How to nail your creative identity, from personal branding to ‘About Me’ texts
From perfecting your portfolio website to nailing those networking skills and navigating finances, preparing for the world of work is no easy feat. That’s why, in partnership with Wix, we’ve developed four guides designed to help you step into your creative career with confidence.
“Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.” An often-dreaded, open-ended question common to job interviews, and it’s hardly the easiest to answer – particularly at the start of your career. But in an industry overflowing with fresh creative talent, having a sense of who you are as a creative and being able to summarise that in a succinct and memorable way can be a game-changer.
While your tastes, reference points and creative identity will evolve throughout your career, being able to successfully talk about yourself will serve you across networking, cover letters, online bios and beyond. In this guide we’ll talk you through how to do just that, covering everything from personal branding and ‘About Me’ pages to self-promotion.
1. Who Are You?
Your discipline doesn’t have to define you
Some people find it really easy to sell who they are, what they do and what they’re looking to get into next. You might already be able to say you’re a portrait photographer, collage illustrator, or an editorial graphic designer. If you’re not entirely sure – you’re not alone. “Don’t beat yourself up!” says Melanie Myers, the global talent director at advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy. Melanie looks through countless portfolios to find the best talent, and in her words, “everyone on this planet is gifted, sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure out what your gifts are.”
In fact, many of the creatives we’ve interviewed over the years have told us that it took them a little while before they discovered their ‘superpower’ – or, the thing they’re truly interested in and excited by. That could be a sector or industry, and it doesn’t have to be what you’ve studied. Graduating in graphic design doesn’t mean your only choice is to be a graphic designer. You might decide you want to do something else entirely, or that you’re more multidisciplinary and want to work across a few different areas.
Take New York-based creative director and founder of creative agency &Walsh, Jessica Walsh. Jessica initially studied graphic design, but started her career by taking on a variety of different creative jobs, which she says widened her skill set. “[It] allowed me to grow into a well-rounded creative director. When you can understand many mediums and have a variety of skills, it helps with collaborating and directing other creatives.” Jessica reminds us that there are “plenty of opportunities for both specialists and generalists, so it’s more about your personal interests and long-term goals.”
What’s important to know is that knowledge and strengths are totally transferable. A skill learned in one discipline can be really useful in another. Take Nicole Crentsil as an example – best known as the co-founder of Black Girl Festival, Nicole is a London-based curator, entrepreneur and event speaker. However, she actually started her journey studying product design at university. When speaking to us, Nicole admitted to feeling like a fraud after graduating, explaining that she felt “like a phoney” for not sticking to the thing she thought she had to do.
While at university, as her friends were polishing their making skills, Nicole realised that she was strongest when presenting to a crowd or carrying out research. Recognising her strengths helped her carve out the role she has today. As a result, Nicole encourages emerging graduates not to focus on what you think a job wants from you, but what you can bring to a job. “This makes you think about your skills and hone in on what you’re good at” she says, “Those skills make you; they should be celebrated.”
Don’t get hung up on job titles
Pablo Rochat is a San Francisco-based creative, known for his viral work on Instagram. He’s an example of someone who is less identifiable for one skill, and known more for their personality, approach or opinion across a variety of mediums. Pablo told us that, as he continues to create in different areas, “It’s hard to come up with a simple description or title for what I do. I believe that over time the work I make will define who I am, not the title I use.”
Pablo advises not spending too much time thinking about a job role: “Just choose a title that matches the work you want to be doing. Focus on making good work that you love, and opportunities will come to you.” What’s more, the ever-changing nature of the creative industry means that new roles crop up all the time, so roll with the punches – the job you end up doing might not even exist yet. On Lecture in Progress alone, we’ve interviewed everyone from an AI personality designer and a material conservationist to social media creatives and even an AR make-up artist (just see our Job Roles page to see the full list).
What are you interested in?
While not knowing exactly what you want to do or what to call yourself is okay, what is important is being able to recognise what you’re interested in. Because if you’re able to communicate this to someone, they might be able to join the dots for you, or think of you when an opportunity arises.
As an example, you may have graduated from an illustration course but are really interested in set design for events, and would love to work in magazines, too. While you might think of these as disparate or unrelated, someone else could know of a job or company that fits the bill. It just takes telling people.
Remember that passion is magnetic and people hire people – it’s not based solely on your skill set and experience. So embrace the things that make you tick, whether you’re a cookery-loving photographer interested in silent film, or a politically-charged designer with an illustration side project.
