ebbs & mights.

In my time designing i’ve learned that we (designers, or I guess, all creatives) ebb and flow. Some weeks we’re unstoppable, and some weeks we’re rock-bottom, wondering when we’re ever going to feel the fulfillment of satisfaction for a project again.

I was listening to this itunes originals thing for Death Cab For Cutie and in one of the tracks, Ben Gibbard said something that really resonated with me:

“I think that earlier on I would wait for the moment to hit me and then feel really inspired, you know, THEN pick up a guitar, and THEN try to write a song. But, in recent years, i’ve found myself just making an effort just to get up in the morning and work on music, and TRY to write something. It can be a very difficult kind of roller coaster ride to be on when you spend all day and all your efforts trying to make something work, and it doesn’t work. It’s the worst feeling in the world, because you leave that day of work or that day of writing, (or attempting to write), just going ‘am I ever going to write a song again’ you know, “have I bottomed out?” or whatever. And then the next day you write something you’re really happy with and you’re on top of the world.

And that’s always the drive, you know, is just to continue experiencing that moment of satisfaction and elation when you finish something you’re really proud of”

About a month ago I kind of fell off the planet. I had a client who required a more-than-normal amount of revisions, and I realized that I had not been producing as much as I was used to, and that was all it took to knock me out of a flow (and thusly into an ebb).

For-client work is a tricky world for me. On one hand I have a person coming to me because they trust my artistic view on things. On the other hand, if my client wants something changed, I change it (after all, they are paying me to). In my opinion, this back and forth is what wears creatives down the most.

We are taught to be emotionally disconnected from our designs, but to pour every bit of ability we have into them. We are essentially trained to be vicarious creativity, and that is a painful realization to occasionally have; “this person wants me to design this because he doesn’t know how to use illustrator, not because I am a designer with ideas. they don’t care amount my creativity, just my creative ability.” It can be a little much at times.

The more I thought about it, my little “ebb” started to grow. I began questioning my abilities, I reviewed all of my work and felt like it was amateur, and watched the success of my friends and started to compare mine to theirs. In short, I started to get antsy.

This happens from time to time. I think if everyone is honest, we can all agree that we all can get to this place. Suddenly I was asking all the questions Ben had mentioned in that quote. “Have I bottomed out?” I had ebbed before, so the question I always asked myself was “am I REALLLY trying?” and suddenly Ben Gibbard’s words echoed in my head. I had been doing the amount of work necessary for the job, not necessary for my satisfaction. I was stuck thinking something “might” get sent back. Something “might” be a waste of time.

So. there I was, in an “ebb,” having trouble opening illustrator, having trouble focusing on my to-do list, and the lack of motivation was a snowball. So, I pulled a Ben Gibbard, and I decided to just start working. I decided to wake up and “Just start drawing something, anything.”

I started on a vector of an elk, and then I moved on to some wolves, and then to foxes, and then I was doing shirt designs for friends, and then album covers, and then I started making posters, websites, more shirts, etc. None of it paid, none of it was for anything other than me, and it all filled me up. Then I realized my real problem that led to my “ebb;” I had stopped working because it “might” not pay, or it “might” not be approved, and in that mentality, I had stopped advancing.

The problem with “mights” is that we (as creatives) usually only see the negative of it. We “might” get stiffed, we “might” have to compromise our design past what makes us comfortable, we “might” waste time on a project and a better one “might” come along.

What we fail to see is that we “might” create something better than we’ve ever made, we “might” be freed from our boundaries, we “might” create something we’re incredibly proud of.


I encourage you (reader of this blog) to do something that might make you proud.


Notice that there is a ‘might’ there, accept the risk, and get to work. Maybe it’s something you haven’t done in a while, or maybe it’s something you used to do everyday. Whether it’s crocheting a hand towel, designing a new website for your studio, or even just alphabetizing your DVD collection, do something that “might” make you proud of yourself.

You’ll find your ‘ebbs’ disappear before you know it.

ebbs & mights.dan

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