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12 months of Pep Talk: Inspiring talks on everything from climate activism to creative coding

As 2021 draws to a close, we’re looking back at 12 jam-packed editions of our Instagram Live series, Pep Talk. Hosted by the brilliant Steph Fung, this year we invited a whole host of inspiring creatives to share their own mini-pep talks with us, and answer all your burning career-related questions. From XR creators and creative coders to entrepreneurs, illustrators, social media experts and more, there’s truly something for everyone. So if you’re looking for a dose of inspiration over the festive break, look no further as we round up all twelve talks below.

With much of the world still in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, perhaps you’ll agree that this year has felt both different and eerily similar to the last.

Despite what has been yet another challenging 12 months, however, here at Creative Lives, we’ve been uplifted by the perseverance, energy and determination of all our interviewees – and our Pep Talk guests are no exception. Because while we’ve remained physically distant, 2021 has also seen us connect with a range of inspiring creatives around the globe.

Dialling in from London, Brighton and Birmingham to Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Sydney and Cairo, each of our guests spoke about their individual journeys, while sharing some truly universal advice. Expertly guided by our brilliant host Steph Fung, their discussions touched on everything from portfolios and social media to finding your style – not to mention the occasional chat about tropical fish, or the unexpected link between NFTs and Pokémon.

As the Creative Lives team prepare to take a break over the next two weeks, we’re confident that each conversation is filled with enough pep to keep you fuelled over the holidays. So no matter where you find yourself over the festive break, or where your creative interests lie, we hope you find some reassuring and empowering words of wisdom below.

1. How to use creativity for climate activism

With
Josie Tucker, co-founder, Adapt

Who?
Josie co-founded ‘climate club’ and creative organisation, Adapt, with designer Richard Ashton in 2017. Today, the duo use design and humour to communicate climate issues in a new way, with the aim of sharing knowledge, encouraging action and building a community of motivated activists.

What did I miss?
After sharing her mini-pep talk with us; “If you don’t start, how will you know?”, Josie explained how this sentiment related to her own journey, before sharing countless tips on shaping a creative career in activism. This included everything from finding financial stability to encouraging an employer to work sustainably.

Things to listen out for:
• Making your own job, if nothing else fits (11:00)
• Why using humour is so impactful in activism (15:18)
• Ways to be greener in your creative work (17:15)
• How to pitch sustainability to an employer (24:10 and 41:00)
• Balancing paid and unpaid work (33.55)

2. How to grow a career in online content

With
Ahmad Swaid, Dazed Media’s head of content

Who?
Working across all things digital and social media, as head of content at Dazed Media, Ahmad oversees content on Nowness, AnOther Magazine and Dazed Beauty. In 2020, Ahmad also co-founded non-profit organisation, Creatives for Lebanon, in response to the devastating August 4th explosion in Beirut.

What did I miss?
After sharing his mini-pep talk with us; “Experiment with everything,” Ahmad gave us insight on how this became central to getting a foot in the door at revered magazines like Garage and Dazed. He told us how he went from working in a soap factory in Sierra Leone, to his first internships in London and the realities of his current role.

Things to listen out for:
• The importance of experimenting in your work (04:20)
• Ahmad’s journey to working at Dazed (05:30)
• Skills needed for a career in digital content (21:25)
• What’s next in the world of digital storytelling (48:00)

3. How to build a career in illustration

With
Manjit Thapp, illustrator

Who?
Based in the UK, Manjit graduated with a BA in illustration from Camberwell College of Arts in 2016. Her work typically features female characters and combines both traditional and digital media. So far, Manjit has worked with a stellar list of clients including Apple, Adobe, ITV and Tate, and her work has been featured by Instagram, Dazed, Vogue India and Wonderland Magazine, and has even created one of Google’s coveted Doodle illustrations.

What did I miss?
Our Q&A kicked off with Manjit sharing her mini-pep talk; “Don’t worry about style – just make work and let it evolve.” Explaining the thinking behind this, Manjit advises budding illustrators to let their style grow organically, led by the things that most interest them. Manjit also talks about the making of her book, Feelings, and shares a wealth of advice on starting out as a freelancer and finding motivation through lockdown.

Things to listen out for:
• How Manjit found her illustration style (11:40)
• Manjit’s approach to sharing work on social media (16:40)
• Tips for selling your work online (24:00)
• Advice on starting out as a freelancer (31:52)
• Thoughts on finding clients and reaching out (35:30)

4. How to build a portfolio that best represents you

With
Andrew Herzog, artist and designer

Who?
Based in New York, Andrew is a partner and director at creative studio, School. Working across a wide range of mediums, the studio’s output includes everything from websites and brand identities to installations and bots. As an artist, Andrew’s work has also been exhibited in museums, galleries and city streets.

