Choosing the right personal project to further your career as a creative.

I’ve spoken a lot on my blog about how beneficial personal projects are, both career wise and in terms of your creative fulfilment, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone into detail about how to choose the right personal project for yourself. Everything I am about to talk about can be applied across pretty much any creative field from illustration to video editing to tattooing, so no matter what you do, you can probably apply these methods in some way. Combining at least the first two works better than doing one at a time, the more solid you can make your project, the more effective it will be.

What’s your industry choice?

One really effective way to at least choose the basis of your project is to do some research into the industry or career you’d like to get into, this also applies to people already in their chosen industry (you will just be researching into what you’d like to do next). It can be difficult to know what you need to produce to get hired by a certain client or company in the creative industry, so if possible, find job postings by that company (or somewhere similar) that advertise the role you’d like to get into. There you will find a list of requirements you will need to be hired for that particular job, all of which you can use to give you an idea of what you need to work on. This sounds really obvious, but it’s a strategy some people completely pass over.

Other ways to use your desired industry to influence your personal project would be to use what they’ve already produced to show what you can do. Something a lot of creatives do is redesign elements of a game, branding or product etc. to give their spin on it. This is something I don’t personally like to do, not because I don’t agree with it, it’s just not my thing. However I do like the idea of designing something new to go alongside what already exists to show that you understand what they’re trying to produce and their aesthetic.

What do you enjoy creating?

This is something that may take a little more deconstruction on a personal level, especially in the beginning, because you have to seriously ask yourself, what do you enjoy doing? (I’ll write a blog post with tips on figuring this out next week, but for now I did create two videos which talk about it in a little more detail which you can watch here and here). Sometimes, we spend a lot of time creating things because of external factors such as what is popular or what other people’s opinionsk along with internal factors such as fear of failure, therefore we don’t really create the type of art that makes us truly happy and feel creatively fulfilled.

When you create something that you really enjoy and have fun with, it shows in your work, so although it can be difficult, it’s important to believe in yourself and what you’re passionate about and don’t let living up to other people’s expectations affect the content of your work. This applies to both the content in your work and the outcome, so for example if you’ve been drawing a lot of sci-fi robot illustrations but really you want to draw dystopian robots covered in tattoos as splash screens for a game (I might start working on this idea myself now I’ve wrote it out haha) go do that, be as specific as possible. 

Can your project be part of something bigger?

Having a goal or an end outcome for a personal project provides you with better direction and much more motivation to get it finished. For example you could turn your project into a physical product at the end, start a hashtag to get other people involved, document the whole process and turn it into a tutorial, use it to raise money for charity etc. You could also combine more than one of these for each project.

Say you want to work on a video game as a concept artist, so your first thought might be to create a set of character/prop/environment sheets for either a game that already exists or a game that you’re creating, which is a nice idea and is on the right track. However, what’s to stop you creating a splash screen for the game, or even more than one, showing the characters/prop/environments in action? Or a bit of UI to show that you understand consistency in visual style?

Another example might be if you want to be a children’s book illustrator, maybe your initial idea is to design a book cover for a new or existing book. Again this is a good start, but you could also then create a mock up of the cover to show potential clients what it might look like, you could also then use the illustration to create a promotional poster for the book along with other promotional art and possibly some merchandise like bookmarks and stickers. 

None of these extra things need to be done for a client to hire you, they can already see what you can do, but adding all of these extra elements proves to a client that you go that extra mile and can really offer value to the client rather than just a piece of art. A really good tip is to always show your work mocked up, whether that’s a book cover, a playing card, a video game cover, a t-shirt or other physical product etc. A client or customer will relate much more to seeing the end result and being able to imagine what it might look like in their hands.

Thanks for reading and as always let me know what you think in the comments or feel free to email me if you would like a chat!