As we enter a new year and decade, we asked four creatives how they limber up to get those juices flowing again. Sharing their insights are Creative Director, Jamie Brennan; illustrator, Steve Simpson; photographer, Joshua Mulholland and Head of Content, Sarah Coffey.
Every year brings with it new opportunities and new challenges. How do you position yourself for the adventure ahead?
JB: The new year is a great time to start strong with innovation, experimentation and new ideas. It gives you the opportunity to compete against yourself and last year’s work and try to better it. For that experimentation to work really well though, you need a foundation of discipline and organisation, so at Vibrant we’re using the next few weeks to prep for a smooth start to 2020. We’re tying up some new hires and moving to a bigger space.
JM: I personally don’t look at the turning of a year as a point to start, but instead the present moment I’m in. Why wait for the new year to start working on your goals? Life itself is an adventure so you might as well make the most of it, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. So just go for it, whatever it is, now! Don’t hold back!
SC: Let’s be real for one hot minute – you can drastically change your life any day or month or hour if you so wish. But it can help a lot to make a lifestyle change if you’ve got friends in arms in the same mindset as you are. In good times, I have learned the unimaginable value of taking far flung holidays and the incredible reset effect that has for the year to come. It’s this end of year confronting and sharing of the self that has ended up in the most radical and rewarding changes of my life. And every single time, always for the best.
Do you give yourself goals or write out ambitions, or are you more fluid and laid back about everything? Do you have a plan?
JB: My natural position is definitely laid back, so, over the years, I’ve taught myself to set targets and goals which will guide what I hope to achieve for the year. Things rarely happen as planned though, so these goals and targets are constantly evolving. Even still, putting this structure in place is really important, and informs every decision made during the year.
SS: I’ll often make decisions to try to do more of one thing, less of another based on what’s gone well for me but still keeping an eye out for unexpected opportunities that are impossible to plan for. I like to try new avenues, sometimes they’re cul-de-sacs, other times they open up a new stream of work – either way I learn something from doing it. Without experimentation we stagnate.
SC: It’s definitely useful to have goals or even thoughts (if you’re more flexible) to help guide you towards getting what you want for yourself. Mine tend to order themselves into some semblance of structure, from the mundane (less milk in coffee), to the vain (attain TV-news-anchor-perfect teeth) to the ambitious (write the screenplay) to the sublime (trek to see mountain gorillas). The thing about plans and goals is, you write them. The only person they answer to is you. They can be as freaky, final or as fanciful as you want. Life can be boring, so make up for it with grand plans that make you excited / nervous / sketchy / all of the above. They might not come to pass but if they do, it’ll be an absolute trip.
JM: Goals are very important, I think you need to have a vision and a direction to move towards in order to attract work that you enjoy producing. I’ve written out goals in the past in hopes they manifest. Not many people know this, but I actually carry a list of names in my wallet of people I want to photograph and publications I one day hope to collaborate with and be published by.
January marks the start of not only a new year but a new decade. Some say it’s a real watershed moment, others see it as just another notch in time. How is your career changing from when you started? How is technology, media and more impacting on your skills, craft and competition?
JB: I’ve been working in branded video content since 2012, and in that time, everything about what we do has changed, from what equipment we use, to how we edit and where the content lives. Each stage has changed massively in the last decade. We believe the opportunity outweighs the challenge though and think that by understanding and respecting your audience and by doing something different, you will cut through the noise.
SS: Not wanting to sound like an old man, but my training was all pre-digital so I’ve seen a lot of changes and new technologies are still having a huge impact on both the way we operate and the clients we work for. Over the last 12 months, the iPad Pro has changed the way I work hugely. Drawing directly on screen, new apps and of course, working anywhere have become second nature. Anywhere I lay my iPad, that’s my studio!
SC: The turn of the last decade feels like 1000 years ago. Full Brian Boru vibes. Back then, Instagram didn’t exist, Facebook was still socially acceptable and Twitter was a great place to go if you wanted to crack or read jokes. A simpler time.
For me, everything has changed. I had graduated in 2008, when all jobs in Ireland were an endangered species. After a year travelling, I found myself in London, a city of hopes, dreams and groaning under an influx of people who could pronounce their R’s. So, at the turn of the last decade, I was working as Jemima Khan’s PA, a whirlwind, exciting job where no two days were the same and everything on the to-do list had no precedent. I worked as part of a dedicated, loyal, extremely fun team to keep plates of all shapes and sizes spinning with a cool and calm demeanour ready at all times, because anything and everything could happen. It was wild, and it was great – and the hard work, lateral thinking, solutions-focused and diplomacy skills I learned there have been crucial to my career.
Fast forward to today, and though things have changed, some remain the same (see previous note on skills). I’m now a copywriter living in this world full of #content. Social means that everyone is a writer and a photographer and a publisher and a meme artist and so much more. Language and visual communication are evolving, and that’s a great thing – the pool of what we’re all exposed to has grown exponentially, so we can all choose to be inspired by someone down the road, or someone the other side of the world, a famous lyricist or someone with six followers in Germany who is wild about the early music of Burt Bacharach. It’s massive and it’s powerful, and it can make us all better, should we choose.