What did I miss?
After Andrew shared his mini-pep talk; “You get the work you do,” he emphasised the idea that if people see you produce a certain kind of work, they’ll likely employ you for more of the same. Andrew also shared advice for those with multidisciplinary portfolios, or looking to secure internships, before discussing the inspiration behind his book, A Report: Circle Or Curve?

Things to listen out for:
• Whether it’s better to specialise or have a wide-ranging portfolio (09:48)
• Showing process and talking through your portfolio (14:00)
• Andrew’s favourite tropical fish (18:50)
• Advice on finding internships when you have no experience (40:30)
• The inspiration and process behind Andrew’s latest book (43:39)

5. How to start out as multidisciplinary creative

With
Mahaneela, multidisciplinary artist

Who?
Mahaneela has built a career doing what she loves, working across everything from photography and fine art to film and music. Her work strives to address the lack of representation in mainstream media, and provide a more authentic perspective. Mahaneela is also a creative strategist and consultant, and has worked with the likes of Apple, XL Recordings, Converse, gal-dem, Channel 4 and Tate Modern.

What did I miss?
Knowing that there is no wrong path to creative success, Mahaneela’s pep talk captured this: “Don’t put pressure on yourself to know exactly what you want to do. Allow room for growth; you are an artist, and are always changing!” Mahaneela spoke about her journey from leaving a philosophy course to become a wearer of many hats. She also shared advice on reaching out to clients as a multifaceted creative, and how expanding on what you know and love, helps create a consistent and high-quality portfolio.

Things to listen out for:
• Why it’s important to have a creative purpose behind your practice (4:29)
• The value of experimentation (21:00)
• Doing what you love and doing things with a purpose (33:39)
• How Mahaneela came to work in photography (38:40)
• Working for gal-dem and experiencing personal success (45:25)

6. How to use humour in design and build a community online

With
Elliot Ulm, graphic designer

Who?
Elliot Ulm is a self-taught, Sydney-based graphic designer and self-titled ‘cool guy’. His often brutally honest and relatable observations of creative life have attracted a cult following on Instagram under the handle @elliotisacoolguy – with meme-like statements commenting on everything from creative burnout to computer overheating.

What did I miss?
Elliot discussed everything from finances; imposter syndrome; finding kinship on Instagram; graphics as artwork; and remembering to enjoy what you do. “Design is fun; that’s why you started as a graphic designer,” he shared in his mini-pep talk, “You don’t just end up as a graphic designer – it’s a passion, it’s a choice. Find ways to remind yourself of that, and have fun!”

Things to listen out for:
• Why design and creativity should be passionate and fun (4:40)
• The differences between copying and making your influences your own (15:48)
• Learning not to undersell your services (20:30)
• The positivity of Instagram’s graphic design community (38:56)
• How Elliot banishes impostor syndrome (45:58)

7. How to make connections and grow your network

With
Lindsay Arakawa, digital artist

Who?
Originally born and raised in Aiea, Hawaii, Lindsay currently lives and works in Tokyo as a creative. Before making the move to Tokyo in 2018, Lindsay oversaw Instagram strategy and creative for media company, Refinery29 in New York. Today, she continues to work as a freelance social media strategist for brands including Netflix, Amazon Studios, and Pinterest Japan. In her free time, Lindsay also creates expressive and empowering digital art pieces.

What did I miss?
Emphasising the importance of networking in her pep talk, “Be yourself and be nice to everyone you meet”, Lindsay gave some top tips for introverts wanting to make new connections. She also discussed working with worldwide clients as a non-fluent Japanese speaker, how motivational quotes can battle imposter syndrome and shared the inspiration behind her digital art practice.

Things to listen out for:
• The importance of being yourself and being nice to everyone you meet (4:00)
• Why Instagram can be the perfect for introverts (15:05)
• Working with clients worldwide, in different languages (21:52)
• The story behind Lindsay’s digital art (25:46)
• How to battle impostor syndrome with validation (34:20)

8. How to get into VR, AR and motion graphics

With
Don Allen Stevenson III, digital creator and crypto artist

Who?
Currently working within the world of XR, Don Allen Stevenson III is a multidisciplinary digital creator and crypto artist based in Los Angeles. In the past, Don has created AR and VR experiences for Snapchat and is a brand ambassador for their Spectacles; as well as doing motion capture for the likes of Adult Swim and Lil Nas X. Don also sells digital fashion pieces and experiences as NFTs, as well as regularly posting tutorials on his YouTube channel and Instagram page.

