Inspiration

Why I spent 15 minutes a day drawing whales to be more creative

A story from a designer on Envato Elements

Do you feel a little bit down? Is nothing fun anymore? Do you find it hard to motivate yourself to get through the daily grind? Is the twinkle in your eye gone, and is the spring in your step non-existent?

Do you read this in a 90’s infomercial voice, and do you picture me saying this to you looking like a Seinfeld/normcore guy in a soccer dad haircut?

Well, I’m no expert or PhD in the field of creativity – and I’m sadly not a 90s infomercial guy – but I would like to tell you a story of how I kickstarted my creativity and found a new path for me that developed into a side hustle: a steady stream of side income, but also a new hobby and hopefully a lifelong passion.

So there I was at work, by my desk, a couple of years ago. I wasn’t thinking about how time flies – but I was thinking the usual “how did I get here, why isn’t work fun anymore, and where is my energy and inspiration” thoughts. We all had them, right? And we all have ways and tricks of getting out of that rut; I’ve had them and I’ve shaken that rut before.

But this dip in my inspiration was a doozey. The usual rounds of Pinterest and Instagram couldn’t even give me a glimmer of motivation or inspiration – and forget about Dribbble (the 2/3 perspective shot of an iPhone and some useless animation never really gets my juices flowing). A walk in the sunshine? Nope. Sweden is pitch black 6 months of the year and a slight overcast the other 6 months. I exaggerate, of course, but this is how you see things when you’re in a doozy of a creativity dip.

This is Stockholm in the winter. It could be early morning or evening. Or 2:30pm. (Photo: Unsplash)

So, how do I get out of that rut? The sound of ping pong balls from the table at work and a two friends leaving for a smoke break put an idea in my mind. I don’t smoke and I’m complete rubbish at ping pong – the office ping pong leaderboard spells that out for me every day. But I should take advantage of the government labor law requirement to take a break during my work hours. Right?

I decided to use 15 minutes every day to something creative and completely different from my day-to-day job. That should be easy enough. But remember the doozy of creative slump that my usual inspirational rounds of social media and sunshine walks couldn’t shake? Yeah, I had to set some other rules and guidelines too, to really get things going.

The guidelines I set: these 15 minutes every day had to involve pen and paper. Because pen and paper is a scary thing for me. I rarely use them, and if I do I draw some squiggly lines when trying to do wireframes for the app I’m working with, or some web design. Whenever I feel the slightest sensation of ”this could be goooood” when I’m drawing, I get terrified of continuing. Because the next line I draw with the pencil could ruin everything. Right? I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that way.

But I wanted to push my limits, and doing something slightly scary can be very rewarding. So: 15 minutes and pen and paper. I knew I needed even more guidelines to start this. I can’t really remember how I got into it; I must have seen something on Instagram and it probably was a tattoo from the incredible Duke Riley that did it. But I decided that I would draw a whale every day and I would spend 15 minutes on it and it should be on pen and paper. There, I’m all set to go.

I did the first whale of the day. Horrible. Just horrible.

“Is this really something for me? My god, I feel even worse after these 15 minutes,” was my initial thought. But then again, I needed the scary challenge to propel me from this rut and I couldn’t quit after the first one. Enter the final guideline – or rule if you’d say so: I’d post it on Instagram while I’m finished as proof. A kick in the butt, a “hey, I did it!” or “look at this piece of crap whale – yes, it’s a whale and it’s supposed to look like this”.

And it did work. I posted a picture of the first whale. I declared to friends and followers what I did and I got instant encouragement. And the days passed and I drew a whale every day. First it was based from other illustrations or photos, but after a little while I could draw whales right from memory (and I still can I think). I could feel the fog of non-creativity lift and a light in the tunnel for every whale I drew.

A selection of the whales drawn during that period.

It took me about 20 days – and 20 whales – to get to a point where I wanted to do something else other than drawing whales. And I discovered that had a ton of ideas! Not to mention that during this time I severely increased my productivity at work and had a spring in my step again. Still at the bottom of the ping pong leaderboard, though.

With renewed energy and inspiration I decided to venture into something that has always intrigued me: typography. Why not use these 15 minutes every day to start on the first font of mine? However, I had no idea of how long it would take, how to do it and where to start.

I downloaded a trial of the Glyphs app and opened up an empty project. ”I’ll start with the first letter of the alphabet,” I thought. Said and done. I spent my 15 minutes every day trying to learn the app and also the basics of typography. I read articles and ebooks on my iPad to and from work. Somedays I could draw a whole glyph in 15 minutes, other days I managed a joint or an ear.

Those 15 minutes every day as a break from work expanded to 1 hour every evening whenever I had the energy. After six months of doing that, it was time for me to go on paternal leave with my youngest son. That meant that I could spend a least an hour every day working on my typeface while my son took a nap. Three months into the leave, I had a working font to type with! Now, here you’re thinking ”by golly, that’s a dedicated young (ha!) man – working away while the son is asleep – what commitment!”. No, I didn’t work on it every day. I also got caught up with Game of Thrones on the iPad while I had a sleeping child next to me. You can’t always force work – sometimes you need to step away from it and come back later.

But there I was: I had created my first typeface. And I had ideas for at least ten more. Ideas and a curiosity to try out designing a script typeface or a monospace one. I learned a hundred things doing the first one, and probably made thousands of mistakes. And that was the same with the next one, and the next one etcetera.

As well as not being a PhD in creativity, I’m not a professional typographer either. I’m well aware of that. I learn a million new things with every new typeface I create. I’m happy to go back to my old ones and fix the most obvious mistakes – because I take pride in creating a quality product and not just getting things out there with shortcuts taken.

So what about the side hustle thing? That’s the cool part of this. You can work on learning new things and selling that art in the process, whether it’s typefaces or art prints or patterns. There are lots of marketplaces for you to sell that creative thing you’ve made. I’ve designed 10-12 typefaces so far – some more ambitious than others – and I’ve released 8 of them for sale on different marketplaces like Envato Elements, Creative Market and YouWorkForThem. There are many more marketplaces out there, and that’s another part of my creativity experiment. I was curious about this process of creating a digital good and then selling it online.

Most marketplaces have a traditional a la carte model where the customer buy a family of fonts or a single style or weight and as a creator you receive a 50-70% cut; Envato Elements have taken the bold step of trying a subscription model a la Netflix and Spotify. A move that may still be to early to tell how it will pan out – I think creators out there are split about it. But when comparing it to streaming movies and music – which too could be argued are digital goods – I know I personally prefer a subscription model rather then a la carte. But it all depends on the content, of course.

And while it took me a year to create some fonts, upload them and market them, these fonts have started to generate a small steady stream of an side income for me. I won’t quit my day job just yet.

But someday. Someday…

 

All images courtesy of author. 


Daniel Feldt

About the Author Daniel Feldt

Daniel is UX designer based in Stockholm, Sweden where he spends the day designing a real estate app and website. At night he dabbles with typography.