JM: Funnily enough I receive most of my enquiries through Instagram, and without it I’d probably be lost. It’s amazing how many people I’ve met through social media and ended up collaborating with in different ways. When I started, I just thought people became famous overnight, and in rare cases that does actually happen, but to be successful you need to put in countless hours of work and graft to get to where you want to be. The work you put out there is generally the work you will attract and when an opportunity presents itself, you need to be ready for it.
How is getting your name out there changing and how are you adapting? What are the most dynamic and potent ways of keeping yourself top of mind (analogue, digital, social, real life, etc.) and what are the biggest challenges facing you when it comes to staying in sight, open for business and on top of the opportunities you should be getting?
JB: At Vibrant, we’ve been really lucky, and have built the business on word-of-mouth and referrals, which has been lovely. We think this is the best way to do it, as there’s already a bit of trust there, and it means we are being chosen based on the quality of our work and how easy we are to deal with. Ireland is such a small place, so if your work is good and you’re sound, people will not only keep working with you, they’ll also recommend you to their peers. When you have the mindset that good work creates more work, there are no ‘less important’ jobs or jobs where you can ease off, which suits our personalities and it keeps us focused on constant improvement.
SS: Recently I’ve struggled with staying on top of social media – I simply haven’t had the energy for it – there’s my New Years resolution. Twitter and Instagram would be my main day-to-day promotional outlets and then I would use my website/Behance for a more in-depth update on recent projects as they happen. I need to set time aside to do this, if I’m busy they get neglected.
JM: Analog is something I love to do and have a huge passion for, but digital is the money maker in the relationship and they both have an important role to play. For me, these little side projects and small personal shoots I do is what keeps me sharp and on my toes, they’re the ones I try to strictly shoot on analog.
The biggest challenge for me is consistency. Everybody gets into creative ruts at some point and I think it’s only natural. You can burn yourself out. Going to galleries and exhibitions, reading poetry or books and watching films can all naturally inspire you but I’ve found that hanging out with like-minded people who are also making work can also really inspire you. Learn from their process and talk them through yours so you can learn together. I think this will naturally enable you to be more prepared for opportunities when they present themselves.
Words of advice you’d give to someone trying to make their own unique mark on the world.
JB: Very few brilliant things in the world are achieved by one person in isolation. Collaboration is key to doing great work, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
SS: Be patient! Unfortunately, we live in a world suffering from disease of ‘now’ – many people just aren’t prepared to nurture their talents and allow them to grow at a natural pace in case they get left behind.
JM: You do you. I can’t stress enough how important it is to just keep creating to try to find a style that works for you, one that feels right. I’ve tried so many types of photography but making pictures of people is what really does it for me. Try everything, and try it again. Find out what works and what doesn’t. By doing this you’ll never stop learning and you’ll find your place in no time. If people copy you, great, take it as a compliment. But if you’re taking inspiration from someone else you should put your own spin on it. Nobody can be you as best as you can, so take what inspires you and put yourself in the work. It will show and people will vibe with it more if it’s unique. Just get out there and make work. It will happen for you!
SC: The key word here is unique. Be you, it’s good. Get used to listening to your instinct, it will shine the light for you and show you your best way. Embrace getting older, it’s an absolute privilege, and never, ever listen to what society says you should be / do / think / feel. You’re good, just do.
What would you love to achieve in the coming year and any predictions for the wider world around you?
JB: Keep Building Relationships: We’ve built long-standing relationships with a number of brands and agencies around town, and these are the situations where the best work is done: both sides understand each other and you can really get under the skin of the project and figure out what’s actually going to deliver. We want to build more of these relationships and become a key stakeholder for more brands. Gender Balance: In an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men, we want Vibrant to be a place which addresses this and gives a platform to talented creators of all genders and backgrounds. Continue to Think Differently: On every project, we look through a lens of ‘what can we do differently?’
SS: I’m looking to do more live iPad drawing, projecting art on big screens – not sure where it’s going but it’s fun. I’m also going to have an online illustration course available soon. After many years running workshops, this will be the first time I’ve ventured into the learn-on-demand arena. Thirdly, staying on top of social media!!!
I think the iPad will continue to hammer nails into the laptop’s coffin, can’t see a future for it and in the longer term, I feel the desktop will go too. Illustrators have never been more portable!
JM: I’d love to see more of my work being published and printed. Most of the work I produce is usually for digital platforms but I’d really like to have something tangible to hold and see my work in. Viewing an image on screen isn’t the same experience as holding something in your hands and for me I feel that’s naturally the next step. To see my work in various publications around Ireland would be unreal! I would also like to make a publication of my own or have a solo exhibition.
SC: As mentioned I have my dreams of becoming the millennial Dian Fossey and the mountain gorillas in my sights… Slightly closer to home, I’m building up a stellar Content Team at The Tenth Man and am on the lookout for the brightest creative talent there is to join the agency and help us hit the stratosphere in 2020. Finally, what I really would love is a spike in real human connection, away from phones and our digital selves. Whether that’s people chatting each other up actually face to face on the street or at a bar or a gig or whatever, or independent shops opening in city centres, or people going to restaurants instead of getting them delivered, I’m all for putting the humans back into humanity. If we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, we might as well enjoy the ride.
Words: Richard Seabrooke