up who I am, and, therefore the work I do.
How can I blog about the stuff I make without mentioning the stuff that goes into inspiring the stuff I make?
In the interest of coming off as ‘professional’, should I leave all this stuff out?
In said awesome newsletter, Austin was quoted as saying: “Sharing creates a form of positive social currency. People don’t connect well with products. People connect well with you. By involving them in your process, you become approachable. You give them an opportunity to see what you made and be involved in the process.”
I don’t want this blog to just be a place of, ‘here’s this awesome thing I made’, over and over. That’s not really fun to read, is it? I know I want to know how it got made, and why. I’d rather be relatable with work that resonates with someone than come across as a textbook ‘professional’. I don’t want this to read like résumé buzzwords. I love working, and sometimes do it too much. I have stuff to say. I like to enjoy my weekends, they inspire me to put good stuff out into the world. Naps are awesome, sometimes. And if you ask me what I’ve been listening to lately, I will always have a few links that have been inspiring me to send you. I think we all have our things, and, as a reader myself, I want to know what those things are and how they might affect ones work. I don’t know, am I weird?
It turns out these thoughts are in good company: both Unsplash and Austin referred to Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner as saying, “If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done.”
I almost feel like, if this stuff—not just the way you made it, but the wealth of varied things that went into the making of it—isn’t shown than there’s stuff that’s left out. Or that you’re ignoring all the work that got you there, to the final product. I know as a viewer or reader, myself, I get suspicious of that. I start to wonder, why aren't they showing that? For example, I know behind the scenes at Survivor the crew stays somewhere, and I bet it’s a hotel. Right beside the set-up instagram photo, there’s always a pile of junk that was shoved out of the way. I’ve always been curious about what’s behind the curtain. I watch Inside the Actor's Studio and Hollywood Reporter roundtables all the time, because performances come out of a really interesting kind of process that varies from person to person, and I want to see that. I want to hear showrunners talk about how hard it was to get the show made: the obstacles, set-backs, victories. If a travel blogger leaves out how they can afford to backpack around the world for a year without working, I want to know (so it might help me be able to do that one day, too! Right?)—or I end up thinking they're hiding something.
The messy sketches and ugly first drafts are the life behind what we make.
I think that’s the most interesting part, as a creative person.
In revealing their reasons for taking Austin’s advice and blogging about the making of their book, the team behind Unsplash summed this up nicely, saying: “We know there’s lots of stuff we’re going to have to do that we have no idea how to do. But we’re going to have to figure it out. We’re going to be inspired by things that will shape the book. We’re going to run into problems. We’re not going to know exactly what the hell we’re doing most of the time. And if we’re not afraid to document what we’re going through and share it with you, maybe it will be helpful. Maybe there’s some mistake we make you can learn from or something we do that inspires you so you can apply it to something you’re working on.”
And that, my friends, is exactly the way I feel. It’s is why I’m here, too—writing my thoughts into the wee hours of the night. I started this blog to share what I’m continually learning as a new designer. If I can help or inspire someone who is like, say, me four years ago (wondering if I should go to school, what path to take, what the heck the rules of typography are, how to get weekends off and graduate with no debt) that’s what I want to do. It’s been a lot of work to get here, there’s still so much more to go, and there’s no use learning it the hard way if you can’t help someone else with that knowledge, too! And show that this stuff I make, really, is just a culmination of many many different factors, and a lot of practice.
And, most of all, that you can’t be seen if you don’t put your work out there, and you can’t resonate well with people unless they see that you’re a living, breathing, hard-working, mistake-making, interest-having person, too.