The Power of Personal Projects
As part of LWD Manchester, we recently hosted an event, ‘The Power of Personal Projects’ at Colony Piccadilly. We had two fabulous guests: children’s book illustrator, Emma Reynolds; and senior fashion lecturer Jacqui McAssey; in conversation with Creative Boom’s Katy Cowan.
Emma had been growing increasingly concerned about the impact of the climate crisis, and inspired by the young protesters, set up an initiative called kidlit4climate as a way to engage other illustrators and authors to stand in solidarity with the climate strikers. It gained traction really quickly and now has thousands of followers and contributors. Emma talked about how she started it fairly reactively and hadn’t initially considered how dramatically and successfully it would take off. Her timing on this project was perfect.
Senior fashion lecturer Jacqui has been documenting female fans since 2013. Her ongoing project GIRLFANS is ‘intended is to give female football supporters visibility and a sense of belonging in football culture.’ Sister project GIRLFANS UNTOLD documents previously untold stories from older fans who’ve been religiously following their team all over the globe. It’s a fascinating read!
They both discussed how they’d started projects they had a passion for, and hadn’t fully planned what might happen next. It was so interesting to hear how they balanced these projects with their ongoing work and other commitments. They chatted about how important it was to give yourself a break and try to enjoy the process rather than letting it take control.
As someone who very much loves a side project, I’ve definitely experienced the ups and downs of this process. So here are a few tips inspired by conversations at this event, my own experiences and those of my fellow creatives.
Any idea is valid
Try to keep a record of all your ideas. Sometimes these things need time to stew. I always keep notes of my random thoughts and ideas. Often they stay in a notebook forever. But sometimes I’ll look back and an old scribble will spark another thought and I’m suddenly inspired to do something productive.
Talk to other people
I’ve found chatting things through with someone else has given me a bit of a shove in the right direction. All it takes is another perspective, or a pair of fresh eyes or ears for you to develop something that bit further.
Listen to other people, but also feel free to politely ignore them
Whilst it’s really beneficial to chat to other people, sometimes it can also put you off completely. So it’s worth developing a sense of what’s useful. When you have an idea in its infancy, it can sometimes be fairly difficult to express it to other people until you’ve actually made a start. I have previously abandoned things early on after having an idea shot down. Don’t get me wrong, they may well be right, but that’s up to you to explore.
Give yourself manageable deadlines
Make sure that you start with small achievable targets. That sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished something will spur you on to the next challenge.
Be flexible and kind to yourself
It’s helpful to have deadlines, but its also really important to remember why you’re doing something. These projects are supposed to be a joy. Whilst it’s great to finish things quickly, your sanity and well-being are far more important. Slow down and enjoy the process.
If it’s something you’ve created, share it with people. Whether that’s through blogging, events or social media. It won’t get any further if you keep it to yourself. And though it can be difficult not to take things to heart, really try not to worry about social media likes or negative comments. Often these things take time to gain traction and even if you have some constructive feedback, it might be that it helps you improve whatever the next stage is. I always think, ‘what’s the worse that will happen if I share this?’ and the answer is often something like, everyone will hate it and say something mean about my work. In the grand scheme of life, I think I can live with that, so I just get on with it.
Not every project needs an output
I dip in and out of other projects and pursuits, I frequently enrol in language classes, I dabble in music lessons, I’ve dipped my toe into ballet classes, I could go on. These are things I’m never going to share with the world, they are hobbies. And I won’t be recording them with any photographic evidence. I also do some experimental printmaking and painting to unwind or improve my skills. These things are just for me. Their only purpose being to to help me relax or develop my creativity. These pursuits are just as valid. Not everything needs to be shared.
Read about Dotto’s collaboration with Jacqui on GIRLFANS UNTOLD.