As Melanie from Wieden+Kennedy points out: “Remember that everything about you may contribute to us wanting to hire you. What’s your background? What things are you passionate about outside of work? What languages do you speak? What cultures are you fascinated by?” Creative director Jessica Walsh agrees, particularly when it comes to recruiting; “We like it when we find designers who have experiences of backgrounds different from our own, as that often translates into unique styles, ideas or points of view that can diversify and/or enrich our work.”
2. Personal Branding
The idea of personal branding is much discussed, and can be a pretty intimidating concept when you’re starting out. As a particularly hot topic since the dawn of Instagram, it can mean a lot of things. But in its simplest form, personal branding is a curation that forms an impression of who you are, as well as what you want to be.
Think about famous celebrities, for example, and certain images and associations come to mind. This is because their public persona has been deliberately crafted to elicit those connotations. Consider what comes to mind when you think of Beyoncé, in comparison to David Beckham. They’re both known for different things, in different ways. How you come across as a creative is similarly down to a combination of elements that create an overall impression. This can be made up of:
• Your work
• Your personality
• Your experience
• Your interests
• Your network
Collectively, the way you express these different aspects online naturally brands you in a certain way. Being cohesive and consistent will help you unify your brand, as it’s made up of so much more than just your work – it’s an overall sense of who you are.
To start with, you can think about how you want to be seen, what kinds of people or clients you want to attract and what you want to be known for. Being decisive about the answers to these questions will allow you to have control over your public image, which is something you can then apply to your entire online presence.
3. Social Media: What to Post, Where and Why
It’s important to remember that personal branding is a spectrum and can be as involved or as subtle as you’d like. Try not to worry too much about coming off as overly ‘professional’ or gaining loads of followers – the whole point is to communicate your tastes and personality in whatever way you’d like. Some creatives put their day-to-day experiences front and centre on Instagram Stories for example, and others prefer to take a backseat and let their work do the talking.
Plus, consider that the platform you choose to use will differ depending on the type of work you do. Project managers might prefer LinkedIn, writers flock to Twitter, and visual-based creatives might want to harness the curated Instagram grid.
While some creatives combine the personal and professional into one account, others like to have a separation between the two, or install privacy settings on their personal page. Jessica Walsh splits her online social presence across different platforms: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Interestingly, she uses two separate Instagram accounts – one for sharing work (@jessicawalsh) and the other documents her personal life (@theotherjessicawalsh). “Social media platforms like Instagram can also be a great tool for promoting your work and finding work that inspires you,” she shares. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and see what opportunities come your way.”
As well as being a great way to get on peoples’ radars, social media can help you connect with creatives you admire. In fact, Jessica herself has discovered and hired numerous designers and illustrators through Instagram.
For London-based illustrator Naomi Anderson-Subryan, playfulness and humour are a big part of her work, so it was important for her to reflect that across her online presence. She told us that this was about learning to approach it like you would your creative practice; “I think social media platforms are really great for this, and then using your website as a more concise portfolio.”
Say my name, say my name...
It might sound obvious, but the name you give yourself online matters. The likelihood is that you’ll be using your actual name, but some creatives like to use a pseudonym that they work under, like London-based artist and illustrator Mr. Bingo, or poet Matthew the Horse. But remember that consistency is key. Using the same name across all your platforms (including social media, your CV and email address) makes it easier for people to find you.
It’s also a good idea to Google yourself before confirming the name you use. When we spoke to Helen Parker at EVERYONE Agency, she recalled that two of her illustration artists shared names with famous people. Illustrator Robert Hunter shares his name with a member of the band The Grateful Dead, so changed to Robert Frank Hunter, while illustrator Tom Cole has the same name as the US Republican Party politician, so now goes by Tom Clohosy Cole. These adaptations ensured that the artists are always easily traceable and appear higher up on Google’s search results.
4. Writing About Yourself
Getting comfortable with writing about yourself and your work is an incredibly useful skill as a creative, and one that will serve you well across many different formats and platforms. Once you have a text that feels right, it can be used in various guises on everything from the ‘About Me’ or ‘Info’ page of your website, to CVs, cover letters, an artist’s statement or bio, if you’re part of an exhibition or event. It could also form the basis of a message to someone you want to connect with; or an introductory email to a new workplace.
