7 Creative Career Lessons Learned at Offset

All through the letter P

Words by Eoin Comiskey
February 24th, 2017

As a first-time attendee of the creative conference Offset, I had heard much a-do about the festival and even watched a number of videos from their archive of speakers from previous years. As inspiring as these videos are and as glowing as my friend’s reviews from previous years were, I was still eager to experience Offset firsthand and decide for myself what could be learned from an intensive 3 days of talks, and if it’s altogether worthwhile attending (rather than just, y’know, waiting for the next videos).

As I entered the most angular of lobbies in the most angular of buildings, the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin, I wondered just how difficult it would be to condense into an easy-to-read article, the many multifaceted techniques, ideas, wisdom and beliefs of some of the most successful creatives in the world today working in a dozen different complex and varied disciplines… And luckily, for both you and I, it was kind of easy!

It became clear to me quite quickly that regardless of age, experience, medium, location, education, style, almost every speaker at Offset gave the same advice when you boiled it down. And boiled it down I have! Into 7 easy-to-follow steps, brought to you by the letter ‘P’.

Kirsten Lepore

Play


Playing leads to learning. Babies and children learn everything they know about life through play. You could say that a scientist experiments and a creative plays but let’s just agree that they’re one and the same.

Kirsten Lepore, a wonderfully warm and charming stop-motion animator from the US began her hugely successful career by playing and experimenting with a crappy camcorder at home with her friends and sisters in the ’90s. These games grew and developed into bigger and more ambitious games, like the oh-so-charming Bottle, until she was commissioned to write and animate an entire episode of her favourite show, Adventure Time – where she still continued playing.

Kelli Anderson, in reference to her astonishingly inventive and unique projects such as Paper Record Player, credits her inventiveness to remaining curious and experimenting, “the most sublime moments are the ugly duct tape moments where everything is gross and stitched together”.

Nhu Xuan Hua

Passion


Through play you will find your passion. “Passion” is an awfully romantic term that implies each of us has just one discipline that we are destined to practice. This is certainly not true. But it’s a catchier heading than “find the stuff you like doing” and also, it begins with ‘P’.

From an inspiring childhood spent watching her father paint in their garage, to an education spent playing with sculpture and painting, Nhu Xuan Hua found her passion in photography. She sees it as a medium that allows her to indulge many interests while telling stories, illustrating her own personal version of perfection and coming to terms with different aspects of her own life.

Practice


The responsible and mature older brother of ‘Play’, ‘Practice’ is an essential step if someone wants to turn their playful passion into a career.

Bruno Maag – a hilariously passionate and angrily outspoken advocate for responsible kerning in typography – recalled to a rapt audience is many days of practice in university. After repeatedly drawing a wine glass over 250 times he explained that he began to “understand the essence of the glass”. And in order to learn hand-eye coordination he was required to spend a week drawing only horizontal and vertical lines. By Friday, if his final lines were out by 1mm then he was made repeat the exercise for another week. This, he explained, is how “you start learning to see”.

The Project Twins

Personal


Taking the time to make your own personal work is a good habit that few professionals manage to maintain, but those who do reap many rewards.

Hailing from Cork, The Project Twins made an adamant point of highlighting the huge benefits they have experienced from continuing to make their own personal work. Doing personal projects exactly as they wanted, with no limitations or editing from clients, resulted in big commissions from both Three and Facebook to decorate their office spaces in whatever way they wished. “Personal work leads to paid work you want to do. Do as much as you can.”

Present


Creative work that you make inherently has a lot of ‘you’ in it. To then present that work to people is to put ‘you’ forward for criticism. This is an extremely daunting and potentially painful experience. The temptation to hide all of our scribbles away and wait until our work is “perfect” is very common, and very unhelpful indeed.

Illustrator Laura Carlin confessed that she had filled shelves full of notebooks with the drawings and sketches she made while playing and practicing. She grew quite proud of the quantity of work and was then gutted when she finally showed a tutor and her effort was reduced to the question, “but what will you do with all of this?” So many speakers referred to this important element of succeeding. Nothing will happen if nobody sees your work. Be vulnerable and present!

Persevere


Like any good adventure, a creative career path will be riddled with peaks, troughs, praise, doubts…and remarkably indecisive clients.

450 drafts. Mirko Borsche persevered and produced 450 drafts of a book jacket design for one particularly indecisive client. Mind you, none of the designs were actually accepted in the end. But nonetheless, it’s remarkable perseverance like this that produces world-class design studios like his very own Bureau Borsche.

Often it’s what we tell ourselves – rather than what a certifiably insane client says – that presents the biggest challenges. The wonderfully hilarious Bristol illustrator Yasmeen Ismail offered the following tip for those struggling with inner demons, “Don’t ever think that you are a fraud. Unless you are a fraud.”

Rod Hunt

Pay


It’s all about the Benjamins. Sort of. Well, it’s usually about the Benjamins. One of the most enduring talking points in this industry is the controversial topic of unpaid work. The Offset conclusion?

Illustrator Rod Hunt eloquently offered, “Never work for free… except when you’re asked to draw a sex theme park.” Hunt’s elaborately and highly detailed NSFW “Aides: Welcome to the World of Sex” campaign was a not-for-profit campaign which he legitimised doing free-of-charge because it was for the public good.

Gavin Little, maker of sounds that could only be dreamed up by some kind of mad audio-scientist from the future, offered a more simplistic opinion on the subject. Namely, that we should all have an email template prepared with an image of knitted socks attached that read, “Fuck you, pay me.” He elaborated that in his opinion we devalue the craft by working for free in exchange for just “exposure”.

As someone who primarily produces photos and videos, I was concerned that an illustration and design-heavy lineup of speakers might not be so relevant for me. But the nicest lesson I learned from the three days at Offset was the universal nature of all creative jobs – we all start and learn the same way, we all want to achieve the same things, we all come across the same struggles and we can all learn from and help each other. The supportive and optimistic attitude there was really nice to be a part of and it’s something valuable for an industry that can only benefit from a greater sense of community.

See you next year, Offset.