What did I miss?
With a belief that it’s never too late to learn motion graphics, Don shared his own mini-pep talk with us: “Never stop learning! Learn a new skill that will put a past version of you out of work.” Don reflected on a career journey that took him from being recruited by DreamWorks Animation to now working as a crypto artist. As well as sharing his tips for entering the world of crypto art, he was also on hand to explain exactly what an NFT is!

Things to listen out for:
• Breaking down what XR actually is (6:09)
• The best XR resources for beginners (10:20)
• How live streaming gave Don a gig at DreamWorks (19:28)
• Why it’s worth getting into NFTs as a creative (36:20)
• The things to watch out for in the NFT metaverse (42:27)

9. How to start out in stop-motion animation

With
dina A. Amin, stop-motion animator

Who?
Based in Cairo, Egypt, dina A. Amin is a self-taught stop motion artist and maker. Having initially studied industrial design in Malaysia, today, dina is the founder of Tinker Studio, which produces stop-motion videos for diverse clients and companies around the world, including Adult Swim, Ikea, Vodafone and Danone.

What did I miss?
Having switched paths from product designer to stop-motion animator, dina offered her advice to people who are contemplating a similar swap. Other topics touched upon include the difference between specialising or working as more a generalist in animation; the limits of experimenting within client work; and looking after your health in a mostly sedentary job.

Things to listen out for:
• Why it’s not essential for animators to have a degree (18:15)
• The best websites, courses and books for budding stop-motion animators (22:14)
• What you need to create stop-motion animations on a budget (26:18)
• How to create the work that you want to be paid to make (28:00)
• dina’s tips for looking after your health as an animator (38:58)

10. How to start out in photography and overcome self-comparison

With
Joe Puxley, photographer

Who?
Since graduating in 2020, Brighton-based photographer Joe Puxley’s work has been showcased by the likes of DAZED, The Face, It’s Nice That, GUAP, Vogue Italia and Wonderland. Added to this is also an impressive list of clients and collaborators including Arlo Parks, Warner Records UK and House Of Holland.

What did I miss?
Joe shared his mini-pep talk: “Focus on creating the work you think is excellent, and the rest will follow”, before launching into a wide-ranging discussion about starting out in photography. From reflecting on his own journey and how his dyslexia informs his work, to the pros and cons of social media and even how to learn from old work you no longer like.

Things to listen out for:
• Tips on finding your first photography clients (13:12)
• Making your own job, if nothing else fits (11:00)
• Overcoming self-comparison by setting clear goals (18:33)
• How your taste directly influences your artistic style (24:29)
• The music-world “brand bible” that Joe swears by (27:00)
• How Joe uses his dyslexia to his advantage (38:50)

11. How to get into creative coding and find balance

With
Zach Lieberman, creative coder and educator

Who?
Based in New York, Zach Lieberman is an artist, researcher and educator. Known for his experimental drawing and animation tools, Zach uses code in a myriad of creative ways; from making artwork and interactive environments to writing poetry.

What did I miss?
Zach spoke about his journey to the world of creative coding, and shared his top tips on balancing personal and commercial work. Zach also spoke about his criteria for accepting client commissions, shared his top tips on approaching galleries and curators and explained why his approach to receiving feedback is like “being a DJ who doesn't take requests”.

Things to listen out for:
• Why having a community makes coding more pleasant (11:30)
• Finding equal balance, both in-house and as a freelancer (16:02)
• Zach’s approach to criticism and feedback (20:09)
• Why it’s worth learning computational work in general (24:10)
• Zach’s criteria for accepting commercial commissions (37:08)
• Advice on applying for creative opportunities (38:55)

12. How to navigate industry as a Muslim creative

With
Aminah Ali and Sadia Mir, co-founders, Redefining Concepts

Who?
Aminah and Sadia are the co-founders of Redefining Concepts, a full-service creative and talent agency, specialising in connecting young talent to the creative industry, while amplifying diversity in the fashion world. Today, their clients include the likes of Saatchi Gallery, London School of Economics, Refinery29, Nike and Adidas.

What did I miss?
Aminah and Sadia spoke about the inspiration behind setting up their own agency, and the realties of building a business while studying. The discussion also focused on the pair’s unique perspectives as Muslim creatives, sharing thoughts on everything from promoting your work on Instagram without showing your face, to the power of saying “no” when you feel your principles are being compromised.

Things to listen out for:
• Making your own opportunities and building a business (05:10)
• Balancing faith as a Muslim creative and learning to say “no” (16:56)
• The importance of sticking to your principles in the creative space (19:46)
• Promoting your work without showing your face on social media (21:30)
• How to deal with creative blocks (23:48)

Written by Creative Lives in Progress