Depending on where it’s seen, these kinds of texts are usually made up of: Information about you and your work, your achievements, recent clients, employers or experience, your interests and (if relevant) your availability. You might also want to consider including contact information, as well as links to a website, social media or blogs, and in some cases, a headshot.
Establishing your tone of voice
Although writing about yourself can be hard, try not to put too much pressure on yourself. As a writer for online bank Monzo, Harry Ashbridge reminded us: “Your CV, About Page, cover letter or social media profile don’t have to get you work. They just have to grab someone’s attention enough that they want to talk to you.”
Making your writing engaging means ensuring it reflects you as a person, rather than what you think it should say. So don’t opt for a formal tone because you assume it comes across as more professional. People are far more likely to engage with a casual tone brimming with your personality. “Be yourself,” is Harry’s resounding advice. “You’re trying to stand out, so talk about what you do and why you love it. If a company or client discounts you because you have a sense of humour, chances are they’re not right for you anyway.”
Finding the right tone means different things for different people. While some will opt for a witty description written in first person (“I”), others will go for something more serious, and that might mean writing in third person (“he/ she/ they”) – something that is also more common in established creatives, who may choose to borrow eloquent descriptions from selected press they’ve received. But whichever way you go, remember to check that it reads confidently, editing out uncertain or even pessimistic wording that discredits your ability, such as “possibly”, “might” or “trying to.”
Finding power in words
When we spoke to illustrator Naomi Anderson-Subryan about her journey with writing about herself, she told us the process of putting what she did into a concise paragraph was powerful. “It helps clarify and consolidate your ideas,” she shared. Having graduated from Camberwell’s Illustration BA in 2019, Naomi found that having a good piece of writing to refer back to became a source of confidence and in some ways, felt like it validated her practice.
Initially Naomi felt differently, opting to write about herself in a “short and unfussy” style that could have been describing quite a few different practitioners. But on reflection, she observed that this approach lacked character or any indication of her style; “it was a little generic and impersonal,” she says, “and it didn’t sound like me.”
Now, the text Naomi uses to describe herself and her illustration is packed full of information, yet still to-the-point:
Once Naomi’s writing became more specific to her interests and inspirations, she realised that these elements were the driving factors behind her desire to create. She also mentioned that it helps to ask yourself the following questions: “What makes what I do different from others? What would someone who doesn’t know anything about me, and only has my work for reference, want to know?”
5. Get Sharing
Now you’ve thought about the elements of you personal branding, you’ll want to think about how you promote yourself. There are tonnes of different ways to do this – from posting on social media platforms to going to industry events and chatting to people. And if networking isn’t your thing, an email never goes amiss, or DMing someone to get a conversation going (see our guide to Making Connections for more). Remember that self-promotion is equally as important as shaping your online presence – if you don’t tell anyone about your work, no one will be able to appreciate it!
That ends our tour of defining your creative identity – hopefully it hasn’t been too existential! We’ve covered the beginnings of personal branding, how to define your skills and interests, and finding your tone of voice. Ultimately, you are at the heart of your creative practice, so you are your best judge – if something feels right then go for it. And know that nothing is set in stone. Your creative journey is a lifelong one that will adapt and evolve, so remember to enjoy the ride.
Next up, we recommend reading our guide to creating an online portfolio, followed by how to make industry connections.
6. Further Reading
• How to write an About Us page that will hook your visitors
• How to write the perfect copy for your design portfolio
• How to build a personal brand that feels true to you
• Curb your jargon: Ways to write about yourself that won’t drive employers away
Via Lecture in Progress
• Why illustration needs a revolution
Via Lecture in Progress
• Can creative freelancers have a career where they don’t use social media?
• How to use social media, according to a mental health expert
Via Fast Company
• Illustrator Aleesha Nandhra’s five rules for using Instagram in a useful, healthy way
Via Lecture in Progress
• Curating the Web: The art of reposting on social
Via Wix Playground
• Dear Jessica, I’m a designer and I need help
Via Wix Playground
• Design #WIP: The why and how of sharing your work in progress
Via Wix Playground
• Tech Designers: A new frontier
Via Wix Playground
• What does an art director really do?
Via Wix Playground
Work Ready is a partnership between Lecture in Progress and Wix, created to help prepare emerging creatives for the world of work. Every year, Lecture in Progress partners with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Lecture in Progress a free resource for students and those starting out. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]
Written by Creative Lives in Progress
Illustration by Gianluca Alla