How to Stay Creative in a Commercial World

September 10, 2015
How to Stay Creative in a Commercial World

A lot of my expectations about being a stylist were wrong. My visions of twirling around with designer dresses were quickly replaced by a reality of struggling up endless stairs with heavy suitcases; with a film of sweat settling on my ever-pinker face betraying my attempts to look cool and collected. Dreams of big budget magazine shoots were swept aside with the onslaught of ‘exposure’ as payment.

I’ve come to accept these and the many other misconceptions I had as a naive student. But one thing that has certainly taken me aback is the amount of times I’ve been told, “you’re very… creative… aren’t you?” Generally framed as a complement but quite clearly masking a worry that I may actually be physically unable to put together an outfit without faux fur, glitter, or every colour under the sun. Whilst I do, clearly, have a propensity towards the bright and outrageous, I’m just as capable at putting together a sleek tailored menswear outfit, or creating a simple, seasonally-appropriate day time look. My ability to be creative doesn’t hinder my ability to ‘do commercial’. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. And yet, often, my creativity is seen as an obstacle, a reason to question my ability in other areas, like I’m just playing at this and it’s not actually my job.

So, how do you stay creative in a world that, increasingly, doesn’t appreciate it?

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Now, if you can make a living from illustration/photography/styling/playing the Peruvian nose flute/crafting felt from your cat’s hair and you enjoy it, then you should absolutely do that. But you don’t have to make money from your creative pursuits for them to be valuable. I read an interesting blog post a while ago about a very talented woman who opened an Etsy shop to sell her crafts because she felt that was what she was supposed to do. However, she soon found that the pressure of creating in exchange for money added an element of pressure that completely sucked the joy out of what started out as a fun hobby. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the dream and the reality can be worlds apart and yet if a friend shows me something they’ve made, I’m guilty of responding by enthusiastically telling them they should sell whatever the thing is. It’s meant as a compliment because I really think other people would love it, but why am I/are we so keen to put a price on everything? Creativity has value all of its own and it’s not necessarily monetary.

Just Do It (sorry, Nike)

At times, people either don’t understand, don’t appreciate, or just plain don’t like my work. I’m lucky to receive kind comments from lots of people about what I do which is always uplifting but at the same time, I know other people class some of what I do as a bit weird. It doesn’t stop me doing it, it just means that maybe I’ll take the image of the guy who I photoshopped a second face onto out of my portfolio for that particular meeting…

It can be difficult to take criticism well when it’s about something which represents you in one way or another. I remember someone leaving the following anonymous message on my Myspace page when I was about 16 and very into painting: “Your so called ‘art’ is shit”. (Note the stellar use of sarcastic quotation marks to really drive their message home.) I was crushed and I can still recall the feeling as my stomach dropped and my cheeks flushed with upset and embarrassment. It had taken courage to share my art (or ‘art’) with others and I began to wonder if actually everyone was laughing at me. Maybe it really was shit. Maybe I was shit. Ultimately though, it didn’t matter because I was creating it solely for me. There is a definite freedom in creating something just for the sake of it and it trumps any criticism, uninvited or otherwise.

Enjoy the Process

When I’m styling I often enjoy the end result more than the process. I think this is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s my desire to get everything absolutely perfect, and I can’t really be sure I’ve achieved that until we get that perfect shot. Secondly, there’s the time pressure. I’m working to a deadline, I can’t just amble through the preparation as and when I want to do it. Thirdly, other people are relying on me and I don’t want to let them down. These reasons combined, and more, mean that my favourite part of styling is actually reviewing (and being happy with) the images once it’s all over because I know I’ve done a good job. Conversely, when I crochet as a hobby, I love the process of making so much I actually slow down to a snail’s pace when the end is in sight. This isn’t because I prefer one to the other, it’s because the outcomes are different. When I crochet, there’s no one relying on me to have something made to a perfect standard by a certain time, and so I can sit and appreciate each stitch and loop without having to rush to the finish line. 

Just about every creative person I know doubts their own ability and relentlessly criticises their own work, so it’s not always possible to sit with with a serene smile on your face throughout the entirety of a project. In fact, the creative process can be truly painful at times and fraught with self doubt, but giving yourself the space to enjoy what you do as you do it is possibly the best way to remind yourself why you started it in the first place.

Disclaimer: Like most people, I regularly fail to take my own advice but I do try to follow these rules. It just may be in between short bouts of doing the exact opposite.

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